Page images
PDF
EPUB

There is not an instance to be heard of where any one made herself rich by her witchcraft; and for the loss of heavenly felicity they acquire only the least possible of worldly enjoyment. The witches do evil without reaping any advantage from it, and at the best they can only feel a malicious joy. Their intercourse with the devil gives them only half-satisfaction,-a circumstance which throws a light on the whole nature of witchcraft, proving it to be but the work of imagination, and not a reality. It is curious that in a Dalecarlian account, the devil did not occupy the chief seat at the Swedish witch-feasts, but lay under the table bound with a chain. The witches related many things of this chain ; as that when its liuks wore out then came an angel and soldered them together again.

In Lower Germany the honeysuckle is called Albranke, the witch-snare. Long, running plants and entangled twigs are called witch-scapes, and the people believe that an Alp or witch hard pursued could escape by their means. The idea of the butterfly, like so many others, is derived from the ancient mythology in which it is made an emblem of the soul. The formula which enabled a witch to fly was generally-"Up and away! Hi! up aloft, and nowhere stay?" A northern sorcerer took a goat skin and wrapped it round his head, and said, “ Let it be foggy and let it be magic !" Their dislike of bells is also heathenish. They call bells yelling sounds. The causing of hail storms and the destruction of crops are equally derived from ancient sources. As good divinities gave a blessing to the crops, and as air-riding Valkyrior scattered from the manes of their horses wholesome dews on the fields below, so did malicious and sorcery-using beings endeavour by their poison to destroy the corn. In the Twelve Tables of the Romans a punishment was decreed for those “ qui fruges excantassit, sive alienum segetem perplexerit." “ Rhudis adhuc antiquitas credebat, et attrati imbres cantibus et repelli” (Seneca). In the eighth and ninth centuries, however, this weather-making was laid to the charge of the wizards rather than witches. The northern sorcerers proceed precisely in this manner, particularly the women of the Finns. Ogautan had a weather-bag, and when he shook it there burst forth storms and wind, and wherever he turned his face there blew a good wind. There is something beautiful in the northern

[ocr errors]

saga which says that twenty-seven Valkyrior ride the air, and when they shake their horses' manes above the deep valleys, hail drops on the bright trees,—the sign of a good year. Thus every day falls morning dew on the earth, from the foaming bit of the horse Krimfari.

Tacitus has shown in what high respect woods and trees were held by the heathen Germans. Probably particular groves and, perhaps, particular trees, were dedicated to the gods. Such a grove might not be entered by the common people; such a tree must not be robbed of its leaves or boughs, and must by no means be cut down,—“Sacrum nemus, nemus castrum,” says Tacitus. Particular trees were also dedicated to certain elves, wood and house-spirits. The people, long after their conversion to Christianity, continued to hang lights under certain trees, and to bring small offerings, as even to this day they are yet hung with garlands, and dances take place beneath their boughs. This was called in the prohibitions of the church,“ vota ad arbores facere aut ibi candelam se ut quodelibet munus deferre; arborem colere prohibitum.” The Longobards paid honours to the so-called blood-tree. Amongst the Germans the oak was sacred, and the elder. In Lower Saxony the Sambucus nigra was called Ellhorn, or elf-horn; and therefore the Ellhorn was sacred to our ancestors.

Grimm, in his appendix, and also in the text of his work on mythology, collected many of the witch formulas. The invocation to the moon, the formula for driving away death and winter, etc. For example :

“ As God be welcome gentle moon,

Make thou my money more, and soon." The elves were often apostrophized, but by Christian names, or with a mixture of them. Various were the wonders ef. fected by magic song. Men were killed or made alive, storms evoked or laid, sicknesses ameliorated or occasioned, mountains opened or closed, bonds burst, wicked spirits summoned : By the help of an old woman the evil one was addressed.” The dead were called forth from the graves. Swords made sharp or dull by magic; arrows blessed ; and as locks, doors, etc. opened before spirits, and the nights women passed through closed doors, so both lock and bolt gave way before a magic word. New married

[ocr errors]

people were bewitched. Protecting amulets of tin, glass, wood, bones, herbs, silver and gold, were hung round the neck against the malicious arts of witches. Secret writings and runes were hung round the neck, too, as a protection for cattle and men against fever and plague.

Inscriptiones et ligaturæ magicæ artis insignia sunt, admoneant sacerdotes, non ligaturas ossium vel herbarum cuiquam adhibitas prodesse, sed hæc esse laqueos et insidias antiqui hostes."

The
gay

colours of these amulets remind us of the Virgilian verse, “ Terra tibi hæc primum triplici deversa colore Licia circumdo;" and "Necte tribus nodis ternas, Amarylli, collares."

