The Evil Eye, by Frederick Thomas Elworthy, , at sacred-texts.com
A BELIEF so strong, so universal, so founded on fear, as that connected with fascination, would naturally in the earliest days of humanity have led to the study and search for means to baffle or to counteract its dreaded effects. The causes of most kinds of evil, indeed of all that could not be easily accounted for by the senses, were set down to the supernatural action of invisible but malignant spirits which in one form or other were worshipped as divinities. Without going far into the field of primitive religion or of pagan mythology, it becomes abundantly evident that more thought was bestowed upon propitiating the angry or the destructive deities, than in the worship of those whose attributes were beneficent; we find that fear and dread have in all human history been more potent factors in man's conduct than hope and gratitude or love. Even the earliest records of worship in our ancient Scriptures point in the same direction. The sacrifices of Abel and of Cain were, we imagine, more propitiatory of an offended power, than as thank-offerings in grateful remembrance of blessings received. It is true we hear later of acts of devotion by way of acknowledgment and in gratitude for mercies bestowed, but they were the
result of an express command, recognising man's innate weakness of fear, rather than the outcome of spontaneous thanksgiving. Our very words, to atone for sins, atoning sacrifice, imply acts to appease, to submit, to propitiate anger, to avoid the punishment due to offences.
As men degenerated from the monotheistic sun-worship, every power and attribute of nature became personified; even Time became Chronos the destroyer, the avenger, the Saturn of the Romans with his scythe, who ate up his own children; and in our day is the personification of Death the terrible. Zeus or Jupiter, the king of heaven, the giver of all his blessings and miseries to man, was generally represented as the holder of the thunderbolts, whose wrath had to be appeased. The stories of the various metamorphoses of Jove into a swan, a bull, a satyr or goat, do but carry back the later, even the present superstitions, as to the power of uncanny persons to assume animal shapes. Juno, too, the Queen of the Gods, though often a protectress and benefactress, was on the whole more dreaded than beloved, and was the very type of jealousy and spite. A sow and a ewe lamb were the offerings she most accepted, and these animals were consequently sacred to her, as representing or symbolising her attributes. Surely we may conclude that in the witch lore of today the misfortune of a sow crossing the path implies the envious anger likely to be felt and displayed by somebody towards the person to whom Juno exhibits herself in this guise. Certain objects and certain animals seem by primæval habit to have been sacrificed as propitiatory offerings to the various deities who were supposed to watch over, for good or for
evil, the doings of mankind. Moreover certain other objects or animals were supposed to partake of their special natures, and hence were held to be especially under their protection, and to be their particular favourites. Consequently these became sacred, and like the modern totems 131 of many savages, or the sacred animals of India, must on no account be killed or molested. 132
In early days no doubt the swan was the totem of some tribe, and being also the most famous metamorphosis of Jupiter, it would naturally follow that this bird should be held specially sacred. The Irish saga shows the strength of the belief:--
Then was it Erin's sons, listening that cry,
Decreed: "The man who slays a swan shall die." 133
[paragraph continues] "Lir" was an ocean-god of both Ireland and Britain. According to Irish romance, the children of Lir were turned into swans by enchantment; and the men of Erin were so grieved at their departure, that they made a law and proclaimed it throughout the land, that no one should kill a swan in Erin from
that time forth. In Welsh histories he appears as "Lear." 134
Totemism cannot after all be so very savage a cult, for we are told by Mr. G. L. Gomme 135 that various animals are still held sacred in Britain. Among these he places the seal, wolf, fowl, cat, hare, magpie, butterfly, Sparrow, swan, raven, and otter. To these we should add many others which sentimentally are held to be sacred by various individuals, such as the wren, robin, swallow, lady-bird, bat, cuckoo, dog, fox, horse, swine, salmon, goose, cow, toad, deer. 135a "The robin (in Irish, the spiddóge) is, as is well known, a blessed bird, and no one, no matter how wild or cruel, would kill or hurt one, partly from love, partly from fear. They believe if they killed a robin a large lump would grow on the palm of their right hand, preventing them from working and from hurling. It is fear alone, however, that saves a swallow from injury, for it is equally well known that every swallow has in him three drops of the devil's blood." 136 In Somerset much the same notion still exists. 137
The root idea of totemism seems to be that whatever connection there may be, either in character or temper, between a person and his totem, is of benefit to both sides. Hence the totem becomes the man's protector, and the man will not kill or injure his totem. The totem is not a fetish to be worshipped like an idol: it includes a whole class of objects like the whole family of wolves or bears; it is not often inanimate, and very rarely artificial. It may belong to an entire class, or to one sex in the tribe, but not to the other: again it may belong to an individual without passing to his descendants. Members of the same totem may not intermarry.
How strong all these so-called savage beliefs still are may be seen almost on the surface of things. Who can doubt that the prohibition of certain marriages between persons having no blood kinship, however canonical, is after all the outcome of this belief in some indescribable, impalpable relationship described politely as affinity, but among the uncivilised as totemism; such, for instance, as that between god-parents, or between a man and his wife's kin? Surely it is pure totemism which in Shropshire makes it unlucky to kill a bat, and elsewhere, as here in Somerset, to kill a swallow, wren, or robin.
