Dictes moy, en quel pays,
Est Flora la belle Romaine."
THIS very curious tale was one of my latest discoveries:--
"This spirit, Floria, was once a fair girl who loved a youth who loved her as well. But Floria had a female friend, and they trusted in and told to one another everything. And Floria did not know that her friend was a witch, or that she loved her own lover and hid it all from her. But it was true, and the witch was very jealous and envious and evil. And so one day when they were walking alone in the country the witch slew Floria, and put on her garments. Then in the evening she came to the lover.
"'Alla sera, 'la sera,
Se presente al giovane
Col nome di Floria,
Essendo una strega.'
("'In the evening, the evening,
She came unto the youth,
With the name (form) of Floria,
As a witch she had the power.')
"So the youth married her, and she had a beautiful boy. But one night as the mother held it there came the spirit Floria, who took the child and put it under the bed, and said to the husband--
"'Guarda che quella non é Floria!
Floria son'io, io sempre,
Quella che tu hai sposato,
E l'amica che m'uccise
Per sposarti, ma guarda
Che a mezza notte ti scappa,
Perche non e che una strega.
("'Seest thou that is not Floria
I am Floria, I ever;
She there whom thou hast married
Is the evil friend who slew me
That she might marry you; but watch
Lest she slip away at midnight,
For she is a sorceress truly.')
"And further that if he would slay the witch, she would ever protect him and the babe, and come every night to visit him.
"Then the youth seized the witch by the hair and bound her to the bed, and she howled and blasphemed horribly (from midnight) till three o'clock. Then her witch-power left her, and she became as other women, and said to her husband:--
"'Look at the baby,
Look in his bed,
There thou wilt find
Crosses and garlands.
It is a year now
He has been enchanted.'
Then (the husband) gave her a blow with a hammer and slew her, so that she died. And from this time he always loved the spirit of Floria."
In this tale, which was collected and sent to me by Peppino, it is properly Floria who gives the blow with the hammer, and it is evident that Floria is the real mother of the child, and that the witch came after the marriage in the wife's form. Floria--Flora--was certainly equivalent with Horta, who in Etruscan times was one with Nortia--Fortuna--who drove the nails of Fate. I forget now whether it is in the work of Inghirami or that of Eduard Gerhard that she is twice depicted as holding a hammer. Padre Secchi follows Müller (Etrusker, iii. 3, 7) in declaring that Horta, an Etruscan
goddess, equivalent to Salus, gave name to Orte, and that she is distinct from Nortia, or Fortuna, the great goddess of Volsinii. "A distinction between her and Fortuna is indicated by Tacitus" (vide Dennis, Cities of Etruria, vol. i., p. 140 in note). But these very objections prove that Nortia of the hammer was regarded as one with Horta by many. And this legend of Peppino agrees curiously with it. Dennis suggests that Horta was a goddess of gardens, therefore a synonyme with Flora. Pomona was also a form of Flora, and in her legend, by a strange change, it is not the witch who takes a female form, but Vertumnus who appears to her as an old woman. Confused as all this seems, I believe this legend to be ancient or classic. But it is very significant indeed that on Etruscan vases the hammer specially occurs as the implement of death in the hands of the equivalent of Nemesis, as in this tale. It is, in fact, the invariable symbol of death, and is in the hands of Charun and all the demons. Lanzi gives. a beautiful female spirit holding it.
The crosses and garlands alluded to, refer to the "guirlanda della strege," or Witches' Ladder, elsewhere described.
I am indebted to Mrs. Hayllar for the information that there is a spirit named Ra, who is much talked of in Volterra. I had not far to go for knowledge as to this folletto, for the first native of the town, a young shoemaker, who was questioned on the subject, at once narrated the following:--
"Ra is a spirit who protects children. When they are in danger the parents apply to him, and li incanta, charm him with these words:--
"'Dormi, dormi bambino mio
Dormi il sonno degli angioli,
Quando tu ti sveglierai,
La felicita riaquisterai.'
("'Sleep, sleep, my little one!
Sleep the sleep of angels,
When thou shalt awaken
Thou shalt be happy again.')
Then the child will awake free from pain or trouble, secured from all danger, especially from that of falling into the balze (precipices, subterranean pits or cavities) of San Giosto in Volterra.
"This spirit Ra was known in Volterra in the year 1001, for just in that year he protected, a little child which had been enchanted to him, which fell from a height of several yards in the balze, but upon
a pile of broom-plant (ginestra). Then the peasants came running to save him, but he kept crying, 'Ra! Ra!' and when they had let him down a ladder, he would not climb it. And while they stood above there came a strange signore, who said: 'Ye cannot save him; I only can do it by supernatural power. I am the spirit Ra, and now ye shall see how I will effect it.'
"Saying this, he stamped thrice on the ground, when there rose a great mass of broom-plants growing, by means of which, as from branch to branch of a tree, they descended and brought up the child."
I am indebted to Professor Senator Comparetti for the suggestion that Ra may be Rhea Sylvia. The Etruscans made all their deities male and female. Rhea Cybele, the wife and sister of Cronos, and mother of Jupiter, was specially the patroness of ravines, cliffs, and rocks (Die Götter und Heroen. von Stoll). And it is as at home in ravines that Ra appears. Rhea was also a nursing goddess, or protector of children. The change of sex is of no consequence, for, as we have seen, Cupra and Siera have changed theirs, and this was even commoner of yore. In the story Ra raises a poor child from an abyss by means of the broom-plant, and it is a curious coincidence that Deus exaltat humiles (God exalteth the lowly) was always in the Middle Ages the motto accompanying the ginestra, both being worn by Louis the Pious of France in 1234 (Helyot. Description of knightly and Monkish orders. German version, 1756).
Come conosci tu Buovo? Mi sapresti dare notizia alcuna di esso?"--I Reali di Francia.
