Ex eo tempore . . . illum sic concubisse secum, ut viri cum fminis solent, nec percipiente viro, cum simul in lecto essent,"--BODINUS, lib. 2, capit. 7
OF this spirit all that I know is given in the following strange story:--
"Cupra is a folletto, or spirit, who when se prende a sinpatia una donna, he takes a liking to a woman, and inspires her with it, follows her about all the time even by day.
"There was once in a town in La Romagna a girl of extraordinary beauty, who was moreover strangely fortunate in all things--quello che desiderava e quello che le appariva. Now it came to pass that waking in the night she found that she had by her a very beautiful youth, and this happened often, till at last she told her mother of it.
"Her mother bade her carefully close the door, and not to go to bed till morning. And he came all the same; but the mother, who was secretly watching, saw no one. Then she strewed leaves all about, thinking that when this mysterious lover passed over them there would be a rustling. And he came and made a great noise with the leaves and laughed loudly, but not a leaf stirred. Then the mother, being angry, said to her daughter: 'Go to bed, and I will lie by thy side; but I do not believe that there is any one here save us.'
"Then Cupra laughed aloud and sang:--
"'Si--sono a letto,
Con tua figlia,
D'un bel bambino:
Son' un spirito folletto
Che la tua figlia voglio amar,
E molti figli voglio creiar,
Molti figli io l'avro,
E tua figlia
("'Yes--I am lying
Here by thy daughter
She has by me, too, unborn,
A beautiful boy.
I am a spirit
Who loves her--you'll see
She will bear many
More children to me,
And your fair daughter
Long loved shall be!')
Now after this nobody would marry her; yet she was happy and contented, for she had all she desired, being long and well loved by her amante."
There is in this a little, as it were, of Cupid and Psyche, which beautiful myth doubtless grew out of some rude and simple old story of a girl and a spirit lover. I have no doubt that the tale as here given is a mere fragment. As among the Red Indians, we find loose pieces of stories, sometimes fitted into one another.
It cannot fail to strike the reader that there is a very loose moral tone--a gay and festive sensuousness evident in these tales. These folletti are all, when not terrible, very much like the Fauns and Sylvans, spirits of yore, from whom they are, beyond all doubt, legitimately descended. In fact the spirit of Dyonisia, the Worship of Bacchus and Venus, and of Pan--of Dryads and Oreads, and a multitude of hard-drinking, free-loving, rakish divinities, all of whom, from great Jove himself down to the Satyrs, set the example of embracing every pretty woman who came in their way, could hardly be wanting among people who still actually invoke these deities by their old names. And this is--inter alia--a strong confirmation of the heathen antiquity of all this Tuscan lore.
I deem this thing well worth dwelling on, that while in the folk-lore and fairytales of the rest of Europe there is but little account of fairies, brownies, elves, and Sylvan goblins seducing maidens and abusing wives, it is in the Romagna at the present day their chief mission or amusement. A ringing melody of forest glee does not come more surely from the Waldhorn of a hunter when sounded by
some skilful woodcraftsman than a tale which is "naughty, but nice," to youthful sinners, comes when conversation turns on these mysterious beings. I could have made a very distinguished acquaintance indeed--namely, that of the Lord Chancellor--had I published in a book all the Merrie Tales of the kind which I have, or could have, heard of such "shoking" culpabilities--which seem to be almost the only kind of abilities now manifested by these " geniuses." In all which they are true as steel to the traditions of their ancestors, the dii minores, the minor or sylvan gods, of whom Pico della Mirandola--whose tomb is not far off from here--informs us that "Saint Augustin declares in the fifteenth book of the City of God, that 'the Silvani and Fauni have many times sinned with women, who, however, greatly desired it, the end thereof being that they lay with them. And that certain demons, called by the French Dusii, went about continually seeking such carnal iniquity, and--mettendola ad effetto--putting it into effect.'"
All of these, as I have shown in chapters on them--Fauns, Silvani, and Dusii--still live in the Romagnola. There the contadina maiden half fears and half hopes in the forest shades, as twilight falls, to meet with a handsome, roguish, leering, laughing lover; there, it may be, among reedy rocks, will rise from the whitening water of the headlong stream some irresistible Elf. Ma--che volete? Girls will be girls!
This Cupra tale is much like one in BODINUS, where, however, the devil himself is the lover, and a girl of twelve his bonne fortune. They may both have come from a common source.
According to PRELLER (Römische Mythologie), there was on the coast of Picenum a goddess named Cupra, who is supposed to be a Juno, of Etruscan origin. Her temple was renewed by Hadrian. "But the name is probably to be explained by the Sabine word cyprus (good), whence the Vicus Cyprius in Rome and a Mars Cyprius in Umbria." I do not feel authorised to suggest any connection between these names and that of the Cupra in the story. Nor do I insist on any positive identity of any of my discoveries with ancient ones. There may have been, for aught I know, mistakes or misunderstandings as regards any or all these names. I have simply written down what I gathered, and I dare say there will be correctors enough in due time to verify or disprove it all.
All of the old Etrusco-Roman deities were in pairs, male and female, hence possibly the modern confusion as to certain names. They also "crossed" one another. "Thalna, or Cupra," says George Dennis (The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria, 1878), "was the Etruscan Hera or Juno, and her principal shrines seen, to have been at Veii, Falerii, and Perusia. Like her counterpart among the Greeks and Romans, she appears to have been worshipped under other forms,
according to her various attributes, as Feronia, Uni, Eilithya-Lucothea." The incident of the leaves connects Cupra with classic lore. Gerard (Gottheit: der Etrusker, p. 40) thinks Thalna is descriptive of Cupra as a goddess of births and light. We learn the name of Cupra from Strabo, v., p. 241. Of which Noel des Vergers says in L'Etrurie et les Etrusques, Paris, 1862, that:--
"Junon, que Strabo appelle Cupra, bien que nous ne trouvious pas ce nom sur les monuments ceramiques ou les miroirs, avait comme Jupiter un temple dans l'arx ou la citadelle des villes Etrusques."
"In Benevento a nut-tree stands,
And thither by night from many lands,
Over the waters and on the wind,
Come witches flying of every kind,
On goats, and boars, and bears, and cats,
Some upon broomsticks, some like bats,
Howling, hurtling, hurrying, all
Come to the tree at the master's call."
DOM PICCINI, Ottava della Notte
"Sott'acqua e sotta viento,
Sott' 'e nuce 'e Veneviento."
It is probable that one of the earliest supernatural conceptions formed by man was that of the T'abu, or Taboo. It was that if the witch, or shaman, or conjuror wished to guard, or keep, or protect a certain property from depredators, he by magic power or spells caused the person trespassing to suffer. If a sorcerer or a chief had a valuable weapon or ornament, spells were pronounced over it to protect it, and if it were stolen some mysterious disease soon after attacked the thief. By a little judicious poisoning here and there of suspected offenders, the taboo of course soon came to be firmly believed in and dreaded. Naturally enough it was extended to trees bearing valuable fruit, fields and their crops, wives and cattle. Then in time everything belonging to priests and chiefs was tabooed. In the Pacific islands at the present day where the natives have not been civilised, it often happens that a man who has eaten fruit, or even touched an article belonging to a chief, though he did not know at the time that it was prohibited, will soon die of mere fear. The laws of taboo in Fiji and many other places were so numerous and intricate that if written out they would make a work quite as extensive and difficult to master as Blackstone's Commentary. Little by little it entered into every relation of life. Wherever the power of the priest came--and it went
everywhere--there was the terrible taboo. It sat by every fireside--it was with man when he awoke in the night; there were kinds of food which must not he eaten, certain positions which must not be assumed, thoughts which must not be entertained. There were words which must never be spoken, names of the dead which must never be uttered; and as people were named from things, therefore language was continually changing. Over all and under all and through all was the taboo, or will of the priest.
In CATLIN'S great work on the North American Indians there is the portrait of a Chippeway emaciated to a living skeleton. There was, about fifty years since, in his country, in a remote place, a vast mass of virgin copper, which was regarded with superstitious reverence. The sorcerers of the tribe had decreed that any Indian who should guide a white man to this great nugget would surely be accursed and die. One man, tempted by gifts, and in an hour of temporary freethought, broke the ban and led a white trader to the mysterious manitou. Then came the reaction. He believed himself to be accursed, and so pined away. A traveller in Fiji has recorded that a native having once by mere accident touched something which belonged to a chief, and learned that it was taboo, died in a few days from terror.
An accurate and impartial history of the development of taboo, or prohibition, would be the history of religion and of the human race. As regards church property it became known as sacrilege--the conversion of sacred things to secular uses. The exempla of the preachers of the Middle Ages show us the doctrine of taboo carried to the extremes of absurdity. RABELAIS ridiculed these extravagances, but the shafts of his wit fell back blunted, even as the arrows of the scoffer missed the mark when shot at a leaf taken from the Holy Decretals. But taboo is yet strong everywhere. I can remember that once when I was a very small boy I unwittingly--this was in a New England village--injured a pamphlet or book which had been lent by the local clergyman. "Don't you know," exclaimed a lady who was reproving me, "that that book belongs to Dr. L------?" And I was aghast, for I felt that the crime was far greater than if the injured property had belonged to one of the laity.
Making every allowance for the natural limitations and necessities of Evolution, taboo was productive of some good but also of great evil. At present, its old mission being worked out among enlightened people, the bad is predominant under the influences of the Church it was so freely, so recklessly, and so unscrupulously applied that millions of lives were crushed by it or made needlessly miserable. It enforced celibacy; it compelled injudicious charity, which enlarged the area of poverty instead of relieving it; it made idleness, coloured by superstition,
holy; it exalted in every way the worthless idle shaman, or sorcerer, above the productive citizen; it laid great curses and eternal damnation on trifling offences, on no offences, and on the exercise of natural human rights and privileges. And it still contrives to do so to an extent which few realise. For the prohibition or punishment, or causing suffering in any form whatever, when it is applied to anything which is not in itself wrong, is taboo. But what is wrong? That which injures others. And what are injuries? Firstly, those which the law defines as to person and property, directly or indirectly, in law or equity. Secondly, those which are conventional and spring out of our artificial social conditions. These are mostly of the feelings, or sentimental--regarding which it becomes us to exercise the strictest discipline over ourselves, and to make the utmost allowance for others.
It is as regards these conventional and sentimental wrongs in social relations, and in really artificial matters, that taboo, be it religious or secular, makes its tyranny most keenly felt. Not to wander too widely from the subject, I can only say that a vast amount of all social injustice does not spring, as is generally assumed, or supposed, from unavoidable current causes, but from mere custom and use derived from tradition. He who will look carefully, honestly, and above all boldly, into this, will be astonished to learn how powerful still is the old shaman of the very earliest stage of barbarism. The demon of the Threshold--he who lay in wait at the very entrance of the first hut of humanity--is still lurking by thine though thou seest him not.
It would be interesting to know how many objects which were regarded as accursed and bedevilled owed their evil repute in the beginning to taboo. During the Middle Ages, and indeed from earlier times, the walnut-tree was regarded as being dear to demons and specially chosen by witches as a place of meeting. Among the Romans it typified darkness or evil, hence it was believed that if it stood near an oak they mutually injured one another, because the latter was sacred to Jove, the god of lightning, the principle of light (NORK, Realwörterbuch, vol. iii., p. 387. FRIEDRICH). In the earliest mythologies the nut was an erotic symbol. On the bridal night the married pair among the Jews praise God for planting the nut-tree in the Garden of Eden; and among the Romans it was a custom spargere nuces to scatter nuts on such occasions. "But as sensual passion is a allied to sin, it is plain that the walnut-tree is also a demoniac symbol. The Rabbis declared that the devil chose it for a favourite resting-place, and advised people never to sleep under it, because every twig thereof has nine leaves, and on every leaf dwells a devil." (FRIEDRICH, Symbolik, p. 315).
BUNSEN (Rom. iii., 3, 210), tells us that there once stood in the Piazza della
Chiesa del Populo a great walnut-tree whose leaves were so infested by devils that Pope PASCHAL the Second cursed it, had it cut down, and a church built where it had stood--an act quite becoming a shaman or voodoo in every respect. Maledicta sis o nuce! " Be thou d----d, oh walnut-tree, root and branch, nuts and bark, und to hell vit you! "
All of this rubbish of eroticism, diablerie and darkness, doubtlessly gathered about the tree from many sources, but the beginning of it all was that some early sorcerer, to save his walnuts, informed his neighbours that the tree was tabooed and that devils sat on it to torment those who should rob it. I have heard of a German preacher of the mob who explained the origin of evil by the fact that, "Eve did rop a Baumgart" (or orchard), and I know a perfectly authentic case of theology in the nursery, in which a small girl, being asked why God forbade Adam and Eve to eat the apples, replied that He wanted them for pies, but was corrected by another, who told her, "No-that He wanted to keep them for his winter apples"--that kind being usually prohibited to children. However, in any case it was the first taboo on record; and because simple Adam and Eve had been created of a heedless curious human nature, and not wise enough to resist Satan, the incarnate spirit of genius and evil, their descendants have been damned eternally to hell by hundreds of millions. Which cheerful myth in no respect invalidates the many great truths which abound in the Bible, as PAINE and INGERSOLL argue--nay, it contains a great truth: that idle curiosity and childish disobedience are a great source of evil. The Jews regarded unflinching, unconditional obedience, with no allowance for human weakness, as the law of laws. It was well for them as they were, but it was going too far to make it all in all. It had held Egypt together in good condition for thousands of years, and MOSES, who was a great student of laws, applied it. But it is not applicable to England. or America, or indeed to any republic, or semi-republic, to-day. Freethought now has its rights, and is a law like others.
But to return to our trysting-tree--the walnut. As all the witches of Germany were accustomed to assemble on the Blocksberg, so those of all Italy had their rendezvous or sabbat, or, in Italian, treguenda, at a great walnut-tree in Benevento.
This terrible tree is mentioned by many writers on witchcraft, and allusions to it are very common in Italian literature, but I never met with anything in detail till I found a pamphlet--De Nuce Maga Beneventana--which is by PETER PIPERNUS, and forms a supplement to his work De Effectibus Magicis, of which I have elsewhere written. In which, as it never rains but it pours, I met with such an excess of information that I had some trouble in condensing it, the work being composed on the picturesque, but not lucid principle, followed by
PRÆTORIUS, of writing down anything whatever about everything which comes into one's head, on slips of paper, which are then thrown into a basket without numbers, and set up by the printer as they occur. So, after eight pages of skimblc-skamble, including a short essay on the sins of keeping bad company and of telling indecent stories, or comicas fabulas de stupris virginum, we see a gleam of coming day in a chapter on Nuts in general, with the comforting assurance that, as a tree, the walnut is endowed by Nature with both good and bad qualities--of which chapter we may note that if the walnut really does possess the extraordinary number of medical and other virtues ascribed to it by PIPERNUS, it is no wonder that it was supposed to be in the highest degree supernatural--albeit not a word is said in it of catsup or pickles. Could the men of old have foreseen the sauces of to-day, and the part which walnuts would play in them all, Heaven only knows what witchcraft they would have ascribed to them!
Finally we come to the fact that from the testimony and traditions recorded in the manuscripts of an old witch-trial, and from information gathered by many holy Inquisitors, that it was believed in the fraternity of sorcerers that not only from the times of the Lombards, but even from those of the ancient Samnites, there had ever been at Benevento an immense walnut-tree which was in leaf all the year (the same talc was told of old Druidical and German oaks), the nuts of which were of a pyramidal form, "qua tragularibus lineis emittebat." These nuts sold for a high price, people believing that they protected against accidents, earthquakes, and cured epilepsy, also that they were sure to produce male offspring, retentis intra matricem nucleis. And they were also valuable amulets against witchcraft, though used by witches in much deviltry. I think that we have here a hint of the curious triangular nuts which come from the East, and of which such numbers are sold in Florence, made into rosaries. These are also carried singly as magical amulets. There is a variety of them found in China which exactly resembles the head of a buffalo, horns and all. I have specimens of both kinds.
Next we have the topography of the region where the tree grew--for PIPERNUS approaches the enemy very gradually--and finally of the field in which this King of Darkness stands, as our author puts it very neatly, "more like a Nox than a Nux." Which pun of darkness casts, however, not a little light on the tenebrific nature of this tree, and its noxious nature, with the suggestion that it was the mere resemblance of name which drew to it an association with the powers of the underworld. PIPERNUS gives us a long array of causes why the nut-tree was dreaded by Christians, and loved by witches, the only sensible one of which is that it was of yore, because of its dense shade, sacred to Proserpine, Night, and the Infernal Gods.
Well, as it happened that the good people of Benevento had a great walnut-tree where they worshipped serpents, or "divinity in the likeness of a beast, which is vulgarly called a viper," and what was also horrible, held horse-races in which the riders caught at bunches of sumach suspended in the tree--after the fashion of the profane and ungodly game of flying horses and hand-organ which we have seen at irreligious, worldly-minded, country fairs. There was in Benevento a great saint, Barbatus, to whom these goings-on of the heathen with their great moral show of snakes and races, and the rest of the circus, were a terrible annoyance--for then, as now, two of a trade did never yet agree. Competition was not, with him, the soul of business. The ruler of that region was ROMUALDUS, who was a heathen. And BARBATUS tried to convert him, but he did not convert worth a button. In vain did BARBATUS flourish and coruscate his miracles--et miraculis coruscans--round the head of this impenitent mule--I could almost fancy that Rom must have been a gypsy. His only reply was to the effect that "that cock won't fight." For I must mention that it is also recorded that he kept race-horses and game-cocks--and that there is in bad Latin mournful evidence of the truth of it all.
