Folklore as an Historical Science
by George Laurence Gomme
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I pass to the third class of tradition, namely, the legend, and this need not detain us long. We have already illustrated it by the notes on history and folklore, and by its very nature it belongs essentially to the historic age. In dealing with legend, there is first to determine whether its characters are historical, or are unknown to history. If the former, there is next to disengage those parts of the tradition which, by their parallels to other traditions, or by their nature, may be safely certified as not belonging to the historical hero or to the period of the historical hero. If the latter, the details must be analysed to see what elements of culture are contained therein. In both cases tradition will have served a purpose, and that purpose must be sought. Tradition does not attach itself to an historical personage without cause. There is necessity for it, and in the case of Hereward the necessity was proved to have been the great gap in the history of a national hero. Tradition does not preserve details of primitive culture-history without cause, and in the examples already quoted it has been shown that this cause rests upon the indissoluble links which the uncultured peasant of to-day has with the pre-cultured past of his race. He will have forgotten all about his tribal life and its consequences, but will retain legends which are founded upon tribal life. He will have lost touch with ideas which proclaim that man or woman not of his tribe is an enemy to be feared or attacked, but will gladly relate legends which deal with events growing out of a state of perpetual strife among the ancestors of people now in friendship. He will not understand the personal tie of ancient times, but will listen to the legends attached to places in such strange fashion as to make places seem to possess a personal life full of events and happenings. He will know nothing of giants and ogres, but will love the legends which tell of heroes meeting and conquering such beings. The history of the school books is nothing to him, but the history unknowingly contained in the legends is very real, and is applied over and over again to such later events as by force of circumstances become stamped upon the popular mind and thus succeed in displacing the original. It would be an important contribution to history to have these legends collected and examined by a competent authority. They would be beacon lights of national history preserved in legend.

It will be readily conceded, I think, that in attempting these definitions of the various classes of tradition, and in illustrating them from the records of man's life in various parts of the world, it has been impossible for me to deal with certain points in the problem before us. In particular I have not considered the favourite subject of the diffusion of folk-tales. I do not believe in a general system of diffusion, such a system, I mean, as would suffice to account for the parallels to be found in almost all countries.[214] I think diffusion occupies a very small part indeed of the problem, and that it only takes place in late historical times. It is a large subject, and I have virtually stated my answer to the theory of diffusion in the definitions and classifications which I have ventured to put forward. It may be considered by some that other facts in the conditions of myth, folk-tale, and legend would not confirm the general outline I have given of the three classes of tradition to which I have applied these terms; and of course there are many side issues in so great a problem. I would not urge the correctness of the views I have put forward as applicable to every part of the world, or to every phase in the history of tradition; but I would urge that in the great centres of traditional life they are practically the only means of arriving at the position occupied by tradition, and that in all cases they form a working hypothesis upon which future inquirers may well base their researches.


Of late years there have been placed alongside of the traditional myth, folk-tale, and legend many other products of tradition—customs, ceremonies, practices, and beliefs, and it has been argued, and argued strongly and convincingly, that the tradition which has brought down the saga and song as far-off echoes of an otherwise unrecorded past has also brought down these other elements which must also belong to the same distant past. This argument is now no longer seriously disputed. But there still remains open for discussion the exact kind of evidence which these elements of tradition supply, the particular period or people from which they have descended, the particular department of history to which they relate. All this is highly disputed.

Folklore has in this department been greatly aided by Dr. Tylor's impressive terminology, whereby the custom, ceremony, practice, and belief which have come down by tradition are classed as "survivals." This term implies an ancient origin, and the necessary work of the student is to get back to the original. Until very lately the fact of survival has carried with it the presumption of ancient origin, but Mr. Crawley has raised an objection which I think it is well to meet. He urges that "the history of religious phenomena exemplifies in the most striking manner the continuity of modern and primitive culture; but there is a tendency on the part of students to underestimate this continuity, and, by explaining it away on a theory of survivals, to lose the only opportunity we have of deducing the permanent elements of human nature."