It is an extraordinary fact that one may ask a hundred peasants or other humble folk in Tuscany for mythical folk-lore and not find a trace thereof, and then meet with one who would seem to be the chronicler, or keeper of a museum of such curiosities. This is just the same among American Red Indians, and it was explained to me in Florence, as it had been in America, by the fact that in certain families only arc such records preserved. Thus, while my very intelligent friend, Signora la Marchesa di T., could not by the most masterly and adroit cross-questioning elicit from her maid, who was of Volterra, the least indication of any knowledge of such things as sorcery or spirits, I, on the contrary, got from the young shoemaker of that ancient ville much that was marvellous, and, thereamong, the following relative to the spirit Bovo:--
"Volterra was not the first name of our city, for that was Antona, the second Voltona, and the third Volterra. In the time when it was called Antona there lived a prince called Bovo di Antona, who
was held by the people to be a stregone, or wizard; they also said he was immensely rich, because he had made a golden chariot with four horses of gold, and when in his last illness he reclined (si fece adagiare) in it, and there died after long suffering. And when dead, his spirit appeared and ordered that they should set in motion the grand carriage bearing his body, and going forth from Volterra unto a mountain called Chatini (Catini), which is in sight of the city, there bury him. This was done, and the people believe that the chariot and the body of the king still exist. For there have been many excavations in which they have found relics of ancient days recording the epoch of this Bovo di Antona, and in recent times they found, le sue carte, his records with pictures representing his age (raffiguranti i medesimi tempi), but they have not found as yet the great chariot.
"After this burial the spirit of Bovo returned at night to his palace, which he adorned with all possible magnificence, and illuminated brilliantly. 1 And all the multitude seeing this illumination and festival could not imagine what it meant, knowing that the prince Bovo was alone. But one evening certain bold spirits among them, moved by curiosity, knocked at the gate, but there was no reply. After midnight they heard merry laughter, and then they knocked again, when the gate opened by magic, but in an instant all was dark, and the people entering found all things as they had been in the time of the late king's life.
"Then they knew not what had become of all that splendour which they had seen from the outside, and concluded it must be done by the spirit of Bovo. So it was decided that the boldest four among them should remain there the following night, which they did. And at midnight all the carpets and tapestries began to wave and move, and all the furniture changed into objects of great value. Then they decided to invoke the spirit of Bovo, which being done, he appeared, wrapped in a great white cloak, and when asked what he required" (i.e., what made him restless and haunt the palace), "replied:--
"'Never having been loved by woman in all my life, I wish that this palace shall be inhabited by a beautiful girl, to whom I will appear as a beautiful youth. Should my subjects not succeed in finding such a bella donna, then I shall be confined in this palace, disturbing the peace of the citizens. But if it should be done, in recompense I will appear to him who brought it to pass. At midnight he may invoke the spirit of Bovo and I will ever aid to do him good.'"
This is evidently only the beginning of a legend. Buovo of Antona as a hero of popular romance is well known. There are poems on him, and Reiner has written a monograph on the subject, showing that he was one of the champions of Christendom, and, in fact, our old friend Bevis of Southampton. But I suspect that in this particular case a local folletto with a similar name has borrowed the fame of the mediæval hero. For, having read the popular romance of Buovo di Antona, which forms the fourth part, or 142 pages, of the Reali di Francia (Florence, 1890), I find that there is not in it a single point of resemblance to the hero of this story, and that, far from having lived unloved, the champion wooed and wedded the beautiful Drusiana, who died of grief for him forty days after his death. The only Antona recognised in the chronicle is very evidently the seaport of Southampton in England, founded by Bovetto and named after his queen, Librantona:
Attilio, Atiglio, Ottilio or Tilio--for I cannot quite determine his name-is a buon folletto--a merry devil, very much the same as Dusio, or a jolly Brownie in English folk-lore. But he is an awful tease, especially of servant-girls, to whom, however, he makes love and with whom he behaves quite like Dusio, sharing their couch, and in grateful return doing all the housework for them, and making them no end of presents. And it must be reluctantly admitted that despite his immoral character Attilio, is very popular with them.
GUISEPRE PITRÉ, who certainly cannot be accused of credulity remarks (Bib., vol. xviii., p. 163), that if we listen to what people of the lower class relate, in all honesty, we must remain uncertain whether these men and women are a prey to continual visions, or whether we ourselves are dreaming with our eyes wide open. For my. own part, I firmly believe that in very credulous communities there are people, especially girls, who honestly believe that they see, and sometimes hear and touch, supernatural beings. There are powers latent in us of which we have no comprehension whatever, and one of these is that of creating sensations, that is of reproducing or forming from Memory any sensations, be they of touch or taste, which we have once experienced.
Unless this be true, I absolutely cannot explain many things which I met with among the believers in all these marvels. The strege, with all their tricks, believe in their own art, and carry fetishes. And that there are girls who have Attilios and Dusios, and people who catch glances of Faflon in the vineyards at sunset and in the wine cellar at midnight, cannot be denied. So all life is for them a fine-land fairyland, or a witch and devil dream, according to their disposition or freedom from dyspepsia.
The following is the history and mystery of ATTILIO, as it was narrated to me on the ist of January, 1891, by a Maddalena from Rocca Casciano:--
"Attilio is a good goblin, but he does everything he can think of to worry servant-girls. There was once a very pretty one, but she had harsh and exacting padroni" (superiors--master or mistress). "Well, it happened that every day for three days, when the poor girl had cooked the dinner, and gone to spread the table, she found on returning that all the food had been overturned and scattered about. The maid wept bitterly, but she did not know what to do. Was she scolded?--indeed she was, till she was almost mad.
"But when the dinner was ruined on the third day in the same manner, the master and mistress were tutti arrabiati. Then they said that they were tired of going out to the trattoria to dinner, and that she must do the best she could a rifare to dress up the remains. So she went into the kitchen, sorrowfully enough, and felt more sorrowful still when she looked over the wreck, and saw how little could be made of it. When all at once she heard the sweetest voice close by her sing these words:--
"'Dimmi a me Attilio,
Se ami Attilio,
Perche se mi ami,
Il pranzo sara gia pronto.'
"And as she stood amazed and speechless, lo there stood before her the most beautiful young fellow she had ever seen in all her life. He was dressed in old style with long stockings, and velvet tunic, with long curling golden locks and a little velvet cap with a white feather, and the maid felt as if she could fall down and worship him, he was so elegant and stylish." And what he sang was in English:--
"'Say you love Attilio,
For his love is steady,
And if you will love me
Dinner shall soon be ready.'
