Page images

cinated and cured diseases :-" Galleos utique possedit et quidem ad nostram memoriam. Nam Tiberii Cæsaris principatus sustulit Druidas eorum et hoc genus vatum medicarumque. Britannia hodieque attonite eam celebrat tantis cæremoniis, ut dedisse Persis videri possit."

What is here said of the Druids, applies also, more or less, to the ancient Germans. Truly many of the most striking circumstances connected with them are lost to us in oblivion, so that we are only made acquainted with a few of their phenomena which resemble magnetism, and are not informed of their particular practices and modes of proceeding. From the German gods, the Sun, the Moon, Wodan-Woutan-Donar, etc., the days of the week have received their names; and Grimm traces minutely the connection between the priesthood and the prophetic womanDis, Deis, Aurinia, Aliruna, etc. The priests were the guardians of the sacred grove, Godi; and, besides, the priesthood held at the same time the office of judges; and in martial expeditions the maintenance of discipline even belonged to them, and not to the generals. The chariot of the god was only touched by the priests; their approach was perceived by him. As to what concerns their secret ceremonies, these were probably so strictly guarded that they were witnessed by no stranger.

The prophetic women of the Germans stood in the same relation to them as the Sibyls to the Romans, whose counsels were followed as sacred, and their responses relied on as incapable of deceiving (Tacitus de morib. Germ. c. viii., editío Ernesti). "Inesse quinetiam sanctum aliquid et providum putant; nec aut concilia earum adspernantur, aut responsa negligunt." Tacitus speaks especially of one of them called Veleda. They were known also under the names of Alrunes, Alurines, Alioruns, which is not to be considered as a proper name, but as a general one, appertaining to all the prophetic women. Alraun is a necromantic spirit; raunen means still to speak secretly,— "runian susurrare."

Of this Veleda of the Germans, Tacitus writes, that "she exercises a great authority; for women have been held here from the most ancient times to be prophetic, and, by excessive superstition, as divine. The fame of Veleda stood

on the very highest elevation, for she foretold to the Germans a prosperous issue, but to the legions their destruction. (Tacit. hist. iv. 61.) Ea virgo-Veleda-late imperitabat : vetere apud Germanos more, quo plerasque fœminarum fatidicas, et, augescente superstitione, arbitrantur Deas. Veledæ auctoritas adolevit. Nam prosperas Germanis res et excidium legionum prædixerat' (65). As the people of Cologne concluded an alliance with the Tenctari, they announced, Arbitrium habebimus Civilem et Veledam, apud quos pactum sancientur. Sic lenitis Tencteris legati ad Civilem et Veledam missi cum donis, cuncta ex voluntate Agrippinensium perpetravere. Sed coram adire, alloquique Veledam negatum, arcebantur aspectu, quo venerationis plus inesset.' He relates further that the Romans themselves sent ambassadors with presents to Veleda. But she was not to be approached or spoken to; she was rarely visible, and thus her honour was increased. She herself lived upon a tower, from whence, like a message from the gods, her counsels and responses were brought down.”

Grimm, in the twelfth chapter of the "German Mythology," treats of the wise, prophetic women. "The business and function of the demi-goddesses is in general that they serve the gods, and reveal their will to men. It is a striking feature of our heathenism, that women were selected for this office. The Jewish and Christian nations present a contrast to this,-prophets prophesy, angels and saints proclaim the commands of God. The Grecian gods avail themselves of male and female messengers. Amongst the Germans the sentences of fate in the mouth of women appear to acquire greater sanctity. Only as exceptions do prophetic men present themselves. Hence it may be, perhaps, that language allegorises crimes and virtues as women. The great function is that of bringing to mortal men the announcement of good or evil, conquest or death, not what the gods do amongst themselves. Their wisdom explores, nay, they turn and order events in fate, warn from dangers, counsel in doubt, and, therefore, they are styled knowing and wise women." The Dis, Alrunes, Nornor, Fays, Valkyrior, of these it is said that they pass through air and water; the gift of swimming and flying is peculiar

to them; they can assume the shape of a swan, and therefore the Swan-maiden, Bertha, was called the Swan-footed queen.

From these few particulars we draw some remarkable facts. In the first place, Veleda dwelt upon a tower, of the interior of which we, alas! know nothing; but it is important that she allowed no one to approach her, nor herself to be disturbed in her magical contemplations. In the second place, she was in high estimation on account of her oracular announcements, since they brought her such rich presents. This the Germans, who once sent to her on the Lippe a three-ruddered admiral ship, did not alone do (Tacit. histor. v. 22), but even the Romans as enemies; for Tacitus says expressly that the Romans sent to her presents by ambassadors; and Cerealis forwarded secret messengers, and implored Veleda and her associates to allow the Romans, who had suffered so many defeats, to enjoy a change of martial fortune. Also in the time of Vespasian Veleda was still honoured like a goddess (Tacitus de moribus Germanorum, c. 8). After Veleda, a virgin, called Ganna, was honoured as a prophetess.