This sentence at once prepares us for much that follows; but Mr. Crawley leaves the point itself untouched, except by implication, until he is in the middle of his book, and then we have his dictum that "it may be finally asserted that nothing which has to do with human needs ever survives as a mere survival."[215] It will at once be seen that we have here a new estimate of the force which survivals play in the evidence of human progress. They prove the continuity of modern and primitive culture. They are part and parcel of modern life, filling a vacuum which has not been filled by modern thought, carrying on, therefore, the standard of religious belief and religious ideal from point to point until they can be replaced by newer ideas and concepts. This definition of survivals is very bold. It answers Mr. Crawley's purpose and argument in a way which no other fact in human history, so far as we can judge, could answer it. It is the basis upon which his whole argument is founded. Occupying such an important place, it should have received explicit investigation, instead of being treated as a sort of side issue of incidental importance.

When explicit investigation is undertaken, Mr. Crawley's case must, I think, break down. Survivals are carried along the stream of time by people whose culture-status is on a level with the culture in which the survivals originated. It matters not that these people are placed in the midst of a higher civilisation or alongside of a higher civilisation. When once the higher civilisation penetrates to them, the survival is lost. There is not continuity between modern and primitive thought here, but, on the contrary, there is strong antagonism, ending with the defeat and death of the primitive survival. This is the evidence wherever survivals can be studied, whether in the midst of our own civilisation, or even of primitive civilisations, which constantly exhibit traces of older beliefs and ideas being pushed out of existence by newer. It is, indeed, a mistake to suppose, as some authorities apparently do, that survivals can only be studied when they are embedded in a high civilisation. It is almost a more fruitful method to study them when they appear in the lower strata; and even in such a case as the Australian aborigines I think that it is the neglect of observing survivals that has led to some of the erroneous theories which have recently been advanced against Messrs. Spencer and Gillen's conclusions.

For the purpose of examining survivals in custom, rite, and belief, we have nothing more than a series of notes of customs and beliefs obtaining among the lower and lowest classes of the people, and not being the direct teaching of any religious or academic body. These notes are very unequal in value, owing to the manner in which they have been made. They are often accidental, they are seldom if ever the result of trained observation, and they are often mixed up with theories as to their origin and relationship to modern society and modern religious beliefs. To a great extent the two first of these apparent defects are real safeguards, for they certify to the genuineness of the record, a certificate which is more needed in this branch of inquiry than perhaps in any other. But with regard to the third defect there is considerable danger. An inquirer with an object is so apt to find what he wishes to find, either by the exercise of his own credulity or the ingenuous extension of inquiry into answer; whereas the inquirer who is content to note with the simplicity of those who occupy themselves by collecting what others have not collected, may be deficient in the details he gives, but is seldom wrong or violently wrong in what he has recorded. In every direction, however, great caution is needed, and especially where any section of custom and belief has already been the subject of inquiry. It is indeed almost safe to say that all research into custom and belief, even that of such masters as Tylor, Lang, Hartland, Frazer, and others, needs re-examination before we can finally and unreservedly accept the conclusions which have been arrived at.

Such an examination must be directed towards obtaining some necessary points in the life-history of each custom, rite, and belief. We have to approach this part of our work guided by the fact that folklore cannot by any possibility develop. The doctrine of evolution is so strong upon us that we are apt to apply its leading idea insensibly to almost every branch of human history. But folklore being what it is, namely the survival of traditional ideas or practices among a people whose principal members have passed beyond the stage of civilisation which those ideas and practices once represented, it is impossible for it to have any development. When the original ideas and practices which it represents were current as the standard form of culture, their future history was then to be looked for along the lines of development. But so soon as they dropped back behind the standard of culture, whatever the cause and whenever the event happened, then their future history could only be traced along the lines of decay and disintegration. We are acquainted with some of the laws which mark the development of primitive culture, but we have paid no attention to the influences which mark the existence of survivals in culture. For this purpose we must first ascertain what are the component parts of each custom or superstition; secondly, we must classify the various elements in each example; and thirdly, we must group the various examples into classes which associate with each other in motif and character.

By this treble process we shall have before us examples of the changes in folklore, and demonstrably they are changes of decay, not of development. By grouping and arranging these changes it may be possible to ascertain and set down the laws of change—for that there are laws I am nearly certain. It is these laws which must be discovered before we can go very far forward in our studies. Every item of custom and superstition must be tested by analysis to find out under which power it lives on in survival, and according to the result in each case, so may we hope to find out something about the original from which the survival has descended.

