The Evil Eye, by Frederick Thomas Elworthy, , at sacred-texts.com
IN the story told by Jorio of the Neapolitan woman (p. 261), another side of the question, so far only hinted at, is opened out. It is the effect believed to exist in certain actions, performed openly, secretly, or in the way of incantation. When, in talking with a stranger, a Neapolitan keeps his hands behind his back in the position described as mano cornuta, he does precisely what is meant: he performs an act unknown to the person against whom it is intended, but which the actor believes will shield him from the possible harm coming to him from the other party. Acts of this kind are performed with a twofold object: in the one case to keep off injury; in the other to bring about what is desired, such as secretly touching a hunchback at Monte Carlo. Among the latter are all such acts as are done or said "for luck." How common it is at cards when a player has had a run of ill fortune, to get up and turn his chair three times "to change the luck." On Christmas Eve 1889 the moon was two days old. Two keepers and two beaters were just about to go home after a day's shooting. "There's the new moon," said one. "Ees, and
over the right shoulder, too," said another. "Turn your money vor luck," said number three. "I han't a-got nort but a penny," replied number one. "Oh! thick idn no good, must be zilver," said number three. This kind of dialogue is to be heard every day; and is only given here because it is specific, and was spoken in the writer's own hearing. Almost the same thing comes from South Africa.
Mr. G. S. Foot writes to the Spectator of October 29, 1892, respecting the doings of some native boys.
On looking out, I saw them one after another take lighted brands from the fire, and throw them towards some object in the sky. They then stood in a praying attitude, and loudly shouted, "Give plenty money!" They replied to inquiries: that all boys thus greeted the new moon; and it was found to be a universal custom among the Mashonas.
The marriage of the Czar Nicholas Il. furnishes a curious fact in this connection, and like the rite of the passport for the dead (see p. 399) shows that in Russia practices are solemnised which in more western countries would be classed as magic.
By orthodox theologians the symbolical meaning of the golden and silver rings is, explained thus: The gold ring bestowed on the man signifies that he is to be as the sun to his future wife, irradiating her with his light. She is given the silver ring, inasmuch as, like the moon, she receives her brilliancy from her husband. The changing of rings, which ends by leaving to both their own, symbolises union and concord of husband and wife. 641a
Very nearly allied to this is the custom at fairs or markets for the seller, on being paid for cattle, to give back a silver coin "for luck." So much is this a recognised custom, that in close bargains a very frequent stipulation is made for so much "to luck." Luck money, too, should always be silver.
[paragraph continues] Further, it is common among the regular market-dealers, when the "luck money" is handed back to the buyer, for the receiver to spit on it "for luck." The same habit of spitting on a coin is very common also by the receiver when won in a bet, or when it is the first money received for the day. 642
This custom of spitting opens up quite a wide subject, for not only is it practised in the hope of obtaining good fortune, but in all ages, and almost among all peoples, it has ever been considered as an act to safeguard the spitter, whether against fascination or other evils. Among the ancient Greeks and Romans "the most common remedy against an invidious look was spitting; it was hence called despuere malum." 643 According to Theocritus "it is necessary to spit three times into the breast of the person who fears fascination."
Old women were accustomed to avert the evil eye from children by spitting into their bosoms: this was done three times--three being a sacred number. "Hence Damtas . . . having praised himself, adds that by the advice of old Cotyttaris he had spit thrice into, his bosom to prevent fascination." 644
It was usual to reprove arrogant persons by bidding them spit into their bosoms. 645 Among the ancient Greeks it was customary to spit three times into their bosoms at the sight of a madman, or one troubled with epilepsy. 646 This was done in defiance of the omen, spitting being a sign of contempt and aversion. 647
Another method of averting fascination from infants was this: they tied a thread of divers colours about the neck of the infant (compare the coloured ribbons on horses, and the coloured worsted on the fattura della morte), then spat on the ground, and taking up the spittle mixed with dirt upon their finger, put it upon the infant's forehead and lips. Moreover, this had to be done with the digitus infamis. As to the latter, there is no doubt as to which is the finger of disgrace. 648
Pagan lustration was performed with the middle finger.
Th' obscure old grandam, or the next of kin,
The new-born infant from the cradle takes,
And first of spittle a lustration makes:
Then in the spawl her middle finger dips,
Anoints the temples, forehead, and the lips.
Thus Dryden translates that part of the second satire of Persius in which occurs the line--
"Infami digito, et lustralibus ante salivis."
The improper and indecorous placing of the hand and fingers is also to be classed among derisive grimaces. Formerly the middle finger expressed the utmost contempt and ignominy when thrust out, with the other fingers closed. On that account it is called infamis and imbudicus. 649 Isidorus Hispalensis says: "When any one wished formerly to mock contumeliously, or to signify the utmost derision, he used to thrust out the middle finger." It is said 650 that when certain visitors came to Demosthenes, who did not salute him with the
index, he recognised them with his stretched-out middle finger.
There was much discussion among old writers upon this gesture. Suetonius calls it "the hand formed in an obscene manner"; others declare it impudicitiam ostendere.