The magic power of stones was known in the Middle Ages : see Marbod’s “ Liber Lapidum,” 1123, and Albertus Magnus. Magic stones did not come into the hands of poor witches, but their chief strength lay in the gathering and boiling of herbs. The most esteemed herbs for those purposes are the betony root, henbane, deadly nightshade, origanum, and anthirrhinum, or female flose, arum, fern, and ground ivy. The cuckoo-flowers were gathered on the first of May in the meadows. Tasting of chervil, it is said, makes any one see double. The sleep-apple, a mossy sort of excrescence on the wild-rose, or hawthorn, laid under the pillow, will not allow any one to awake till they are taken the Edda it is called Sleep-thorn. Some confound it with the mandrake or Alraun, which is drawn out of the earth by means of a dog. The divining gall-apple of the oak, the misletoe sacred to the Celts, the savin, and vervain, were all considered magical. Often many herbs were boiled together, seven, or nine; three kinds of wood made bewitched water boil; and the witch-ointments contain seven herbs.

Amongst the means of defence against witchcraft we have mentioned that of avoiding to look directly at a witch. You must make no answer to a witch ; if you receive any gift from you

must not thank her. It was customary to spit three times before the house of a witch. Bread, salt, and charcoal, are defences against witchcraft. The sign of the cross puts to flight devils and witches ; therefore, on the first May night you see so many crosses on the doors. The sound of bells We have mentioned as hateful to witches.

away. In

her

SUPERSTITIONS.

Grimm, in the appendix to his work, has collected a great multitude of magical practices, opinions, and legends of different people and times, under the title of Superstition, from which we extract the following.

In order to discover future events a house-door key is laid in a Bible, or an axe in a wooden bowl, and put in motion while the names of suspected persons are named. Probably the revolving wheels of fortune which idle fellows carry about had their origin in divination. As a relic of judicium casei may be regarded the following: a man who is suspected of theft is made to eat of a consecrated cheese which will stick in the throat of a guilty person.

Drawing of lots was the most respectable and just mode of divining. A very doubtful matter was elevated by this means above the caprice or passions of men, and was made sacred ; as in the decision of inheritances, the selection of victims of sacrifice, etc. The lot can decide the perplexity of the present, and also extends itself to the future. Confided at first to the hands of the priest or of the judges, it became afterwards the resort of sorcery, and from sors comes sortilegus, sorcerer. There were two modes. The priest, or the father of the family, cast the lot, and showed how it had fallen, or he held the lots towards the party drawing. The former related to the future, the latter to the arrangement of the present. Tacitus describes the former mode.

A whole host of modes of divination came into Europe through the Greeks and Romans. But the peculiar customs of the European people, which are not derived from these sources, are the more important. The ancient Poles divined victory from water which taken up in a sieve and without running through, was carried before the army. According to one account, the Normans caused a marvellous banner to advance before their army, from which they could foretell victory or defeat. We have already spoken of obtaining a knowledge of the future by the neighing of horses. The superstitious listen at twelve o'clock on Christmas-eve on cross-roads and at land-marks. If they fancy that they hear

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]
[merged small][ocr errors]

the clash of swords and the neighing of horses, war will break out the following spring. Maidens will listen at that time at the doors of stables, and if they hear the neighing of a horse a lover will appear before the twenty-fourth of June. Others will sleep in the mangers, in order to discover future things.

The divining by the bones of a goose is similar : especially the breast bones of capons, geese, and ducks. If they are red they betoken a continuous cold; but if they are white, clear, and transparent, the weather in winter will be tolerable. So also with the Martinmas goose. “ Ye good old mothers, I consecrate the breast-bone to you, that you may from it become weather-prophets. The foremost part by the throat betokens the early part of winter; the hindermost part the end of winter; the white indicates snow and mild weather, the other great cold.”

A ringing in the ears, garrula auris, Bóußos, in the right ear was fortunate,—“ Absentes

tinnitu aurium præsentire de se receptum est,” Plin. The twitchings of eyebrows and of cheeks are prognostic. If you meet an old woman, a woman with flying hair, or, which is the same, with her hair bound loose, it is unlucky. He who meets an old woman early in the morning, he who is obliged to walk behind two old women, is for that day unlucky. If a hunter meet an old woman in the morning, he lies down on the ground and lets her stride over him, in order to avoid the mischief. According to the Swedish superstition, it is unlucky to meet any woman except a courtezan, as, according to Chrysostom, the ráp εros, the unfortunate, indicated tópvn, a happy day. With this agrees—“Maiden and priest are bad signs; a courtezan, a good sign.” But wherefore the meeting with a blind or one-eyed man, a lame man or a beggar, should be an ill omen, and a humpbacked man or a leper should be good, does not appear very plain : nor why a walker should be more fortunate to encounter than a rider, or why a water-carrier be unlucky. It is more intelligible why no man would allow a woman to reach him a sword, and that the meeting of two warriors predicted victory according to the Edda.

Prognostications drawn from the meetings of animals have

« PreviousContinue »