Each folklore item, in point of fact, has a life history of its own, and a place in relationship to other items. Just as the biography of each separate word in our language has been investigated in order to get at Aryan speech as the interpretation of Aryan thought, so must the biography of each custom, superstition, or story be investigated in order to get at Aryan belief or something older than Aryan belief. We must try to ascertain whether each item represents primitive belief by direct descent, by symbolisation, or by changes which may be discovered by some law equivalent to Grimm's law in the study of language.

Analysis of each custom, rite, or belief will show it to consist of three distinct parts, which I would distinguish by the following names:—

1. The formula.

2. The purpose.

3. The penalty or result.

It will be found that these three component parts are not equally tenacious of their original form in all examples. In one example we may find the formula either actually or symbolically perfect, while the purpose and penalty may not be easily distinguishable. Or it may happen that the formula remains fairly perfect; the purpose may be set down to the desire of doing what has always been done, and the penalty may be given as luck or ill-luck. Of course, further variations are possible, but these are usually the more general forms.

I will give an example or two of these phases of change or degradation in folklore. First, then, where the formula is complete, or nearly so, and the purpose and penalty have both disappeared. At Carrickfergus it was formerly the custom for mothers, when giving their child the breast for the last time, to put an egg in its hand and sit on the threshold of the outer door with a leg on each side, and this ceremony was usually done on a Sunday. Undoubtedly I think we have here a very nearly perfect formula; but what is its purpose, and what is the penalty for non-observance? Upon both these latter points the example is silent, and before they can be restored we must search among the other fragments of threshold customs and see whether they exist either separately from the formula or with a less perfect example. Secondly, where the formula has disappeared and the purpose and penalty remain, nearly the whole range of those floating beliefs and superstitions which occupy so largely the collections of folklore would supply examples. But I will select one example which will be to the point. When the Manx cottager looks for the traces of a foot in the ashes of his firegrate for the purpose of seeing in what direction the toes point, the penalty being that, if they point to the door, a death will occur, if to the fireplace, a birth,[216] there is no trace of the ancient formula. It is true we may find the missing formula in other lands; for instance, among some of the Indian tribes of Bombay. There the formula is elaborate and complete, while the purpose and the penalty are exactly the same as in the Isle of Man. But this hasty travelling to other lands is not, I contend, legitimate in the first place. We must begin by seeing whether there is not some other item of folklore, perhaps now not even connected with the house-fire group of customs and superstitions, whose true place is that of the lost formula of this interesting Manx custom. And when once we have taught ourselves the way to restore these lost formulae to their rightful places, the explanation of the mere waifs and strays of folklore will be attended with some approach to scientific accuracy, and we shall then be in a position to get rid of that shibboleth so dear to the non-folklore critic, that all these things we deal with are "mere superstitions."

Thirdly, when the formula is complete, or nearly so, and the purpose and penalty become generalised. At St. Edmundsbury a white bull, which enjoyed full ease and plenty in the fields, and was never yoked to the plough or employed in any service, was led in procession in the chief streets of the town to the principal gate of the monastery, attended by all the monks singing and a shouting crowd. Knowing what Grimm has collected concerning the worship of the white bull, knowing what is performed in India to this day, there is no doubt that this formula of the white bull at St. Edmundsbury has been preserved in very good condition. The purpose of it was, however, not so satisfactory. It is said to have taken place whenever a married woman wished to have a child; and the penalty is lost in the obvious generalisation that not to perform the ceremony is not to obtain the desired end.[217]

The second process, that of classification of the various elements in each example, will reveal some characteristics of folklore, which, so far as I know, have never yet been taken count of. One very important characteristic is the prevalence of a particular belief attached to different objects in different places. Thus Sir John Rhys in his examination of Manx folklore stopped short in his explanation of the superstition of the first-foot, because he had heard that, while in the Isle of Man it was attached to a dark man, elsewhere it was attached to a fair man. Of the examples where, on New Year's morning, it is held to be unlucky to meet a dark person, I may mention Lincolnshire, Durham, Yorkshire, and Northumberland. It is, on the contrary, lucky to meet, as first-foot, a dark-haired man in Lancashire, the Isle of Man, and Aberdeenshire.[218] In these cases we get the element of "dark" or "fair" as the varying factor of the superstition; but instances occur in Sutherlandshire, the West of Scotland, and in Durham, where the varying factor rests upon sex—a man being lucky and a woman being unlucky.