The belief in the owl's hooting being a death portent
is very widely extended, and it is said to be unlucky to shoot an owl. 137a Even among the Australian natives the kokok or great owl is a bird of ill omen: "It smells death in the camp, and visits the neighbourhood of a dying person, calling Kokok! Kokok!" 138 The "bad spirit" also is said to employ owls to watch for him; hence owls are birds of ill omen, and hated accordingly. When one is heard hooting, the children immediately crawl under their grass mats. 139
In Tonquin every village chooses its guardian spirit (or totem), often in the form of an animal, as a dog, tiger, cat, or serpent. Sometimes a living person is selected as the patron divinity. Thus a beggar persuaded the people of a village that he was their guardian spirit, so they loaded him with honours and entertained him with their best. 140 The names of many Irish kings are said to be taken from their totems, and instances are given of the wearing of dresses to imitate curious animals on particular festival days. 141
Almost all savage beliefs are nowadays traced back by the savants to totemism. Why then should not the origin of similar ones held by refined and educated people be stretched back a little, so as to cover the time of their evolution from outward or undisguised savagery?
Where is the family in which some member does not believe in luck, or fatalism, in the dire calamity to follow the spilling of salt, in "thirteen at dinner" foreboding death? Whose heart has not beat at the sound of the death-watch? Where is the house which is not considered lucky to have a swallow's nest under the eaves, but especially against a window? Does not every household contain some one who dreads to hear an owl hoot, or a raven croak? Since this was written we have read in the papers of the heroic doings of the "Thirteen Club," who bravely defy the terrors which their very buffoonery shows they acknowledge. Their splendid temerity is well matched by their singular ignorance, to which the Spectator and other journals did sufficient justice at the time. Did we not note the names of more than one acknowledged savant, among the famous "thirteen" group?
In all lands there is something more than mere dread of deadly animals. They are looked upon by human beings with that same sort of physical shrinking, that negative attraction, with which all wild creatures, familiar with his appearance, regard a man--they fly from him. The stoutest of us, even here in England, will admit an involuntary shock, at least a momentary flutter, when he suddenly perceives he was about to step on a viper. The same instinct unrestrained, is that which causes some silly women to shriek at the sight of a mouse in the room, as though a lion were in the path. We superior people flout the idea of superstition, or of anything akin to the belief that there is anything uncanny in venomous beasts, yet very often the writer has remarked that a sportsman will call the keeper to kill an
adder, when a stroke from himself would have done it. Neither is it entire tenderness of heart which causes "my lady" to ring for Perks or the butler to kill the mouse. Mankind is the same everywhere at bottom, whether in Belgravia or in Uganda.
Hindoos especially hold the tiger in superstitious awe: many would not kill him if they could, nor are they always willing to show where he may be found, even when he has been killing their comrades or their cattle, from the fear that he may haunt them, or do them mischief, after he is dead. . . . In certain districts they will not pronounce his name. 142
They do the same as regards the wolf; but as a general rule they are glad that others should destroy both wolf and tiger, and make great rejoicing when either is killed. "All sorts of powers are ascribed to portions of the tiger after death: the fangs, the claws, the whiskers are potent charms, medicines, love philtres, or protectors against the evil eye, magic, disease or death. . . . It is difficult to preserve the skin of a tiger with claws and whiskers intact; the natives steal them if possible." Not only does this apply to tigers, but to lions, leopards, hyenas, cheetahs, wolves, jackals, wild dogs, and bears. "It is believed that these bears (Ursus labiatus) sometimes carry off women, hence perhaps one of their names, Adam-Zad." 143
Everywhere it is thought that the raven 144 is a bird of ill omen, and in Scotland this is well expressed in
the gilly's proverb: "Nae gude ever cam' o' killin' black craws."
The belief that bees have an affinity with the family of their owners is strongly held even now in Somerset. If a death occurs in the house to which the bees belong, they must be formally told of it before the corpse is carried away, or they will all die before the year is out. 145 It is considered a death portent in the family if the bees in swarming should settle on a dead tree.
In Northampton 146 if at a funeral the hearse has to be turned after the coffin is placed in it, it is a sure sign of another death in the family quickly to follow. Besides these portents, are the firm beliefs that certain objects used in a special way are not merely bad omens, but actual producers of death. For instance, here in Somerset it is steadfastly believed far and wide that "May"--the flower of the hawthorn--if brought into the house will cause death in it shortly. To put that common household implement the bellows on the table is equally fatal. The writer has known this to produce fright little short of convulsions in the "gudewife."
In some places the crowing of a hen, or rather the attempt, for it is at best only a poor and laughable imitation of her lord and master, is looked upon as foreboding ill-luck to the owner, and death is quickly dealt out to her in consequence; the idea being that taking her life will avert the impending trouble. On entering a farm-house in Somersetshire recently, I saw on the table a beautiful plump fowl, all picked and trussed ready for cooking, the farmer's wife explaining to me that her husband, seeing the hen in the yard in the act of crowing that morning, caught her at once, and then and there despatched her without
delay, his prompt action in the matter proving how strong and firmly rooted was his belief in the superstition. 147
Mr. Gomme says that certain trees are English totems, that they are particularly identified with the life of certain animals; that in many places in Ireland, and also in Scotland, misfortunes which have happened to families are said to have been occasioned by the cutting down of trees.
