In encountering a wild animal, the ancients deemed it a matter of great importance that a man should see the beast before the latter was aware of a human presence. If a wolf, for example, first perceived the man, the brute was master of the situation, and the man was bereft alike of speech and strength; whereas the wolf, if first seen by the man, became an easy prey. The side from which a wild beast approached was also of moment. Thus the "Geoponica" warned its readers not to allow a hyena to approach from the right side, lest one be rendered motionless by the fascination of its presence; but if it appeared on the left side, the animal might be attacked with confidence.
Various wonderful tales are current among the natives of Senegambia, and other districts of western Africa, regarding the lion. This noble animal, it is said, forbears to attack a man who salutes him with a respectful gesture, and the same gallant instinct restrains the beast from harming a woman. In most lion-haunted regions, however, the natives do not have such implicit confidence in the courtesy and forbearance of wild animals, but trust rather to the efficacy of various amulets. The Kaffirs of southeastern Africa, for example, on encountering a lion or leopard in the forest, proceed at once to nibble a so-called lion-charm, which is merely a small bit of wood or root. And if the animal moves away without molesting him, the Kaffir attributes his security to the magic power of the charm, not realizing that his escape is due to the natural dread of man which is characteristic of animals generally.
So, too, the priests of Mexico were accustomed to rub their bodies with a certain ointment which they believed to be an efficient protection against wild beasts, its pungent odor acting as a charm, so that they were enabled to wander unmolested amid the wildest solitudes. The skilled hunter, however, confident in his own prowess, depends neither upon the alleged gallantry of lions nor the potency of amulets, but rather on his trusty rifle.
The belief in charms against noxious animals is widespread; for not alone in African jungles does this form of superstition prevail: it is found among civilized people as well, and more particularly in southern lands; indeed, wherever venomous creatures abound. In a collection of amulets belonging to Professor Joseph Belucci, of Perugia, Italy, which was exhibited at the Paris Exposition, 1891, were a number of perforated stones and other objects used by Italians as charms to protect the bearer against the bite of serpents and reptiles.