Similarly of the well-known superstition about telling the bees of the death of their owner, in Berkshire, Bucks, Cheshire, Cornwall, Cumberland, Lincolnshire, Lancashire, Monmouthshire, Notts, Northumberland, Shropshire, Somersetshire, Suffolk, Surrey, Sussex, Wilts, Worcestershire, it appears that a relative may perform the ceremony, or sometimes a servant merely, while in Derbyshire, Hants, Northants, Rutland, and Yorkshire it must be the heir or successor of the deceased owner. Again, while in the above places the death of the owner is told to the bees, in other places it is told to the cattle, and in Cornwall to the trees;[219] and, in other places, marriages as well as death are told to the bees.[220]

In some cases the transfer from one object to another of a particular superstition is a matter of absolute observation. Thus, the labourers in Norfolk considered it a presage of death to miss a "bout" in corn or seed sowing. The superstition is now transferred to the drill, which has only been invented for a century. Again, in Ireland, it is now considered unlucky to give any one a light for his pipe on May-day—a very modern superstition, apparently. But the pipe in this case has been the means of preserving the old superstition found in many places of not giving a light from the homestead fire.

I will just refer to one other example, the well-known custom of offering rags at sacred wells. Sir John Rhys thought that the object of these scraps of clothing being placed at the well was for transferring the disease from the sick person to some one else. But I ventured to oppose this idea, and considered that they were offerings, pure and simple, to the spirit of the well, and referred to examples in confirmation. Among other items, I have come across an account of an Irish "station," as it is called, at a sacred well, the details of which fully bear out my view as to the nature of the rags deposited at the shrine being offerings to the local deity. One of the devotees, in true Irish fashion, made his offering accompanied by the following words: "To St. Columbkill—I offer up this button, a bit o' the waistband o' my own breeches, an' a taste o' my wife's petticoat, in remimbrance of us havin' made this holy station; an' may they rise up in glory to prove it for us in the last day."[221] I shall not attempt to account for the presence of the usual Irish humour in this, to the devotee, most solemn offering; but I point out the undoubted nature of the offerings and their service in the identification of their owners—a service which implies their power to bear witness in spirit-land to the pilgrimage of those who deposited them during lifetime at the sacred well.[222]

Now, in all these cases there is an original and a secondary, or derivative, form of the superstition, and it is our object to trace out which is which. Do the rags deposited at wells symbolise offerings to the local deity? If so, they bring us within measurable distance of a cult which rests upon faith in the power of natural objects to harm or render aid to human beings. Does the question of first-foot rest upon the colour of the hair or upon the sex of the person? I think, looking at all the examples I have been able to examine, that colour is really the older basis of the superstition, and, if so, ethnological considerations are doubtless the root of it. Again, if the eldest son of the deceased owner of bees appears in the earliest form of the death-telling ceremony, we have an interesting fragment of the primitive house-ritual of our ancestors.

When, however, we come upon the worship of local deities, when we can suggest ethnological elements in folklore, and when we can speak of the house-father, and can see that duties are imposed upon him by traditional custom, unknown to any rules of civilised society, we are in the presence of facts older than those of historic times. It is thus that folklore so frequently points back to the past before the age of history. Over and over again we pause before the facts of folklore, which, however explained, always lead us back to some unexplored epoch of history, some undated period, which has not revealed its heroes, but which has left us a heritage of its mental strivings.

The method of using these notes of custom, rite, and belief for scientific purposes is therefore a very important matter. It is essential that each single item should be treated definitely and separately from all other items, and, further, that the exact wording of the original note upon each separate item should be kept intact. There must be no juggling with the record, no emendations such as students of early literary work are so fond of attempting. Whatever the record, it must be accepted. The original account of every custom and belief is a corpus, not to be tampered with except for the purpose of scientific analysis, and then after that purpose has been effected all the parts must be put together again, and the original restored to its form.