To which the girl, quite enraptured, could only answer, 'Si--si--yes, indeed!' Then Attilio sang:--
"'Attilio son io,
Ed io' bisogna d'amare,
E tu sei quella,
Chi mi ai ispirato
("'I am Attilio,
My heart for love doth call
And thou art the beauty
Who inspired it all.')
You may suppose that the girl was pleased. And he sang on:--
"'Si ti amo
E ti amo, tanto
Siei tu mi ami
E sono un spirto folletto!'
("'If thou wilt love me
I'll come at thy call
All because I love thee,
For I am Attilio,
The merriest sprite of all.')
When lo! at a touch the dinner was all right again, and when the girl served it the padroni said they had never enjoyed such a nice meal. And every day Attilio did most of the work and was always with her, and she could see him though he was invisible to every one else."
It is remarkable that while in all the Oriental and German or French mediæval tales it is a knight or favoured man who wins the love of a spirit, the Italian rather give the fairy lovers to girls. This is a very curious point in folk-lore.
The Dusio and Faun, and every one of the prototypes of Robin Goodfellow and Puck, and the House-Brownie are represented as frolicking sprites, always misleading girls. In the North, under chaster influences, these wanton sprites soon sobered down into very moral beings, not going beyond boyish mischief. But in Italy nothing has changed, and so they still remain the same rogues among the girls which they were even while satyrs hopped about in the woods, and lemures prowled near tombs and witches took out men's hearts-and people were all so happy!
Attilio is certainly here a lar familiaris, a spirit of the fireplace, a sprite who ever since the days of Tarquin and Tanquil has seduced the servant-maid in Tuscan families, even as he seduced Ocris, "she who waited on the table" of yore. He is in the kitchen and he cooks the dinner, and is altogether of the fireplace. Of his existence I have but a single authority or witness. He corresponds altogether to the French Lutin.
(La Madre del Giorno, or Mother of the Day)
"Nam et Romulus post mortem Quirinus factus est, et Leda Nemesis, et Circe Marica, et Ino, Postquam se precipitavit in Mare, Lucothea, Mater que Matuta."--LACTANTIUS, Div. Institut. de falsa Religione, lib. i., cap. 21
By far the most prominent character in the popular mythology of Tuscany, or of that which is not Catholic, is La bella Marta, also called Madre del Giorno, or the Mother of the Day. I was at first misled by the name into believing that it was Saint Martha confused, as are Saints Antony and Simeon, with old heathen deities. But I soon found that she had nothing in common with the Martha of the Bible, nor the one of Roman Catholic hagiology whose image conquering the Tarascon I copied in the cloister at Arles in 1846. I have, indeed, very little doubt that this beautiful Martha is a transformation of the ancient Mater Matuta, in which I am guided not so much by the resemblance of name as by the fact that she has as Beinahme, or attribute, that of del giorno, "of the day."
"There was," writes MÜLLER, "in the haven Pyrgoi, the great and richly endowed temple of a goddess who was generally called by the Greeks Leukothea. . . . It was doubtless the honoured Mater Matuta, worshipped since the time of Servius in Rome in the Volscican land and also in Etruria. The Greek and Roman antiquaries classed the two as one. However, in Rome this Mater Matuta was regarded much more as a goddess of the morning than as of the sea, for her name clearly means the Mother of the Day, and when the Greeks translated it to Leukothea, or white goddess, they may have thought more of early morning light than on the white foam of the sea. The mother of the light of day could readily be regarded as the deity which led man to daylight; for which reason, as it would appear, STRABO called her Eileithyia. According to this the goddess of Pyrgoi was one of the dawn, and of mankind."
The Bella Marta of Tuscany dwells in forests or fields, and, though a spirit of the day, is worshipped by night. This, however, is to be explained by the fact that all "spirits" are connected with the old religion, now called witchcraft, and that its rites are conducted in secrecy and obscurity. Martha is favourable to lovers and conjugal love. The following incantation, which tells its own story, indicates clearly as can be the fact that the sylvan gods are still literally worshipped like saints, and are not merely evoked like goblins. A wife or girl who is jealous of her lover goes by night to the most beautiful garden to which she has access, and kneeling pronounces--
THE PRAYER TO LA BELLA MARTA
Bella Marta! Bella Marta! Bella Marta!
Tu sei bella come una stella,
Io ti vengo a rimirare,
E da te mi vengo ad inginnochiare
Per poter ti meglio pregare.
La mezza notte e ora suonata,
E da te sono inginnochiata,
In mezzo ad un bel giardino,
Che tu Marta Bella ne sei regina,
Io ti porto un fazzoletto
In una punta troverai,
I capelli del mio amor
E tu bella Marta fannecio
Che vuoi, purche il mio bene
Tu faccia tribolare,
E mio marito tu lo faccia diventare,
E che altra donna non possa mai amare:
Se questa grazia mi farai,
Tutte le sere una candela
Accesa tu l'avrai,
Questa grazia certo tu mi ai fatto,
Bella Marta ti ringrazio;
Beautiful Martha! Beautiful Martha! Beautiful Martha!
Thou art beautiful as a star.
I come to behold you once more,
Once more to kneel before you,
That I may adore you better.
Midnight has struck,
I am kneeling before you
Kneeling in a fair garden,
Where thou, beautiful Martha, art queen.
I bring thee a handkerchief; p. 145
In a comer thou wilt find
The hairs of my beloved,
And thou, oh Martha, cause
What thou wilt that my trouble may pass to my good,
Cause him to marry me,
May he never love other women
Grant me this grace,
And thou shalt have
Every evening a lighted candle.
This thou wilt surely grant me,
Beautiful Martha, I thank thee!"
In the next incantation La bella Marta is distinctly invoked from hell. I do not think that she is at all popularly regarded as infernal or evil, but that this was done to distinctly distinguish her from the saints--a matter which is strictly observed among the sorcerers. And as the priests have always taught the people that all spirits not sanctioned by the Church are devils, it indicates great constancy to the customs of their ancestors that the peasants continue to adore them even as infernal.