Besides this thrusting out of the middle finger, there was another sign of contemptuous mocking grimace, made by the interposition or insertion of the thumb between the index and middle finger, so that the thumb projects beyond, while the rest of the fingers are contracted into a fist. This is the greatest indignity of all mocking gestures, "dicitur ab Italis Far le fiche." 651 In the theatres they had three ways of expressing disapproval or derision of the actors by the hands, besides the well-known hissing, shouting, thrusting out the tongue, and other facial contortions. These were: First, by making with the hands what was called a crane's bill, "Pinsente etiam rostro ciconiam manibus quandoque exprimebant"; secondly, by imitating asses' ears, "Et imitabantur aliquando asini auriculas"; thirdly, by the thumb gesture (mano in fica), "Tertium, cum manus in obscnum modum formata." The latter was evidently the most forcible: indeed it seems to have become so common as to be signified by the mere word favere, i.e. properly to applaud, but practically to recognise the actor in either way, by applauding or disapproval. This was precisely analogous to other cases where it was customary to say præfiscini or defigere. In fact these were slang words of the Empire. It was evidently considered an extremely vulgar sort of disapprobation,
for we read, "Turpissime contra aliquem favere," i.e. "It is most disgraceful to express disapproval of any one by thrusting out the mano fica."
What was the nature of the crane's-bill gesture is not very clear. Persius says (Sat. i.):--
"O Iane, a tergo quem nulla ciconia pinsit."
We are told that jokers make the stork (crane) by joining all the fingers; they then place them to the lower part in the likeness of a crane's bill. 652 There is much discussion of this performance, but in the absence of any drawing it is difficult to explain; the a tergo will perhaps suggest something. So also we are told with much detail how the asses' ears were imitated. The two hands were applied to the temples and the fingers moved backwards and forwards. This attitude survives in No. 7 (Stupido) of the Neapolitan gestures on Fig. 120.
Passing from manual gestures, already dealt with, we find spilling upon many occasions to be a widespread practice, nor need we turn to ancient times for plenty of examples of belief in its efficacy as a protective act, besides those performed for luck.
To spit on cut hair before throwing it away is thought in some parts of Europe sufficient to prevent its being used by witches. 653 This is of course analogous to the various precautions taken to prevent hostile persons getting possession of any part of or belonging to another. 654
It is quite commonly said here in Somerset: "Nif you do meet wi' anybody wi' a north eye, spat dree times." 655 Why always three times? why three times by the nurses of old days, except that there is some virtue added by the number three?
Those afflicted with obliquity of vision have ever been accounted as dangerous by hard-headed as well as superstitious people. Even in London the enlightened, these beliefs are not extinct. The Morning, Herald of August 16, 1839, records that two women were fellow-lodgers, but unfortunately one of them squinted, and the other, to avert the supposed consequences from the defect in the first, considered she could only protect herself by spitting in her face three times a day. 656
In many parts of England, certainly here in the west, it is a common saying: "Always spat dree times 'nif ee do zee a piebald 'oss." Piebald horses are thought uncanny nearly everywhere.
Country people generally have well-known occasions when to spit; indeed the act is almost as naturally performed as to breathe.
Not long ago, in shooting, the writer with others came upon a dead dog which was most offensive. One keeper said "Here's a pretty breath"; the other said: "Mus' bring a showl an' bury un"; but both accompanied their words with deliberately spitting
on the ground. This is almost invariable, and has been noted by the writer hundreds of times. Whenever an offensive smell is perceived there is often a coarse joke; but if ten or a dozen are working together all spit, though probably few of them have actually smelt it. Moreover, it has been noticed that the action is not the violent ejection of saliva, but the deliberate voidance of all the moisture in the mouth, often accompanied by the usual "hawking" to clear the windpipe. All this is done with evident unconsciousness; it seems an involuntary action, the result of pure animal instinct. No one is ever told to spit in such cases, but it is the most sanitary act which can be performed under the circumstances. Germs of disease present in ftid matter can only pass into the body through the breathed air, and hence to void the saliva which may have been impregnated by the foul odour is as natural an act, and as involuntary, as the closing of an eye at a threatened blow. This is surely one of Nature's own lessons. Those who are too polite to expectorate, will find upon careful scrutiny that a bad smell causes a flow of saliva to the mouth. Who knows whether "good manners" may not have had some bad effect, and that many a case of diphtheria might have been avoided if it had never been considered vulgar to spit?
Great virtue is and was always believed to belong to fasting spittle, both as curative and protective. 657 To lick a wart first thing in the morning is one of the well-recognised cures; the same is held
respecting disorders of the eyes, a slight wound, or any irritation of the skin. Pliny says 658 fasting spittle is a sovereign preservative against the poison of serpents, and that "we are in the habit of spitting as a preservative against epilepsy, or, in other words, we repel contagion thereby; in a similar manner we repel fascinations, and the evil presages attendant upon meeting a person who is lame in the right leg." He also refers to spitting three times on the breast, and says it is the practice in all cases where medicine is employed to spit three times on the ground; also to mark a boil, when it first appears, three times with fasting spittle. His remark that pugilists and other persons, before making an effort, spit in the hand in order to make the blow more heavy, shows that familiar modern practices of the like kind are not quite of yesterday.
Pliny shows how lichens and leprous spots may be removed by constant application of fasting spittle; that crick in the neck may be cured by carrying fasting spittle to the right knee with the right hand, and to the left knee with the left.
