Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

CHAPTER III.

GIANTS.

EASTERN nations agree in representing a pre-historic period of the world, intervening, as it were, between the geological ages and the deluge. This primitive time is expressly treated by them in their traditions as mythic: gods and spirits live upon the earth,at first in peace and happiness; then commences the increasing might of the bad,—the giant race, the struggle of the opposing powers, and the consummation of this period by the flood. The present human family has no part in that time, they are only now created, that is to say, only subsequent to the deluge history begins. Shem, Cham, and Japhet, under various names, become the progenitors of three different stocks of nations; but the giants appear no more-they were an antediluvian creation.

Scandinavian mythology has its giants, which likewise represent the world of the bad, in perpetual contest with the Asa or gods. But at this point the resemblance to the Eastern tradition ceases ; the struggle of the good and evil powers does not end with a deluge, but continues to the destruction of the universe, including heaven itself. The giants of the Edda, therefore, whose 'progenitor was Ymir, still exist, and their dwelling is at the extreme point of the earth. Amongst the intermediate creations of the mythology we find the Trold, an inhabitant of the mountains, of enormous size, and with some confused likeness to the giant race. His dwelling is a cave, which he illumines with precious stones, and whither he entices unwary people to their destruction. But he is more humanlike than the giant; and in common with all the beings of his class, at one time inclines to evil, at another to good.

SCANDINAVIAN GIANTS.

119

Several explanations have been offered of the Scandinavian giants: the first, or historical, that they were the aborigines of the country, who disputed the possession of the north with the invading Goths. Late traditions represent them as being expelled by Odhin, and finally exterminated and spell-bound in various ways by Christian saints. In proof of this theory is cited the name of Jutland, as connected with the Jotuns of mythology, but we have no certainty of the identity of the words. It is singular, too, that the belief in giants is found associated, both in mythology and tradition, with that in dwarfs. A race of giants, but of a very undecided kind, found its way into Irish fable, probably from Scandinavian mythology. At their head stand Finn mac Cumhail, his son Oisin, and grandson Oscar. The belief once general in Ireland, that immense treasures, protected by spells, exist in Denmark, seems to be taken from the superstition of the Trolds, who have in their possession inexhaustible riches.

The second explanation given of the giants, namely, the physical, considers them as the elements during the first era of the world, whilst yet agitated and unarranged, the action of which produced on the crust of the earth the effects necessary to fit it for the habitation of man. The removal of boulders naturally followed as the work of giants. In the south of Ireland a large rock and two huge boulders are said to have been brought from the extreme north of the country by Finn, Oisin, and Oscar, on the occasion of a reported invasion of the island, being intended as stepping stones for a wide river which they were informed lay in their route. The river being only half a mile across, was found to require no steppingstones, the boulders and rock were thrown away as useless, and now lie

many miles apart. Not far from Bala lake in Wales stand three large stones, said to be so many grains of gravel which the giant Idris shook out of his shoe. The traditional name of the Giants' Causeway is also evidence in favour of the physical theory.

The third, or mythological explanation, represents the giants as defiant, angry forms peopling wild districts, mountain torrents, cataracts, rocky caverns, ice and stone masses, vast and fearful forests, in short, as the personifications of the terrors and perils of

unexplored and inaccessible regions. The Trold, who was an inhabitant of the mountains, is in accordance with this view, and corresponds with the Ghool of the East,-a gigantic being of vast strength, possessed of accumulated treasures, the produce of plundered caravans.

The actual history of the post-diluvian giant race divides into two distinct periods: the first, when giants are supposed to inhabit certain unknown parts of the country; the second, when their former existence alone is believed in, and when the fables connected therewith assume really gigantic proportions. Yet those historical fragments of the first period that have been handed down to us, are in general so mixed up with the fabulous traditions of the second, that it is now difficult to discover on what incidents of the former time, the fables of the latter are founded. The achievements of Jack the Giant-killer in Cornwall and Wales are the result of both periods, and, according to the historical theory above-mentioned, have doubtless a substratum of fact; Cormoran, Blunderbore, Galligantus and the rest being certainly Celtic monsters. One of the incidents in Jack's career, the blows he receives from the club of the giant, has its parallel in the prose Edda, a certain proof that all the inventions of northern mythology are not exclusively Scandinavian.