The curious antipathy of many people, particularly the Scotch, to the cutting down of trees, not on account of their beauty, but from the feeling that it is unlucky, or that it will lead to misfortune to do so, may surely be traced to the ancient worship of trees. We find in Scripture abundant evidence of this. The very earliest mention of them lends a sort of inspiration to the tree of knowledge and the tree of life, planted in the garden of our first parents. Then before they became objects of idolatry we read how Abraham planted a tree (grove, in the A.V.) in Beersheba, which was evidently of special sanctity, for there he called on the name of the Lord (Gen. xxi. 33). Later on when the Israelites had come under Egyptian influence, trees became objects of direct idolatry; the planting of a grove of trees near the altar of the Lord was strictly forbidden, "Neither shalt thou set thee up any image, which the Lord thy God hateth" (Deut. xvi. 22). 148
Among the ancient Egyptians 149 many trees and plants were held to be specially sacred. The peach was sacred to Athor, and to Harpocrates; while the sycamore was sacred to Nut. The tamarisk, so common in Egypt, was a holy tree, from having been chosen to overshadow the sepulchre of Osiris; the chest containing his body was found by Isis lodged in its branches, when driven ashore by the waves. The legend is quite in accord with our own experience, for the tamarisk is almost the only tree which will grow by the sea, where salt spray can reach.
Garlic and onions were treated as gods by the Egyptians when taking an oath, says Pliny, 150 while Juvenal satirises 151 them for their veneration of these garden-born deities. The palm branch represented a year in ideographic writing. The ivy was called Chenosiris, or the plant of Osiris. 152 Evergreens seem to have been special favourites in ancient times; among the Romans, the myrtle was sacred to Venus, 153 and it was on this account that the myrtle had always to be excluded from the components of a maiden's wreath. The laurel and bay were sacred to Apollo, and the olive to Minerva. The pine has been held in reverence by many races. In ancient Greece it was sacred to Poseidon, Dionysos, and Zeus. It was especially the tree beloved of virgins. The Pinea Corona was the emblem of virginity which Daphne took from Chloe and placed upon her own head. Among the Romans the chaste Diana was crowned with a chaplet of pine. 154
Clement of Alexandria mentions thirty-six plants dedicated to the genii who presided over the signs of the zodiac.
In classic days tree and plant worship was prevalent both in Greece and Italy. Pliny tells us that in the Forum at Rome there was a sacred fig-tree named ruminalis, which was worshipped from the time of Romulus down to his day, 155 and dire consternation would have arisen if any evil had befallen it. Tacitus also speaks of this tree, while the writer can testify that it is still to be seen on the Forum, sculptured on one of the two remarkable monuments, said to have been erected by Trajan, each of which has the Sustaurovilia or Suovetaurilia on one of its sides. The tree appears in the bas-relief which commemorates the foundation of an orphanage. Another sacred tree in Rome grew on the Palatine, and whenever in a dry season this tree seemed to be drooping, Plutarch says a shout was raised, and people ran from all sides with pails of water as if to put out a fire. The story of Daphne being changed into a laurel-tree is all in keeping with this ancient faith. 156
Uncivilised man all the world over, from the extreme east in Kamtschatka to the extreme west in the Rocky Mountains, has always believed that trees held not only living spirits, but that they were animate themselves.
Trees are regarded by some people as the body itself of a living being, and by others as the abode of a spirit, but in either case as capable of feeling, and hence they must not be cut down or injured. In Livonia there is a sacred grove, where it is believed that if any man cuts down a tree, or even breaks a branch, he will die within the year. The tree spirit had always to be appeased before the wood could be cut. In ancient Rome, before thinning out trees, a pig had to be sacrificed to the deity of the grove.
One remarkable and widespread belief regarding trees was that certain kinds had the power of granting easy delivery to women. In Sweden there was a sacred tree near every farm, which no one was allowed to touch, not even to pluck a single leaf. The women used to clasp this tree
with their arms during pregnancy to ensure easy delivery. 157
The same thing is done in Congo, and the women also make themselves garments from the bark of their sacred tree, because they believe that it will deliver them from the peril of childbirth.
How old this belief is, may be seen from the Greek story of Leto, that when about to give birth to Apollo and Artemis, she clasped a palm and an olive, or, according to some, two laurels, that she might obtain painless delivery.
It is still believed that certain trees have the power of producing fertility; moreover the exact converse has been believed in all ages regarding other plants. Among the ancient Greeks and Romans it was firmly held that certain plants had the property of rendering women pregnant. In Turkestan, the Kirjiz women, if barren, roll themselves on the ground under a solitary apple-tree in order to obtain offspring. This ancient faith in the fertilising power of the tree spirit is shown still in the common custom in many parts of Europe of placing a green branch on May Day before the house of a sweetheart. A similar custom is placed to the account of the Irish: "they fancy a green bough of a tree fastened on May Day against the house will produce plenty of milk." In Germany also peasants set up May-trees, one for each horse or cow, before the stable doors, in order that the cows may give more milk.
Moreover, May Day customs have always been accompanied by much dancing, which has been held to have a mystic meaning in connection with fertility,
but somewhat outside our subject, as treated for the general reader.
Most of our May Day festivities if traced to their ultimate origin will be found to be branches of tree-worship, and to lead to the old faith, typified by the death of the spirit of vegetation, and its resuscitation in the spring. The harvest wail in our "Crying the Neck" to-day, the Μανέρως or Λίνος of the ancient Greeks, the "Dirge of Isis" of the still dimmer antiquity, alike point to the central belief of humanity that the deity should be slain and die that he might rise again to give life to man. The joyous shout following the wail in all these cases typifies the gladness of the world at the revival of the dead god, just as the May Day rejoicings all over the temperate part of the northern hemisphere commemorate the spring, or the uprising of dead vegetation.