By and by there were rumours of war in the land. Constantinople--I mean CONSTANTIUS--the emperor, was coming innumera multitudine suorum collecta, with a vast army to wipe out Benevento. Romualdus was a hard fighting man, but as Saint CHRYSOSTOM said, "There is no use in a goat's trying to buck against a bull." He was reduced to extremes, and it was finally found that CONSTANTINE, like a true and gentle Christian, had decreed that on a certain day he would take the city and put every human being in it, utriusque sexus, to death.
Arrepta occasione--BARBATUS saw his opportunity and improved it. He held a grand public meeting, in which he attributed all these troubles to that nasty Viper, and their heathenish horse-races, and wicked walnuts. I dare say, too, that they had wine with their walnuts--but of this the history says nothing. And he ended by telling them that if they would raise their eyes above vipers and walnuts, and the turf, up to heaven, they would all be saved. Whereupon Romualdus said if that would save the town, he, for one, would raise his--and, to cut the tale short, CÆSAR CONSTANTINE and his army, Beneventum non penetrabit--"did not take Beneventum."
And then BARBATUS had a beautiful time. He cut down the walnut-tree, killed the snakes, stopped the horse-races, confiscated all the "poultry" of the cock-fights, threw the gaffs into the river ("they used slasher-gaffs in all pits in those days," Alectromachia, vol. i.), and what with baptizing, confessing, and burying, got to be as rich.
It is not difficult to see how this miracle was worked. When you are in correspondence with your CONSTANTINE, it is easy to arrange that he should not penetrate to your Beneventum. A chief who, like ROMUALDUS, might be obliged to fight to the death by force of public opinion when it was only a question of war, could nicely compromise on a miracle. The entire history of the progress of Christianity in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, is a chronicle of heathenism extinguished by brute force, or marriages, or by this same old trick of BARBATUS.
The nut-tree was cut down, but the king never dies. It is true, adds PIPERNUS, that there is now in the same place another tall and great walnut-tree, in the hollow of which three men might hide-and near this are sometimes found bones and bits of flesh, the signs of witches' banquets--probably chosen to take the place of the ancient one. As appeared by the testimony of one VIOLANTA, who being interrogated--probably with a rack and red-hot pincers in the Christian manner of 1519 (that being the date)--said that she had been at such a tree. There they worshipped Diana (not the devil--he was only adored in Germany) or Herodias, the goddess of dancing, who, however, as before said, appears in Rabbinical writings as Lilith, who was the Hebrew Diana, or mother of all the witches, and held high revel and "had a good time."
It may be observed that PIPERNUS declared that women became pregnant simply by means of the nuts from this tree. There is no mention of male assistance in this matter. Very recently, as a write, I inquired in Florence if there was any account current of magical properties in walnuts, and was promptly told the following tale, regarding which I had made no suggestions and given no hints whatever. It was written out for me, not by any means in choice Italian.
"The country of Benevento is in the Romagna, and that is the real posto delle streghe, or witch meeting. place. One evening a gentleman went to walk with his daughter whom he adored. And as they passed under a walnut-tree, and there were so many fine nuts, she desired to eat of them. But hardly had she eaten one when she felt herself ill, alla stomaco, and went at once home, and to bed. And all her family were in despair, because they loved her tenderly.
"Nor was it long before they saw her body increasing in size, and thought she was incinta, or with child, and began to treat her harshly, till at the end of nine months she gave birth to a little lamb; it was very beautiful, and her parents knew not what to think of this, phenomenon. And they questioned her closely as to whether she had ever had a lover, but she swore this had never been the case, and knew nothing beyond this--that she felt ill after having eaten the walnut.
"Then the father took his daughter to the tree, and she ate another nut; when all at once the tree vanished, and there appeared an old witch, who touched the lamb, when it became a handsome young man, and the witch said, 'This is the lover whom you would not permit your daughter to marry. I by my sorcery made him enter and leave her (sortire dalle sue viscere), and so shall she be compelled to wed him.'"
On hearing this mystical tale I remarked, "Then the lover became father to himself?" "Sicuro--certainly," was the reply. Here I might tell the story of the
nun who became possessed, or as some say, enceinte, by swallowing a diavoletto, or little devil, in a lettuce leaf, she having taken her salad without first praying, and so on, such tales, suggested by meditations on immaculate conception not being rare. But what is to the purpose is to show that the idea of the walnuts of the tree of Benevento producing such results is ancient and widely spread. The story seems to be a witch parody of the birth of Christ.
The witches of Benevento do not seem to have been by any means a bad lot. In this story they appear as succouring--in a strange way to be sure--a pair of unfortunate lovers, which is certainly the ideal of human benevolence to most young ladies. And in Spain, Ireland, and elsewhere, the fairies have taken from them the credit of a tale which is very much to their credit, and which was attributed to them lang syne. This is the story of the Hunchback who lost his hump. Among the two or three hundred jolly little comediettas in which good-natured, honest dummklug STENTORELLO is the hero, and which are played at present all the time in Florence, there is one called The Witches of Benevento, which is founded on the legend, and I find it in PIPERNUS. Perhaps your memory may be a little rusty--nulladiméno--anyhow, I will tell it, with interpolations.
"There was a man named Lambertus Alutarius, who was a hunch-back, gay and cheerful, popular with everybody. One night, returning home by the light of the moon, he passed near the great Walnut-Tree of Benevento. There he saw a great assembly of people, men and women, in fine array, dancing and singing, jolly as sand-boys--but their song was strange and somewhat monotonous, for it was merely:--
"'Ben venga it Giovedi e Venerdi.'
("'Welcome Thursday and Friday!')
Thinking they were a party of reapers--putans esse messores--by way of helping them on, Lambert, catching the tune, sang in rhythm:--
"'E lo Sabato, e la Domenica.'
("'And Saturday-Sunday too.')
Which was so well done that the dancers all burst out laughing, and feeling respect for such an admirable poet, pulled him out, made him dance and feast with them. And then a merry devil" (PIPERNUS calls him a diabolus, but he must have been a jolly one) "jumped up behind, and with one tremendous jerk, which was like drawing a tooth, causing great but momentary pain--intenso sed molnentaneo dolore--took away his hump. At which Lambert screamed out, O JESU, Virgo MARIA! when the whole spuk, or enchantment, vanished--lights, plate, dishes, all the splendour and glory of the festival had gone. Still Lambert had not exactly the feeling of one who treads alone some banquet hall deserted--for the hump had gone too with all the witches, and he found himself a magnificently tall, straight figure;--when witches do do a thing, they 'does it handsome,' as a certain 'unfortunate nobleman ' was in the habit of saying.
"He went home and knocked in the early dawn, while it was three-quarters dark, and la signora Lambert looking out bade him begone. Quis est iste temerarius?--'Who is that cheeky vagabond?' was her
indignant cry. Lambertus tuus--"Thy Lambert!' he replied. 'The voice indeed is Lambert's,' she answered, 'but you're not the man.' And then alia voce proclamans--raising a row--she called in all the neighbours and relations, who, after duly examining him and listening with awe and delight to his tale of the adventure by the great Walnut-Tree, passed him on as all right. But the change in his personal appearance must have been very great, for our author states that 'the next day when he walked the streets of Altavilla even his best creditors did not recognise him.' To which he adds in an airy, impudent manner, 'Such cases are very common with us,' and many writers record them quos brevitate omittimus--which I omit for want of room.'"
I should like to have seen some of those "numerous cases."
It is--as I have before remarked--very remarkable that in Italy there arc two very distinct and contradictory currents of Witch-lore. One is the true old Latin-Etruscan legend, in which the witch is merely a sorceress or enchantress, generally benevolent and kind. She is really a fata, like the French fée, who is always a lady, loving children and helping poor men. There is in this witchcraft nothing to speak of, of selling souls to the devil, and all the loathsome abominations of living only for evil. There are good witches and bad, the old Canidia of Horace still exists, but though she lames donkeys and blasts vines, she does not make a specialty of getting people to hell. The Italians seem to have believed that men could do that abundantly well for themselves, without help.
The other current is of the diabolical sort, and it is due almost entirely to the Church and the priests. This is the kind which caused the witch-mania, with its tortures and burnings. It is very curious that despite all the efforts of Saint Barbato, and an army of theologians after him, the old genial classic associations still survive, and the witches of Benevento are still believed to be a beautiful, gay and festive society, whose queen is Diana--with very little of Hecate-Hexe in her. In proof of this I am supplied with another legend by the same authority as that from whom I obtained the tale of the lamb.
"There was at Benevento a poor family whose members gained their living by going about the country and getting fruit, which they sold. One day the youngest son was roaming, trying to see what he could find, when he beheld a Walnut-tree--but one so beautiful che era una cosa di non credere--'twas hardly credible what nuts were on it!
"Truly he thought he had a good thing of it, but as be gathered the nuts they opened, and from every one came a beautiful little lady who at once grew to life-size. They were gay and merry, and so fair,--parevano occhi di sole--they seemed like eyes of the sun. Sweet music sounded from the leaves, they made him dance; 'twas a fine festa!
"But he did not for all that forget why he had come there, and that the family at home wanted bread. But the ladies, who were fairies (fate), knew this, and when the dancing was over they gave him some of the nuts. And they said: 'When you shall be at home open two of these, keep a third for the king's daughter, and take this little basket- (pagnerina) full to the king. And tell the queen's daughter not to open her walnut till she shall have gone to bed.'
"And when he had returned and opened his nut there poured from it such a stream of gold that he
found himself richer than the king. So he built himself a castle of extraordinary splendour, all of precious stones. And opening the second nut there came from it such a magnificent suit of clothes that when he put it on he was the handsomest man in the world.
"So he went to the king and was well received. But when he asked for the hand of the princess, the monarch replied that he was very sorry, but he had promised his daughter to another prince. For this other the princess had no love at all, but she was enamoured a prima vista with the youth.
"So she accepted the nut, and went to bed, but oh wonder! what should come out of it but the young man who had asked her in marriage! Now as she could not help herself, and, moreover, had no special desire to be helped, she made the best of it, and suffered him not only to remain, but to return, which he did, zealously, full many a time; with the natural result that in the course of events the princess found herself incinta, or with child, and declared that 'something must be done.'
"And this was arranged. She went to her father and said that she would never marry the prince to whom he had betrothed her, and that there should be a grand assembly of youths, and they should agree that, let her choose whom she would, they would support her choice. So it was done, and there were feasts, balls, and at last a great assembly of young men.
"Among these appeared her own lover--quel giovane delle noce--'that young man of the walnuts.' And he was dressed like a poor peasant, and sat at the table among the humblest who were there. Then the princess went from one to the other of those who wished to marry her. And she found some fault in every one, till she came to her own lover, and said: 'That is the one whom I choose,' and threw her handkerchief at him--which was the sign that she would marry him.
"Then all who were present were enraged that she should have selected such a pezzente, or beggar, nor was the king himself well pleased. At last it was arranged that there should be a combat, and that if the young man could hold his own in it he might marry the princess.
"Now he was strong and brave, yet this was a great trial. But the Ladies of the Walnut Tree helped their friend, so that all fell before him. Never a sword or lance touched him in the fray, he bore a charmed life, and the opposing knights went down before him like sheep before a wolf.
"Fu il vicitore. He was the victor. And he wedded the daughter of the king; and after a few months she gave birth to a bel bambino--a beautiful babe who was called, in gratitude to the fairy ladies, The Nut of Benevento. And so they were happy and contented."
I have done scant justice to this poem--for a poem it was, as I heard it sung with feeling and expression, and yet there was in it neither metre to speak of nor rhyme to mention, only such as the beautiful Italian language supplies to all who can sing. It does not seem to be known to all that all Italian fairy tales are really poems, and often sung by the contadine--as were all the American Red Indian traditions. The witches of the Walnut-Tree appear in this tale as fairies, but 'tis all one-they are the same charming souls as those who remove Lamberto's hump, and make the young man his own father. I cannot deny that they certainly do manifest a decided disposition to play the most eccentric erotic tricks, and confirm what William Grant Stewart says of the Scotch fairies, that "their appetites are as keen and voluptuous as their inclinations are corrupt and wicked"--wicked here meaning what I once heard another Scotchman define as "vara leecherous." It will be observed that the walnut which produces a child is effectively given in another guise in this tale, and that this, coupled with the assertion of PIPERNUS, induces me to believe that in substance these two tales are
extremely ancient. They are also valuable in proof of the fact that, in spite of the incessant efforts of the monks to carry out the declaration made in Psalm xcvi. 5, that "all the gods of the Gentiles are devils," there were exceptions in which the beautiful and benevolent spirits of the ancient time survived the Hebrew-Catholic calumnies. It is worth noting that the last half of this talc corresponds exactly with an incident narrated in an Icelandic saga.
But to return to our Walnut-tree. Janet Ross tells us in her Land of Manfred that Monsignor SCHINOSI gave her the following from a MS. history of Benevento by Nicastro:--
"In the time of Romuald the Longobards worshipped golden vipers, and the Duke himself, though he had promised to Bishop Barbatus that he would embrace Christianity, had an altar in his palace on which stood a winged two-headed golden dragon, with two sphinxes in jasper on either side, and various idols from the temple of Isis. This angered the bishop, who, helped by the Duchess Theodorada, his disciple, went with an axe and broke the dragon and idols to pieces. Of the fragments of the winged monster he made a chalice for his church. lie then cut down the tree."
It may be all as true as the other tale, but this account of gold vipers, dragons, and Egyptian idols has a bric-à-brac shop-look which seems to have come--if a look can come--from the rococcanut of some later writer. But it may be all right. Non nobis tantæ componere lites.
"Oc eru ther hiner mestu flaugd konur, ther kanna Galldra oc fiolkyngi, so ecki standist noytt vid them."
("And there are many evil women who know incantations and magic, so that no one can harm them.")--ULF UGGASON'S Saga.
"It seems to me strange," I remarked one day, "that no men seem to practise witchcraft!"
"Oh, but there are, though," remarked my Head-Collectress. "Why, there is a priest here in Florence who is a streghone."
"Santo! Now, if you had told me there was a thief in the police I should not have been astonished. But he can't be a real wizard."
"Ma si. GESUALDA there knows him. And you can see him yourself if you want to."
I thought on the whole I did not want to. For I knew that, in the first place, I should be introduced as a stregone Inglese, and then something came into my head about one CATO, who marvelled that one agur could look another in the face. Not that I had any fear of mutual smiling or winking--the confessional
gives a command of countenance beyond words. But I was seized with great admiration of a priest who could be honest enough to call himself by his right name, and asked how he came to practise our noble profession.
"Ah!" cried the witch, with a smile, "he couldn't help himself. He had to become one. He was called in to confess a witch who was dying, and did not know with whom he had to deal. So she got her confession, and then said she had something to leave him. Would he have it? Oh, wouldn't he! Si, sicuro. 'Then,' she cried, 'I leave you my witchcraft!' And before he could say a word she was dead and off, and he found himself a wizard."
Some time after I had written the foregoing sentence I received from another source the following additional authentic information regarding this goblin priest, of whose real existence I have not the least doubt:--
"This priest was called in to convert an old woman, who, saying that she had something, continually repeated: 'I have no relations--to whom shall I leave it? to--whom shall I leave it? I cannot leave this world till that is left.' Then the priest said: 'Leave it to me!' Then the old woman at once gave him a small key to a certain box or casket, and died. When the priest opened the casket he found in it a mouse. And so the spirit of witchcraft came on him.
"And when it comes, if the witch touches any person, he or she will be bewitched, and waste away or die. But this priest, being a good man, would not touch or embrace people at such times, but, going into the country, touched trees, or grain, or maize, and whatever he touched dried up. So he did as little harm as was possible; but for all this he could not help being a wizard."
This story is extremely interesting from the mention of the mouse. This was the soul of the witch. Prætorius, in his Anthropodemus Plutonicus, tells a marvellous story of a witch whose soul came out of her mouth as a red mouse, which idea Goethe uses in Faust. As my informant was herself in the sisterhood of sorcery, I have no doubt that she made out as strong a case as was possible to prove that all the power and sanctity of the Church and of Christianity could not avail to remove the awful might of stregoneria. But she believed what she narrated to me, and it is interesting to know that in the city of Florence in the month of January, 1891, there were people who believe in a prehistoric Shamanism which is stronger and mightier than that of the Church. Ages have lapped over ages, the Etruscan and Sabine-Latin and Roman and Christian cults have succeeded one to the other, but through it all the witch and wizard, humble and unnoted, have held their own.