As charms against the evil eye, he mentions spitting into the urine the moment it is voided, of spitting into the right shoe before putting it on, 659 and of spitting while passing any place where danger has been incurred. Pliny continues: "When a person
looks upon an infant asleep 660 it is usual for the nurse to spit three times upon the ground; and this, although infants are under the especial guardianship of the god Fascinus, the protector not of infants only but of generals as well, and a divinity whose worship is entrusted to the Vestal Virgins. The image of this god is attached beneath the triumphal car, to protect the victorious general against the effects of envy. Hence the expression præfiscini." 661
Quite recently a friend of the writer was travelling in Greece in the neighbourhood of Sparta. A country woman had a baby on her back, carried in the usual skin employed for that purpose. The traveller being a lady naturally wished to look at the baby, and was in the act of uncovering its face, when the mother turned round in the greatest anger, and of course snatched away the child. The dragoman explained that the mother dreaded the evil eye, and that if the lady wished to see the child, she must first spit on it three times. This she did, and was at once permitted to look on the baby's face, having provided the recognised antidote against the stranger's glance. 662
The act of restoring sight to a blind man with fasting spittle is attributed to Vespasian by two authors. 663 The man is said to have besought him "ut genas et orbes oculorum dignaretur respergere oris excremento." A singular and very remarkable comment
upon the means which our Lord Himself took to open the eyes of the man born blind, is seen in the fact that He did not despise as "mere superstition" the acts which in His day were held to be effectual, but that "He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay." He knew the medicinal value which was set upon saliva by the people, but instead of spurning such means, He thought right to make them the conductors of His miraculous power. 664 We find the same course followed in the case of the deaf and dumb man (St. Mark vii. 33).
A modern traveller 665 relates that in Corfu he unwittingly expressed his admiration for two children of his host. The grandmother on his repeating the praise became agonized, and nothing would suffice to appease the parents and others present but that he should spit in their faces. This he did, and the children submitted as if well accustomed to have their beauty first lauded and then protected. This, however, was not enough: the mother then made a paste of dust and oil from the lamp burning before the Virgin and anointed their foreheads. We are not told which finger the Corfiote woman used to apply her paste, but it was probably the middle finger--the same as was undoubtedly used for the purpose at the time of our Lord's miracles; for Petronius, who was an actual contemporary (died A.D. 66), mentions the putting of dust combined with saliva upon the forehead with the middle finger. 666
Mungo Park relates that among the Mandingoes the ceremony of naming a child takes place at eight years old. First his head is shaved, then the priest utters a prayer, while all the company whisper in the child's ear, and spit three times in his face, after which they name the child, etc.
This is but the gross performance of a ritual which is still practised in civilised countries. In ordinary Roman baptism, before the water used "In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti," the priest exorcises with spittle the ears and nostrils of the infant, 667 besides anointing with the chrism or holy oil. 668
Dr. Gregory, in his lecture to the British Association at Oxford, 1894, said that after a quarrel with the chief of the Masai in East Africa, the renewal of friendship was signified thus--"we spat upon each other," the Masai equivalent for shaking hands.
The application of the lustrant spittle with the middle or infamis digitus may be the reason why the more important rite of anointing with the chrism or holy oil should be so specially and distinctly
ordered in the several Rubrics 669 to be performed with the thumb, the symbol of power. Such is however the fact, and the custom is retained in our own Church of using the thumb in that part of the baptismal service where the priest says "(We) do sign him with the sign of the cross."
Of all the arts practised by magicians, ancient and modern, but especially the latter, in cases of witchcraft, "ruling the planets" is one of the commonest. Astrology has ever held a leading place in all the occult sciences, and it will not be possible to overlook the evident connection between many of the objects which are well-known amulets and the names by which all men have agreed to call very many of the heavenly bodies. We have seen how the sun and moon are represented by many gods and goddesses in every mythology. The phases of the moon regulate the times for many operations, while each of the planets bears a name denoting to the most civilised people in the world one of the days of the week, and also a pagan divinity. Moreover, our Saxon-English Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, very strikingly illustrate that which has been so often dwelt on--the assimilation of ideas by which the personification of any idea by one race migrates and takes up its place in another with similar attributes or symbolic signs, but with names expressing the modified notions of the imbibing race.
It is strange that animals should have become so connected in thought with the various constellations and Zodiacal signs; but so it is, and the connection is evidently of the utmost antiquity, because since history began, civilised races have all adopted the same ideas, and in their several languages denote the same animals. 670 We are told 671 that the star stories of Greeks and Egyptians (which we inherit) are in direct correspondence with the like legends among modern savages, yet many of them call stars and constellations by names representing animals different from those we call them. Nearly all savage
nations, such as the Australian aborigines, even those without picture writing, call the stars by names of men and animals, and have all sorts of legends to match.
Reference has been made to the practices anciently employed at weddings: how songs of a lewd character called Fescennina were commonly a part of the performance; but even in the present day elaborate acts are common whose object is still the same--that of averting the evil eye from the newly married pair. At a marriage among the Jews of Tunis, after the religious ceremony, the bride is taken into an upper room, accompanied by all her friends, who remain with her. The bridegroom having retired with his friends, without taking the slightest notice of the bride or any one else, she is seated on a chair placed upon the usual divan. Her mother-in-law now comes forward, unveils her, and with a pair of scissors cuts off the tips of her hair. This last ceremony is supposed to be of great importance in driving away all evil influences that might do harm to or enter between the newly married pair. 672 We are not told what is done to the hair cut off, nor of any ceremony in the cutting to countervail the touch of iron. Both matters are doubtless carefully looked to, though unnoted by a stranger. The birth of a daughter is a cause of grief, etc., while a son is so greatly prized that they not unfrequently compass his death by the very means taken to secure his life. Their one great anxiety is to keep him from the influence of the evil eye, and with this object in view they keep him carefully concealed within thick curtains for some time after his birth, while a
smoking light is kept burning within those curtains day and night; in this way poisoning the air for the poor little victim. Not only this, but large squares of paper with flaming hands and outspread fingers, pieces of bone, and shells (of course cowries), are everywhere hung about and exposed both within and without to avert the evil eye. 673
In Africa, and also in the Eastern Archipelago, where the belief is universal, it is thought to be most dangerous to be looked at while eating. Possibly this arises from the notion among savage and therefore hungry people, that to see another eat excites envy, the mainspring of the malignant glance. The kings of Kacongo (West Africa), of the Battas (Sumatra) or of Loango may not be seen eating. It is a capital offence to see the King of Dahomey at his meals. "No Warua allows others to witness their eating or drinking, being doubly particular with regard to members of the opposite sex; and on pombé being offered, I have frequently seen them request that a cloth might be held up to hide them while drinking." 674 When the King of Tonga eats, all turn their backs. Any who saw Muato Jamwo, a great potentate of the Congo country, eating, would certainly be put to death. In these cases it is thought that if the king is looked at while eating, he will shortly die. This dislike to be seen eating is
by no means confined to savages. Turks of all classes object to be looked at while eating, and, stranger still, the Pope himself always takes his meals alone.