This must be the true meaning of all those curious customs of which Brand, Hone, and others' give so many particulars. If such were doubtful, it is proved by the fact that in more northern latitudes, where vegetation is much later in the season, all these rites are postponed. In Sweden they setup their Maj Stänger on St. John's Eve (June 23), with elaborate decorations of leaves and flowers, round which they dance. They have also large bonfires like the Beltan fires, to be danced around and jumped over. In some parts of Bohemia also the pole is set up on Midsummer Eve, and like bonfire customs are observed there, together with much climbing of the pole by the men, after the garlands and ribbons fixed to it by the maidens. All these things are said to have typical relation to subjects nearly akin to the revival of vegetation,
and to many grosser rites, that can be no more than hinted at in these pages. 158
The Congo natives place calabashes of water under certain trees, that the tree spirit may drink when thirsty. In parts of India a marriage ceremony is performed between trees, as between human beings; while in the Moluccas, 159 clove-trees in blossom are treated like pregnant women. No loud noise must be made nor anything done to frighten the tree, lest she should drop her fruit like the untimely deliverance of a woman. This same idea of pregnancy is held with regard to rice in bloom, by the Javanese, and in Orissa. Red Indians of North America and old Austrian peasants are equally averse to cutting down green trees, from the belief that they are animate, and feel wounds as acutely as a man himself The Mundaris 160 in Assam have a sacred grove near every village, and the grove deities are held responsible for the crops; at all great agricultural festivals they are especially honoured.
Philippine Islanders believe the souls of their fathers to dwell in certain trees, and cut them only on compulsion.
Among the Bechuanas the blackthorn is held sacred, and it is a very serious offence to cut a bough from it and carry it into the village during the rainy season; but when the corn is ripe they go and cut a branch, which each man brings back. 161 The juniper is much venerated, according to De Gubernatis, in Italy and in Northern Germany,
as a protector against evil spirits. "Frau Wachholder," the juniper spirit, is invoked to discover thieves by bending down certain of the branches. There are many Italian stories and legends about the juniper in connection with Our Lady, who was hidden by one in her flight, and who blessed it in consequence. In Italy branches of juniper are hung up at Christmas just as the holly is in England, France, and Switzerland. "In the sacred cemetery at Meccah, the aloe, here as in Egypt, is hung like the dried crocodile over houses as a talisman against evil spirits." 162
Of all trees, the oak seems to be the sacred one par excellence of the Aryan people in those latitudes where it grows. It certainly ranked first among the holy trees of the Germans, and was indeed their chief god; distinct traces of its worship have survived almost to the present day. To the ancient inhabitants of Italy the oak was sacred above all other trees. The image of Jupiter Capitolinus at Rome was nothing but a natural oak-tree, according to Livy. The Greeks worshipped Zeus as residing in the sacred oak at Dodona, and the rustling of its leaves was his voice. The civic crown of the Romans was of oak; and a chaplet of oak was the reward of eminent services rendered to the State. Acorns having been the staple food of man till Demeter introduced corn, boughs of oak were carried in her mysteries at Eleusis. The Druids all consenting pitched on the most beautiful oak-tree, cut off its side branches, and then joined two of them to the highest part of the trunk, so that they extended
themselves on either side like the arms of a man this was the Thau or God. 163
Frazer 164 says the presumption is that in the primitive fire festivals, the essential feature was the burning of a man who represented the tree spirit, and that the tree so represented was the oak. These sacred fires were of oak kindled by the "needfire," which was always produced by the friction of two pieces of wood, and these pieces, among Celts, Germans, and Slavs, were always of oak. 165 In Scotland until quite modern times the Beltein, 166 or Baal's fire as it is (wrongly) called, was kept up in Ayr on St. Peter's Day, and in Perth on May Day; in Northumberland and Cumberland at Midsummer, and in Ireland, known as La Beal-tine, on May Day. The first of May is called in Irish La Beal-tine, "that is, the day of Beal's fire." Beal and Phnician Baal are said to be one and the same deity--the sun. 167 Another writer 168 says: "On St. John's Eve, the 23rd of June, still may be seen a few bonfires on the mountains; in the old days they blazed on every hill and in every farm. No field was fruitful into which a burning brand had not been thrown, no horse or cow which had not been touched by fire on that night." The date
here does not accord with other accounts, though the custom is abundantly recorded.
Here in Britain we all believe in the sacred groves of our Druid forefathers, whose worship is said to have always been under an oak. The Saxons held their meetings under an oak, and there are endless stories connected with that tree, all of which may be said to be kept alive by our still commemorating the 29th of May as "Oak Apple Day," with boughs of oak--a notable example of popular inaccuracy. The date of the Restoration being perpetuated by the memory of King Charles's escape on quite a different occasion. We are too apt to forget that besides King Charles's oak, all this tree-worship is in our very midst, and is kept up to this day. What is the old Christmas custom of wassailing the apple-trees, which the writer himself has often heard going on, but a worship, a pouring out of a libation to the tree spirit? 169
In the typical representation of "plenty" known to all Freemasons, we have in the "ear of corn near a fall of water," not only a reminder of the ancient worship of the spirit of vegetation, symbolised by the corn, but also another example of association of ideas with facts--the dramatic representation of the desired result. The corn irrigated by the water from this point of view is a singularly appropriate symbol of abundance.