THE INVOCATION TO LA BELLA MARTA BY NIGHT
For this you should go into a wood or forest at midnight and look at a star, and say
"Buena notte o Donna Marta,
Non chiamo la Marta di casa del Paradiso,
Ma chiamo quella di casa dell' inferno,
Prenditi dei panni belli
Alla presenza de . . .
Prima mi em tanto amico,
Ora mi e tanto nemico,
Amici e nemici,
Tutti gli sembrino, brutta gente,
Fuor che io la sua stella rilucente,
A stella stella da levante oscie,
Da lui portante:
Cinque dita per lui io batto al muro.
Cinque anime io scongiuro,
Cinque preti, cinque frati,
Cinque anime dannate,
All anima, alla vita
Del tal. . . .
In vita ne anderete,
In pensiero la porterete,
Per la barba e capelli lo piglierete,
Col pensiero da me la strascinerete;
Se questo mi farete,
Tre segni mi darete, p. 146
Se questo mi farai,
Tre segni mi darai!"
Or in English:--
Good evening, O Lady Martha
I do not call thee Martha called of heaven,
I call upon the Martha named of bell.
Take these fine cloths
In the presence of . . . (here the name is given).
Once he was so much my friend,
Now he is so much my foe;
May enemies and friends
All seem the same to him
Save me, his shining star.
I beat five fingers for him on the wall,
Five souls do I conjure,
Five priests, five friars,
Five damned souls,
Into the soul, into the life
Of . . .
May they pass into the life
Bear this into his thoughts,
Drag him by beard and hair,
Drag him by remembrances of me!
If you will do this for me,
Three signs you will give me-
A knocking at the door,
A dog barking,
A man whistling.
Should'st thou favourable be,
These three signs thou'lt grant to me!"
This is considered as a very serious, terrible, and powerful incantation or imprecation. The looking steadily at a star connects Martha apparently with Mater Matuta or Leucothea, the goddess of light, and Marta of the Day, for this star I suppose is Venus or the Morning Star. There is a portion of this incantation which occurs in others. This is the invoking several fives of priests and devils to enter into the soul and life of the one banned. This, both as regards a category of numbers and calling on the spirits to enter into the life and soul and body of some one, corresponds precisely to what is found in Chaldæan spells.
A Paracelsian, or almost any writer of the sixteenth century, would have recognised in this regarding the star an invocation of the astral spirit, especially as it is mysteriously connected with ordering spirits to possess a certain person. I do not doubt that there are in it strange relics of ancient beliefs; one thing is certain, it is regarded as very powerful by the witches, who recite it with deep feeling. And it is remarkable how passionately this witch spirit manifests itself when seriously relating spells or even while writing them down.
Bella Marta appears in one narrative as one of the benevolent witches of Benevento, and also as a dryad.
Once there was in Benevento a great tree--a sia una quercia--probably an oak, in which there was a cavity. The peasants passing by it often saw a very beautiful woman, who disappeared they knew not where.
"But there was one young man who, moved by curiosity, said: 'I will come here early, and I will follow the lady, and find out where she dwells.' So he went to the wood, and quietly waited till she appeared, and then went after her till she came to the great oak and entered it as if it were a door.
"And then he also stepped in after, and lo, he found himself in a great and splendid palace! One might have walked three days in it from room to room without entering a new one--camininando tre giorni, non si sarebbe mai finito di girare--and all of marvellous beauty.
"And so the peasant stood amazed,
As on the wondrous scene he gazed,
When entering the oak-tree there,
He found a palace wondrous fair:
He knew not where to turn his feet,
To forward go or back retreat--
When all at once a small white hand was laid on his shoulder, and a soft sweet voice was heard saying, 'Welcome!' And turning, he saw the beautiful lady of the forest whom he had followed, and she said: 'Be not afraid, I welcome thee, and will make thee happy, for thou art a good youth, And I am the Bella Marta. Go thou and play, and always win, and when thou wilt have anything, pronounce this spell:--
"'Bella Marta! bella Marta! bella Marta!
Sei più bella d'una santa
Al albero tuo vengo a pregare,
Se una grazia mi vuoi fare,
Se questa grazia mi farai,
La mia padrona tu sarai,
Qualunque casa mi chiederai,
Bella Marta tu l'avrai.'
"'Lovely Martha, this I vow,
Fairer than any saint art thou.
Here I stand before thy tree,
Grant, I pray, a grace to me, p. 148
And thou my patron ever shalt be,
And if there's aught beneath the sun
Which I can do, it shall be done
For thee, thou ever lovely one.'
"Qalunque cosa mi chiederai--bella Marta tu l'avrai. So, whenever you see a great oak in the forest, and repeat to it this incantation, you will do well."
Here Marta is unquestionably a dryad, and the contadino is RHCUS. Rhcus was a great player--it was because he was absorbed in a game of draughts that he beat the bee who told the nymph who blinded the boy who cut down the tree which fell on the youth who had such a passion for gambling.
This may be all guess-work and pot-shot hunting or point-blank firing, but here in Tuscany the spirit of the olden time is still alive, and I am writing in sight of olive-trees and crumbling towers of the Middle Ages, and these stories of Rhcus and the fair Martha, and the mystic oak, seem, I will not say more credible, but more connected and intelligible than they would in the North.
In the year 1846, in Florence, an English gentleman who had passed most of his life in Italy, consulted me gravely and seriously as to what numbers of several which he had chosen would win in a lottery. This spirit of play and chance and of inspiration connected with it enters deeply here into all Italian life, as it did of yore. Therefore I am not astonished that it was the first thought of the beautiful nymph. She knew her man.
It is worth noting that in Sicily the Mother of Light is invoked when salt is spilt (PITRÉ, Bib., vol. iv., p. 144)--
"Matri di lu lumi, cugghitivillu lui."