Hiding the face too, by way of protection, is a recognised mark of sovereignty in certain parts of Central Africa, where the king's face must be veiled. In Wadai the Sultan always speaks from behind a curtain; no one sees his face except his intimates and a few favoured persons. 675 Here we see of course the dread of a stranger's eye. Among the Touaregs of the Sahara all the men keep the lower part of the face, especially the mouth, veiled constantly. In West Timor a speaker holds his right hand before his mouth in speaking, lest a demon should enter his body, and lest the person with whom he is conversing should harm his soul by magic. 676
A young New South Wales man must always cover his mouth with a rug in the presence of a woman, after his initiation into the mysteries of his tribe. So strongly is the danger felt, that many kings are not suffered to leave their houses, lest evil should befall them through being seen. The King of Loango is confined to his palace, and may not leave it after his coronation. 677 The King of Ibo also may not leave his house even to go into his town unless a human sacrifice is made to propitiate the gods. Consequently he never goes beyond his own premises. 678 In Mandalay a strong paling, six feet high,
lined every street through which the king was likely at any time to pass, and the people had to remain behind this fence when the king or any of the queens went out. No one might attempt to look through or over this blind, 679 of course from the fear lest his eye should work mischief.
To this day the kings of Corea are shut up in their palace; so also was the King of Tonquin, who was allowed out two or three times a year, for the performance of religious ceremonies. The day before his coming forth, notice was given to the inhabitants to keep out of the way the king had to go, for the people were not allowed to look upon him. The women were compelled to remain in their houses, and durst not show themselves under pain of death--a penalty which was carried out on the spot, even if disobedience occurred through ignorance. Thus the king was kept invisible to all but a chosen few. 680
Although in all these cases we are not told distinctly why these precautions were taken, yet, knowing what the belief was, there can be little hesitation in assigning them to it, and to their dread of permitting so precious a life as their king's to be subjected to the blighting influence.
Our own customs regarding children may be distinctly referred to the same primæval belief in the liability of infants to the blighting effect of the stranger's eye. It cannot be pretended that it is necessary to its health that a baby's face should be always carefully covered up whenever it is taken out of the house, or even in the house, into the presence
of strangers. Moreover some nurses would not think of exhibiting baby without fastening "the coral and bells" upon its neck. Both mamma and nurse would indignantly repel any suggestion of superstition, nevertheless the coral is in the material itself a powerful amulet. Its shape keeps the remembrance of the old classic fascinum, the Priapic symbol, while the silver and the bells recognise the power of Diana, the type of all the motherly protectresses of infants, which have already been dealt with at such length.
The practice of veiling a woman's face throughout the East cannot be wholly referred to male jealousy: such may be the declared reason, but the women's own reluctance to show their faces to a stranger eloquently proclaims the real one. Besides the various means taken by many people, and specially by Neapolitans of to-day, to keep out of the way of the jettatore known or unknown, there are very many precautions taken to baffle his maleficence besides those openly or secretly worn amulets, already sufficiently discussed. Even here among ourselves we have well-known rites, so to speak, which must be classed as preventive medicine. One such performance by a woman who believes herself to be overlooked is to take the shift off over her head, turn it three times withershins (i.e. from right to left--wiederschein--against the course of the sun), then hold it open, and drop a burning coal through it three times; then put it on again.
We cannot fail to see that several old ideas are here preserved. The going against the way of the sun is a sort of defiance, like repeating "the Lord's Prayer backwards." It is in the same category as
the defiant act depicted in Fig. 24. The burning coal may be a relic of ancient fire-worship, and so on the other hand a propitiatory act of sun-worship; while the three times accords with the spitting three times, and with the value set upon the mystic three.
One of the most widespread customs connected with fire, certainly found in Yorkshire, in Devon, Somerset, and throughout East Anglia--and probably in every county between those limits--is that of standing up the poker against the bars of the grate to make the fire burn. Everybody knows it, everybody does it, and believes it to be effectual. Superior persons consider that it causes or divides the draught; but those who know, say that the making of a cross with the poker and the bars, drives the devil out of the chimney, and so enables the fire to burn-this at least is the firm belief in the west country. Further, it is held that the devil cannot endure that any fire shall be hotter than his own, and "so makes it his business to try and put others' out." Of course the iron with which the cross is formed adds power to the charm.