Gog and Magog, the well-known giants of Guildhall-names which by the way have just as little claim on this country as Baal -are traceable through the two periods. Near Plymouth the place is shown where Corinæus, having wrestled with Gogmagog, threw him from a rock into the sea. Gogmagog, so says Geoffrey of Monmouth, was the chief giant of Britain when it was conquered by Brutus. In later times the “giants” formed part of the Midsummer pageants. The going of the giants was abolished by a mayor of Chester, 1599; and in the London pageants, we are informed, 1589, “ are set forth great and uglie gyants, marching as if they were alive, and armed at all points; but within they are stuffed full of browne paper and tow.” On the authority of Dr. Milner (Hist. of Winchester, 1798) we have it that at Dunkirk, Douay, and other places, was an immemorial custom on a certain

PERIODS OF GIANT HISTORY.

121

holiday of constructing a wicker giant, in which were placed men to move it from place to place. Popular tradition declared it to represent a pagan giant, who was killed by the patron saint. There can be no doubt that this custom is identical with that of the “ wicker idol”. of the Celts, for which was substituted a tree in the modern bone-fires of many places,—and with the “

going of the giants" in the pageants. But it is incredible that Christianity would tolerate any such commemoration of human sacrifices; and we cannot regard the Roman account of this famous idol, which was probably a symbol of the overthrow of giantdom,*—as any other than a monstrous exaggeration of hearsay reports.

Cumberland and Westmorland, historically speaking, have passed through both periods of the giant race. The first we may assume to commence with the invasion of the Angles, and to continue to the cessation of the Danish irruptions, when, the country being fully opened up, the giants vanish like mists from the mountains. With the close of this period the final establishment of Christianity coincides; and thus commences the second period, feeding as it were on the lingering beliefs and customs of former times, and prolonging itself indefinitely according to the circumstances of the country.

The names of certain Cumbrian fells belong to the first period. Rissen Scar has been so called from N. risi, a giant (cf. the Riesengebirge, the giants' mountains, of Germany), and Scratch Meal Scar from N. skratti, a giant, cognate with our Old Scratch, a popular name for the devil. Trow Gill, near Morland, was once the abode of two giants named Guy and Garlic. They dwelt in caves on opposite sides of the Gill. How long they lived thus is not known, but finally they quarrelled, and fought down the whole length of the glen, until both fell mortally wounded. They were buried where they fell, and the graves remain to this day.t

Much surer traces of actual existence remain to us in the fables

* According to Welsh mythology on the first of May was celebrated the egress from the ark.

† Rev. J. Simpson at the Kendal Natural Hist. Society.

concerning Ewan Cæsario, who was famous through Inglewood forest, and resided at Castle Hewen, near the lake called Tarn Wadlyng. His fame seems to have impressed itself principally on the neighbourhood of Penrith, for it is in this quarter the fabulous traditions respecting him are to be found. Whether he assumed to be king of the province, as he is said to have been, there is no means of judging; but he was probably the King Arthur of the north, who had made himself a terror to the Angles and Danes. From his surname, he was one of those who claimed a partial Roman extraction, and the name of his supposed residence might very well have been preserved in the family from the time of the Roman occupation. This castle is probably the oldest building of the kind in the district, mention being made of its ruins in the reign of Henry the Eighth. Ewanrigg, in the ward of Allerdaleabove-Derwent, on which there are some traces of a building, has likewise been appropriated as the site of the residence of Ewan Cæsario; but this fabulous ubiquity is the strongest evidence that such a personage did once flourish in Cumbria.

The remarkable monument in Penrith church-yard that bears the name of the Giant's Grave, has been connected with the hero of Inglewood forest during the second period of his existence, and is sufficient proof of the greatness of his actual achievements. Dr. Todd's manuscript (Hist. of the Diocese, 1689) furnishes the popular story current in his time, that one Ewen or Owen Cæsarius, famous for hunting and fighting fourteen hundred years ago (the third century), is there buried; that his stature was the entire length between the pillars (fifteen feet); and that the four semicircular stones bounding the grave, represent so many wild boars killed by him in the forest of Inglewood. Not far from the grave stands a stone,-apparently a broken cross of the old church taken down in 1720,-called the Giant's Thumb. But the rudeness of this notion marks it as decidedly belonging to the latest times.

Ewan Cæsario, having once passed the rubicon of fable, having attained the stature of fifteen feet, could no longer be a dweller of house or castle. The excavations in the banks of the Eamont, near its confluence with the Eden, well known as the Giant's

« ForrigeFortsæt »