BURNING ANIMALS ALIVE.
HERE can be no doubt but that a belief prevailed, until a very recent period, amongst the small farmers in the districts' remote from towns, in Cornwall, that a living sacrifice appeased the wrath of God. This sacrifice must be by fire; and I have heard it argued that the Bible gave them warranty for this belief.
The accompanying notes, from Hone's "Every-Day Book," and from Drew and Hitchen's "Cornwall," prove the prevalence--at least at the commencement of this century--of this idea. I have lately been informed that within the last few years a calf has been thus sacrificed by a farmer, in a district where churches, chapels, and schools abound.
The burning of blood, drawn from a deceased animal, has been a very common mode of appeasing the spirits of disease.
"There are too many obvious traces of the fact to doubt its truth, that the making of bonfires, and the leaping through them, are vestiges of the ancient worship of the heathen god Bal; and therefore it is, with propriety, that the editor of "Time's Telescope" adduces a recent occurrence from Drew and Hitchin's "History of Cornwall," as a probable remnant of pagan superstition in that country. He presumes that the vulgar notion which gave rise to it was derived from the Druidical sacrifice of beasts: 'An ignorant old farmer in Cornwall, having met with some severe losses in his cattle about the year 1800, was much afflicted with his misfortunes. To stop the growing evil, he applied-to the farriers in his neighbourhood, but unfortunately he applied in vain. The malady still continuing, and all remedies failing, he thought it necessary to have recourse to some extraordinary measure. Accordingly, on consulting with some of his neighbours, equally ignorant with himself, and evidently not less barbarous, they recalled to their recollections a tale, which tradition had handed down from remote antiquity, that the calamity would not cease until he had actually burned alive the finest calf which lie had upon his farm; but that, when this sacrifice was made, the murrain would afflict his cattle no more. The old farmer, influenced by this counsel, resolved immediately on reducing it to practice; that, by making the detestable experiment, he might secure an advantage which the whisperers of tradition and the advice of his neighbours had conspired to assure him would follow. He accordingly called several of his friends together on an appointed day, and having lighted a large fire, brought forth his best calf, and without ceremony or remorse, pushed it into the flames. The innocent victim, on feeling the intolerable heat, endeavoured to escape; but this was in vain. The barbarians that surrounded the fire were armed with pitchforks, or pikes, as in Cornwall they are generally called; and, as the burning victim endeavoured to escape from death, with these instruments of cruelty the wretches pushed back the tortured animal into the flames. In this state, amidst the wounds of pitchforks, the shouts of unfeeling ignorance and cruelty, and the corrosion of flames, the dying victim poured out its expiring groan, and was consumed to ashes. It is scarcely possible to reflect on this instance of superstitious barbarity without tracing a kind of resemblance between it and the ancient sacrifices of the Druids. Tins calf was sacrificed to fortune, or good luck, to avert impending calamity, and to insure future prosperity, and was selected by the farmer as the finest among his herd.' Every intelligent native of Cornwall will perceive that this extract from the history of his county is here made for the purpose of shaming the brutally ignorant, if it be possible, into humanity.' [a]
The remarks in Drew and Hitchin are as follows
"There is a tradition in Cornwall, which has been handed down from remote antiquity, that farmers may prevent any calamity by burning alive the finest calf they possess. This was so fully believed, tbat even as late as the year I800, an ignorant old farmer, having met with some severe losses in his cattle, determined on being advised by some neighbours, not less barbarous than himself, to try this remedy. He accordingly, on an appointed day, called his friends together, lighted a large fire, brought forth his best calf, and without ceremony or remorse, pushed it into the flames."
[While correcting these sheets, I am informed of two recent instances of this superstition. One of them was the sacrifice of a calf by a farmer near Portreath, for the purpose of removing a disease which had long followed his horses and his cows. The other was the burning of a living lamb, to save, as the farmer said, "his flock from spells which had been cast on 'em."]
[a] Burnings Calf Alive.-- Hone's "Every.Day Book," June 24, p. 431.