The importance of progressing in all matters from left to right, or in the path of the sun, is made evident by our having a word specially to denote the deviation from this course. Here in Somerset quite recently, and within the writer's own knowledge, a number of children were brought to be baptized, and of course were ranged in a group around the font. The officiating minister not being accustomed to such a number, or not knowing the custom, began with the child on his right hand, of course following on in order and going round to the child on his left. This action caused great indignation:
some parents who had never before seen the importance of having their children baptized at all, were quite sure that now they had not been done properly, and must be taken to another church "to be done over again." Thus it was held of far greater moment that the parson should proceed from left to right, than it was that the children should be baptized or not. Some of these children were growing into adults. In the same direction is the belief that in Confirmation it is most unlucky to be on the left side of the bishop, and so to receive his left hand: people are constantly warned to be careful to avoid this when their children are about to be confirmed. This objection is now becoming obsolete, from the fact that Confirmation is performed less perfunctorily, and candidates are, at least in this diocese, confirmed singly and not in pairs.
Not long ago a farmer lost two cows, for whose illness he could only account by the certainty that they had been "overlooked." He rode a long way to consult a wise woman, who decided that be was right in his diagnosis. She told him to find a horse with three nails in the near hind shoe (three again); he was then to pull out the middle nail and scratch the witch with it, otherwise all the rest of his cows would die.
The witch was not scratched, because the farmer, after much search, was unable to find the right horse with the right nail, but for all that he does not appear to have lost any more cows. Perhaps his will to scratch the witch was as good as if the deed had been accomplished.
Through the kindness of the Editors of Somerset and Dorset Notes and Queries I am enabled to
print the following interesting quotation from that Magazine previous to its publication in vol. iv. part xxviii. (December 1894).
WITCHCRAFT IN SOMERSET.--It is hardly credible, but there exists, even in our day, a belief in witchcraft in some parts of Somerset.
The following incidents happened during this year. A poor woman, the mother of a large family, had for a period of two years a series of misfortunes: her husband was ill, two children were injured accidentally, they were all laid up by a prevailing epidemic. The woman herself, no doubt tired and worn out, came to the conclusion that in this long and bitter trial, which she considered was undeserved, there must be an evil agency at work, and she pronounced herself "overlooked." Once the idea took possession of her, it seemed to spread through the family, her husband and children testifying that they saw strange-looking little black objects sitting on the boxes at night: these little things used to try to pull them by the feet out of bed.
She became so thoroughly convinced that she was bewitched that she went to interview a wise man who lives at Wells. He took the same view of the case, and said that he would have to pray for her, the point at interest being, who had bewitched her? She had to go through a list of names--names of women; after mentioning many, and not the right one amongst them, as she was turning away, remembering one more she mentioned her, and that one the wise man pronounced the woman who had bewitched her. He told her that he could break the charm and take away the power of the witch, but it would take a lot of prayer and work. He then gave certain directions which the woman and her husband were to follow, in order to break the spell. About the hour of midnight she and her husband were directed to sit in front of their fire and burn salt, and for the space of one hour no conversation had to pass between them, only they had to repeat the following words:--
This is not the thing I wish to burn
But Mrs. -------'s heart of ------ Somerset to turn,
Wishing thee neither to eat, drink, sleep nor rest
Until thou dost come to me and do my request
Or else the wrath of God may fall on thee
And cause thee to be consumed in a moment. Amen.
This accomplished, they were to retire backwards to the foot of the stairs, climb the stairs still backwards, repeating at the same
time the Lord's Prayer also backwards, and then not speak a word to one another till they were in bed; in this way they would break the spell.
The man and his wife tried this, with implicit faith that the enchantment would be broken, or the evil eye averted.
[Our correspondent wishes to remain anonymous, but I can
vouch for the truth of the story; in fact, I know the locality and some of the characters quite well. EDITOR FOR SOMERSET.] 681
Nearly akin to being overlooked, people are often said to be Pixy-led, when in the dark they lose their way. The writer has heard of many cases of this kind, for which probably the "jack-o'-lantern" is responsible. In one case well remembered, an old farmer was coming home from market across a well-known common in West Somerset. By some means his poor old mare was made to leave the track; probably her rider would not have seen very straight if it had been light; but finding his steed getting into a "soft place," his full wits returned, and at the same time an owl began to hoot. He at once began to cry out: "Man a-lost! man a-lost! Here's half a crown and a leg o' mutton! Man a-lost." It appears that after all he was not far from help; but he firmly believed he had been pixy-led, and the story clung to him till his death. Many such cases might be recounted, but the safeguard against such is to "turn your coat in an' out," when the evil sprites are confounded. 682
In 1890 some men were ripping bark in a wood near Torrington. One of them declared that on stooping down to pick up a tool a strange feeling came over him, and while totally unable to raise himself he heard peals of discordant laughter all around. It flashed upon him that he was pixy-led, but his presence of mind forsook him, and he was unable to turn his coat inside out, a sure talisman (sic) against the spells of pixies. As the man did not return at the usual time, his wife, hearing from the others that he left work when they did, at ten o'clock went to look for him. Arriving at the place where they had been working, she met her husband dripping wet. "Where have you been?" she said. "I've a-bin pixy-led," says he, and then he told her how the pixies had held him fast for five hours, and that at last he crawled away, not knowing where he was going, and tumbling head over heels into the stream. As soon as he could get up he knew where he was and made his way homewards. "You girt fule, why didden 'ee turn your pockets inside out?" was all the comfort he got from his better half; "then you would have been able to come away tu wance." The man firmly believes in pixies, because a tailor named Short was pixy-led in the same wood some years ago. It is known that he was sober. No intoxicants had been tasted for the day by either of the party (abridged from Western Daily. Mercury, June 6, 1890).