But, in fact, as I became familiar with the real, deeply seated belief in a religion of witchcraft in Tuscany, I found that there is no such great anomaly after all in a priest's being a wizard, for witchcraft is a business, like any other. Or it may come upon you like love, or a cold, or a profession, and you must bear it till you can give it or your practice to somebody else. What is pleasant
to reflect on is that there is no devil in it. If you lose it you at once become good, and you cannot die till you get rid of it. It is not considered by any means a Christianly, pious possession, but in some strange way the strega works clear of Theology. True, there are witches good and bad, but all whom I ever met belonged entirely to the buone. It was their rivals and enemies who were maladette streghe, et cetera, but the latter I never met. We were all good.
What seems incredible and utterly contradictory to all this is the fact that during the Middle Ages witchcraft, supposed to be based on a compact with the devil, raged in Italy--witness the rubbish written by PICUS DE MIRANDOLA, GRILLANDUS, PETER PIPERNUS, and scores more. And it is absolutely true that before this Hell carnival, and after it, and deep, deep under it, there was alive all the time among the people the old ante-Etrusco-Roman sorcery, and with it another witchcraft which had nothing to do with hell or devils, or original sin or anything Hebrew-Persian-Christian--and it lived, unheeding learned men and priests and their piety.
The witch-mania died, and the Church is dying fast, and yet here, in Tuscany, the witchcraft without a devil or a god--the Shamanism of oldest times with a little later Etruscan-Roman colouring, still survives--as indeed everything in this book indicates. The knowledge inspires a very strange reflection as to what the real nature of the Northern Italian can be like. For such a capacity for survival indicates character. The conservatism of the old Roman was his peculiar trait. It was not a blind adherence like that of the Egyptian to an established order of things, for it was based on common sense. This is strongly manifested in the works of CATO and of VARRO on agriculture. They strictly observed all the old rites; nay, they even taught spells, much like the incantations of the witches. But under it all there was a spirit of independence. CATO says (De Agricultura, c. 3, 5): "Rem divinam, nisi Conpititalibus in conpito aut in foco ne facit--haruspicem, augurem, hariolum, Chaldæum ne quem consulisse velit, segetem ne defrudet, nam id infelix est."
Italy has never wanted in her darkest hours--as in the days of CRESCENTIUS, or in those of the Borgias--for CÆSAR BORGIA aimed at a united Italy; and MACHIAVELLI was a true patriot--a few enlightened minds. So it seems to me that even in this peasant witchcraft which held its own despite the Church, there is a kind of conservatism which will not yield, to the Church, that is to a form of supernaturalism which is too powerful. It is blind, humble, and ignorant, but it has a kind of vitality and of independence which indicates great power.
It is not so very absurd, in the face of hypnotism and the known influences of the imagination (whatever that may be), for ignorant peasants to believe in a limited
amount of spells and magic. CATO did as much, and he was as sensible a man as ever lived. What is wonderful in it is that his limited amount of superstition has held its own against the stupendous, subtle influence of a far greater superstition. It may be as Marcellus says, Venenum, veneno vincitur.
When I have been asked by people of average ordinary minds "In what do gypsies believe?" it often occurred to me that the proper answer would be "In just what you do--that is, in nothing at all." For the mere indifferent, unthinking admission of the truths of a religion, or the existence of a God, does not constitute faith, and there are very few persons, let us say in London, who, if a new kind of religion should become fashionable, would not fall in to it with very little thought as to its real nature. But a question in science, be it of chemistry, political economy, public health, navigation, or morals, cannot be thus easily acquiesced in, for it demands active intelligence. A priest settles a disputed point in theology very easily by his ipse dixit, but a lawyer cannot clear his client by merely expressing his conviction of his innocence. He must work hard to prove his point.
But however lukewarm an indifferent Christian may be, there is always that to be drawn from his general course of life which shows the faith in which he was born, and so as regards Tuscan or other witches and wizards, While they make no profession of any doctrines, one can deduce from their traditions and spells several curious and very original points, which were doubtless at one time taught or believed in with great zeal. They are as follows:--
The reader will have observed from several passages or anecdotes in this work that witchcraft as it now exists in Italy is utterly unlike the same as it was or is represented to be in Northern Europe. Sometimes the latter as it was taught by priests, with its principle of selling the soul to the devil, and as a thing entirely, vile and diabolical, appears. But this is all Christian. The real stregoneria of Italy, and especially of Tuscany, is in se absolutely heathen. It has nothing to do with pacts with Satan, or hell, or heaven. When the devil, or devils, are mentioned in it, they are under false colours, for they are simply spirits, perhaps evil, but not beings solely intent on destroying souls. According to Roman Catholic, and I may truly add early Protestant, doctrines there are incredible swarms of devils (far outnumbering the good spirits), who are all the time occupied in tempting and damning mankind, in most cases succeeding with great ease.
The Italian stregoneria is like an endowment. It may be voluntarily assumed by keeping company with witches, studying their lore, and taking part in their enchantments. But this may be done either in a good or evil spirit, and in neither case is the soul to be damned for it in a Christian sense. The witches evidently are not so far advanced in humanity and the religion of illimitable Divine mercy
and love as to conceive that a soul can be sent to hell eternally for a forgotten Ave Maria, as is beautifully illustrated by a number of well-authenticated Catholic tales. The gift of witchcraft is not indeed for every one. Many long for it, but in fact very few attain it in its upper or higher grades. But one who gets it must keep it till some other person will take it--in which case the witch is, as it were, absolved and washed clean of all her sins. Nay, she can cunningly induce an unsuspicious person to take the power, by pretending to leave her a legacy--the precious legacy being her stregeria. For as she cannot die while she is a witch, and very often desires to do so, either to go to heaven or otherwise occupy herself, it sometimes requires all her ingenuity to work off the commodity. As I have mentioned, there is now a priest in Florence who was thus taken in by a dying witch, who after getting absolution from him, ungratefully swindled him by offering a legacy which he accepted and which turned him into a wizard. And now he runs about town, alternately confessing and conjuring--giving the sacraments I suppose "in either form," like an eclectic doctor who treats his patients either allopathically or homeopathically, just as they prefer.
Italian witchcraft may be lost, in Venice, by the witch's spilling even one drop of blood while she is exercising her supernatural power, or even by being caught at it. In a Florentine story, told in another place, a girl is un-witched by being violently detained from going to the sabbat. All of this indicates a radically different kind of witch from the one described by Sprenger' Bodinus, Wierus, and a thousand other writers.
But what is most remarkable of all is the belief that very great wizards and witches when they die become great spirits, who sweep over the country in clouds or vapours or storms, or wander on earth disguised as mortals. This is precisely the doctrine of North American Red Indians, among whom one hears continually of Glooskaps, Manobozhos, and Hiawathas, once human sorcerers, but never a word of any Great Spirit, except at treaties with the Government and interviews with missionaries, such a being having been quite unknown to them till they heard of him from the whites. In the shamanistic stage, man is always Euhemeristic, and makes his departed friends or great men into spirits.
It is also believed in the Romagna that those who are specially of the strega faith die, but reappear again in human forms. This is a rather obscure esoteric doctrine, known in the witch families but not much talked about. A child is born, when, after due family consultation, some very old and wise strega detects in it a long-departed grandfather by his smile, features, or expression. So the world-old Shamanism of the Grand Lama of Thibet is maintained--that strange and mysterious centre of the world's earliest "religion."
Dr. O. W. HOLMES has shrewdly observed that when a child is born, some person old enough to have triangulated the descent, can recognise very often the grandparent or great-uncle in the descendant. In the witch families, who cling together and intermarry, these triangulations lead to more frequent discoveries of palingenesis than in others. In one of the strange stories in this book relating to Benevento, a father is born again as his own child, and then marries his second mother. But the spirit of the departed wizard has at times certainly some choice in the matter, and he occasionally elects to be born again as a nobleman or prince. Hence the now and then startling phenomenon of a count or marquis with an unusual amount of intelligence, for which nobody can account, not even on the ground of a clever and handsome German tutor, or a season in London or Paris. There are always some wise men in Italy who are true and honest patriots, and according to the doctrines of stregeria we owe them all to the very ancient and learned if not quite respectable college of wizards, to which, however, if this doctrine be true, the country owes its salvation. At any rate the idea is original, and it might be adopted to advantage in some other countries where the statesmen are certainly no conjurors.
Since writing the above I obtained the following information regarding the transmigration of souls, and the reappearance of ancestors in their descendants. And a precious time I had to disentangle or make sense of it--which may serve as a hint to those who come after the pioneer in such a wilderness, who has made the path straight for them, not to sneer at him for "inaccuracy." Truly my informant was not wanting in faith or zeal, but she was far inferior to a Passamaquoddy Indian who has been trained in tradition in the art of understanding one's self.
"Sometimes in his life a man may say, 'After my death I may be born again a wizard, (for) I would like to live again!' But it is not necessary even to declare this, because if he has said such a thing, even unthinkingly to witches--senza neppure pensarvi ai stregoni--they hear and observe it. So it will come to pass that he may be born again even from the children of the children of his children, and so be his own great-great grandson, or great-grandson, or grandson.
"And when such a one is born he or she is known as wizard or witch, for such an one will have fierce eyes (con occhi burberi), very lowering or evil, very thick hair, and such are the most malignant of all. And such a one was born in apart of the Romagna called Castrocaro. This was a girl who grew up with a wicked mind, and a hard heart, or rather no heart at all, so that as a woman she had none for her own children. And she said one day that she would be born again as a witch to be revenged on those whom she bated, which meant everybody, for she loved nobody.
"And so it came to pass many years after, the wife of her nephew gave birth to a daughter with lowering bad eyes, and heavy black hair, the very picture of a witch,. And in a dream the mother heard
This thy child
Is not thy child,
But an evil witch
Who will be full wild! p. 201
And befal what may befal,
She will do much ill to all!
And so it turned out that she was re-born a girl in form, but really a spirit of evil and revenge; for before long everybody in Castrocaro was ill and the children bewitched. The poor mother was obliged to become a witch, and obey her terrible daughter, and do all the wicked deeds which she commanded, and dared confess it to no one.
"The father of this terrible being at last understood the whole, and acted thus: He arranged a grand festivity and ball in a great open public place. And he assembled there on one side all who had been the victims of the witch, while on the other were many priests with holy water. At eleven o'clock they had supper, and at twelve the witches wished to escape. But the priests held them fast, and obliged the daughter to cure, or unbewitch, all her victims. And they bound her with ropes and sang
"'Tutto il male che tu ai fatta,
Tu to possa riparare,
E in cielo tu tu non possa andare,
Ne in forma di gatto e di nessuno animate,
Tu possa tornare
Requia sean tinpace. Amen!'
("'Every sin beneath the sun
Due to thee must be undone
Happiness thou ne'er shalt know,
Unto heaven thou canst not go,
As a cat no more thou'lt glide,
Or in such form on earth abide,
Neither shalt thou vex or slay men,
Requiescat in pace. Amen!')
And then the witch-spirit, making a terrible sound as of rattling chains, and spreading fire, disappeared and was never seen again."
In this we may trace the process by which the witch or sorcerer, by being re-born, becomes more powerful, and passes to the higher stage of a spirit. This is extremely interesting, because it gives a clearer understanding of the method by which the man or woman who is feared is developed to a god. It is quite the same in Brahminism, or Buddhism, or Tibetan Shamanism. New incarnations in human form give greater power. This story is the more remarkable because the narrator was perfectly convinced of its truth.
In connection with this tale, the narrator observed that there are witches very good as well as very bad, and an aristocracy far above the vulgar or common kind. She, in fact, impressed it on me that there are the same distinctions in the world of sorcery as in this of ours.
"The belief that men could become gods," writes Mrs. Hamilton Gray (Hist. of Etruria), " is very old Etruscan. In the Acherontic Books of Tages, translated by Labeo, there were certain rites through which the souls of men
could become gods, entitled "Dii-Animales," because they had been human souls. These were first Penates and Lares, before they could become superior divinities." Which agrees accurately with the modern belief as here set forth.
What is very peculiar is that these devotees believe in two distinct sets or systems of supernatural beings--one of the saints, angels, and the "hierarchy celestial" of the Scriptures, and the other of "the spirits," which latter, when examined, turns out to be the old Etruscan mythology, with such Shamanic additions as have been made to it by the deaths of distinguished wizards. As illustrating both this and the belief in the power of a promise or vow once made to the spirits, I give a curious story, which is the more curious because the woman from whom I obtained it absolutely believed in its truth. Its proper place would perhaps have been among the Spirits, as it was given me to illustrate the manner in which spirits, or folletti, came into existence; but it has a closer relation to what is discussed in this chapter.
Zanchi was a man who was generally loved and esteemed, and who was devoted to his family. He had first one wife, who died, and then another, who did not live long, and by each of these he had a son. His heart was, however, passionately set on having a daughter. Then he married again, and had two more sons by this third wife, at which he was tutto disperato, or almost desperate. to think that he could not have so small a favour granted, which would have been such a great one to him. Now, of his children all died save two. And he continued to pray for a daughter, and appealed not only to all the saints, but also to the ancient spirits of the land, declaring that if he could only have his desire he would gladly die--that is, provided he could revisit earth and see the child.
"Now this vow did not pass unnoticed; for though the saints heeded it met the spirits did, and not long after he had a daughter, whom he loved dearly; but when the little girl was eight months old, the vow was called for, and the father left this world for another. Now his widow was a tender-hearted and devout woman, loving the sons of her husband as much as; her own daughter. And every night she prayed before an image for her son and husband who had passed away.
"And one night she saw a form bending over the sleeping daughter, and as it looked up she saw that it was the spirit of her husband. And so he came night after night. In time the widow died; but Zanchi, from his vow, became a spirit, and continued to visit his children, especially the daughter."
Here we see that a man, by a prayer to the heathen spirits of old, becomes one of them. There is no indication that he was punished--he simply is transferred entirely into another region.
It may be observed from all the incantations in this book, that even the worst of the mischief-making by Italian witches is based on individual ill-feeling. In German or English witchcraft the sorceress acts from "pure cussedness," On general principles, not sparing friend or foe, and doing anything which would please the devil. The Stregone or the strega, acts from jealousy, envy, or personal
hatred. Or he or she injures a person because of being paid to do it to please a third person. The folletti, or spirits, do mischief, but it is because the peasants never bless them, or, worse still, speak disrespectfully of them. It is said quite exceptionally of Spulviero that, when alive as a wizard, he was so evilly-disposed that he injured every one indifferently. This would have only been his duty, according to the pictures of his class as drawn by the old ecclesiastical witch-doctors. In Italy revenge is almost as deeply cherished as it is in the frontier lands of America--hence we find a great deal of it in witchcraft; but this is mere human nature.
The following sketch of witchcraft is very curious, as giving in fullest form the counter-charm against sorcery. It was partly recited, partly sung or murmured:--
"In the Tuscan Romagna are always many witches, and twice a week they meet in council.
"Witches great and small,
Meet to consider
What they must be doing
On Friday and Tuesday.
On Friday and Tuesday
Then they hold meeting
In other forms, changed
To dogs, cats, or mules,
Of goats there are many,
And go forth to follow
The tasks which are set them.
"Now it happened two years ago (1889) that a poor woman had a very beautiful baby, two months old. And one morning, after having attended to it, she went forth to work out of the house, when, turning round, she saw a strange cat leap out of her door. And feeling that it was a witch who had injured her child, grasping the cat in a great rage, she tore from it a handful of fur.
"Entering the house,
She sought in the chamber--
Sought for her infant--
On the bed, under,
But nowhere could find it,
When in the fireplace
She heard a strange wailing;
And in the fireplace,
On coals hot-glowing,
'Mid the wood flaming,
She saw the baby,
As in a glory,
Harmed in nothing.
"So she took her child up, and being sure that this was witchcraft, she made a charm.
"For she put the cat's hair
In a red scarlet bag,
With the juniper berries,
Frankincense and cummin,
Salt, crumbs of bread,
Many iron filings,
Horse-scrapings in powder,
With a witch-medal,
Three black-headed pins,
Three red, and three yellow,
Three cards from a pack
From a pack which is Roman
The seven of spades,
Which causes confusion
The seven of clubs,
Which makes tears and sorrow;
And the queen of spades,
Ordained for the witches. 1
"Then all this is put under a heavy weight--let it be as heavy as possible--and then say
"'All of this I do
For the accursed witch,
That she may not live,
Nor eat, nor drink (in peace)
And I put not this bog
Under the weight,
But the body and soul
Of that witch accursed,
That she may not live or stand
Until she gives health
Again to my child!'
"Then the witch will come again to the door every day in the form of a cat, wailing and imploring peace. And so this one came; and then the woman took a skein (gomitolo, a bottom) of thread, and threw it three times in the air. Then the child recovered its health and the mother burned the cat's hair and so there was an end to the bewitchment." 2
It seems, as if, by the putting the child in the fire, where it sat unharmed, there is a reminscence of Ceres, who did the same with the infant Triptolemus, to make it immortal. (See also the Homeric Hymn to Demeter--jbh) Perhaps the witch did it to make a witch. of it. There is no explanation of the reason, and it seems altogether misplaced and mysterious, unless this be the cause of it. If we take it altogether, this story is as strange--one may say as classical--as any of Roman times.
Witches of a certain class have their homes in wild and strange places. Thus I have been told that--
"When one passes by a cavern where witches dwell--o sian folletti, o siano le fate--or it may be goblins or fairies--one makes the sign of la castagna, and repeats:--
"'O strega maladetta!