The handling of each custom or belief and of its separate parts in this way enables us, in the first place, to disentangle it from the particular personal or social stratum in which it happens to have been preserved. It may have become attached to a place, an object, a season, a class of persons, a rule of life, and may have been preserved by means of this attachment. But because every item of folklore of the same nature is not attached to the same agent wherever that particular item has been preserved, it is important not to stereotype an accidental association as a permanent one. Moreover, the modern association is not necessarily the ancient association, and there is the further difficulty created by writers on folklore classifying into chapters of their own creation the items they collect or discuss.[223] In the second place, we are enabled to prepare each item of folklore for the place to which it may ultimately be found to belong. The first step in this preparation is to get together all the examples of any one custom, rite, or belief which have been preserved, and to compare these examples with each other, first as to common features of likeness, secondly as to features of unlikeness. By this process we are able to restore what may be deficient from the insufficiency of any particular record—and such a restoration is above all things essential—and to present for examination not an isolated specimen but a series of specimens, each of which helps to bring back to observation some portion of the original. The reconstruction of the original is thus brought within sight.

Generally, it may be stated that the points of likeness determine and classify all the examples of one custom or belief; the points of unlikeness indicate the line of decay inherent in survivals.

This partial equation and partial divergence between different examples of the same custom or belief allows a very important point to be made in the study of survivals. We can estimate the value of the elements which equate in any number of examples, and the value of the elements which diverge; and by noting how these values differ in the various examples we shall discover the extent of the overlapping of example with example, which is of the utmost importance. A given custom consists, say, of six elements, which by their constancy among all the examples and by their special characteristics may be considered as primary elements, in the form in which the custom has survived. Let us call these primary elements by algebraical signs, a, b, c, d, e, f. A second example of the same custom has four of these elements, a, b, c, d, and two divergences, which may be considered as secondary elements, and which we will call by the signs g, h. A third example has elements a, b, and divergences g, h, i, k. A further example has none of the primary elements, but only divergences g, h, i, l, m. Then the statement of the case is reduced to the following:—

1 = a, b, c, d, e, f. 2 = a, b, c, d + g, h. 3 = a, b + g, h, i, k. 4 = + g, h, i, l, m.

The first conclusion to be drawn from this is that the overlapping of the several examples (No. 1 overlapping No. 2 at a, b, c, d, No. 2 overlapping No. 3 at a, b + g, h, No. 3 overlapping No. 4 at + g, h, i) shows all these several examples to be but variations of one original custom, example No. 4, though possessing none of the elements of example No. 1, being the same custom as example No. 1. Secondly, the divergences g to m mark the line of decay which this particular custom has undergone since it ceased to belong to the dominant culture of the people, and dropped back into the position of a survival from a former culture preserved only by a fragment of the people.[224]

The first of these conclusions is not affected by the order in which the examples are arranged; whether we begin with No. 4 or with No. 1, the relationship of each example to the others, thus proved to be in intimate association, is the same. The second conclusion is necessarily dependent upon what we take to be "primary elements" and "secondary elements;" and the question is how can these be determined? As a rule it will be found that the primary elements are the most constant parts of the whole group of examples, appearing more frequently, possessing greater adherence to a common form, changing (when they do change) with slighter variations; while the secondary elements, on the other hand, assume many different varieties of form, are by no means of constant occurrence, and do not even amongst themselves tend to a common form. The primary elements, therefore, constitute the form of the custom which represents the oldest part of the survival. They alone will help us to determine the origin of the custom, whether by features represented in the elements thus brought together or by comparison with ancient custom elsewhere or with survivals elsewhere similarly reconstituted. Altogether these elements, thus linked together by the tie of common attributes, are parts of one organic whole, and it is on this reconstructed organism we have to rely for the evidence from tradition.

When any given custom or belief has undergone this double process of analysis of its component parts and classification of its several elements, another process has to be undertaken, namely, to ascertain its association with other customs or beliefs, in the same country or among the same people, each of which customs or beliefs, being treated in exactly the same manner, is found to exhibit some degree of relationship in origin, condition, or purpose to the whole group under examination. In this way classification, analysis, and association go hand in hand as the necessary methods of studying survivals. Without analysis we cannot properly arrive at a classification; without classification we cannot work out the association of survivals.