Our Scandinavian forefathers were less acquainted
with the oak. With them the ash, Igdrasil, the tree of life, was especially sacred. We find the survival of this amongst ourselves in the passing of a child afflicted with congenital hernia through a growing ash, 170 always an ash, with certain formulæ connected with sunrise and Sunday, by which a new-born life is typified. 171 Several instances of this cure are recorded in the Gentleman's Magazine for 1804, p. 909. The writer of these says the rupture returns whenever the tree is cut down. Other beliefs are still entertained respecting the ash in various parts of England. The following evidently relates to Warwickshire: "Tom was in a state of as blank unimaginativeness concerning the cause and tendency of his sufferings, as if he had been an innocent shrew-mouse imprisoned in the split trunk of an ash-tree in order to cure lameness in cattle." 172
The old west country custom of burning an ashen faggot on Christmas Eve points to the sacredness of the ash. From it, an old Norse tradition says that man was first formed. It is believed that idols were made from it: "He planteth an ash, and the rain doth nourish it. . . And the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image" (Isaiah xliv. 14-17). Hence probably was developed our Christmas custom, which is no less
than the burning of Igdrasil, the tree of life, emblematical of the death of vegetation at the winter solstice. It is supposed that misfortune will certainly fall on the house where the burning is not kept up, while, on the other hand, its due performance is believed to lead to many benefits. The faggot must be bound with three or more "binds" or withes, and one or other of these is chosen by the young people. The bind which first bursts in the fire shows that whoever chose it will be first to be married. Hence at the breaking of each bind the cider cup goes round to pledge the healths first of the lucky ones and afterwards of "our noble selves," etc. 173
The old idea of a spirit residing in trees is expanded into one embracing all vegetation. Hence the corn spirit, which the Romans worshipped as the goddess Ceres, was a cult which still exists unconsciously at our very doors. The little plaited ears of corn hung up in a farmhouse kitchen, which the writer has seen within the past few days (December 1893), speak of the slaying of a divinity, such as the Egyptian Osiris, and of the subsequent resurrection of the life-giving corn. 174
The remarkable similarity in customs all over Europe points to the conclusion that tree-worship was once an important element in the early religion of mankind, especially of the Aryan stock, and that the singular uniformity of the rites and ceremonies which can easily be shown to exist in widely separated countries, fully warrants us in believing that they have not much changed from very remote
ages, and that the practices continued down to a very recent period by peasantry, some even among ourselves, were substantially identical with the same rites and ceremonies observed by Egyptians, Etruscans, Greeks and Romans. 175
In further reference to trees and plants it should be noted, that there is a strange and very remarkable antipathy as well as sympathy amongst certain of them, just as there is between certain animals. The laurel is said to be fatal to rosemary and the vine: the cabbage will not grow under either vine or olive. We all know that the fir will not grow with the elm; that hardly anything will grow under the beech. On the other hand, the vine and the poplar have a special affinity; so has the mushroom for the chestnut, and rue for the fig. Between the oak and the olive there exists a hatred so inveterate, that transplanted, either of them, to a site previously occupied by the other, they will die. 176
The same attraction or repulsion is very evident between certain animals and reptiles, and still more is this the case as between some men and some animals. Man and beast alike have an inborn repugnance to snakes; "dog-and-cat life" is a common description of habitual domestic squabbling. Some persons cannot endure cats, and the very presence of a cat, even if not seen, throws them into convulsions. Bats, too, have the like effect upon certain people. An Italian physician, Antonio
[paragraph continues] Vallisneri, relates a curious instance of this kind. He shut up a bat in a box which he placed in the room of his patient, who on entering, though utterly ignorant of the presence of the bat, was immediately seized with convulsions, which continued until the bat was removed. Those of us who have visited tombs and ruins where many bats live, can more readily accept this story, from the peculiar and pungent odour they emit.
Antipathy and sympathy among men and women have existed from the beginning, and create a feeling we cannot call mere prejudice, viewed from either side of the attraction we now call fascination.
Non amo te, Sabidi, nec possum dicere quare;
Hoc tantum possum dicere--non amo te! 177
is but the old-world form of our modern
I do not love you, Dr. Fell!
The reason why, I cannot tell
But this alone I know full well,
I do not love you, Dr. Fell.
Many authors from Plato and Aristotle down to Descartes and William Hazlitt have written upon this subject, which may be said to fall within the scope of fascination, although here we have only space to hint at it.
On reflecting upon all the strange cults and practices in connection with the annual death and resurrection of the spirit of vegetation we are struck by the apparent repetition of the same old idea of the slaying and the resurrection of a god, figured in the ancient Egyptian myth of Osiris preserved on the wall at Philæ; in the very remarkable cult of Diana Nemorensis, wherein her priest was slain
by his successor after he had plucked the golden bough; and in our own familiar custom of "crying the neck," already referred to.
Mr. Frazer has worked out at considerable length and with striking force, the belief which seems to lie deep down in the heart of man, inherited from his very earliest ancestors, that not only was a human victim a fitting, but a necessary object for sacrifice, whether to atone for past offences or to propitiate for future favours. The faith of Abraham was tested in a way evidently familiar, and not apparently shocking or unreasonable according to the customs of his day. The killing of a substitute for a god, 178 may be observed in many of the human sacrificial rites performed by savage or semi-savage people. The view that the victim is also an embodiment of the spirit of the deity to be slain, is shown by the great pains taken "to secure a physical correspondence between him and the natural object," whose spirit or embodiment he is made to represent. Thus the Mexicans killed young victims for the young corn, and old ones for the ripe. The full identification of the victim with the corn spirit or deity is shown by the African custom of putting him to death with spades and hoes, and by the Mexican, of grinding him like corn between two stones.
Stranger still, the same author shows plainly and at great length the custom of sacramental eating the representative body of the slain god to be prevalent as the survival of a cult long anterior to Christianity.