Che da me tu possa stare
("'Oh witch accursed!
Mayst thou ever be
Far away from me!'")
Information on this subject was often given to me in such a mad, eccentric manner with wild sounds that it is really difficult to convey it by writing. The following was half-sung, half-recited; but the "si, si," or "yes, yes," was always sung, and sometimes with a strange laugh:--
Witches make boats with the feathers of birds. And in a minute they fly--
"In a minute they fly
Over land and rivers
But you must beware, si, si!
How you make children's beds with feathers.
And if one has children, si, si!
With the feathers of beds they will do them great harm.
And you'll find within them, si, si!
Crowns made with feathers in the form of a capon.
And look out for that, si, si!
Dal farci dormir i bambi
Se non veli volete fare stregar.
If you want the children to sleep,
And not have them bewitched,
You must keep them away from feathers.
And now it is finished, si, si!
Tell your story, my friend, si, si!
For mine has come to an end, si, si!"
In this wild song, which was not improvised but repeated as if it were well known, and a part of some longer narrative (my informant was very particular as to my putting si, si in the right places), the allusion to boats made of feathers is classical. "Feathers," says FRIEDRICH, "are a symbol of flight and inspiration. So the Muses were represented as having feathers on their heads to express poetic flight and rapture." "They had won them from the Sirens." The allusion to the capons is explained in the chapter on the Spell of the Black Hen.
But there was in all this mad witch-song a something mocking, and, as it were, unexplained. Perhaps the final recommendation to keep children from feathers--that is, from poetry and inspiration--unless we would have them become witches or lunatics, explains it all. But the reader cannot fail to observe that in many of the incantations which I have given there is an inexplicably wild mysterious spirit, which seems derived from unknown sources, and which differs entirely from those of other countries. There is hardly a trace of it in the gypsy incantations of WLISLOCKI, or in those of the English Book of Fate.
As there are witches good and bad, so they give presents which may bring good or evil fortune; but these must be accepted with great suspicion, or a man may find himself indiavolato, or bedevilled, ere he knows it. If one has unwittingly accepted from some old woman dried chestnuts, or nuts, or almonds, and then suspects she is a witch, they should not be eaten, or he may find himself bewitched.
"In such a case, let him wait till Tuesday or Friday, and then take green broom-plant (ginestra), exactly at noon or midnight. Then make the broom into a cross, and put it on the fire, and on it the gifts of the suspected witch, and say:--
"'Se sei una strega!
Strega, strega, strega!
Tu sia maladetta,
E sia per il camin
Maladetta, tu possa saltare
Come queste nuoce--
(O qualunque altra cosa sia)
Brucciata tu possa restare!'
("'If thou art a witch!
Witch, witch, witch!
Cursed shalt thou be
And if, like these nuts,
I can see thee jump,
jump up through the chimney,
And burn away from me!')
But the witches are crafty. One of their tricks is to let fall an enchanted ring. And if any person picks this up, and puts it on a finger, he will begin to waste away like a burning candle. Then he, finding this, must make a great fire of broom (ginestra), and barracotolo di ginestra and put the ring close by the fire and say:--
"'Se questo anello e stregato
Su per il cammino possa saltare,
Incompagnia della granata
Che io ho appogiato,
Appogiato al focolare!'
("'If this ring should be bewitched,
May it up the chimney fly
With the broom which I for peace
Have leaned against the mantlepiece!')
"Then if the ring be bewitched it will fly up the chimney, but he prompt at that instant to make the castagna with both hands, else it will fall back and the man be as bewitched as ever."
There is yet another incantation when one has received any gift of eatables from an old woman. Take a broom and put it by the fire, and throw some of the suspected food into the flame and say:--
"'Se la robba
Che tu o vecchia indegnata
Mi ha data,
Lei e' stregata,
Nel tempo stesso che la butto,
Nel fuoco o vecchia indegnata;
Tre colpi possa fare,
Uno sopra il cammino,
Che tu possa accetare,
Uno dalla finestra,
Che quella sempre arda e la tempesta,
Ed uno della porta
Che in casa mia entrare
Più non possa!
Strega, strega, strega
Vile e nera, brutta strega!"
("'If these things which here I see,
By thee, vile witch, bewitched be,
In the fire the things I throw,
And as sign to let thee know
Three blows I strike, to let thee see
One on the chimney, straight at thee,
One on the window at thy form
And may it stir thee like a storm
And one at last upon the door,
That thou mayst never enter more!
Witch, witch, accursed witch,
Vile and dark and black as pitch!'")
It may be here observed that witches of the wicked kind work their worst spells by means of giving food, and that this forms a much more prominent feature in Italian sorcery than in any other. Thus they make people into animals or compel them to believe themselves changed into persons of another sex. For this they were famed of old as Fulgosus (lib. 8, cap. 2) relates: "There are in Italy
certain women, who by certain kinds of food, act on human minds so that they believe themselves to be what they are not." These ideas were probably produced firstly by suggestion or hypnotism, and secondly by administering certain poisons, such as stramonium which causes strange delusions. Fulgosus, indeed, suggests that these are delusions, and that probably the turning men into pigs by Circe, and the Egyptian girl who believed herself to be a mare and was cured by Hilarion, were all cakes baked from the same meal. In which the reader will no doubt agree with him.
The street-boys and canaille, who are as cruel in Italy as in other countries, have a very easy method for ascertaining whether an old woman is a witch. Should you see one in the street, you must follow her, making the sign of the castagna, and cry out many times aloud at her, "Witch, witch, witch! Fico!' (a fig, meaning the sign of the castagna). And if she turns round and answers: "Zident!" (Romagnola, in Italian, Accidente!) "Bad luck to you!" you may be sure she is a witch. But she must reply with this word, and not with any other.
The witch is not so much identified in Italy with the broom as a steed, as in Northern Europe. She generally rides a goat. But she is kept away or exorcised with a broom, which is of very old Latin origin. The broom was anciently a symbol of purification--hence a magic protection against evil spirits who love dirt. Thus VARRO relates that when a child was born, the threshold was touched with a broom, a hatchet, and a pestle, to keep away spirits, which is quite like the Romagnola custom of laying a broom across the door to prevent the entrance of witches. In fact, in every one of the instances which I have collected the only allusion to the broom as regards witches is as a thing which they utterly dread. What Silvanus (regarded as a mischief-making spirit) chiefly dreaded was the broom, the hatchet, and the pestle, or the three principal symbols of culture, cleanliness, and fertility.
Since writing the foregoing I have learned the following, which proves that the whole of the ancient rite as described by VARRO is still observed.
"When a babe is born, to free it from witches one should take a hatchet, a pestle, and a broom, and all these are to be put in a cross on the threshold of the door, and the one who does this must say:---
"'Tutto questo l'ho incrociato
Perche voialtre strege maladette,
Il soglio della mia (casa)
Non potete traversare!'"
("'With these things a cross I make,
Cursed witches, for your sake,
That ye may no further come,
To trouble me in this my home!'")
The pestle, for some reason, is regarded as being very effective in magic.
Witches in Italy as in the Danubian provinces love to dance and rock and fly in wild mazes, chasing one another on the summits of waving branches, and when these move much in but little wind you may be sure that they or the fairies are there.
"On the tops of waving trees,
When they're bending in the breeze,
That is where the witches dance,
How they caper, and they prance
Up and down to a piper's tune,
Frisking in the light of the moon!"
Hast thou entered into the treasures of the Snow? or hast thou seen the treasures of the Hail?"--Job. xxxviii. 22.
Fleeting clouds--sailors of the air!"--SCHILLER
I think it is WASHINGTON IRVING who describes a man who wished that he were superstitious because he fancied that such a person must live in a kind of fairy-land. WALTER SCOTT, too, was always wanting to believe what his strong Scotch common sense, fortified by education, rejected. And if the faith of the Middle Ages had not taught men that every supernatural conception whatever not included in the teachings of the Church was hellish, and fairies and elves, devils, men might certainly in the old days of belief have been much happier, and surrounded themselves with ever-varying, many-wreathing, golden-starred canopies, recognising a spirit-artist's hand in the dew, decking with liquid pearl the bladed grass, seeing eyes of light in rain-drops, and hearing love-whispers in the breeze. It is worth considering that though CHAUCER wrote that in his time-
"Now can no man see non elves mo."
Yet that the instant the curse, or ban, of the Church was removed from poetry by the Reformation, Fairy-land revived and flourished in the works of SHAKESPEARE, and indeed in those of hundreds if not thousands of other writers. In truth, although its first causes were dying out, it received such a great development that its real power was greater than ever, like a strawberry-vine, which, dying in one place, sends out its tendrils to another, and from being barren at first, becomes in a few removes fertile, bearing abundant ivory blossoms and coral golden-spotted fruit. Which indeed holds well, because the strawberry is par eminence the fairy-fruit--Jerome Bosch in a picture gives it the power of changing
men into strange beings. This has been little considered. The Elf, who had been a literal and yet very limited, or almost commonplace being to the peasant, became apotheosised to the refined and cultivated minds of the golden age of English literature into an Ariel. And in sober truth, there is no such exquisite worship of Elfland as is to be found in the works of SHAKESPEARE, HERRICK, DRAYTON, and in innumerable ballads and legends which this fairy Renaissance called to life. Bishop CORBET was quite wrong when he said that the fairies
"Were of the old profession,"
or Catholic. They were all devils damned under the Church, and only became delightful little deities to the Protestants.
This view may be new to many of my readers, but it is worth seriously considering how very valuable a highly cultivated sense of art, or an instinct for the beautiful, preserves men from evil and revolting influences. The peasantry in Italy to this day do not quite identify witches with the horrible hags of Germany and England, who meet simply to worship the devil. Their chief is not the dirty vulgar Devil but beautiful lady--like Diana. Herein we have the result of a certain refinement of art which even the monks could never quite extinguish.
Not only is it true that a man who believes--like a Red Indian--that every tree and stone has its indwelling spirit, is always in a kind of fairy-land, but what is also worth envying, he is never alone. When he sits in woodland wild 'neath green or russet tree, he knows the presence of the Elves, or sees by many a sign where they have passed. Every relic of the olden time, arrow-heads, pottery, and hollow flints, have been touched by fairy hands, much more those older relics of an older time, rocks, rivers, and forests.
There is to the truly refined or cultivated mind an infinite field for this feeling, if its possessor is very familiar with such lore, for with it we too can live in Fairyland, and--
"By a spell to us unknown,
We can never be alone."
I do not think that SHAKESPEARE or HERRICK really "believed " in the existence of fairies, but I am very sure that no peasant of the tenth century ever peopled the forests and fields with more beautiful fairies and associations than they did. And, after all, who knows how much life and mystery and fairydom and spirithood really lies hidden in nature--what elements and senses and laws underlying laws not as yet known to us? Sleep on, and dream--it
is not yet time for man to be quite aroused from his rest--you may lie a little longer!
Read, master, and inwardly digest, oh reader, all this folk-lore of the olden time. It will do you no harm though your mind were as full of fairy fancies as ever that of Don Quixote's was of the dreams of chivalry. For while the childlike charm or poetry is none the less, the historical value and the lessons which it teaches are of very great value. You will have read this book to little purpose if it has not induced you to reflect on the fact that by studying the stupendous errors of the past we learn how much of them still remain, and how few of us realise it.
There is, however, a distinct charm in knowledge of what man has really believed, whether it be true or false. I love to look at the knurls or knots in trees, and remember that they are caused by the heads of witches buried near them, and forcing themselves again to life; or to peer through a flint with a hole in it to help my sight, and perhaps see Elves. Or watch the clouds like ships--"sailors of the air"--and think of the "treasures of hail" stored in them!
And this recalls one of the strangest and most daintily beautiful conceptions of the olden time--that there is afar in Cloudland a mysterious city called Magonia, where the hail is manufactured, and whence it is carried in ships which look to us like "clouds sailing along in golden sunset green."
The monks who bedevilled, belittled, and dirtied everything, added to this fancy that these ships were loaded and manned by witches and devils in order to destroy crops, and that for return cargo they were freighted with the fruit thus injured or destroyed. On which subject the tenth-century Archbishop AGOBARD of Lyons delivered himself as follows 1:--
"Most people are so stupid and unintelligent that they believe and declare that there is a land called Magonia, from which come ships sailing through the air, which receive on board all the fruit which is destroyed by hail and storms. And that the sorcerers who cause the storms are in connection with the ship-people, and are paid by them."
The same bishop relates that he himself once saved the lives of four human beings, three men and a woman, whom the populace wished to stone to death because they believed that they were people from Magonia, who had fallen from a cloud-vessel, having been "shipwrecked" during a thunder-storm. It is to be
deeply regretted that the bishop did not give us some account of this quartette--how they looked, and what language they spoke. I fancy myself that they would have proved to be gypsies!
"Like ships far off and out at sea!" Reader, is there not a charm in this conception; and will you not sometimes recall it when you sit at evening and look at the rosy, golden sunset--it may be at the trysting-tree-and see the cloudlets steering in the fiery sea, and wish that you two could take passage therein for the beautiful, far-away, forgotten city--for Magonia, whose walls are of aerial amethyst, and citadels of vapoury emerald?
"All over doth this outer earth
An inner earth enfold,
And sounds may reach us of its mirth,
Over its pales of gold;
There spirits live, unwedded all
From the shapes and lives they wore,
Though oft their printless footsteps fall
By the hearths they loved before.
We mark them not, nor hear the sound
They make in threading all around,
Their bidding sweet and voiceless prayer
Float without echo through the air
Yet often in unworldly places,
Soft Sorrow's silent vales,
We mark them with uncovered faces
Outside their golden pales;
Yet dim as they must ever be,
Like ships far off and out at sea,
With the sun upon their sails."
Floating away, away, and ever on: gleaming in glory on the heavenly plane--blending in darkness, glittering in rain, or in hail-diamonds seeking earth again, mingling and changing like all things for ever! Thou hast been there many a time and oft in very truth, and there thou wilt be many time, thou Child of the Mist, or ever Eternity shall end!
Sic vita. But I learn from PRÆTORIUS, in his Anthropodemus Plutonicus, that these Graupenmenschen, or Hail-men of Magonia, are rare elfin-artists, and that now and then they fashion their ware in strange forms, and even enter into their work themselves, or else by magic might cause small fairies to appear in it, in order to mystically forebode strange things.
"Very memorable is that which happened in the year of Christ 1395, when there fell, like a rain of pebbles, wonderful hailstones on which were human faces, both male and female. The former had beards like those of men. The female bore long hair and veils, which were seen by a very credible man, who also had them in his hands, as CRANZIUS declares in Wandal, lib. 9, c. 3.
"And in Cremona, in the year 1240, in the cloister of Saint Gabriel, there fell a hailstone on which could be seen, as if most carefully engraved, the form of a cross, with the face of the Lord Christ, and the letters JESUS NAZARENUS. And one of the drops of water from it wetting the eyes of a blind man caused him to see. As appears by the writer VINSICH, Histor. lib. 30, c. 138, and from him MAJOLUS, p. 15. d. tom.; also NAUCLERUS, Gener. 41."
Which well-authenticated fact should of itself show that the inhabitants of Magonia were good Christians--"and wider."
"M. HEINRICH GOBALD in Breviar. Histor., p. 473, declares that in 1650, on the 18th of June, as announced from Presburg, there was a terrible hailstorm, such as no one had ever beheld. The stones were of very varied forms, and some of them were like Turk's heads,"
From which soon came wars, famines, revelations and revolutions, adulterers and harlots struck dead, and from this it was deduced that--
"A Child of Midnight will ere long reign, and his rule will be hard as iron and full of grief; when pestilence, hunger, and war will take the upper hand. Yet first will he govern Moscow with much peace, and become a mighty monarch."
Which is followed by forty pages of grim and wild prophesying as to what will take place in the year 1666, as foreboded by the hailstones.
I, and it may be you also, oh reader, have seen a great and a small hailstone stuck together, so as to much resemble a Turk's head with a turban; but truly it never occurred to us that there was a volume of political presage therein. We did not even think of the Child of Midnight which, by the way, is a fine term, and might serve for the title of a novel or poem. Yet when you see the cloud-ships far sailing in the sky, you may perchance recall the mysterious city of Magonia, and when hit by a hailstone regard it as done in sport by the fairy artisans of that famed town.
What appears from several authorities is that what seem to us to be "fleeting clouds--sailors of the air," are in reality mysterious barks, or very often spirits, hastening across the sky, the ships and sailors of "cloud-land gorgeous land" bent on errands far away; of which there is a very strange story told by Meteranus (Niederland Histor., b. 28). Firstly be it remembered that as the Norse heroes of Valhalla meet every day to rehearse their ancient duels, and fight and be killed, and then revived, so the mysterious dwellers in the land of air return to earth on the anniversary of some great battle of the olden time, just as in America the battles of Bunker Hill, Concord, Saratoga, and others, even as late as that of Gettysburg, are celebrated by spectral armies, who fight by night the conflict o'er again. So it came to pass that in the land of Angouléme in France, in December, 1608, many small clouds came drifting o'er the sky, looking
like the pebbles on the strand moved by the rising tide. Then, one by one and two by two, they began to fall, softly and gently as snowflakes, to earth--"One by one and two by two, they to a mighty squadron grew"--and as they touched ground they suddenly became warriors. "All," as Meteranus declares, "were very tall, straight, handsome men, having blue weapons, flags, and everything else cerulean or sky-blue--and of them all were 12,900. And they divided into two armies, and fought from five o'clock in the afternoon till nine, when they all vanished."
