Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

parish of Kennethmont, Aberdeenshire. As its virtue was invoked not only for human beings, but for cattle, the tribute consisted of 'part of the clothes of the sick and diseased, and harness of the cattle.'

“M. Monseur' suggests that in those instances in which pins or nails were stuck into the cross, or tree, or figure of the saint, the aim was, by causing pain or inconvenience to the object of worship, to keep in his memory the worshipper's prayer. M. Gaidoz” has another theory. He says: “The idol is a god, who always appears somewhat stupid; it moves not, it speaks not, and, peradventure, it does not hear very well. It must be made to understand by a sign, and a sign which will be at the same time a memento. In touching the idol, especially in touching the member corresponding to that which suffers, its attention is directed to the prayer. And more than that is done in leaving a nail or a pin in its body, for this is a material memento for the idol.' In putting it in this way, the learned professor does not desire to exclude the ideas of an offering and a transfer of disease, for he expressly adds that both these ideas are mingled with that of a memento.”

Mr. Hartland continues: “I believe that a profounder thought forms the common ground in which all the customs under consideration-or, as I should prefer to say, all the variations of a single custom-are rooted. They are simply another application of the reasoning that underlies the practices of witchcraft and folk-medicine discussed in previous chapters [of The Legend of Perseus]. If an article of my clothing in a witch's hands may cause me to suffer, the same article in contact with a beneficent power may relieve my pain, restore me to health, or promote my general prosperity. A pin that has pricked my wart, even if not covered with my blood, has, by its contact, by the wound it has inflicted, acquired a peculiar bond with the wart; the rag that has rubbed the wart has by that friction acquired a similar bond;

· Bulletin de Folk-lore, Organe de la Société du Folk-lore Wallon, i., 1892, p. 250.

? Mélusine, vi., 1893, 155.

a rag,

so that whatever is done to the pin or the rag, whatever influences the pin or the rag may undergo, the same influences are by that very act brought to bear upon the wart. If, instead of using

I rub my warts with raw meat and then bury the meat, the warts will decay and disappear with the decay and dissolution of the meat. In like manner my shirt or stocking, or a rag to represent it, placed upon a sacred bush, or thrust into a sacred wellmy name written upon the walls of a temple-a stone or pellet from my hand cast upon a sacred image or a sacred cairn—a remnant of my food cast into a sacred waterfall or bound upon a sacred tree, or a nail from my hand driven into the trunk of the tree—is thenceforth in continual contact with divinity; and the effluence of divinity, reaching and involving it, will reach and involve me.

In this way I may become permanently united with the god.

This is an explanation which I think will cover every case. Of course, it cannot be denied that there are instances where, the real object of the rite having been forgotten, the practice has become to a slight extent deflected from its earlier form. But it is not difficult to trace the steps whereby the idea and practice of divination became substituted for that of union with the object of devotion. Still less can it be denied that, where the practice has not been deflected, the real intention has in most places been obscured. These phenomena are familiar to us everywhere, and will mislead no one who understands that the real meaning is not what the people who practise a rite say about it, but that which emerges from a comparison of analogous observances." !

Mr. Hartland, doubtless in order not to complicate his argument, refers to the “ god ” of the fountain, but he would be the first to recognise that this is by no means the earliest conception. So far as I understand the ideas of primitive folk I should imagine the sequence to be somewhat as follows:

* J. Sidney Hartland, The Legend of Perseus : A Study of Tradition in Story, Custom and Belief, 3 vols. D. Nutt, London, 1894-96.

The spring or the stream were entities in the same way as human beings, animals, or plants. When the conception arose of a dual (or multiple) nature in man, when, to put it concisely, man was recognised as a body and an indwelling spirit, then the same conception would probably be transferred to the other entities, and hence would arise the belief in a spirit of a fountain or of a tree, which doubtless was as much its own innate spirit as is the spirit of man. As the spirit of man can, according to savage belief, take upon itself various outward and bodily forms, so there is no reason why the equivalent spirit of a well may not do the same. It was a matter of common experience that some aquatic animal inhabited a particular piece of water-one or fish, a frog, or whatever it may have been. The natural conclusion was that the divine life of the waters, as Robertson Smitho says, resided in the sacred fish that inhabited them; of this he gives numerous examples analogous to the Irish and Scottish. Gomme : quotes from Sinclair * a most remarkable example of this, which occurs at a well near the church of Kirkmichael in Banffshire. The guardian of the well assumed the semblance of a fly, who was always present, and whose every movement was regarded by the votaries at the shrine with silent awe, and as he appeared cheerful or dejected the anxious votaries drew their presages. This guardian of the well of St. Michael was believed to be exempt from the laws of mortality. “To the eye of the ignorant,” says the local account, “ he might

There is no need to take up my reader's time with illustrations of this proposition, as they will be found garnered in such works as J. G. Frazer's Golden Bough, ii., “The External Soul in Folk-Tales," p. 296, and E. S. Hartland's The Legend of Perseus, ii., “ The Life-token in Tale and Custom," sometimes appear dead, but it was only a transmigration into a similar form, which made little alteration to the real identity.”

p. I.

* W. Robertson Smith, Lectures on the Religion of the Semites, 1889, p. 161. 3 Ethnology in Folk-lore, p. 102. Statistical Account of Scotland, xii., p. 465.

Later beliefs anthropomorphised these spirits, and we have water-fairies, nymphs, and the like. Finally, some missionary or hermit became associated with the well, and its therapeutic properties were attributed to the blessing of the water by the saint.

We may trace, then, in this simple game, the attenuated survival of a religious rite, which was observed by our savage forefathers of the Polished-Stone period. In children's games, or as faithfully performed practices by the folk, this cult has survived the waves of migration and the floods of race-conflict; even Christianity itself has scarcely prevailed against it.

CHAPTER XIV

COURTING GAMES

MAI

ARRIAGE and its preliminaries form such an epoch

in life that it would be strange if we did not find them mimicked in the games of children. As a matter of fact, courtship and marriage do constitute a very important element in these hitherto unwritten dramas; and it is most interesting to find that customs belonging to various strata of culture are enshrined in song and game. In other words, our children still commemorate methods of courtship which presumably belonged to different races and which certainly were in vogue during diverse ages.

One of the singing games most frequently played by children is that known as “ Nuts in May.” This seems at first sight a nonsensical title to a not very exciting game, but we shall find that there is plenty of interest in the game, to adults as well as to children.

“ Here we come gathering nuts in May,

Nuts in May, nuts in May,
Here we come gathering nuts in May,

May, May, May.”

Whom will you have for nuts in May,

Nuts in May, nuts in May ?
Whom will you have for nuts in May,
May, May, May ?”

« ForrigeFortsæt »