Not only did the Pawnee chief devour the heart of the Sioux girl, slain as a sacrificial offering, but
other savages ate the victim's flesh not as cannibals, but as a sacred rite. Even in pious Sweden the flour from the grain of the last sheaf, supposed to contain the corn spirit, is baked into a loaf in the shape of a girl, which is divided amongst the whole household and eaten by them. In Scotland, too, the last sheaf is made up into a female form and is called "the Maiden," but we are told nothing as to its being eaten in any special way--it is rather kept; but everywhere the eating of a loaf made from the last sheaf is certainly thought to be eating the god of the corn. At La Palisse, in France, moreover, the dough man, made of the last of the corn, cut at the end of harvest, is actually broken in pieces by the mayor and given to the people to eat.
The custom of eating bread sacramentally as the body of a god was practised by the Aztecs before the discovery and conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards. A long account of the ceremonies used is given by Acosta (Hakluyt Society); and another writer (Bancroft) gives further details of this rite, especially how a priest took a flint-tipped dart, and hurled it into the breast of the dough image, piercing it through and through. This was called "killing the god Huitzilopochtli, so that his body might be eaten." The image was divided into minute pieces, one of which every male, even down to the babe in the cradle, received to eat, but no woman might taste a morsel. The ceremony was called torqualo, that is "God is eaten." Mr. Frazer also produces evidence of sacramental eating of bread as practised by ancient Romans at Aricia, near Albano, and traces the custom of eating animals and men by various races,
in the belief that the eater acquires the physical, moral, and intellectual qualities of the animal or man so eaten.
There can be no doubt of the totem origin of the ritual of sacrificial offerings, especially that of eating the slain god. "The victim is not only slain, but the worshippers partake of the body and blood of the victim, so that his life passes into their life, and knits them to the deity in living communion." 179
The same belief comes to us from Australia, where the cannibal aborigines consider that "the most delicate morsel of all is the fat about the kidneys. By eating this they believe that they acquire part of the slain person's strength, and so far as I could understand, this was even more true of the kidneys themselves. For according to a widespread Australian belief, the kidneys are the centre of life." 180 The natives on Herbert River are particularly fond of the fat of a dead foe, which is not only eaten as a delicacy and as strengthening food, but is also carried as an amulet.
In the north-east of Burmah are mountain tribes who eat the congealed blood of their enemies. "The blood is poured into bamboo reeds, corked up, and in course of time hardens. When the chief wants to treat his friends to this kind of food, the reed is broken and the contents devoured with the greatest relish." The natives believe that they "will thereby acquire the courage and strength of their enemies." 181
In further support of this idea, an authentic story comes from India, 181a where it is very firmly believed
that the flesh eaten imparts to the eater the fierceness or other qualities of the animal so consumed.
Mr. Evans, a Wesleyan missionary, who has been living in the Kassia hills, but who has evidently no knowledge of native religions, relates that the people there are primitive and old-world in their beliefs, although it appears that he has a considerable flock who have adopted Christianity. Not long since, a certain Captain Crawley, who was on a visit, heard that a goat had been killed by a tiger close to the village. After the usual preparations he shot the tiger, whereupon the natives asked to have the flesh given to them; this was agreed to on condition that he should have the skin and head. The people (we presume the men) then took the carcase and made a hearty meal off it. On the following day, being Sunday, they attended Mr. Evans's chapel, and he was at once aware of the overpowering odour from the people's breath--so much so that he was obliged to adjourn to the open air, but even there he had to conduct his service with much discomfort.
Among Mr. Evans's congregation was a milkman, to whom of course the cows were quite accustomed. On that Sunday morning however, on going to milk his cows, they became instantly frantic, and the usually docile creatures burst from their fastenings and rushed away, They would not permit their own attendant to come near them, and had to be milked by another man who did not smell of tiger. It does not appear that these people liked tiger meat, but it seems to have been eaten under the impression that it would make them strong and fierce, by the absorption into their bodies of the tiger qualities through
eating his flesh; and looking at the fact that Hindoos hold the tiger in awe as the embodiment of a deity, they were performing a sort of sacramental rite, which their adoption of Christianity by no means tended to modify or to influence.
There is nothing uncommon in the notion that the flesh of oxen gives strength and courage, while that of sheep does not. This is said to be the reason why our soldiers and sailors are fed on beef and seldom taste mutton.
We are thus brought to see that some of the most sacred and mysterious rites of our religious faith have had their beginning in the beliefs and customs of those we now call pagans, and that these crude though firm ideas, planted in the heart of primæval man, have but been purified, purged from their gross accretions, and adapted to our still imperfect intelligence, as suitable to the limited vision of our humanity. So far from investigations of this nature tending to injure or to lower our convictions of the truth, or the reality of Revelation, the veil seems to be somewhat lifted, to enable us to see how consistent and prearranged is the divine plan to meet the usages and forms of thought implanted in the human breast. The various types, allegories, and parables, whereby we are instructed in Holy Scripture, are but adaptations of that innate association of ideas with facts, which seems to have been one of the very earliest creations of man's reasoning faculties.
89:131 The word "totem" is North-American Indian, almost unchanged. Among the Algonquins dodaim is their name for their tribe-animal or totem, and hence the term has been adopted by ethnologists everywhere to express the idea (Tylor, Prim. Cult. ii. 213). Ogilvie spells it Totam.