La bella Marta is invoked when three girls, always stark-naked, consult the tarocco, or cards, to know whether a lover is true or who shall be married. This is, indeed, connected with the two incantations already given. According to PITRÉ, Saint Martha is one of those who are sometimes consulted in sorcery. Thus Archbishop TORRES (Ricordi di Confessori, &c.; PITRÉ, Bib., vol. iv., p. 148) excommunicates "those who utter prayers which are not approved, or even disapproved of by the Holy Church, to bring about lascivious and dishonest love, and such are the prayers falsely attributed to Saint Daniel, Saint Marta, Saint Helena, and the like." The Mater Matuta, or Mother of the Dawn--that is, Venus--may very well have been the patroness of lovers and the Donna del Giorno, but it is difficult to connect the Martha of the Bible or the Provencal conqueror of the Tarascon with any such aiding and abetting of amours (to say
nothing of card-playing or divination) as we find in this Queen of Beauty and Fortune-telling.
As regards the three girls meeting to divine who shall be married, I think it is DION CASSIUS who remarks as regards divination by means of ashes, "Vel cum aliquem tres personas cogitate jubet, quibuscum matrimonii inire optet, tum tres ducunt sulcos in cinere" ("When three meet to find out whom they are to marry, they draw three lines in the ashes"). This confirms in the main the antiquity of the rite. The reader will find more as regards this in the chapter on Divination by Ashes.
It may be observed that in the last incantation Bella Marta is addressed as being "fairer than any saint." Here the Romagnola stregeria, or witchcraft, which is utterly heathen and always jealous of Roman Catholic influence, shows itself.
The festivals of the Mater Matuta, which were widely spread in Italy, were called Matralia or Martralia, may give some clue to the modern name of Marta. But I repeat here that I at first attached no significance to the resemblance of the word Martha or Marta to Mater, though there is absolutely no reason why it may not have been derived from the latter, just as "pattering," or talking slang has been conjectured to have come from pater in the paternoster. But I have since found that M. L. F. Alfred Maury, in Les Fées du Moyen Age, had the same idea as to a perfectly analogous conception. He writes:--
"Les epithetes données sans cesse aux fées, sont celles de bonnes, bonnes dames, bonnes et franches pucelles. Ces qualifications ne sont évidemment que la traduction du titre de bonæ donné aux parques, plutôt sans doute par anti phrase que par reconnaissance, et de puellæ attribué aussi bien aux nymphes qu'aux fata. Le nom de Matte donné à une fée célère d'Eauze, pour laquelle on avait reproduit la fable du Minotaure, semble venir du mort mater abrégè."
On this name Fraser (The Etruscans) has the following --
"Max Müller also speculates (Science of Languages, vol. ii., p. 152) on the derivation of mane and matutæ. He says: 'From this it would appear that in Latin the root man, which in the other Aryan languages is best known in the sense of thinking, was at a very early time put aside, like the Sanskrit budh, to express the revived consciousness of the whole of Nature at the approach of the light of the Morning, unless there was another totally distinct root peculiar to Latin expression of that idea."'
Was this root possibly mat? It is worth observing that Tertullian observes that the Etruscan Venus was called Murtia (vide Dennis, Cities of Et., vol. i., p. 58). And as Bella Marta is called the most beautiful of the spirits, is associated
with cards, and is identified with the morning star, it seems probable that she is a form of Aphrodite or Venus.
(The Queens of the Witches in Italy)
"Horsù dimmi, o buona. Strega, che vuoi dire che non andavi a questi balli e giuochi di Diana o di Herodiade, ovvero si come le chiamate, a quelli de la Donna?"--La Strega di Pico delta Mirandola.
"Hecate trium potestatum numen est. Ipsa est enim Luna, Diana Proserpina."--SERVIUS.
It is remarkable that while witchcraft was regarded in later times among Northern races as a creation of Satan, it never lost in Italy a classic character. In this country the witch is only a sorceress, and she is often a beneficent fairy. Her ruler is not the devil, but DIANA, with whom, as I shall show, there is associated HERODIAS. The latter, as presiding at the dances of the witches, was naturally connected with the Herodias of the New Testament, but there was an older Herodias, a counterpart of Lilith, the first wife of Adam, by whom she became the mother of all the minor devils or goblins.
It is evident that in this capacity Herodias was confused with Diana. The latter had been as Hecate the ruler of all the witches, while Lilith-Herodias was the same among the Jews. There is a passage in Odericus Vitalis (born in England in 1075--Hist. Eccl. v. 556) which illustrates this, that Diana was parent or protectress of goblins. It is as follows:--
"Deinde Taurinus fanum Dianæ intravit. Zabulon que coram populo visibilem adstare coegit, quo viso ethnica plebs valde timuit. Nam manifeste apparuit eis æthiops niger et fuligo, barbam habens prolixam et scintillas igneas ex ore mittens. . . . Dæmon adhuc in eadem urbe degit et in variis frequenter formis apparens, neminem laedit. Hanc vulgus Gobelinurn appellat."
("Then Taurinus entered the temple of Diana and compelled Zabulon to appear visibly before the people, who, being seen, was greatly dreaded by the heathen folk. For he plainly showed himself as a black, grimy Ethiopian, having a full beard and emitting sparks of fire from his mouth. The demon went forth often in the same town, appearing in many forms, yet injured no one. The common people called him Goblin, and declare that by the merits of Saint Taurinus be was withheld from doing harm.")
Here we have the Goblin as the familiar spirit of the temple of Diana, the witch-mother, just as the Jews declared that goblins were the children of Lilith-Herodias. How it was that the Shemitic myth came to unite with the Græco-Roman is a matter for investigation. That it existed is proved by the testimony of several old writers.
In the Dæmonomagie of HORST (1818), a writer who was far beyond his time, I find the following:--
In the indictments of witches it is generally stated that ------, the party accused, acted with" (worshipped) "Diana and Herodias. It is very remarkable that we find this among the declarations of public Church council--that of Ancyra in the middle of the fifth century--just as in later witch-trials. It was asserted that certain women imagined that they flew by night through the air with Diana and Herodias. But as this was spoken of at the Council of Ancyra as a well-known thing, the belief must be much older, and I do not doubt that there exist much earlier historical records of this, which are unknown to me."