May Eve seems the time when these sprites--
called by way of propitiation the "Good People "are most to be feared. This name is, of course, a reflection of the same notion conveyed in the old saying about taking off your hat to the devil, i.e. be polite and deferential to your greatest enemy. It is on May Eve the pixies are supposed to be most inclined for mischief. In Ireland it is thought that then the evil eye has more than its usual vigilance and malignity. "The nurse who would then walk in the open with a child in her arms would be reprobated as a monster." 683 Youth and loveliness are thought to be especially exposed to peril, therefore not one woman in a thousand will then show herself abroad. Nor must it be supposed that conscious ugliness is any protection; on the contrary, neither grizzled locks nor the brawny hand of the roughest ploughman exempt from the blast.
The blast is a large round tumour which is thought to rise suddenly on the part affected by the baneful breath cast on it by one of the "good people" at the time of their vindictive malice. Here in Somerset the belief in Pixies, Brownies, Little Folks, "good people," is still very prevalent.
Many a quaint practice is silently performed from mere habit, while the person so acting has no sort of knowledge why he does so and so, nor would he admit that he had any superstitious intention.
Many of the acts performed by country folk are so common that they escape the notice of all but close observers, and like many dialectal forms of speech entirely escape record, because they have not happened to come in the way of one looking out for such things. Any one who sits and gazes steadfastly
into the fire is usually suspected of the evil eye. The countercharm against such is called "Turning the Coal," and is worked by the suspecter's quietly taking the tongs and then turning the largest coal in the fire right upside down, saying at the same time, either aloud or softly, "The Lord be wi' us." This is believed to throw the evil gazer into confusion, so that his vision is dispelled, and for the time his evil intentions are thwarted. It is said that in the case of a true possessor of the evil eye, if the coal be turned upon him, he feels as if the fire were upon his heart; that he has often been seen to put his hand to his breast with "Oh!" and that he is unable to move so long as the live coal is held with the tongs. After this performance he is considered to have no more power over that house. Many curious stories are to be found in Scott's Discovery of Witches, and in Ady's Candle in the Dark, by which we see that "eye-biting witches," who caused disease among cattle, and other evils, were in former days commonly executed. Indeed executions for witchcraft or working evil with the eye are recorded so late as the last century.
In Ireland fire is believed to be a great protection against fairies and witches. "Whenever churning is going on, a small bit of burning turf is put under the churn to prevent the abstraction of butter by the 'good people.'" Another custom is that any one coming into a house where churning is going on must take the churn-dash, and churn for a few seconds. His doing this prevents a person with the evil eye, should any such come in, charming away the butter, or otherwise spoiling the churning." 684
Diseases of all kinds being the direct result of fascination, charms of various sorts have been thought effective against them. The carrying of the knuckle-bone of a sheep, called commonly a "cramp-bone," as a preventive against that ailment, is still a daily practice. I have known persons, well to do, and by no means generally ignorant, who always had one about them. It must never have touched the ground or its virtue is lost; consequently I have known it placed in a little bag and tied to the pocket or the dress, lest it should fall. This has been done within my own knowledge by both a lady and a gentleman.
The carrying of a lump of camphor in the pocket may scarcely fall into this class, still it seems a little like the pills good against an earthquake. Crooked sixpences, especially with holes in them, are becoming somewhat obsolete, but well within the writer's memory they were much prized as protective amulets.
At Westleigh, in this neighbourhood, it was up to a recent time the custom carefully to preserve all teeth extracted; women used to hide them in their back hair. This was done to prevent enemies or dogs getting hold of them, and betrays the same caution that is displayed in the more usual burning of teeth, lest injury to a part may affect the whole, dealt with in the chapter on Sympathetic Magic, p. 74, regarding other rejections of the body. That which prevents injury may well be called protective. These persons were afraid both to burn their teeth and also to incur danger through their falling into malignant hands, so they hid them.
The personality of disease, or perhaps its direct
cause by personal evil influence, is shown by some Jewish customs.
A few days ago in the Polish town of Dzialoszice, the population of which has lately been decimated by cholera, the Jewish inhabitants, of the Chassidim sect, put on curiously-formed helmets and cuirasses made of pasteboard, and armed themselves with wooden javelins. Thus equipped, they formed a procession, and with clashing cymbals and the chanting of some kind of dissonant dirge, proceeded to a given rendezvous. 685
Of course this was a defiant challenge to the demon of cholera.
The Chinese also exhibit much the same idea--that the spirit of the disease is the chief factor, and not the condition of their own bodies.
During a cholera outbreak two years ago in Chin Kung, on the Yangtsze-Kiang, placards were posted up, urging on the people the necessity of cleansing their hearts, saying nothing about cleansing their houses. The priests also sold charms against the disease, which, being put on board paper boats, were set adrift down the river, and were supposed to carry the disease away to sea. 686
In all these cases where devils, or diseases, or misfortunes had to be dealt with, the underlying belief was ever present that all were emanations from an evil eye.
411:641a Daily Telegraph, Nov. 24, 1894.
412:642 Jahn (p. 84, n. 234) says: "I have often as a boy seen the fishwives of Ellerbeck, when they had got handsel (first money, Handgeld) from my mother, how they spat upon it. They say that brings them specially good luck (besonderes Glück). They will not tell the reason; certainly it is done to keep off witchcraft." Here in the west a very common way of begging a cup of cider is: "Maister, I be that dry, I could'n spat a zixpence." This surely means that the speaker is so dry that if a sixpence were given him he could not spit on it for luck, as well as the other and more obvious one as to the amount of his possible expectoration.