89:132 "The term totem signifies the device of a gens or tribal division; it may be an animal or a vegetable, or any natural object or phenomenon, or even a mere quality. The nature of totemism as a system is shown by the fact that among the Australians the totem is the symbol of a group of kinsmen. It is thus equivalent to a family name, and it is properly defined as a 'badge of fraternity,' answering to the 'device of a gens.' . . . The gens is founded on two chief conceptions, the bond of kin and non-intermarriage of persons belonging to the same gens. This obligation applies not only to human beings, but also to the totem group of objects which are regarded as sacred by the members of the gens, although they may be killed and eaten by persons not belonging to it. . . . The fundamental basis of totemism is to be found in the phase of human thought which supposes spirits to inhabit trees and groves, and to move in the winds and stars, and which personifies almost every phase of nature."--C. Stanisland Wake, "Definition of Totemism," British Association Report, 1887, p. 906.
89:133 Foray of Queen Meave, p. 96, quoted in N. and Q. 8th ser. iv. p. 431.
90:134 Elton, Origins of English History, 2nd edition, p. 279.
90:135 "Lecture on Totemism," Standard, April 17, 1889.
90:135a "There is a small black spider that often gets on clothes or hats; this is called a 'money spider,' and if you kill it you will be sure to suffer from the lack of the needful."--Choice Notes from N. and Q. ("Folk Lore") p. 164.
90:136 Le Farm, Seventy Years of Irish Life, 1894, p. 41.
90:137 "Hold a robin in veneration: to kill one is most unlucky. This bird is said to tap three times at the window before the death of any member of the family. Always take off your hat to a magpie, or at any rate bow respectfully to him, or evil will surely follow."--"Somerset Superstitions," in Somerset County Herald, Nov. 8, 1892. The magpie seems to be held everywhere as a portentous bird.
Augurs and understood relations have
By magot-pies and choughs and rooks brought forth
The secret'st man of blood.--Macbeth, Act iii. Sc. 4.
Nearly every district has its own special version of the omens to be interpreted by the numbers seen at any one time. Our Somerset one is--p. 91
One, sign o' anger; two, sign o' muth;
Dree, sign o' wedding-day; vower, sign o' death
Vive, sign o' zorrow; zix, sign o' joy;
Zebm, sign o' maid; an' eight, sign o' boy.
The belief that the magpie is the devil's own bird is no doubt the reason of the well-known custom alluded to above. Our vernacular "Always take off your hat to the devil," conveys the same notion, which may be considered as a free paraphrase of "A soft answer turneth away wrath," that is, disarms malignity, and so neutralises the baneful glance of an enemy's eye.
In Ireland (Le Fanu, op. cit. p. 104) it is lucky to see two pies, but unlucky to see one. This seems the universal belief.
92:137a I have shot many owls, and have often "had bad luck." I scarcely attribute the bad luck to the owls.
92:138 Dawson, Australian Aborigines, 1881, p. 52.
92:139 Ibid. p. 50,
92:140 Frazer, Golden Bough, vol. i. p. 40. Bastian, Die Völker des östlichen Asien, vol. iv. p. 383.
92:141 For a full and comprehensive review of totemism, see Frazer, Golden Bough, vol. ii. p. 337 et seq. For particulars of various gentes, with their customs, stories, legends, but especially for lists of birds, animals, and objects adopted as totems with their native names, see "Anthropological Report," British Association Report. 1889, p. 819 et seq.
94:142 Sir Joseph Fayrer, "Deadly Wild Beasts of India," in Nineteenth Century, August 1889, p. 223.
94:143 Ibid. p. 236.
The owl shriek'd at thy birth,--an evil sign
The night-crow cried, aboding luckless time
Dogs howl'd, and hideous tempest shook down trees
The raven rook'd her on the chimney's top,
And chattering pies in dismal discords sung.
3 Henry VI. Act v. Sc. 6.
95:145 West Somerset Word-Book, p. 55; also Brand, vol. ii. p. 300; also "Superstitions," in Somerset County Herald, Nov. 8, 1892.
95:146 Notes and Queries, Oct. 21, 1893, p. 328 (8th ser. iv.).
96:147 Wellington Weekly News, June 13, 1889.
96:148 It should be borne in mind that the word "grove" in the A.V. must not be always, nor indeed generally, taken in its present sense. Authorities agree that Jezebel's groves were idols of a special kind called Asherah in Hebrew. They were symbolic trees, of which several representations are preserved in Babylonish sculptures. The worship was particularly licentious and obscene. Full information may be found in Smith's Dict. of the Bible, s.v. "Asherah-Grove," and in Daremberg et Saglio, Dict. des Antiquités. Those who require more detailed particulars must consult books like Forlong's Rivers of Life, Inman's Ancient Faiths, Higgins's Anacalypsis, etc. The latter is a learned and very interesting book.
97:149 Wilkinson, Ancient Egyptians, iii, 349; see also Ib. pp. 110, 131, 132.
97:150 Nat. Hist. xix. 32. The inhabitants of Pelusium were devoted to the worship of the onion and garlic.
97:151 Juvenal, Sat. xv.
97:152 Plutarch, De Iside, s. 37.
97:153 Pliny, Nat. Hist. xv. 35 (Bohn, vol. iii. p. 328).
97:154 In Silesia (Cultus Arborum, privately printed 1890, p. 76). "Frau p. 97 Fichte," the pine, is credited with great healing powers, and is believed to preserve animals from harm. Boughs of it are hung up on stable doors to keep off the evil spirits. In Bohemia, too, the pine kernel from the topmost cone is thought to make the eater invulnerable against shot. In other parts of Germany to tie a knot in the highest shoot of a pine-tree is a sovereign remedy for gout! (Doubtless!).
98:155 Pliny, Nat. Hist. xv. 20 (Bohn, vol. iii. p. 3 10).
98:156 Among the sacred trees and plants we cannot omit the large number which in a way are, even amongst ourselves, dedicated to or named after Our Lady. First are those into which the name enters, as in Marigold, Marsh Marigold, Rose Mary, Mary Buds (Calendula officinalis).