PAULUS GRILLANDUS, in his Treatise on Witches (1547), a great authority in its time, speaks several times to the same effect, that witches--putant Dianam et Herodiam esse veras deas--"think that Diana and Herodias are true goddesses, so deeply are they involved in the error of the pagans." And he deduces all the evil of their ways from this false and heathenish beginning--ex qua omnes alii errores et illusiones successive dependent cum credant illas Dianam et Herodiadem esse veras deas. In which he very inconsistently ignores the fact that he has elsewhere declared Satan to be sole master of the entire sisterhood.
JEROME CARDANUS (De Subtilitate, 1. 19), in describing an altogether diabolical evocation by a sorcerer of his time (Quoties veneficus ille rem non divinam sed diabolicam facturus esset) says no word of the devil whatever, but represents Hecate, or Diana, as the leading spirit (Execratur illis precibus, Hecate dictante, primum adorandam, &c.). That Diana-Hecate was Queen of the witches in classic times is known from many authors; also that she was invoked in all chthonic, dark, or nocturnal sorcery. She was compared, as the goddess of the moon, to a cat which chases the star-mice. Herein she was like Bast of Bubastis, the cat-goddess of Egypt; and Freya, of the North, whose car is drawn by cats, is clearly a Norse Diana. What is remarkable, and to my purpose, is that while witches in Italy are supposed to do harm like Canidia of yore, they do it simply as sorceresses. The Catholic Church imposed on the popular belief in witchcraft much that was foreign to it, in Christian diabolism, and yet it is most remarkable that even to-day Diana, and not Satan, is the leader and ruler of Italian witches.
And there are many points in this popular belief which are much more ancient than Christianity. Thus in Venice, as in Florence, witchcraft is not at all a result of a compact with the devil, but a peculiar endowment, which may be transferred, even by a trick, to an innocent person. I will illustrate this with a story which I heard told in good faith in 1886 as having happened in Florence, and which has already appeared in my book on Gypsy Sorcery:--
"There was a girl here in the city who became a witch against her will. And how? She was ill in a hospital, and by her in a bed was una vecchia ammalata gravamente, e non poteva morire--an old woman seriously ill, yet who could not die. And the old woman groaned and cried continually, 'Oimé! muoio!
A chi lasció? Non diceva che' ('Alas, I die! To whom shall I leave--') But she did not say what. Then the poor girl, thinking, of course, she meant property, said: 'Lasciate à me--son tanto povera!' ('Leave it to me--I am so poor'). At once the old woman died, and la povera giovana se é trovato in eredita della streghoneria (the poor girl found she had inherited witchcraft).
"Now the girl went home to where she lived with her mother and brother. And having become a witch, she began to go out often by night; which the mother observing, said to her son: 'Qualche volta tu troverai tua sorella colla pancia grassa' ('Some day you will find your sister with child'). 'Don't think such a thing, mamma,' he replied. 'However, I will find out where it is she goes.'
"So be watched, and one night he saw his sister go out of the door sulla punto della mezza-notte (just at midnight). Then he caught her by the hair and twisted it round his arm. She began to scream terribly, when--ecco!--there came running a great number of cats (e cominciarono à miolare, e fare un gran chiasso) they began to mew and make a great row, and for an hour the sister struggled to escape, but in vain, for her hair was fast, and screamed, while the cats screeched, till it struck one, when the cats vanished, and the sorella was insensible. But from that time she had no witchcraft in her and became a buona donna, or a good girl--come era prima--as she had been before."
There is nothing of a compact with Satan in this--it is a witch of Diana, bound to the spell of the moon, one of the cats of the night. In the Venetian stories a witch loses all her power if she is wounded and spills a drop of blood, or even if detected. It is true enough that the monks imported and forced into popular Italian superstition strong infusions of the devil. Yet with all this, in the main, the real Italian witch has nothing to do with Satan or a Christian hell, and remains as of yore a daughter of Diana. There is something almost reviving or refreshing in the thought that there is one place in the world--and that in papal Italy itself--where the poison of diabolism did not utterly prevail. There are in the treatise on the Magic Walnut Tree of Benevento, by P. Pipernus (Naples, 1647), several passages in reference to Diana as Queen of the Witches, one of which is curious as it seems in a manner to identify Lamia with Lilith and Diana. It is to the effect that the witches who of yore seduced youths to their death, were the same with Lamia--a Lilith hebraeo, whence the Empusæ, Marmoliciæ or Lares and Lemures, appearing on one foot in various figures dedicated to Diana--in variis figuris Dianæ dedicatis. But Elias Schedius (see Dis Germanis, Amsterdam, 1648), has with great industry brought together from many sources, Hebrew and others, strong proof that Diana was identical with Lilith, the two being identified in the Roman Lucina:--
Tu Lucina volentibus
Juno dicta puerperis
Dicta lumine Luna."
(Catullus Epigr., 35)
Luna meaning here, Diana.
Another singular remark is to the effect that there were as communities of
witches in ancient times the Eriphiæ, from Eriphia, the Michaleiæ, from Michala, Hecateiæ, Medeæ Circeæ, Thessalæ, in Sicilia Cyclopas Lestrygonas and Herodiades--"communiori vocabulo in aliquibus regionibus nuncupantur ex Idumæa Herodiade prope Jordani flumen habitante, choreis, ludisquc venereis effuse fruente, quæ multos et multas ad suum convictum trahebat, Dianæ ludorum memorans." In another passage Pipernus conjectures that there was a Herodias earlier than the one who was the cause of the death of Saint John.
In the Slavonian spells and charms, which are generally very ancient, and of Oriental origin, Lilith appears the same as Herodias. She has twelve daughters who are the twelve kinds of fever. This arrangement of diseases, or evil spirits, into categories of sevens, twelves, &c., is found in the Chaldæan magic as given by Lenormant. All things duly considered, I agree with Pipernus that there was a Herodias long before the lady of the New Testament who danced Herod off his head and the head off Saint John.