412:643 Dodwell, vol. ii. p. 32, gives the following authors, who all mention the same thing. Theocritus, Idyl. vi. 39; Tibullus, Eleg. i. 2, 54 Petronius, Sat. 131; Persius, Sat. ii. 32; Pliny, Nat. Hist. xxviii. 3, 4 Seneca, Consol. ad Marc. 9; Plautus, Captivi, III. iv. 23.
412:644 Potter, Archæol. Græc., vol. i. 417. Potter also quotes the same authors as Dodwell.
And lest enchantment should my limbs infest,
I three times dropt my spittle on my breast;
This charm I learnt from an old sorceress' tongue,
Who harvest-home at Hypocoon's sung.
413:645 Spitting was in the Middle Ages not only a protective, but also an injurious act, for we read:--
I can worke wyles in battell,
If I but ones do spattle
I can make corne and cattle
That they shall never thryve.
Bale's Interlude--Idolatry, 1562, sig. C. 2.
413:646 Theocritus, Idyl. xx. i 1.
413:647 Ibid. v. 66.
413:648 In an old treatise on the hand we read that the names of the fingers are derived from their use, their position, and their size. The ancients had another name for the index, which they called salutaris "quod eo salutarent deos suos inter adorandum quippe non Romani solum, sed et aliæ gentes solebant dextrae manus priore digito in erectum pollicem residente." The obvious pun in this well accords with the spirit of the older writers. The salutation of the god with the forefinger was followed by the kiss, hence we readily perceive how our word salute includes to kiss. Those who are familiar with St. Peter's statue in Rome will readily understand this, and thereby will not fail to perceive another practice of Christian times handed down from pagan ancestors. Prætorius writes: "Even nowadays we teach our boys that the right index is to be kissed (as a salutation) to persons worthy of honour, and to offer the index of honour and reverence" (Prætorius, De Pollice, Lipsiæ, 1677, p. 14).
In the Greek Church kissing is still more practised than even in the p. 414 Roman. There were several names for the middle finger, such as medius, longus, remus (oar), medius navis; also it was called impudicus, infamis, and medicus. It is still known as the medical finger. "Why it is called medicus I am unable to learn, unless it is because we are thereby most strongly bound to the wrist and vital arteries" (Ib. p. 15).
It is also called magnus from its size, as compared with parvus, denoting the two extremes in size. "The third finger is called medio proximus (next the middle) or anularis (ring finger) by the later Greeks."
On the thumb (pollex) we have another pun: "Nam pollex unus tantum pollet, quantum vix cæteri" ("For one thumb is worth all the rest"). With us moderns in the West, however, the thumb is the type of clumsiness: our vernacular for a person who is very awkward with his hands is, "He's all thumbs."
414:649 De Pollice, p. 41. "Quo loco Cornutus, infami digito (i.e. of Persius Sat. ii.) ait, id est medio, qui obsccenitatis est et subjicit." Martial (ix. 70) also says:--
Impudicus etiam Priapi cantor eodem modo,
Derides quoque fur, et impudicum
Ostendis digitum mihi minanti."
414:650 Laertius, De vitis Philosophorum, lib. vi.
415:651 De Pollice, p. 42; already sufficiently dealt with.
416:652 De Pollice, p. 43.
416:653 Zingerle, Sitten, Braüche und Meinungen des Tiroler Volkes, Nos, 176, 580; Melusine, 1878, c. 79. Frazer, Golden Bough, vol. i. p. 204.
416:654 Spitting on the hair is of course regularly practised in Naples.
"Nell' uscir dal vostro tetto
La mattina su del petto
Ben tre volte vi sputate;
Quando poi vi pettinate
I capei, che son condutti
Li sputate tutti tutti."--Marugi, Capricci, p. 103.
The Editor remarks in a note to the above that Thiers says one spits three times on the hair pulled out by the comb before throwing it away; and further he says, Tibullus enjoins spitting on the breast, giving his precise words: "Despuit in molles et sibi quisque sinus." He adds I do not fail to do this always, and I have found the benefit of it."
417:655 The same thing is recorded in Hone's Year-Book, 1831, p. 253.
417:656 Brand, vol. iii. p. 50.
Their beads of nits, bels, books and wax,
Candles, forsooth, and other knacks:
Their holy oyle, their fasting spittle;
Their sacred salt here, not a little,
Dry chips, old shooes, rags, grease, and bones.
Herrick, Hesperides, "The Temple."
419:658 Pliny, Nat. Hist. xxviii, 7; Vol. V. p. 288, Bohn.
419:659 This is still practised in Italy.
D' una cosa traggo al gioco
Io vantaggio poco poco,
Ed è questa, l' appaleso
Di sputar quand 'ò del peso
Sulla scarpa del piè dritto,
E poi starmi zitto zitto.--Marugi, Capricci, p. 108.
The Editor remarks on this, that he has practised it with qualche sorta di profitto.
Bring the holy crust of bread,
Lay it underneath the, head;
'Tis a certain charm to keep
Hags away, while children sleep.
Herrick, Hesperides, ed. Hazlitt, 1869, p. 304.
420:661 Ellis, Note to Pliny, Nat. Hist. v. p. 290, Bohn.
420:662 Alexander Alexandrinus also wrote: "Fascinationes saliva jejuna repelli, veteri superstitioni creditum est" (Ellis, Note to Brand, vol. iii. p. 260).
420:663 Suetonius, Vespas. 7; Tacitus, Hist. iv. 8.
421:664 See Trench, Notes on the Miracles, p. 294.
421:665 Dodwell, vol. ii. p. 36.