Winking Mary-buds begin
To ope their golden eyes.--Cymbeline, Act ii. Sc. 3.
[paragraph continues] St. Mary's Seed (Sonchus Oleraceus, Sow thistle), Mary's Tears, or Sage of Bethlehem (Pulmonaria officinalis).
Then we have Lady Glove (Digitalis purpurea). This is very different from the Italian Guanto di nostra Signora.
Our Lady's Cowslip, Our Lady's Cushion, Lady's Keys (Primula veris), called also in German Frauenschlüssel.
Our Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris).
Lady's Meat, Lady's Milk, Lady's Milkwort, Our Lady's Seal (Tamus communis), "Sigillum Sanctæ Mariæ."
Our Lady's Thistle (Carduus Marianus).
Virgin Mary's Candle (Verbascum Thapsus).
Virgin Mary's Cowslip and Virgin Mary's Milk-drops (Pulmonaria officinalis).
Virgin Mary's Pinch (Polygonum Persicaria).
Virgin's Bower (Clematis vitalba). With very many more. We do not of course include amongst these any plants which are not manifestly intended by their names to indicate the B.V.M. There are very many of these--such as Lady's Slipper, Lady's Garters, My Lady's Looking-glass--to be found in the old herbals, but more readily in Britten's Eng. Plant-Names (E. Dial. Soc.), or in Prior's Popular Names of British Plants.
100:157 Mannhardt, Der Baumkultur der Germanen und ihrer Nachbarstämme, p. 51. For much information on this subject see Frazer, G. B. i. 74.
102:158 Upon this subject see Forlong, Rivers of Life; Hargrave Jennings, Phallicism; Phallic Series; Payne Knight's Worship of Priapus, etc. etc.
102:159 Frazer, Golden Bough, vol. i. p. 60 et seq. Much information is given and very many authorities are quoted.
102:160 Dalton, Ethnology of Bengal, p. 188.
102:161 J. Mackenzie, Ten Years North of the Orange River, p. 385.
103:162 Sir R. F. Burton, Pilgrimage to Meccah and Medinah, ed. 1893, ii. 248.
104:163 Borlase, Hist. of Cornwall, p.. 108.
104:164 Golden Bough, Vol. ii. p. 291 et seq.
104:165 In the Pitt Rivers Museum is a complete collection of apparatus such as was used for the "needfire," and is still employed by some savage races.
104:166 Brand, Pop. Ant. Vol. i. pp. 226, 228, 318, 337. Elton, Orig. Eng. Hist. p. 261. See also Kemble, Saxons in England, Vol. i. p. 361.
104:167 See New Eng. Dict. s.v. "Beltane." "The rubbish about Baal, Bel, Belus, imported into the word from the O.T. and classical antiquity, is outside the scope of scientific etymology." The word is pure Celtic; in Gaelic bealltainn is the name of the 1st of May. The word has nothing to do with Baal, and is but one more instance of popular etymology. The very fact that the name was applied to fires lighted at different seasons completely destroys the Baal theory.
104:168 Le Fanu, Seventy Years of Irish Life, 1894, p. 101.
105:169 See W. Somerset Word-Bk. p. 820. Brand, Pop. Ant. vol. i. pp. 9-29. An account of the recent performance of this curious ceremony appeared in the Devon and Somerset Weekly News, Feb. 20, 1890, although Brand says the custom is discontinued. Raymond in Sam and Sabina (Pseudonym Library) gives a good account of wassailing apple-trees, and also of burning the ashen faggot.
106:170 This tree was evidently highly prized by the ancients who had the oak as well; for Pliny (Nat. Hist. xvi. 24; Bohn, iii. 365) says that the leaves of the ash yield an extract which is a specific for the bites of serpents; that no serpent will ever lie in the shadow of an ash, either morning or evening, and that they keep the greatest possible distance from it. He states positively that if a serpent and a lighted fire are placed within a circle formed of the leaves, it will rather throw itself into the fire than encounter the ash leaves.
106:171 Referred to ante, p. 69. Newspapers and magazines in plenty testify to the prevalence of this well-known custom. See Gentleman's Mag. June 1804; also Cultus Arborum, Phallic Series, privately printed 1890, p. 67.
106:172 George Eliot, Mill on the Floss, p. 126. See also Brand, iii. 290.
107:173 Many curious beliefs as to the power of the ash-tree will be found in Brand, vol. iii. p. 290 sq.
107:174 "Crying the Neck," by F. T. Elworthy, Trans. Devon Assoc. 1891.
108:175 "Tree-worship may be traced from the interior of Africa not only into Egypt and Arabia, but also onward uninterruptedly into Palestine and Syria, Assyria, Persia, India, Thibet, Siam, the Philippine Islands, China, Japan and Siberia, also westward into Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, and other countries."--Gen. of Earth and Man, p. 139, in Smith's Dict. of the Bible.
108:176 Pliny, Nat. Hist. xxiv. i. (Bohn). The whole chapter is upon the antipathies and sympathies which exist among trees and plants.
109:177 Martial, Epigr. i. 33.
110:178 Frazer, Golden Bough, vol. i. p. 391; vol. ii. p. 67 et seq.
112:179 Prof. W. Robertson Smith, Ency. Brit. s.v. "Sacrifice," p. 138.
112:180 Carl Lumholtz, Among Cannibals, 1889, p. 272.
112:181 Ibid. p. 274.
112:181a Letter from Mr. Samuel Peal, resident in Assam.