But it is mostly in the silent desert or in lonely mountains, in hidden places far beyond the plain, that we see these beings who are corpore aërea, tempore eterna (airy of form, yet with eternal soul), who go fleeting over the sky on mystic errands bent. Sometimes they pause, however, for a time, either of their own free-will or at a sorcerer's spell, and build up, at a thought, cloud-capt towers and gorgeous palaces, rosy and golden in the setting sun, pillared domes, pearly citadels, and rows on rows of battlements, repeated like giant stairs until high lost in the air. To those who are "gifted," these appear to be actually humanly built; and no wonder, for they are only made to seem like clouds to delude mankind. For Magonia truly is--
"A great strange city, lovelier in its lights
Than all the golden greenness of the hills,
And in its shadows glorious far beyond
The purple dropping skirts of thunder-cloud,
A city of all colours and fair shapes,
And gleams of falling water day and night . . .
Lit up with rainbow fountains in the day,
Lit up with rain of coloured stars by night . .
And out beyond and sleeping in the light
The islands and the azure of the sea,
And upwards, through a labyrinth of spires
And turrets, and steep alabaster walls,
The city rises--all its jewelled fronts
Shining to seaward . . .
Until at last through miles of shadowy air
The blue and violet mountains shut the sky." 1
I had written the foregoing in the city of Florence in May, 1891, when I was conversing one day with a woman who came into the house just as a storm was raging without. And she said: "I was going to the post-office, and as I went some one said to me, 'Truly thou art a witch, for the hailstones leap up from beneath thy feet.'"
Then we all laughed, and I asked if witches made hail; and this was the answer, which I wrote down, word for word, in Italian:--
"People say that when the weather becomes bad (quando it tempo si guasta), and thunder and lightning begin, that it is a storm caused by wind, and that the dark clouds are water, and the wind bears along those clouds which shed water. But really it is a very different thing. For up in the sky there are cities made by the witches and wizards who were once driven out of paradise or who left this world, and they have made for themselves another world in heaven.
"But even in heaven they keep those evil feelings (tengono sempre i suoi rancori) which they ever had, and so they choose the worst weather, so that they may do much mischief to men. And then they enter a vessel (barca) and load it with hail; and all the clouds which we see are not clouds of air, but boats. Then their leader takes a hailstone and throws it at a witch, and so they all pelt one another and sing:--
"'Tiro queste granate,
Ma non tiro le granate,
Le tiro perche si devono
Convertire tutte in grandine
E voglio sperare
Che tutta la campagna
A male voglia andare
E cosi tutti di fame
In terra dovranno andare!'"
This spell was sung also in Romagnola, and it means:--
("'I throw these grains of hail,
But not merely these grains,
1 throw them that they may convert
All (the rain) to hail
And I wish, I hope,
That all the country
May suffer from it,
And all the people therein
May go their graves from hunger!"
Of this Hail-land in heaven I received another history, which is different in a few details, but which, I think, is not less interesting:--
"People when they see clouds in air say it is air (vapour) and a sign of rain, but there is more in them than they suppose. For there is in the sky another world made by wizards and witches who, when they died, were not admitted to heaven, and so they made a world for themselves, which has a sea (lake) in it. And when the weather is dark, and clouds fly before the storm, those clouds are boats full of hail, and in them are wizards and witches, who throw the hail at one another, and so it falls to earth and does great harm. When this happens one should invoke the spirit of thunder (Tituno or Tignia).
"The light, small clouds which pass along in sunlight in fine weather are small boats in which are girls and children whom the witches have taken and keep as prisoners. But sometimes when it is pleasant they send them out sailing in the air."
I have, indeed, a third account in MS. devoted to these captives, but after six readings I have been obliged to give it up as unintelligible. It is only additional testimony. There is something to the effect that the witches have mirrors with which they flash out signals to the boats to return, or with which they make lightning.
Witches on earth sometimes pay visits to this Magonia, or Cloud City land, but they run a risk of being caught or killed in the storms of their own raising. Thus Friedrich Panzer tells us in his Bavarian Tales, that during the first half of the last century there was such a tremendous tempest, with hail, in Forchheim in Upper Franconia, that the people feared lest the whole town should be destroyed. Then the Franciscan brothers met in their cloister garden, when, just as the first blessing was pronounced, lo! a beautiful woman, stark-naked, was thrown headlong from a passing thunderstorm on the grass in their midst; and the holy brothers, greatly amazed at this, doubtless to them, utterly novel sight, drew near, when they recognised in her who had indeed dropped in on them so suddenly, the wife of the town miller, a woman long suspected of witchcraft. Whereupon one of the monks threw a garment over her, and she was brought into the cloister--"By means of which," says the account (somewhat obscurely), "they averted from her the death by fire." Which means, I suppose, that she made so favourable an impression on the Franciscans that they protected their proie inattendue (vide Le Moyen de Parvenir) from being roasted.
The conduct of these sorcerers and witches, unfit for heaven and averse to earth, building for themselves starry palaces and rose-red citadels with all the glory Dream to genius yields, reminds me of what Professor Shairp remarks of Shelley, and that very markedly indeed:--
"The real world-existence as it is to other minds he recoiled from--shrank from the dull, gross earth which we see around us--nor less from the unseen world of Righteous Law and Will which we apprehend. The solid earth he did not care for. Heaven--a moral heaven--there was that in him which he would not tolerate. So, as Mr. Hutton has said, his mind made for itself a dwelling-place midway between heaven and earth, equally remote from both--some interstellar region, some clear, cold place
'Pinnacled dim in the intense inane,'
which he peopled with ideal shapes and abstractions wonderful or weird, beautiful or fantastic, all woven out of his own dreaming phantasy."
Once in a while one of these dwellers in the violet Nifelheim, or Magonia, escapes and comes down to earth, and is born as a Shelley or a Keats--I think that Mr. J. A. Symonds is really one of them--or a Swinburne, or Ruskin, or Heine, or Carlyle, or Victor Hugo, or anybody else who is magnificently illogical, splendidly rhapsodical, sublimely egoistical (or subjective)--men whose thoughts
are streamed and dashed with startling hues, and who think showers of stars, and who, when they do teach us something new--
"Shoot out a scarlet light which seems as if
The torch of some explorer shone in them,
Revealing mysteries of caverns deep
Which had been hidden from the birth of Time."
So from old days these hardened stories live as if trenched in ice, like mammoths in Siberia, to the world unknown till some discoverer reveals them, and then there is marvelling here and there that such things could have been so long frozen up. So into time old time returns again, and the ancient medals, thus disinterred, are all the more beautiful for their rust. And it went deeply to my heart that after I had read the story of Magonia, and thought it was a tale utterly dead on earth and embalmed in a chronicle, to find a sorceress in whose faith it lives. It was as if an Egyptian mummy, revived, had suddenly spoken to me, and told me a tale of Thebes, or declared that Cloud-Cuckoo land was a reality which he had known when he beheld--
"Against an orange sky a purple cloud,
A cloud that did not change nor melt nor move,
And still there were faint shadows in the cloud
A mystery of towers and walls and hills,
And the shadow of a great dome in the midst,
How deeply (or one may say how terribly) impressed the Italian peasantry are by the belief that hail is caused by devils and witches appears from the following from a London newspaper of September, 1891. It is curious as involving the ancient Roman belief in the sacred power of bells as devil-drivers which was in later times turned to such good account by the priests:--
"The schoolmaster is still but very moderately abroad in Italy, as the priest of Montalto in that country has too good reason to know. When a storm comes on there it is the practice to ring frantically one of the church bells, which is supposed to have good effect on the temper of the clerk of the weather. This was duly done by the sexton one day last week, and indeed it is lucky for him that he does not hold office in our climate, or he would scarce have left the belfry this summer. However, the priest has the misfortune to be far too much ahead of his flock, and stopped the ringing, telling the people to come into church. As soon as the bell ceased the hail began, and no sooner had the priest reached the altar than a peasant named Marca bitterly upbraided him for causing the hail by stopping the bell. Producing a billhook, he attacked the priest, who parried one-blow, but presently received a fearful gash, a woman, said to be Marca's mother, meanwhile calling out, "Give it him!' Marca then fled, and has not yet been caught. A little more spent by the Italian Government on spelling-books and a little less on ironclads might possibly prevent such unpleasant contingencies."
Truly Marca was much more of a heathen than a Christian. The spirit of old Rome was great in him-he would not yield to feeble modern faith.
Story-telling in the Tuscan Romagna is an institution with observances. The peasants in winter meet together, "perhaps ten, there may be twenty or thirty, around a fire, and first of all recite with due solemnity a rosario, or five paternosters with the aves and other prayers, and then begin to raccontare, or relate tales of fairies, witches and folletti." This very ancient custom is still very generally observed. First of all some old man gives a story, which is commented on, eliciting from the hearers their own reminiscences, then another is suggested, and so the folk-lore is kept alive. In the year 1808 there was published in Bulgnese, or Bolognese--which is, with trifling difference, the same dialect as that which these peasants speak--a translation of Neapolitan fairy tales, which appears to be in the main taken from the Pentamerone of Gian Battista Basile, but which is very much varied to suit new surroundings. Hence the same stories, now known all over Italy, have penetrated to the Romagna. But they have, in the Bolognese region, many of which no traces are to be found in the usual range of Italian legends, and very often even the latter have here either taken of later years, or derived from very ancient sources, elements and characteristics which are quite peculiar, and often bewildering; all of which the folk-lorists of the future will doubtless duly consider and sift even to powder.
The following are a few of the tales which I have heard. I could have given many more--several do indeed occur in other portions of this work--but I have been too much occupied with other subjects, nor indeed would space or the publisher permit further addition.
"There were two witches, mother and daughter, who lived by the sea-side, and the younger was a beautiful girl, who had a lover, and they were soon to be married. But it began to be reported that the women were given to sorcery and had wild ways, and some one told the young man of it, and that he should not take such a wife. So he resolved to see for himself by going to their house, but intending to remain till midnight, when, he knew, if they were witches they could not remain longer at home. And he went and made love, and sat till it was after eleven, and when they bade him go home he replied, 'Let me sit a little longer,' and so again, till they were out of patience.
"Then seeing that he would not go, they cast him by their witchcraft into a deep sleep, and with a small tube sucked all his blood from his veins, and made it into a blood pudding or sausage (migliaccino), which they carried with them. And this gave them the power to be invisible till they should return.
"But there was another man on the look-out for them that night, and that was the brother of the youth whom they had put to sleep, for he had long suspected them, and it was he who had warned his brother. Now he had a boat, and as he observed for some time every morning that it had been untied and used by
some one in the night, he concluded it was done by these witches. So he hid himself on board carefully, and waited and watched well.
"At midnight the two witches came. They wished to go to Jerusalem to get garofani (clove gilly powers, or the clove plant, much used in magic). And when they got into the boat the mother said:--
"'Boat, boat, go for two!'
But the boat did not move. Then the mother said to the daughter, "Perhaps you are with child--that would make three." But the daughter denied it. Then the mother cried again:--
"'Boat, boat, go for two!'
"Still it did not move, so the mother cried again:--
Vai per due, vai per tre,
Per quattro, per cuanto tu vuoi!'
("'Go for two or three or still
For four, as many as you will!')
Then the boat shot away like an arrow, like lightning, like thought, and they soon came to Jerusalem, where they gathered their flowers, and, re-entering the boat, returned. Then the boatman was well satisfied that the women were witches, and went home to tell his brother, whom he found nearly dead and almost out of his mind. So he went to the witches and threatened them, till they gave the youth the migliaccino. And when he had eaten it, all his blood and life returned, and he was well as before. But the witches flew away as he arose, over the house-tops, and over the hill, and unless they have stopped they are flying still.
BERNONI tells this story in his narratives of Venetian witches, but less perfectly, since he makes no mention of a lover or of the witches sucking and restoring his blood. In the classical tales of APULEIUS and others, sucking the blood was the chief occupation of the striga, for which reason I think that this may be the earliest version of the tale. In the Venetian story the boat goes to Alexandria and the boatman while there obtains fresh dates and leaves, which he exhibits on returning as a proof of his adventure. The obtaining the mystic clove flowers gives a far better reason for the voyage. HAWTHORNE has written a story in which a boat full of witches, in the form of cats, make such a trip to obtain rosemary, also a witch-herb.
"There was a man named PIPPO, and he had not been long married to a young and beautiful wife when he was obliged to go on a long journey. And it so chanced that this journey was by accident prolonged, nor did his letters reach home, so that his wife, who was young and very simple, believing all the gossip and mischievous hints of everybody, soon thought that her husband had run away. Now there was a priest in
the village who was bastanza furbo--not a little of a knave--and to him she bitterly complained that her husband had abandoned her, leaving her incinta, or with child.
"At this the priest looked very grave, and said that it was very wicked in her husband to act as he had done; yes, that it was a mortal sin for which both she and Pippo would be damned, even to the lowest depth of hell, because she would give birth to a child which had only been begun, and not finished, for that it would probably be born without a head or limbs, and she would be very lucky if only a hand and foot, or the eyes were wanting. And that all women who bear such monsters would be certainly condemned to the worst.
"Now the wife, being only a simple contadina, was very devout, and went frequently to confession, and, believing every word which the priest said, was terribly frightened, and asked him what could be done in this case? Then he replied that there was a way to remedy it, which he should most unwillingly employ, yet still to save her soul, and for the child's sake, he would try it. And this was that she should pass the night with him, when by his miraculous power as a priest, and by his prayers, he would so effect it that the infant would be perfected--and so she could be freed from sin. But he made her swear an oath not to tell a word of all this to any human being, and especially not to Pippo, else all would fail. So she assented, and the priest had his will.
"Now no one knew it, but PIPPO was a streghone, or wizard, and casting his mind forth to know how all was going on at home, learned all this fine affair which had passed. Then returning, instead of going to his house, he put on the form of a beautiful nun, and went to the priest's. The priest had two young sisters, famous for their extraordinary beauty, and PIPPO was very kindly received by them as well as by the brother. And when he begged for a night's lodging, the two young girls bade him sleep with them, which he did, of course seducing them thoroughly.
"The next morning, being alone with the priest, he first ogled him, and as the other caught eagerly at the chance of sinning with a nun, he plainly asked him if they should not go into the cellar, per fare l'amore. At which the priest was enraptured; but when they were alone together PIPPO assumed his natural form, which was a terrible one, and said: 'I am PIPPO, whose wife thou didst wrong with thy lies. Evil hast thou done to me, but I have done worse to thy sisters, and worst of all to thee, for now thou art accursed before God, thou false priest!' And the prete could do nothing and say nothing. And there came before him all the time many spirits who mocked him, and he had to leave holy orders. And this was the revenge of PIPPO."
I should have omitted this very Bocaccian tale had it not been that it illustrates very strikingly the antipathy of the believers in witchcraft and the spirits of old for the priests. A merely loose, licentious story makes no such deep moral or immoral impression on the Southern European mind as it does on the Northern, but the distinctly placing wizard against priest, or old sorcery against Christianity, is, if the reader will reflect, a very singular incident. It is in this that the point lies for a strega, and it is most remarkable as showing that such antagonism between Shamanism and the Church should still. exist, as it has undoubtedly existed through the ages. I may add that among the tales received after this work had gone to press is one entitled The priest Arrimini, in which a priest becomes a wizard, manifesting, like this narrative, a marked heathen or anti-Christian spirit.
"In a district of La Romagna, there was a man named PISPI, who was a great robber; yes, one who carried away vast treasures and yet was never detected. He would go to a café and meet gentlemen, whom he had plundered immensely, and on departing he would say, 'Signori, I am PISPI, the famous robber,' but nobody could catch him or lay hands on him, and when they met him they did not recognise him at any time, for he changed his face and form continually, until at last it was generally believed that he was a devil.
"But he really was a wizard. And at last he lay dying, but could not die. And he groaned, and implored those present to take his power, but none would accept it because he was believed to be a devil. At last some one put two brooms under his bed, and so he died. But his spirit had no peace, for he had left a treasure. Now PISPI was really a good spirit, because he robbed very rich people and gave a great deal to the poor. Then he sought about for some poor and deserving man, and finally found one in a prisoner who was condemned to the galleys for life, and he said to him, 'I will by my conjuring deliver thee from thy sufferings and set thee free. Then go into the woods in such a place, and there stands an oak-tree called Istia, buried one yard's depth you will find a treasure, it is in a boot and in an earthen pot. And when thou art rich and free do not forget the poor!' And so PISPI had peace, and the poor prisoner became rich and happy."