In regard to which transaction I marvel that I have never yet seen it treated by any writer from a modern society-Christian practical point of view. Suppose a lady, an intelligent, accomplished widow, who had a good thing of it as wife of the governor-general of--say Cathay. The governor dies and his brother succeeds to the appointment, and marries the widow (a thing actually commanded in the Old Testament, and a common custom in the later time), or it may be the fraternal divorced wife. Uprises a clergyman of a new sect, with eccentric new views, who has tremendous influence among the people, and informs the governor that his marriage is illegal. And then fancy the feelings of Herodias! On one hand, divorce--perhaps death or poverty--with a charming daughter just coming out; on the other, a prophet of the wildest description. And it was considered to be such a remarkably natural, trifling, and commonplace thing in those days to put anybody to death who was in your way, if you had the power to do it--just as CALVIN did with SERVETUS when the latter got in his way, or as some millions of heretics were disposed of--some for their money--by Mother Church. And so Herodias did what I believe a very great majority of worldly-minded High or Low Church Christian matrons and mammas would do to-day under the same circumstances--if they could--and put Saint John out of the way.
What I most wonder at in this story is, who was this Herodias--what was her blood, what were her "havings," or belongings? There is nothing whatever, after all, in this story of commonplace revenge to account for her being taken up and made to occupy the position of joint-queen with Diana of an immensely widely-spread confederacy of sorcerers and witches. Above all, how came it that her daughter, presumably a Roman or Jewish young lady, who had been respectably
brought up, danced a gypsy can-can pas seul before Herod and his court? The mediæval writers have it that she "tombelede," or tumbled, i.e., threw flip-flaps, and "made the wheel" (as POCAHONTAS used to do for the common soldiers in Virginia--as I have read), but then they knew nothing about it. Or was she perhaps really one of those Syrian-Hindoo-with-a-touch-of- Persian dancers--actually gypsies--who in those days strayed about to every corner of the Roman empire?
There were mixed marriages in those days, even as there are now, and there lives at present in England a lady with a very great title, who was once a dancing Hungarian gypsy. One of these ballerine might have wedded Herod's brother. Assuredly the dance which Miss Herodias executed was not the holy Chagag which David danced before the Lord (2 Sam. vi.), the sight of which had, however, such an effect on the king's daughter Michal. And yet even the holy Chagag was considered a vulgar performance--Princess MICHAL called it shameless--from which we may infer what kind of a wasp or busy-bee performance the after-supper tipsy-chorean bayadere posing of Mademoiselle Erodiade must have been! No, it was not the Chagag which Rabbi DAVID KIMICHI says was danced to the singing of the forty-seventh Psalm, but a very different kind of a gag indeed, and in faster time.
But admitting that there was--'tis a mere conjecture, my cousin--a strain of Syrian-gipsy-witch and devil-blood in these Herodiades--I can well understand how the whole sisterhood of fortune-tellers and sorceresses took up the story, and made the most of it--how one of their kind had bewitched a tetrarch, and played Lola Montez queen in a kind of Hamlet drama.
The dance was in ancient days something so wild and passionate, so bewildering and maddening, that we of the present day can form no conception of its real nature. I can remember when TAGLIONI, and ELLSLER, and CARLOTTA GRISI, and CERITO turned the heads of the world, as no dancer has ever done since. Before them others had maddened the multitude still more, so it went back in compound ratio till we come to the witch-times. Now, whether witches and wizards ever practised sorcery or not--whatever that was--one thing is certain, that bands of male and female sinners believing themselves to be inspired by the devil--and I doubt not being very much inclined to raise him in a general way--went forth by moonlight, armed with sundry brooms, divers pitchforks, certain goats, et cætera, and did drink, dissipate, and dance all night.
Dance! I should think so! PRÆTORIUS says: "But the dances of the sorcerers make people mad and raging, so that the women lose the fruit of their bodies." Now it may be natural for certain females everywhere in every country
to dance naked and mad--even among those in the first court circles--but I must declare that the traditions of antiquity all point to a certain Syrian-Indo-Persian origin for all this. MOSES MAIMOND tells us that when the sun rose the daughters of the ancient Persians danced naked, singing to music. DELANCRE, writing of witches, observed that witches did the same as Persian girls at sacrifices in this respect. Now to this day the dancing women of India and Persia are of common stock and origin. Tradition says that a certain king of India once sent ten thousand dancers and musicians as a present to the king of Persia, and that they all turned out to be irreclaimable vagabonds. And all of these dancers in all times formed a close corporation. It was only professionals who danced. So that, taking everything into consideration, I think it possible, if not probable, that Herodias, mother and daughter, belonged to the very ancient if not honourable company of witches and gypsies, and that their name, while coinciding with that of Herod, had been attached in earlier times to a form of Lilith. And it is not impossible that the chance coincidence of this name of Herodias with that of the earlier witch-queen, had as much to do with raising the Idumean damsel to celebrity among the witches as her share in the decapitation of Saint John. For, justly considered, this latter gives us no reason at all why she should have been preferred to such position, while her bearing such a name would account for it all.
There are many people in Italy, and I have met such, who, while knowing nothing about Diana as a Roman goddess, are quite familiar with her as Queen of the Witches. One day I had brought to me as an invaluable secret of witch-lore something which had been treasured up by the sisterhood for a long time. What was my astonishment to find that it was an old chemical trick, which, discovered by some disciple of Paracelsus or Scheele, became common in books of "natural magic" in the last century, and was familiar to me in my tenth year in the Boy's Own Book. This is simply a composition of nitrate of silver and mercury, or silver and mercury in aqua-fortis, which, when put into a flask, causes an incrustation like foliage, whence it is called the Tree of Diana. That name was enough for my innocent witches who, not doubting that it was a deep work of dark magic, had treasured it up accordingly, perhaps for generations, and gave it to me with the superscription: Albero di Diana--la Mga: (magia) delle Streghe (The Tree of Diana, the magic mistress of the Witches).
On one occasion I was given as a great find in the way of sorcery and witchcraft, some poetry which I soon found consisted of about one hundred and fifty lines from Ariosto. Truly it was full of, supernatural diabolical description, but it was not exactly what I wanted. At which my friend who had written it out was very much astonished, declaring that as it was all about supernatural things she
thought it must be all right. And--"Dove diavolo avete pigliato tutto questo coglionerie?" I asked in the words of Cardinal d'Este--"Where didst thou rake out this trash?" "Ma Signore, I got it from an old woman who had kept it for a long time as streghoneria," i.e., magic.