The Cimbrians when they took the field were accompanied by aged prophetic women, who were clad in white, had bare feet, and wore an iron girdle. The blood of the slain was brought in a sacrificial kettle, from which they divined. The kettle reminds us of the later witch-kettle, when a he-goat was offered to the old German god of thunder, Donar. Before this goat the people bowed themselves, whence the later adoration of the goat by witches, as the devil in that shape. The Prussians, indeed, retained the religion of the goat till the fifteenth century, and offered to Peron, the god of thunder, the sacrifice of goats. The god of the Sclaves, Triglau, is represented with two goat's heads. The Germans offered horses, like the Persians, and Odin had two wolves and two ravens as constant attendants. They were later the hell-wolf and the hell-raven, as Donar's goat became the hell-goat, in which we see, what is worthy of remark, the two-fold nature of the divination of the ancient Germans; the one of pure magic, as in the case of Veleda, and the other wild and impure, that of Cimbrian blood-offering priestesses.

They believed, too, that they could divine by lot: but this was a very simple proceeding. They cut a branch from a fruit-bearing tree into many small pieces, and scattered them marked with certain signs on a white cloth. According as the inquiry was a public or a private one, the priest or the father of the family took up the different pieces amid prayers and arranged them according to the different indications. They had, however, many other modes of divination, amongst which perhaps the most remarkable was, that by the rushing and the whirling of waters they fell into ecstasy and divined. By these modes the eyes, the ears, and the nerves were, in a mysterious manner, moved, agitated, and determined, so that one is reminded of the enchanted Nereids, Nymphs, and Nixes. These, were, perhaps, only a certain means of curing ailments of the nerves, and particularly to put people prone to sleep-waking into a better condition, a supposition which certain experiences actually corroborate.

The practice of magic spread itself later amongst the common people, who were, to some extent, also acquainted with Christianity. The heathen did not lay aside their ancient customs and opinions so easily as their clothes, and the religious zeal of the priests was not able to put down the prevailing practice of sorcery. "Heathenism and Christianity, after they came in conflict, that is, after the conversion of pagans,-exercised a mutual influence on each other: Christianity while it sought to eradicate the ideas of paganism, and paganism while it sought to conceal itself under Christian forms. The conquering faith went forth to annihilate the conquered one; the conquered endeavoured, as it were, to secure its devastated possession in the midst of the enemy; here were pagan maxims planted in their purity; there they stole in, little shaken at heart, under Christian names. Certain Christian myths-those, at the same time, of the Old Testament-mingled themselves with the ecclesiastical legends of the middle ages, especially amongst the people. Thus elves and giants were converted into devils, and women of the night into witches. Woutan also degenerated into a terrible hunter; Halda and Bertha into bugbears for children. The ravens of Woutan belong to the devil, but the actions of giants are conferred on the saints" (Grimm).

At a later period political power stepped into the arena, and placed itself in direct hostility to all magic. The East and West Goths issued very severe laws, which are known by the name of the Salic. A woman suspected of magic was committed to the flames as a sorceress and witch. This first happened in the sixteenth century, in the reign of Childerich I., in which two women accused of witchcraft were burnt alive (Cantz, De cultibus magicis, i. c. 3). Thereupon quickly followed ordinances and commands of terror from councils and kings against witches and magicians, from which it appears that the women of that time were most addicted to magic arts.


A number of persons by no means inconsiderable, especially women, suffering from attacks of cramp, who directly believed to be possessed by or influenced by the devil, with whom they were said to have made a pact, were very early made deplorable sacrifices to the blind zeal of religion. We shall have occasion to become more nearly acquainted with the subject of witchcraft; in the meantime it may be here remarked that the Salic laws speak of magic knots and bandages-ligatures, of which the Greeks, and still more the Latin poets, sang; and they mention also formulas of sorcery, and nocturnal assemblies, in which the accused are said to have celebrated their demoniac feasts. These severe prohibitions did not avail much; they only stimulated to secret leagues, from which, finally, actual and terrible mischiefs arose, so that it became absolutely necessary to put an end to them. But unfortunately very little discrimination was made between innocent sufferers from attacks of cramps, or convulsions, or affections of the mind, and between avowed witches and wizards. Accordingly, in the time of Charlemagne, in 914, a great number were burnt, and the practice continued for centuries.

In the eighth century the Spaniards were invaded by the Saracens, who brought with them Arabian learning to Europe, which cast a new light on this continent. There had prevailed amongst the Arabs for a long period the Pythagorean, Platonic, eclectic, and Aristotelian philosophers. There were professedly disciples rather of Aristotle than of Pythagoras and Plato; yet there really prevailed much more of the spirit of the latter. The mystical philosophy of

« PreviousContinue »