It would not have been worth while to give this vulgar and rather flat tale, had it not been for the name of its hero. PISPI is a typical thief, and in Holland the mandrake, which is there supposed to grow from the droppings of a thief's brain, &c., on the gallows, is called Pisdifje, or little brain-thief. He who has this pisdifje can enter all houses, open all doors, and rob freely, without being detected. This root was called by many names, such as mandrake, mandragora, alraun, gallows, mannikin and earth-mannikin in Germany, and was regarded as a demon and received offerings or a kind of worship. There is of course no rational philological connection between the names of Pispi and Pisdifje, but the connection of associations between these names and the thief who could never be detected, and the root-demon who enables a thief to avoid detection, is very curious indeed. It may be remarked in this connection that the Vocabulario delle Lingue Furbesche--or Vocabulary of Thieves' Tongues--indicates much intercourse in common between the thieves of Northern Italy and those of Germany.
It has been well said that one half the world does not know how the other half lives, and while collecting these instances of strange superstitions, I am tempted to think that almost one half does not at all understand how the others think, feel, or what is the moral atmosphere which they breathe. We know that there is no truth in anything supernatural, but these others who appear to be so ignorant and indifferent live in a different life, and see and hear--or believe they see and hear--ghosts and marvels and all strange things. Witness the
following, which the woman who told it to me certainly believed she had witnessed:--
"When I was a small child I went frequently to the house of a woman who had a bambina--a girl baby--and we often made a noise when playing together, but woe to us whenever we did so, playing with the cat, for the child's mother said that cats are all wizards and witches. As I indeed learned only too soon how true it was.
"There lived near us another woman who had also a little girl; this child was very impertinent. One day while we three were playing together and making a tumult, my friend gave this other one a cuff. So she ran howling to her mother, and the woman said to the mother of my friend, 'I will be revenged for this; and, per troppo fu vero, it was only too true. For after a few days my little friend fell ill and no one knew what was the matter, nor could any doctor explain the malady.
"Then her mother began to think that the woman who had threatened vengeance was a witch. And she was sure of it when she observed that a cat came by night into her house, and that it, instead of lying down always remained standing! So she watched, and when at midnight the cat came again, she took it and bound it to the child's bed and beat it with all her might, saying, 'Cure my child or I will kill you!'
Then the cat spoke with a human voice, and said, 'I can endure no more. Let me go and your child shall be well.' But at that instant there was heard a horrible roar and clanking of chains as if many demons were about, and the mother instead of letting the cat free went and called the priest that he might give his blessing. And the mother clipped the hair from the cat, and in the morning when the church-bell rang the cat became nothing more nor less--non divento altro--than the woman who had vowed revenge. And so she could no longer be a witch; and all the neighbours seeing her naked, and without a hair left, knew what she was, and so she practised witchcraft no more."
This is interesting because it shows plainly the belief derived from pre-Christian times, that the witch once detected, or stripped in this case literally--of her disguise, can no longer be a witch. Here it is not a question of a soul sold to the devil, but only of power held on a very precarious condition.
Apropos of this subject, I have the following in a letter by Miss Mary A. Owen:--
The negroes in Missouri say some cats are real cats and some are devils, you never can tell "which is which," so for safety it is well to whip them all soundly. The voodoo does not whip her own cat, but she excepts none other. A strange black cat that runs in at one of your doors and out at another, puts "a trick" on somebody in the house. A grown-up black cat which comes and cannot be driven away voodoos the whole house in spite of blows.
"Von wilden Getwergen
Han ich gehoeret sagen,
Sie sin in Holn Bergen."
One day I inquired if there were any Elves, or little dwarfs, in La Romagna and I was at once informed that there were, in these words;--
"Dei nani! Dwarfs! There are many. They dwell in lonely places, far away in the mountains, deep in them, in caves or among old ruins, and rocks. Sometimes a contadino sees one or more; he may behold them far away, going home very early between night and day, hurrying before the sun rises to get into their homes. They live like other people, they are good and bad like other people, but they are folletti, really. I will tell you an old, a very old, story about them:--
"Once there was a girl who had been betrayed by her lover and abandoned for another, and so she, in a wild fit, determined to go in search of him.
"Over the high blue mountain,
Over the rolling rivers,
Through the wet grass,
Along the hard highway,
Into noisy cities, in churches,
Where there were people or none,
Si mise in cammino
D'andare in cerca di lui,
She set herself on the journey
To go in search of him.
And when she had travelled many days and longed for a little rest, she came to a small house far away among the rocks and knocked at the door. There came out a little dwarf, who asked her what she wanted. And she answered:--
"'Good friend, a little lodging,
I beg it in charity,
For my feet are weak and weary
I am seeking, seeking my lover,
Whom I wish to kill for his falsehood,
Yet I hope I shall not find him,
Because I love him still.'
Then she entered and supped and went to bed. And at midnight there came leaping and laughing and frolicking into the room swarms of little dwarfs or goblins--tutti uomini piccioli--who shouted for joy at seeing her. And they pulled her hair and danced on her, and tweaked her ears and nose, and she, in a rage, pushed and beat them and gathered them up and threw them as she could against the wall, but they did not mind it in the least, but climbed in crowds like bees on her bed till dawn came, when they disappeared, when she fell asleep.
And waking she rose and went her way, when from a hill came out another dwarf, who said
"'Stop and talk with me;
I can truly tell thee
Where to find thy lover,
And if thou would'st find him
Come to me at midnight,
And I'll truly tell thee
Where to find thy lover!'
Then the girl replied:--
"'Dammi la tua mano,
Pegno de la parola!'
("'Give me, then, thy hand;
Pledge that truth thou speakest.')
But the dwarf answered:--
"'I cannot give my hand,
As 'tis given by mortals,
For I am a spirit,
And spirits were the goblins
Who this night did tease thee,
Still thou didst well please them
For thou didst show spirit.'
Then at midnight the girl went to the dwarf, and he gave her a feather, and she was turned into a swallow, and he said:--
"'Fly upon the wind
As the wind directs thee
Follow, follow, follow,
And thou'lt find thy lover
And when thou hast found him
Then thou wilt have travelled
Two months' distance, but I
By my incantation
Truly shall have made thee
Fly it in a minute.
When thou seest thy lover
Touch him with this feather,
Then he'll love thee only,
Nor think upon the other.'
Then he will wed thee after three days, but during the time thou must come every day at noon to my grotto and say:--
"'Grotto, grotto, grotto!
By the incantation
To call on all good spirits,
Enchant, I pray, my lover,
So that he may never
Love another woman!
So that three days over,
He may be my husband!'
"And when the three days had passed she touched him with the feather, and resumed her own form, and by his side--
"E si incominciaro
E altre donne
Non potiede più amare p. 225
La sua prima amante
Le tocco sposare.
Tutto e finito
Non vioglio piu narrare."
"Then the pair began
Kissing as before;
And too other women
He made love no more,
But married her; the story
Now is fairly o'er."
Then the pair began Kissing as before; And too other women He made love no more, But married her; the story Now is fairly o'er."
The swallow as the bird of spring brings luck; hence in Tuscany swallows' feathers tied with a red string form an amulet. This story is only a variation from one in Grimm's Kinder und Haus Märchen, but it may be observed that there is in the Tuscan tale more of chiaro-oscuro and incantation. In fact I cannot imagine one of this country without the latter. The magic song enters into everything of the kind. This was probably the case in ancient times in Germany, but as stories become fairy tales for children alone, it naturally disappears, and the narrative alone is then the subject of interest. These Romagnolo stories are all in that state when the narrator--as I have often tested--will tell or sing them just as requested. This is the case among all primitive people in the magic epoch, and I might with truth, had I pleased, have given any story in rude metre as well as prose. Sometimes the rhymes and attempt at metre are unmistakable, and in such cases I have given them in a form as near to the original as I could make it. But in the original, two or even three lines are often run into one and the voice modulated to suit the variation.
Had I found the following story in any country save the Romagna Tuscana, I might have passed it by as possibly modern. But in this region the peasantry have learned so very little that is new, that novelty in their legends and customs is very exceptional. This is the tale, which I have somewhat abridged:--
"Once there was a beautiful lady who married a wealthy and handsome lord. And the great desire of his heart was to have an heir, but as his wife bore no children he became almost mad with disappointment and rage, threatening her with the worst ill-usage and torture unless she became a mother. And she spent all her time in prayer and all her money on the poor, but in vain. Then her husband hated her altogether, and took a maid-servant in her place. And finding her one day giving a piece of bread to some poor person, he had her hands cut off, so that she could no more give alms. And she lived among the lowest servants in great distress.
"One day there came to the castle a friar, who begged for something in charity of her; and she replied
that she had nothing to give, and that if she had aught she could not give it, being without hands. And so he learned how she had been treated, for she said:--
"'Because I have not bore a child
My husband is with anger wild,
For giving alms, the truth I say,
He had my hands both cut away;
Heaven help me, and help the poor!
For I can give them nothing more!'
"Then the friar looked a long time at her in silence, considering her extreme misery and goodness, and said:--
"'Lady, in the garden go,
Where an apple-tree doth grow,
Fairer one did never see;
Lady fair, embrace that tree,
And as you embrace it, say
These words as closely as you may:
"'"Pano o mio bel pomo!
A te con grande amore,
Ti voglio abbraciare,
Che mio marito
In letto con se questa notte,
Mi possa portare,
E; cosi possa ingravidare
E che il mio marito
Mi possa amare!"'
("'"Apple-tree, fair apple-tree
With my love I come to thee.
I would be to-night in bed
With my husband as when wed:
May I so become a mother.
Grant this favour; and another
Still I earnestly implore
May he love me as before!"')
And this done, take from the tree two apples and eat them. And go to your husband and he will love you and take you to his bed, and you will in time bear two beautiful babes.'
"And so it came to pass, and the husband bitterly regretted his cruelty and the loss of her hands. And she bore the two children; but the girl who had been a servant and his mistress persuaded him that his wife had been unfaithful, and that they were not his. Then he took a donkey, on it were two panniers, and he put a babe into each and sat her in the middle, and bade her ride away.
"So she rode on in utter grief and sorrow, hardly able with her stumps of arms to manage the children or to drive. But at last she came to a well and stooped to drink. And lo! as soon as she did this her hands grew again, for it was the fountain which renews youth and life. Then her heart grew light, for she felt that fortune had not left her. And indeed all went well, for she came to a castle where no one was to he seen. And she entered and found food on the tables, and wine and all she required everywhere, and, when she and
the children had eaten, at the next meal there was food again. Now this castle belonged to fairies, who, seeing her there, pitied her and cared for her in this manner.
"And considering her case they sent a Dream to her husband. And the Dream came to him by night and told him all the truth, how his wife had been true to him, and how evilly he had done. Then he rode forth and sought far for the castle till he found it. And he took her and the children home. And as they came near the gate they saw before it a statue which had never been there. Now the wicked servant had said, 'May I be turned to stone if this be not true which I have said of thy wife.' And the words were remembered by the fairies (spirits), for they hear all things. And the statue was the figure of the girl turned to stone. But the husband and the wife lived together happily ever after."
The story is the widely spread one of patient Griselda and Genevieve de Brabant, and was perhaps in truth that of many a suffering wife in early times. But the conception from the apple-tree suggests the story of Juno, who conceived Mars without the help of Jupiter from the touch of a flower (OVID, Fasti, V. 253). The fountain of youth in this story also recalls the golden apples of the Hesperides, and especially those guarded by the Scandinavian Iduna, which kept the gods young. There is a mass of myths in all countries connecting the apple-tree with generation and birth. So in this story, as in all which come from this country, there are throughout sketches and touches which are possibly copied from more ancient pictures. It is worth observing, that even in this story the incantation must be spoken to the tree before it exerts its fertilising power.
This is a curious and evidently very ancient tale, probably modernised:--
"He is an evil spirit now-as one may say, a devil-but he was once long ago, before any tree which is now growing had begun to sprout, a handsome and rich young lord: yes, he had as many olive-trees as I ever ate olives, and more vines than I ever drank glasses of wine; but he wanted more, and so he gambled. Now some men spend all their patrimony in a jolly way, but he wasted his, quarrelling, cursing, and blaspheming. And at last, when nothing was left of all he had but some barren fields, and he was mad for money to play with, he looked at the wretched farm which remained and said:--
"'This, too, I would sell,
Yes, and to the devil,
And give him my soul to boot
When my life comes to an end:
Yes; he might kill me with lightning.
And a roaring crash of thunder
Bursting up from the earth,
If, when I went, I could burn
All the crops of grain,
Vines, mulberries, figs,
And the olives--blast them! p. 228
Which I see all around and afar!
Once they were mine; see the grain
Shining like gold in the sun;
Gold I had--gold I lost!
Gold is our only life;
What if the devil could give me
Power to win at play!
And then when I won
To hear the thunder roar,
With a flash of lightning,
As the card turned
Burning the crops,
Homes and all,
Of those who once stripped me.
Aye; and when dead
E quando saro morto!
I would haunt the gambling room,
And if some fellow won
Make him hear thunder
And see lightning to fright him
(Of course burning his crops).
But if some poor devil-like me
Would pray to me for aid
When he has lost at play,
Then I would gladly give him
The devil's own luck at cards,
And-burn up the crops of his enemies,
To whom he had sold his lands!'
"When the young man returned home he found un bel signore--a fine gentleman--waiting to see him. And the stranger said, very politely:--
You wish to sell, I think,
That little estate of yours,
And I am willing to buy:
You are a bold, brave fellow
Galante di prim'ordine.
I like to please such men,
For I know when the time shall come
For them to enter my service,
They make the best of servants.
Well, I agree to your terms,
All your demand you shall have
Luck at cards for life
Thunder and lightning included
You shall have your riches again:
Le richezze torneranno.'
So it came to pass, and for a long time he won. And it was observed that when he played high at he last card there always was heard a clap of thunder, and a great storm raged somewhere, near or far. Years
passed, but one day, when his time had come, there was a tremendous burst of fire which lighted the room--and lo! the gambler appeared all at once like a glowing coal from head to foot, and a voice exclaimed:--
"'That which was asked for
Was granted to fulness;
This is thy last day,
This is thy final hour
Thou didst ask for the lightning
Thou hast had it;
Thou hast it now
Now live in its fire!'
"E cosi sprafondo nella terra--and so he sank into the ground. And they remembered what he had said, and many regretted him, and when they were in trouble and needed his help they called on him. And they said:--
"'Spirit of thunder and lightning
Spirit of help! Help us!
For of thee we have great need
As thou wert as are we,
Aid us, aid us in our play
Make us win much money,
Else ruin is before us;
Thou wilt not abandon us
We hope that thou wilt come
And play in our company."
There is apparent in this tale something of a modern spirit of composition, as if it had beensubjected to liberties. But though the form may have been changed, there is reason to believe that under the mosses and flowers is an ancient rock. As no one can listen long to an Algonkin Indian story without coming to meteoulin, or sorcery, so all these Romagnolo tales turn on the transformation of a man to a spirit, and are therefore myths, and extremely interesting as indicating the process by which myths were first made. Gambling is so deeply seated in the Italian, as it was in the old Latin, nature--every man, woman, and child in the entire population buys, on an average, at least ten lottery tickets every year--that a spirit of play would naturally be one of the first placed in a popular pantheon. Therefore it is probable that from an early time there has been a legend of some Don Juan or Don Giovanni di Tenorio, whose main vice was not women but play. It may be remarked, indeed, that in a great proportion of Italian tales gambling, and not drinking or lust, is supposed to be the chief cause of moral destruction.
"Patalena protected the growing or shooting corn. In Germany such a deity was called the Roggenmutter, whence the saying to children:
Leave the flowers standing!
Go not into the corn!
There the Roggenmutter
Stands from night to mom
Now adown she's ducking,
Now all up she's looking,
She will catch the children all,
Who look for flowers, great or small."'
The following story is very curious in several respects:--
"Patána was a beautiful girl, but she had a stepmother who was a witch, and malicious too, so that she kept Patána shut up in a tower, into which no one was allowed to go. The old woman went every day into the city to sell milk. One day she passed by the king's palace. Now the king had a son whom he loved so much that there was nothing else in the world for which he cared.
"The young prince was at the palace window, and held in his hand some pebbles. The old woman came and sat down opposite, putting her pitchers of milk on the ground. And the young prince, out of heedless mischief, threw a pebble and broke a pitcher. The old woman, being angry, cried to the youth:--
"'Tu sei il figlio del re
E crederesti di esser piu potente di me,
Ed io ti faro vedere, ai!
Che saro piu potente assai.'
"'Though the king's son thou mayst be,
And think thou hast more power than me,
I can show thee, and I will,
That I have more power still;
Thou shalt have no joy in life
Till fair Patána is thy wife,
And that will never come to pass,
For thou shalt never have the lass.'
"Then the prince had no more rest nor happiness by day or night. And at last he went out into the world to seek for Patána, travelling far, till one day he met a poor old man who begged something to eat for he was starving. The prince gave him something, and said, ' Thou art not so wretched as I am, for I can have no rest till I shall have found the beautiful Patána, and I know not where she is.'
"The old man replied, 'That I can tell thee-
Go along the road
Till thou seest a tower
Rising in a forest; p. 231
There Patána dwells
With her stepmother,
But be sure to go
When the witch is absent,
And be sure to give
Food to everything
Which is in the tower,
Even the smallest pot
By a magic spell
Will tell the old witch all,
Unless it has been fed
Take this pebble too,
It will give thee power
To speak with the witch's voice,
And then cry aloud
Fairer than a sun ray,
Let thy tresses down
And then draw me up!"'