421:666 "Mox turbatum sputo pulverem medio sustulit digito frontem repugnantis p. 422 signat . . . hoc peracto carmine ter me jussit expuere, terque lapillos conjicere in sinum."--Petronius, Sat. 131.
This, too, confirms Persius (Sat. ii. 32):--
"Frontemque atque uda labella
Infami digito, et lustralibus ante salivis
And the two quotations prove clearly not only which finger was to be used, but that the middle was the digitus infamis.
Sacred spittle bring ye hither;
Meale and it now mix together,
And a little oil with either.--Herrick, Hesperides.
422:667 F. Chance, Notes and Queries, 8th ser. v. 137.
422:668 It has even been discussed as to whether, in the absence of water, spittle might be used for the baptism itself, but this latter is denied (G. Angus, Notes and Queries, 8th ser. v. 192). With further regard to spitting, we must not forget that salt is put into the child's mouth during the baptismal rite in order to make him despuere malum, or as it is called vernacularly "spit out the devil."
423:669 Rituale Romanum, Romæ, MDCCL. (Baptism of Infants). "Deinde intingit pollicem in sacro chrismate, et ungit infantem in summitate capitis in modum crucis, dicens Deus Omnipotens, etc. . . . Postea pollice faciat signum crucis in fronte et in pectore infantis," etc. . . .
The same direction as to the use of the thumb is given in the Rubrics for Extreme Unction, Confirmation, Ordination of Priests, Coronation, Consecration of an Altar, etc. . . .
424:670 The Greeks had two names for the great northern constellation, which remain to this day--the Great Bear and the Wain. Our modern name of "King Charles's Wain" is but a very ancient one, revived with a prefix commemorating some modern event. No amount of imagination can see any real resemblance between the grouping of the points of light we call stars, and the animals or things whose names have been given to them, yet the idea took such root in primæval minds that it has survived unchanged to this day; like the belief in the evil eye, it is quite unaccountable, and only to be set down among the facts that are. See Appendix III.
Very many are the beliefs here in England and all over the world relating to falling stars. The most widespread is probably that which connects them with death or birth. Among the shepherds of the Apennines, a falling star is a death portent ("Ecco un altro avviso di morte; chi sa mai a chi toccherà?" (Bellucci, Le Stelle Cadente e le loro leggende, Perugia, 1893, p. 10.) This author recounts various other fantastic fancies. The same is held in the Val Anzasca concerning events to happen to some one living in the house on which it appears to fall. In Russia a falling star signifies an actual death--in Lapland that of an infant. If so common a sight in some places presages death, we naturally should expect to find the complementary notion in others. In Somerset every falling star denotes a birth, while in Norfolk it proclaims a child begotten.
In New Zealand a falling star is a kick which one god gives to another weaker than himself. The universal belief in the living, animal character of heavenly bodies is shown in the belief of the people of Guiana, who say that falling stars are l' orina of the other stars, while the Loochoo Indians say that they are excrementi delle stelle (Bellucci, op. cit. p. 29).
After having written so much upon the existing belief in animal portents, it is amusing to read in the Spectator of Nov. 24, 1894, p. 725, that "the belief in animal portents . . . no longer survives in our century" (1) Two days after this (Nov. 26) a Somerset friend writes: "Does not the death of a lion still give anxiety to many a woman expecting childbirth?" This latter is a curious and unsought confirmation of the remarks on p. 76 ante.
424:671 A. Lang, Myth and Custom, p. 124. See also Goguet, L'Origine des Lois, on this subject.
425:672 Mrs. Reichardt, Good Words, Jan. 1893, p. 47.
426:673 This making of smoke is aptly matched in the Apocryphal account following. "Then the angel said: 'Open the fish and take the heart and the liver and the gall and put them up safely.' So the young man did as the angel commanded him; and when they had roasted the fish, they did eat it. Then the young man said to the angel: 'Brother Azarias, to what use is the heart and the liver and the gall of the fish?' And he said to him: 'Touching the heart and the liver, if a devil or evil spirit trouble any, we must make a smoke thereof before the man or woman, and the party shall be no more vexed. As for the gall, it is good to anoint a man that hath whiteness in his eyes, and he shall be healed'" (Tobit, vi. 3-8).
426:674 Cameron, Across Africa, vol. ii. p. 71.
427:675 Mohammed Ibn-Omar el Tounsy, Voyage au Darfour, 1845, p. 203. Travels of an Arab Merchant, abridged by Bayle St. John, p. 91.
427:676 Riedel, "Die Landschaft Dawan oder West-Timor," in Deutsche Geog. Blat. x. 230, quoted by Frazer.
427:677 Bastian, Die Loango-Küste, i. 263.
427:678 Crowther and Taylor, Gospel on the Banks of the Niger, p. 433
428:679 Shway Yoe, The Burman, i. 308.
428:680 Richard, History of Tonquin, in Pinkerton, ix. p. 746.
To house the hag you must doe this:
Commix with meale a little pisse
Of him bewitcht; then forthwith make
A little wafer or a cake;
And this rawly baked will bring
The old hag in. No surer thing.
Herrick, Hesperides, ed. Hazlitt, 1869, p. 305
If ye feare to be affrighted
When ye are by chance benighted, p. 433
In your pocket for a trust
Carrie nothing but a crust.
For that holy piece of bread
Charmes the danger and the dread.
Herrick, Hesperides, ed. Hazlitt, 1869, p. 346.
435:683 Hone, Everyday Book, vol. i. p. 594
436:684 Le Fanu, op. cit. p. 104.
438:685 Daily News, Sept. 18, 1894.
438:686 Public Health, Aug. 1894, p. 376.