As regards Diana, it may be observed that in the Roman times she was specially worshipped by fugitive slaves, "perhaps because they hid themselves in the forests." Thus it may be that the witches and wizards as outcasts inherited a certain predilection for her. As goddess of secrecy and of sorcery she would also be the patroness of those who shunned the day and intercourse with mankind, Witches, outlaws, broken men, runaway slaves, minions of the moon, and all the Children of the Night were under her protection, and it is pleasant to think that in ages when there was such enormous oppression of the unfortunate, that the victims had, if not a God, at least a goddess to whom they could pray.
As the same spirits of rock and river, fountain, cavern, and forest, are believed in and invoked as in the earliest Tuscan time, so the same offerings continue to be made to them as of yore. And when asking for information on the subject, I promptly received several explanations or illustrations of what the auditors understood by votive gifts. It must be understood that these differ entirely in spirit and in form from anything which is given to saints.
"Yes. For instance, if a contadino passes by a grove or a rock where folletti or fairies or spirits live, he will there put into the ground money or pins to please them, and say:--
"'Questo lo sotterro
Per far piacere
Agli spiriti (o alle strege)
Che ne potrebbero
E cosi a me
Pure mi contra,
Colla buona fortuna!'
("'These things I bury,
That I may gratify
Spirits or witches!
That they may never
Such things be wanting
Or go against me,
Changing my fortune
From good unto evil!')
Or it may he that he passes by a fountain or a stream, when he will throw his gift into it and repeat the same words, adapted to it."
But I was further informed on the subject in these words:--
"Offerings to spirits or folletti? Si. When a spirit comes by night into a house and causes much annoyance as a nightmare, sitting on people's breasts, and stifling them, when, if they show fear, the folletto will tear all the covering from them, pull them out of bed, and depart with a roar of laughter.
"To prevent this, make him an offering. What he likes best is three sunflowers, laid outside on the window-sill. Then say:--
"'Metto questi tre girasoli
Alla finestra, perche lo spirito
Non mi venga tormentare,
Dove si trova il sole a girare,
Se in casa mia vuol venire,
Almeno non mi faccia ingrullire,
La notte in pace mi faccia dormire!'
("'In the window sunflowers three
I put; and may the spirit be
Here no longer to torment me,
And with that I will content me,
If so long as the sun goes round
He may ne'er in my house he found;
Let at least his troubling cease,
So that I may sleep in peace!')
And when this is done and said, the spirit will cease from troubling--non potra più darle noia--and the weary will he at rest."
The next illustration is very curious:--
"Sometimes goblins and witches meet in groves or gardens, and should any one care to know who or what they are, let him watch from a window at midnight. And he will see forms assembling under the trees, with one who is capo, or their head, who gives orders. If they appear in human forms they are spirits who pass freely as they will, and therefore remain as they are. But if they are witches and wizards, they come in the shapes of goats, kids, moles, or other animals, because when they leave their homes they also leave their human forms asleep in their beds, even to their shirts, and so must assume the appearance of or become animals.
"Now, these witches do much harm by pulling up plants and breaking boughs to make beds for their love-making, and so the contadini, or the owners of the gardens or groves, spread hay or leaves or herbs as an offering, and say while so doing:--
"'Questa erba fresca per terra
Voglio spandere perche le strege
Vengono a riposare coll'amante.'
("'I lay this grass upon the ground,
So that if witches here are found
They may comfortably rest,
Each with him whom she likes best.')
"And this is the power which they have, that if they assume the form of goats, they can take people who are not witches, be they gentle or simple, in their sleep, away to their witch-meetings, and so they choose the most beautiful youths and girls to make love with. Now, among the wizards and witches are even princes and princesses, who, to conceal their debauchery and dishonour, take the goat form and carry away partners for the dance, bearing them on their backs; and so they fly many miles in a few minutes, and go with them to distant cities or other places, where they feast, drink, dance, and make love. But when dawn approaches they carry these partners home again, and when they awake they think they have had pleasant dreams. But indeed their diversion was more real than they suppose.
"But if they look about they will always find in their room some money, be it copper or silver, for this witch-money must always be paid. And when they find it, or any pins or needles, they ought to cast then, all into a running river or current, for thus they will be freed (revenged on potrebbe essere vendetta) from witchcraft."
The object of laying sunflowers on the window-sill, according to ancient symbolism, is to detect or find out the offender; that is to signify to him that he is found out or known. Thus, in accordance with this, ALBERTUS MAGNUS informs us that if any man has been robbed, if he will sleep with sunflowers under his pillow, he will dream who was the thief. For it is an emblem of the sun which shines on--that is, who sees and searches out--all things. And as an image of the day it frightens away spirits of darkness.
The third illustration, while it apparently flies wide of the mark, is extremely valuable in really explaining one reason at least why coins and pins are thrown into fountains. And it is of very great importance as casting quite a new light on the cause of the transformation of witches into animals. For in all the many works which I have read on witchcraft I do not remember to have seen it explained why witches assume the shapes of animals. According to this probably ancient theory, their bodies--as BAPTISTA PORTA and many more believed--remain asleep while the soul goes forth, or else the witch-ride is only dreamed. According to my Romagnola authority, the witch-soul, for want of a better shape, enters into some animal.
And yet further. In the works of PRÆTORIUS and others I have met with mention of people who had often gone on goats to the Sabbat and returned, yet who had never been wizards or witches. There is a story in several books of a man who said he was wicked enough to have done so several times in his youth, but who had discontinued the practice. I confess that this puzzled me much, and often till I heard this explanation of it. Those who took the goat-ride were not wizards, but the mere dupes or victims of the stregoni. Still, they had enjoyed the frolic, and were willing to have such dreams again. What the basis for it all was I do not know, but incline to think that persons, while under the influence of opiates or narcotics, were taken to wild-dances, then dosed again and taken home, as happened to the shoemaker described by Shakespeare.
140:1 The sequel indicates that this was only done temporarily, by magic illusion or glamour.