So he did, and was drawn up into the tower, where Patána received him with joy. Then they made a great pot full of pappa (bread crumbs boiled), and he fed, as he thought, all the furniture and utensils, all except one earthenware pot, which he forgot. And this was the chief spy, and it betrayed him.
"Then Patána took a comb, a knife, and a fork, and said, 'Let us be free!' and the door of the tower opened, and they fled. But before long beautiful Patána, looking behind, saw her mother-in-law flying after them, for the pot which had not been fed had told her all, and the way which they had gone. Then beautiful Patána stuck the fork in the earth, and it became a church and she was the sacristan. And the witch, not recognising her, asked her if she had seen the king's son go by with a girl. And the sacristan replied:--
"'This is not a time
To answer idle questions,
Twice the bell has rung
For mass, come in and hear it!'
"Then the witch went away in a rage, and they proceeded. But before long they saw her flying after them again. Then the beautiful Patána threw down the comb and it became a garden and she the gardener. When the witch came up she put the same question as before, and Patána answered
"'If you wish to chase them,
Then the witch in a rage went home to the tower, and the pot told her that the garden was only a comb and that the gardener was the beautiful Patána. So she set out again, and they soon saw her flying after them. Then beautiful Patána threw down the knife, and she became a vasca (basin of a fountain, or reservoir), and the prince a fish swimming in it. But this time ere she made the change she said:
"'Here I take this knife
And plant it in the ground,
That I may become
Now a sparkling fountain,
And my love a fish;
May he swim so well
That the witch now coming
May never, never catch him!'
"And the witch coming up tried and tried to catch the fish, but in vain. So at last in a rage she
"'Mayst thou leave Patána,
Leave her in the castle,
If to thy home returning
Once thy mother kiss thee
Thou'lt forget Patána!'
So she departed. And when they came to the castle the young prince left Patána there for a while to go and see his parents, being determined, however, that his mother should not kiss him. And she, being overjoyed to see him, tried to do so, but he avoided it. Then every preparation was made for his marriage, and he, being weary, fell asleep, and then his mother kissed him. When he awoke he saw all things got ready for a wedding, but he could not remember anything about the bride.
"So time passed, and he was about to marry another lady. When beautiful Patána heard this she went to the palace and said to the cook, 'I am the lady of the castle, and I wish to make a present for the wedding dinner, and that it shall be two fishes.' Then she had the oven made ready, and bade the wood go into it, and it went in of itself, and then bade it burn, and then went into the fire and came out, and there were two such fine fish as no one had ever beheld. And when they were carried to the table everybody was amazed at them, and the cook being called, when asked where they were caught, replied they had not been caught but made by the lady of the castle as a gift.
"Then the bride, who was herself something of a witch, said, 'Oh, that is nothing; I can do that.' But the wood did not obey her, and when she entered the oven it blazed up and she was burned to death.
"And as this was done the two fishes on the table began to converse one with the other, as follows:--
"'Dost thou remember
How the king's son
Entered the tower?'
"'Well I remember
How he fled away
With beautiful Patána.'
"'Dost thou remember
How she preserved him
From the wild sorceress?'
"'Well I remember
The church and the garden,
The fish and the fountain.'
"'Dost thou remember
His Mother's kiss,
How he forgot Patána?'
"'Well I remember
All the strange story,
But now he remembers.'
"Then the prince, who heard this, remembered all. So he married the beautiful Patána, she who is now the Queen of the Fairies."
This is perhaps the commonest of all Italian fairy tales, and in some form it is known all over Europe. I have given it here because the name of the heroine, Patána, is interesting as connected with some of the incidents of the story. Patána was a Roman goddess who appears with greatly varied names, sometimes as a derivation from Ceres or a Cerean deity, and sometimes as Ceres herself. Thus there was Patelena, who opened the husk of grain, Patellana and Patella, who induced the grain to come forth, or presided o-ver it when it came to light. She was the goddess of the sprouting grain or of growth (Vide Bughin, p. 160).
"Thus," says PRELLER (R. Myth., p. 592), "she was the goddess of the harvest, the blonde Ceres of the Greeks, and, in fact, as the goddess of crops seems to have been chiefly known under this name in ancient Italy. At least the Inguvinic tablets mention a goddess Padella, and the Oscan votive tablet a PATANA, which are most probably identical with Patella, as is the deity Panda. It even seems that this name was the common one for such a goddess instead of the Roman-Latin Ceres."
I had asked my authority if she knew the name of any spirit who caused crops, trees, or the like, to grow. She at once suggested Patána, who in a tale made a garden, a church, and a fountain spring out of the earth. These are of some little value taken in connection with the name. VARRO [De vita pop. Ro. cited in PRELLER] mentions that this Panda, or Pandana, "whom AELIUS thought was Ceres, had a sanctuary where bread was given to those who took refuge in it." In the Italian tale bread boiled in water is given to all the articles of furniture and utensils to eat, even as the spirits of the dead are pacified by food; here the furniture may mean the refugees, who receive pap or boiled bread.
As Patána has been confused with Ceres, and made into her minor, or daughter, so it is possible that the heroine of the story has changed place with the stepmother. In this case we have a very curious parallel to Ceres pursuing Persephone, or Proserpina. In the one, as in the other, a mother--mother-in-law--pursues the fugitives, Ceres puts Triptolemus on the fire to make him immortal (which occurs in a Romagnola witch-tale), in this story Patána herself enters the fire. In Rome Ceres was regarded as a foe to
marriage, "Alii dicunt Cererem proper raptum filire nuptias execratam" (SERV, V. A. iii., 139). And it is evident that in our legend she opposes the match for no apparent reason. Ceres in the Latin legend is mocked by a boy, the son of Metanira, and punishes him by changing him to a lizard, the witch mother of Patána is angered by the young prince and inflicts a penalty.
It is perfectly true that with some ingenuity parallels like these may be established between almost any fairy tale and some ancient myth. But where we have a leading name in common with corresponding incidents, we may almost assume an identity of origin. If we found the story of Whittington and his cat among South American Indians we might suppose it had originated there. But if the hero was called Whittington, or even Vidindono--as it probably would be--we might very well assume transmission. Till within a very few years the apparent coincidence system as a proof of origin was extravagantly overdone, and has since been succeeded by an opposite one, which has in turn been carried to as absurd extremes. The best test for the value of these Romagnolo traditions, as remains of antiquity, is to carefully study them as a whole, and compare them as a whole with what we know of Etrusco-Latin myth and legend. There may be error in any one mirror detail, however strong the identity may appear to be, but there can be none as regards the æsthetic or historic spirit and character of a great number of incidents taken together.
It may be added in reference to the tell-tale pot which was not fed, that the forgotten or neglected fairy who revenges herself for the slight is of very ancient origin. We find her first in Discord, who was enraged at not being invited to the marriage of Tethys and Pelius (LUCIAN, Dialog. Marin., v.; cf. HYGNI, fol. 92, COLUTHUS, De raptu Helen, v. 60). This incident reappears in the Middle Ages in the fairy who was not invited to be present at the birth of Oberon, and therefore condemned him to remain a dwarf. This is not necessarily derived from tradition, but it may have its value, as indeed all incidents may in folk-lore-a fact which is much too frequently and rudely set aside by a large class of the critics who peel away the onion till there is nothing left, forgetting that to have any result or profit one must stop after removing the rough outside leaves. There is a spirit in tradition as well as the letter.
Schedius in an enumeration of minor Roman deities includes "Patellana seu Patula."
"There was in the Romagne a rich lady who was unkindly treated by her husband because she had no children. And he often said to her that unless she gave birth to a son or daughter, and that soon, he would leave her and take another. So the poor signora went every day to the church to pray to God that He would be so gracious as to give her a child; but it was not granted to her, therefore after a time she went no more to church and ceased to give alms.
"One day she stood quite disconsolate at the window, because she loved her husband and met with no return, when, from a window opposite, a dark signore (Signore Moro--a Moor or Negro, as in German) called to her, and she, raising her head, asked him what he would have?
"The Moor, who was a wizard, or magician (uno streghone, o sia uno magliatore, o maliardo), replied, 'Look me steadily in the eyes, and then all will go well with thee. And this night when thy husband shall embrace thee think steadily of me, and thus thou wilt be incinia, or with child.'
"This came to pass, and the poor lady was very happy to regain the love of her husband, and at the same time become a mother. But joy flies like the clouds, and so did hers, for when her child was born it was dark as the Moor, yes, and looked altogether like the Moor himself. Then the husband abandoned both wife and child, saying that the infant was none of his. And the lady reproved the Moor, saying that he had betrayed her.
"But the MOOR replied, 'Grieve not, O good lady, for I can still make peace between thee and thy husband. To-morrow a charity sermon will be preached, and when the friar shall give thee benediction, put the child on the ground and let it go whither it will.' So the lady did. Now her husband never went to any church, but, hearing that there was to be a famous preacher this day, he was present. And when the lady put the little babe on the ground, what was her utter amazement to see it rise and run on its little feet, and go to its father, and embrace him with its little hands, and say, in distinct words: 'Babbo, perdona mamma, é innocente'--'Papa, pardon mamma, she is innocent; and thou seest it is a miracle of God that I have come to thee.' And from that time the babe never uttered a word till he had come to the age when children usually talk.
"Then the father, being moved by the. miracle, was reconciled with his wife, and they returned home together and lived happily."
This will suggest much which is familiar to the reader, such as Othello, Tamora, and Aaron, the beautiful sorceress and her negro in the Arabian Nights, and chiefly the mysterious story of the French queen and the black page. What is chiefly remarkable in it is that sorcery is Made superior to religion, for ail is effected by the Moor, though in the end the miracle is wrought in a church, and is, so to speak, given to God.
The incident of a babes speaking is found in the folk-lore of every land; but it is remarkable that the earliest instance of it in Europe is that of the Etruscan infant Tages, who was ploughed out--possibly in the place whence I derived this tale.
"This witch was a wealthy lady, very self-willed and licentious, who often changed her lovers. So she would keep one for a time, and when she was tired of him she would lead him into a room in which there was a trap-door in the floor, through which he would fall into a deep pit, and into a
subterranean dungeon, where he miserably perished. And so she had many victims, and the more she sacrificed the better pleased she was, for she was a wicked sorceress, insatiable in lust and murder.
"But it went not thus with one of her lovers, who knew her nature. And when she asked him to pass the secret gate, he replied:--
"'Thou, vilest of women,
Thinkest because thou art rich and powerful
That all must bow before thee?
Rich and powerful, and beyond that
A harlot and coquette,
Vile thou art. To hide thy dishonour,
Thou sendest many to God--
Makest thy lovers die.
"'But so thou wilt not do with me, for I too am of the wizards, a son of a witch, and more powerful than thou art. And at once thou shalt have proof of it.
"'Three times I call thee,
Lea, Lea, O Lea!
Thou art cursed from the very heart,
By my mother and by me,
For thou didst kill my brother;
For that I come to condemn thee
A serpent thou shalt become,
Every night as a serpent
Thou shalt suck the blood of corpses
The corpses of thy dead lovers;
But first of all thou shalt go
Unto the body of my brother,
Thou shalt put life into him,
Breathe into him, revive him.
Henceforth all men shall know thee
As an accursed witch!'
"And so it came to pass that after three days the dead brother was revived, but the beautiful Lea was always a serpent witch."
It would seem as if there were an echo in this tale of the Libitina, the goddess of lust itself, as well as of death. "Ab lubendo libido, lubidinosus, ac: Venus Libentina et Libitina" (VARRO, 1. 1, vi. 47; apud PRELLER, p. 387.) She was also the generally recognised goddess of corpses and of the dead. PRELLER quotes several instances to illustrate the fact that death and luxuriant life--schwellendes Leben--were thus intimately connected in one myth, in a single person, and that the Sabine Feronia was paralleled with the Greek Persephone, and Flora. There are also the affinities between Venus and Proserpine.
The story has a great resemblance to one of Odin, which has been set forth in a German poem by Herz. It also recalls--
"The proud and stately queen
By whose command, De Buridan
Was thrown at midnight in the Seine."
That is to say, the well-known legend of the Tour de Nesle. But I believe that this is a very old Italian tale, and possibly archaic, because the connection between lust and death is so strongly and strangely marked in it. That Lea is given the form of a serpent in order to revive the dead cannot fail to strike every one who is familiar with classic serpent-lore.
It is far too bold a conjecture that the word Lia or Lea is derived from Libitina; but it is certain that the characteristics of the two are the same. Libitina was also known among the Romans as Lubia, and as a goddess of lust (PRELLER, 581), "cui nomen ab libidine" (AUGUST. iv. 8), and the name may have been still more abbreviated. The step from Libia, or Livia, to Lia, would be in peasant dialect almost inevitable. We must always remember the fact in such cases that the tale is from the same country as the ancient characters.
It was the most natural thing in the world that there should be certain blendings, compromises, and points of affinity between the Stregeria--witchcraft, or "old religion," founded on the Etruscan or Roman mythology and rites--and the Roman Catholic: both were based on magic, both used fetishes, amulets, incantations, and had recourse to spirits. In some cases these Christian spirits or saints corresponded with, and were actually derived from, the same source as the heathen. The sorcerers among the Tuscan peasantry were not slow to perceive this. How deeply rooted the old religion really is, occasionally, even to-day, may be inferred from the story told in Faflon, of the peasant who, whatever happened, never neglected to bless the folletti-meaning the rural deities. As for the families in which stregheria, or a knowledge of charms, old traditions and songs is preserved, they do not among themselves pretend to be even Christian. That is to say, they maintain outward observances, and bring the children up as Catholics, and "keep in" with the priest, but as the children grow older, if any aptitude is observed in them for sorcery, some old grandmother or aunt takes them in hand, and initiates them into the ancient faith. That is to say it was so, for now all this is passing away rapidly.
Certain saints are regarded as being folletti. A folletto is a generic term for almost any kind of spirit not Christian. Fairies, goblins, spectres, nymphs, are all called by this name. There is a Manuale di Spiriti Folletti published at Asti (1864), which includes devils, vampires, undines, and comets under this word. 1
The chief of the goblin-saints is Saint Antonio, Antony, or Anthony. This character was remarkably familiar with strange spirits of all kinds. The priests represented that he was beset and tempted by devils; but the sorcerers knew that all their dear and beautiful gods, or folletti--their Faflon-Bacchus and Bella Marta of the Morning--were called devils, and so had their own ideas on the subject. They did not object to being tempted by these "devils" when they came as beings of enchanting beauty, to fill their wine-cellars and give them no end of good luck in gambling and naughty love. Even the priests made it very prominent that Antony commanded all kinds of devils and folletti--ergo he was a conjuror and streghone and "in the business," like themselves. "Saints Antonio and Simeone cannot be saints," said a strega to me, "because we always perform incantations to them in a cellar by night." This of course is always done to heathen spirits, and never to saints. But what is very conclusive is this: It is decidedly a matter of witchcraft, and most un-Christian, to say the Lord's prayer either backwards, or "double"--that is, to repeat every sentence twice. This--the pater-noster a doppio--will call any heathen spirit in double quick time; and it is peculiarly addressed to Saint Antony, and bears his name.
Thus when one has lost anything--quando si perde qualche cosa--you say a double paternoster to San Antonio, thus:--
"Pater noster--Pater noster!
Qui es in coelis--Qui es in coelis!" &c., &c.
"Ma dire il paternoster cosi e della stregheria, e non della vera religione Cattolica" ("But to say the paternoster thus, is of witchcraft, and not the real Catholic religion"). So said one who had received a liberal education in the art.
Quite as heathen does this saint appear in the following ceremony, every detail of which is taken from ancient sorcery: When a girl wishes to win or reclaim a lover, or, indeed, if anybody wants anything at all, he--or generally
she--puts two flower-pots, containing l'érba San Antonio, one on either side of an open window at midnight, with a pot of rue in the centre. These must be bound with a red-scarlet ribbon, made in three knots, and pierced or dotted with pins, as a tassel (fatto con tre nodi e puntati con tre spilli per fiocchio), and turning to the window, say:--
"Sant' Antonio, min benigno,
Di pregarvi non son digno,
Se questa grazia mi farete,
Tre fiammi di fuoco per me facete;
Una sopra la mia testa,
Che per me arde e tempesta,
Una canto at mio cuore,
Che mi levi da questo dolore,
Una vicino, alla mia porta
Che di questa grazia non se ne sorta
Se questa grazia mi avete fatto,
Fate mi sentir tre voci!
E cane abbiare!
("My benign Saint Antony
I am not worthy to pray to thee,
This grace I modestly require;
Pray light for me three flames of fire,
And of these the first in turn
On my head may storm and burn,
One I pray within my heart,
That all pain from me depart,
And the third beside my door,
That it may never leave me more.
If this grace be granted me,
Let three sounds be heard by me
A knock at a door,
A whistle, before,
Or the bark of a dog--I ask no more.)
"When this prayer shall have been uttered, wait attentively at the window, and if a knock at a door be heard, or a man whistling, or a dog barking, then the request--grazia--will be granted; one alone of these sounds will suffice to make it known. But should a dark (nero) horse or mule pass, or a hearse, bearing a corpse, then the prayer is refused.
"But if a white horse goes by, the favour will be conceded-via con molto tempo-after some time shall have passed."
It may always be borne in mind that though this be addressed to a mediæval
saint, there is every probability, and, judging by every analogy and association, a certainty, that San Antonio is some Roman or Etruscan spirit in Christian disguise. For all the details of the ceremony are old heathen, as is the divination by sounds.
Saint Antony protects his friends from many troubles, but specially from witchcraft. Therefore they say to him in Romagnola:--
"Sant' Antogne, Sant' Antogne
Sopre came, liberez dai sase!
Liberez dai asase!
E dal streghi chliùvengu,
In camia a stregem
I mi burdel chi 'e tent bel!
Sant' Antogne e santa pia,
Tui lontan el Streghi da camia,
So ven el streghi in camia
Ai buttar dre la graneda,
Chi vega via!"
"Santo Anto super (sopra) il cammino
Liberate ci dagli assassini!
Liberate ci dagli assassini!
E dalle Strege che non vengano
In casa mia a stregare
I miei bambini che sono tanti belli,
Santo mio, Santo pio!
Tenetemi lontano le strege.
Di casa mio!
Se viene le strege in casa mia,
Buttatele dietro la granata
Che vadino via!"
("Saint Antony on the chimney-piece
Let our fears of murderers cease!
Free us from all evil which is
Round us--specially from witches
Who come in our minds bewilderin'
To enchant my pretty children:
Saint Antonio--I pray
Keep such creatures far away!
If you'll throw the broom behind 'em,
I at least will never mind 'em!")
This is not very beautiful poetry, but it is as good as the original, which is not in either form "written in choice Italian." The reader may judge from them
what trouble I have sometimes had to disentangle an incantation from the bristling dialect in which it was surrounded.
In allusion to Saint Antony on the chimney-piece I was informed that he is specially the folletto, or spirit, of the fireplace. Which makes him quite the same as the Russian Domovoy, and gives him--which is worth noting--a distinct place as a Lar or spiritus domesticus, lar familiaris.
Santo Eliseo, is unquestionably at first sight Elisha. He has a bald head, and appears as the destroyer of bad boys. But-scratch a Russian and you find a Tartar--when we look into this interesting Christian he appears to be sadly heathen, even jovial, for there is a distinct trace of Jupiter in him. When a young lady finds that her lover is going astray, she, after the fashion followed in the blackest witchcraft, takes some of the hair of her lover, goes into a cellar at midnight and curses, blasphemes, and conjures after the following good old Tuscan style:--
"Santo Elisæo dalla testa pelata,
Una grazia mi vorrete fare,
I ragazzi da un leone
Li avete fatti mangiare,
Spero di me vi non vorrete dimenticare
Stanotte a mezza notte,
Dentro alla cantina,
Vi verro a portare
I peli del amor mio
Perche una paruccha
Ve ne potrete fare,
E nel posto dei peli
Del amor mio
Tutti diavoli e strege
Li farete diventare,
Che non possa vivere,
Non possa stare,
Che non abbia più pace,
Ne a bere ne a mangiare,
Fino che l'amor mio
Alle porte di casa mia,
Non fanno ritornare;
Non le diano pace,
E con altre donne
Non la facciano parlare!"
"Saint Elisoco, bald-headed one!
For a special favour I pray;
'Tis said that boys once by a lion
Were eaten for you one day; p. 242
Therefore I trust from your memory
I shall -not pass away.
Here in this cellar at midnight
Ever devoted and true,
I have brought some hair from my lover,
To make a wig for you:
And for all the hairs
Which I have taken away,
May just as many devils
About him ever play,
May he not live,
Or stand or think,
Or know any peace,
Or eat or drink
Until he shall come
Again to my door,
With true love returning
As once before,
Nor with other women
Make love any more!"
Truly a curious invocation, and a nice occupation for a Christian saint! But who was this Elisæo, or Elisæus? There was of yore a certain Jupiter Elicus, or Aclisæus, not unconnected with lions, who was well known in this same Tuscan land; but I leave all this to others. Elisha of the Bible was a wonderful worker of miracles, and this may have established him as a magician among the Tuscans.
Saint Elia is Saint Elias. He appears in the following prescription and invocation:--
"To cure an affliction of the eyes, take three roots bound with a red ribbon, three leaves of trefoil and then say
"'Stacco queste trefoglie per Santo Elia,
Che il mal d'occhio mi mandi via.'
("'I take these three leaves by Saint Elias,
That he may banish the pain from my eyes.')
Then take three peppercorns and a bit of cinnamon, three cloves, and a large handful of salt, and put all to boil in a new earthenware pot, and let it boil for a quarter of an hour. During this time put your face over it so that the eyes may be steamed, and keep making la castagna (the sign of the thumb between the fingers) into the pot and say:--
"And this must be done for three days."
Another sorcerer-saint is Simeon. As he is sometimes called Simeone Mago, there cannot be the least doubt that he is quite confused with Simon the Magician; in fact, I ascertained as much from a witch who was much above the average of the common people as regarded education. For when people are not encouraged to study the Bible, such little mistakes are of unavoidable occurrence. But before I conclude this chapter I shall show that there is a complete confusion in Italy between old sorcery and Christianity, and that the priests, far from opposing it, in a way actually encourage and aid it, on the principle that you can always sell more goods where there is a rival in competition. The following was taken down word by word from a witch
This saint is a folletto--i.e., a heathen spirit. There are many of these spirits who in witchcraft are called saints. And this is not all. For as you invoke Simeon, so you may call other spirits faccendo la Novena--repeating the Novena." (This is a Roman Catholic incantation, a copy of which was purchased for me in a cross and rosary shop.) "You simply substitute the name of a folletto for Simeon--any spirit you want.
"But for Simon himself, when you go to bed you must repeat his Novena three nights in succession at midnight.
"But you must be fearless (bisogna essere di coraggio), for he will come in many forms or figures, dressed like a priest in white, or like a friar with a long beard. But do not be afraid however he may change his form. Then he will ask, 'Cosa volete che mi avete scommodato?' ('What do you want, that you trouble me thus?') Then answer promptly whatever it may be that you require--three numbers in the lottery, or where a hidden treasure is concealed, or how you may get the love of a certain woman: qualunque fortuna si desidera--whatever fortune you desire.
"But be very careful in repeating the Novena not to err in a single syllable, and to repeat it with a fearless mind (colla mente molto ferma), and so you will get from him what you want.
"But if you are not [fearless) and prompt to answer, he will. give you a stiaffo forte (a sound slap or cuff), so that the five fingers will remain marked on your face--yes, and sometimes they never disappear."
The Novena itself is as follows:
"O gloriossissimo S. Vecchio Simeone che meritaste ed aveste la bella sorte di ricevere e portare nella vostre fortunate braccie il Divin Pargoletto Gesù--E le annunziaste e profetiziaste e le vostre Profezie furono sante verità--Oh Santo concedetomi la grazia che vi addomando. Amen."
This is the inscription under a coloured print in which Saint Simon is represented as clad in a grey skirt to the ground, a scarlet gown to the knee, a yellow sash and girdle, and a kind of high mitred cap--quite such as was worn by magi and sorcerers and Egyptian priests of yore--whence it came in the second or third century with a mass of other Oriental properties and wardrobes to the Roman Catholic manager of the Grand Opera of Saint Peter.
This is the account of the spell as given by one who was a believer in this heathen Tuscan magic. In it we have, plainly and clearly, an old heathen spirit or the magician Simon, who changed his forms like Proteus. It is very curious to contrast this with the following Roman Catholic method of working the oracle, as given in the Libretto di Stregonerie, a halfpenny popular, half-pious work.
"Procure an image or statuette in plaster of this great saint, who presided at the circumcision of our Lord Jesus Christ, with the old Saint Joseph and the Virgin Mary, both being the very much beloved progenitors of the Lord God the Redeemer.
"It makes no difference if the image of the saint be of plaster or a picture, if we repeat the marvellous Oration (Novena) dedicated to him, and if according to the instructions in it we recite the customary prayer.
"And it is certain that after the Novena, the good old man will appear in some form, and give to the one praying his request; but what he principally bestows is lucky numbers in the lottery.
"There is no occasion to fear, for the saint generally appears in a dream while you sleep, and his form is so good and benevolent that there is no danger of awaking trembling and terrified.
"The whole difficulty is to know how to decipher the exact meaning of the words and signs which the saint will give. Many people miss their meaning, according to what many have experienced, so difficult is it to decipher and unravel the problems or 'figurations.'" 1
There, reader, you have the two-take your choice. One is the downright grim old heathen classic Proteus Simon, who requires the courage of an old Norse hero to face him, or one of the kind who--
"Ransacked the tombs of heroes old,
And falchions wrenched from corpses' hold,"
while the other is all rose-water--sucré--and light pink ribbons. But you should have seen the sorceress who prescribed the allopathic spell! She looked
her part. One day I said to her that I wanted a photograph of a certain other old woman professor of the art, but she must look animated like a witch. "Oh, you want her to look like THIS!" cried my oracle. And she put on for an instant the witch-look--and, as Byron says of Gulleyaz, it was like a short glimpse of hell. She actually seemed to be another person. Then I realised what the Pythia of yore must have looked like when inspired--or the old Etruscan sorceress described in The Last Days of Pompeii--who was possibly an ancestress of my friend. A photograph of that! Why, it would be like the likeness of a devil with the hydrophobia.
One day I gave a young woman an amulet--a stone in the form of a mouse--for luck. Her first question was, "Will it enable me to win in the lottery?" "For that," I replied, "you must put it under your pillow, and pray to San Simeone." "Si--si," she eagerly cried, "I know the Novena." When I met her some time after she declared that the mouse (which she was wearing in a little red bag hung from her neck, but hidden), had promptly brought her a prize in the lottery, and much other unexpected good luck.
What we have here are two forms of sorcery--one the old Roman-Etruscan, and the other its modification under Roman Catholic influence. I suspect that the first was in the beginning purely Etruscan, but modified to agree with Simon Magus. I have other forms of diabolical or heathen spells which are unquestionably ante or anti-Christian, and which agree with it so much as to prove a common origin. I will now proceed to "further instances."
It is not remarkable that there should be saints half heathen in a country where the established Christian religion itself makes extraordinary and frequent compromises with common sorcery and black witchcraft. In old times those souls of men who had slain many victims were invoked above all others, the belief being that they carried into the other world the audacious power which they had won by blood. This foul and atrocious worship of dead criminals is to-day in full action in Sicily with the cordial sanction of the priesthood, as the reader may learn in detail from a chapter in the Biblioteca delle Tradizioni popolari Siciliane, edited by GIUSEPPE PITRÉ, vol. xvii., Palermo, 1889. In it we are told that when murderers and other atrocious criminals have been beheaded, if they do but confess and receive absolution before death, they are believed to become a specially favoured kind of saints, who, if invoked when any one is in danger of being robbed and slain, come down from heaven and aid the victim. And this is carried so far that there is actually a chiesa delle anime de corpi decollati (a "church of the souls of beheaded bodies") in Palermo, with many pictures of the holy miracles wrought by the sainted murderers. M. PITRÉ has
devoted twenty-five pages to this subject, showing the extent of this vilest form of superstition and witchcraft, the zeal of its worshippers, and the degree to which it is encouraged by the priests. There is a work entitled Saint Francis of Assissi, Sacred Discourses, delivered by the Rev. FORTUNATO MONDELLO, Palermo, 1874, in which such worship is commended and exalted with much sham-second-hand fervour, in that wretched fervid style of writing, which reminds one of third-rate plaster statues of saints in Jesuit churches of the last century, which the sculptor attempts to make holy-sentimental but has only succeeded in rendering spasmodically silly. There is, according to him, something exquisitely tender and beautiful in giving "to these pilgrims of eternity when about to rise to heaven, the refreshment of that sublime word, "Sons of penitence-fly-fly to glory!" "So religion ennobles and sanctifies their death when they take the cross of the Redeemer," &c., and so forth, as usual, when the stream of such holy commonplaces is once turned on.
What this really is, is devil-worship. These saints have been the very scum of Sicilian brigandance, outrage, robbery, and wickedness--incarnate fiends; and now, because they went through a mere form of words and were sprinkled and oiled, they are adored like God, are prayed to, and their relations are proud of them. In all this there doe, not appear a word as to their unfortunate victims. No; because these latter went straight to hell, having mostly died " in sin," without confession.
"It is believed about Naples or in Sicily, that a man will be safe not to go to hell if he will take some flour, roll it up in a paper, carry it to a priest who lays it on the altar near the cup and renders it potent with the words of the consecration " (Ibid., p. 142). This practice was condemned in 1638, but there are many similar ceremonies still practised with the aid of priests. Thus in Florence if a woman wishes to be with child, she goes to a priest and gets from him an enchanted apple, after which she repairs to Saint Anna, la San 'Na who was Lucina of Roman times, and repeats a prayer or spell. And all this is not sorcery! Oh dear no--that is quite a different thing! Thana was in fact the Etruscan Lucina, or goddess of birth, and Anna may be derived from this. She was identical with Losna.
Saint Lawrence, or San Lorenzo, is another old heathen in disguise. He was grilled on a gridiron. His day is the 10th of August, when innumerable children visit his church and turn three times round before the altar, or go round it thrice for good luck, reciting orazioni, incantations, and prayers. "E ciascuna volta far mostra d'uscise di Chiesa."
This turning or going round for luck is a remnant of the old worship of
Fortune, and of the turning of her wheel. To this day in Sicily the turning a knife or spinning a chair is an invocation of Fortune according to Pitré.
To recur to Simon, one can hardly fail to inquire of him as the Christian Saint of the Circumcision, since he performed the deed and Christ submitted to it), giving us thereby a divine example, and since the circumcision is glorified in every church, and in thousands of pictures, as in this Novena), why do not all Catholics submit to it? Surely the Pope, cardinals, and priesthood should conform to that which they glorify, and set the example of. "Or if so, why not?" "Matter of breviary, quoth Friar John."
Simeone as the Saint of Dreams has taken the place of Somnus. It may be that Somnus, who became Somno, may have been called Somnone and so coalesced with Simeone. This is mere conjecture, but by a guess hypothesis begins, and then in time a place as theory wins. The difference between Santo Simeone and Santo Somnone is not tremendous--and Simeone is the Saint of Dreams.
While these sheets were going through the press, I received several curious documents which I regret that I cannot give in detail. The first is a legend of a spirit or sorcerer, who was on earth a priest named Arrimini, who hid in the magic walnut-tree (probably of Benevento), and acquired magic power by means of a cat-witch's blood. The second is a strange and interesting tale of the rivalry of two witches named Meta and Goda, in which the latter comes to grief by endeavouring to bewitch the king's son. Both of these tales are from the Tuscan Romagna, that of Arrimini comes from Premilcuore, and is written by Peppino, who has been several times referred to in this book. I may here lay stress on the fact that these witch or sorcery legends have a marked character of their own, being all harsher, cruder, and more uncanny than the usual Italian fairy tales, in which latter there are, however, many traces of the former. I mention this, because in marked contrast to them I have received with the others the tale of Il Fornaio, or of the baker Tozzi and his daughter the fair Fiorlinda, which is made up of the usual nursery-tale elements, or the cruel stepmother, the benevolent fairy, the ugly envious daughter of the stepmother, and the young prince. The real witch tales are told among witches and grown people, and have a far grimmer, darker, and more occult tone than the latter. Thus in the story of Arrimini it is not the narrative by any means which forms its strength, but the description of the magic means and materials obtained, which would be of no interest to any one save to adult " professionals."
204:1 In the original--"Che si battezza per la strega": that is, baptised or consecrated for the witch.
204:2 I am obliged to omit the original text for want of space.
211:1 Des Deutschen Mittelalters Volksglauben und Heroensagen, von F. L. F. von DOBENECK. Preface by JEAN PAUL RICHTER, Berlin, 1815. This Bishop Agobard was a noble-minded man, a miracle for his age, quite free from vulgar superstition, and determinedly opposed to that kind of Christianity which believes that there are a million of devils tempting man where one angel comes to his aid, and that the devil is far superior to God in power, since he gains more souls than are saved. For such views the bishop was greatly persecuted by the Orthodox believers, and died in misery (vide HORST, Dæmonomagia).
214:1 The Disciples, by Harriet E. H. King
238:1 According to PITRÉ (Usie Custome, &c., vol. iv., p. 69) the folletto in Southern Italy is only one kind of spirit--non se ne può ammettere più d'ano. This is a buon diavoletto, and the exact counterpart of Dusio, or Puck, a trifling airy Robin Goodfellow, or fairy of the Shakespeare and Drayton type.
244:1 It is a fact worth noting that in all religions of all ages the inspiring spirit of oracles, like Martin Van Buren, the American President, seems to suffer from a decided inability to give a plain straightforward answer to a plain question. The prophecies of the Old Testament, like those of the Pythoness, or Merlin, or Thomas Nixon, or Mother Bunch, or Trite Thomas, or Nostradamus, are all frightfully muddled. I believe that no theologian has ever accounted for this divine inability to speak directly or to the point.