The process is perhaps highly technical and complicated. It may not be of interest to all to discuss the process by which results are attained when what is most desired are the results themselves. But in truth the two parts of this study cannot well be separated. To judge of the validity of the results one must know what the process has been, and too often results are jumped at without warrant; items of custom and usage or of belief and myth are docketed as belonging to a given phase of culture, a given group of people, when they have no right to such a place in the history of man. It is not only distasteful to the inquirer, but almost impossible to dislodge any item of folklore once so placed, and thus much of the value of the material supplied by folklore is lost or discounted.

Custom, rite, and belief treated in this fashion become veritable monuments of history—a history too ancient to have been recorded in script, too much an essential part of the folk-life to have been lost to tradition. We may hope to restore therefrom the surviving mosaic of ancient institutions, ancient law, and ancient religion, and we may further hope, with this mosaic to work upon, to restore much of the entire fabric which has been lying so many centuries beneath the accumulated and accumulating mass of new developments representing the civilisation of the Western world.


It is only here that we can discover the point where we may properly commence the work of comparative folklore. An item of folklore which stands isolated is practically of no use for scientific investigation. It may be, as we have seen, that the myth is in its primary stage as a sacred belief among primitive people, in its secondary or folk-tale stage as a sacred memory of what was once believed, in its final or legendary stage when it does duty in preserving the memory of a hero or a place of abiding interest. It may be, as we have seen, that the custom, rite, or belief is a mere formula without purpose or result, a mere traditional expression of a purpose without formula or result, a mere statement of result without formula or purpose. We must know the exact position of each item before we begin to compare, or we may be comparing absolutely unlike things. The exact position of each item of folklore is not to be found from one isolated example. It has first to be restored to its association with all the known examples of its kind, so that the earliest and most complete form may be recorded. That is the true position to which it has been reduced as a survival. This restored and complete example is then in a position to be compared either with similar survivals in other countries on the same level of culture, or within the same ethnological or political sphere of influence, or with living customs, rites, or beliefs of peoples of a more backward state of culture or in a savage state of culture. Comparison of this kind is of value. Comparison of a less technical or comprehensive kind may be of value in the hands of a great master; but it is often not only valueless but mischievous in the hands of less experienced writers, who think that comparison is justified wherever similarity is discovered.

Similarity in form, however, does not necessarily mean similarity in origin. It does not mean similarity in motive. Customs and rites which are alike in practice can be shown to have originated from quite different causes, to express quite different motifs, and cannot therefore be held to belong to a common class, the elements of which are comparable. Thus to take a very considerable custom, to be found both in folk-tales and in usage, the succession of the youngest son, it is pretty clear that among European peoples it originated in the tribal practice of the elder sons going out of the tribal household to found tribal households of their own, thus leaving the youngest to inherit the original homestead. But among savage peoples where the youngest son inherits the homestead, he does not do so because of a tribal custom such as that to be found in the European evidence. It is because of the conditions of the marriage rites. Thus among the Kafir peoples of South Africa

"the young man of the commonality, who being a young man has had but little or no means of displaying his sagacity—a quality with them most frequently synonymous with cunning—commences for himself in a small way. Hence, too, being polygamous, and his wives being bought with cattle, his first wife is taken from a position accordant with that of a young, untried, and poor or comparatively poor man. Hence also it happens that his wives increase in number, and in—so to speak—position, in accordance with his wealth, and with his reputation for wisdom and sagacity, which may have raised him to the rank of headman of a district, and one of the Chief's counsellors. It is, therefore, only when old in years that he takes to himself his 'great wife,' one of greater social and racial position than were his previous wives, and her son, that is, her eldest son, who is consequently the father's youngest or nearly his youngest, becomes his 'great son,' and par excellence the heir. If the father be a Chief, this son becomes the Chief at his father's death.

"As, however, subordinate heirs, the father after some consultation and ceremony chooses out of his other sons, secondly 'the son of his right hand,' and thirdly, 'the son of his grandfather.' If the father be a Chief, these two are after his death accounted as Chiefs in the tribe, subordinate to the 'great son,' and even if through their superior energy, the size of the tribe requiring emigration to pastures new, or other causes, one or both of them break off, and with their respective inheritance or following form a separate tribe or tribes, yet they are federally bound to their great brother, and their successors to his successors, and recognise him as their supreme or national Chief. Thus Krili, the Chief of the Amagcaleka tribe across the Kei, was also paramount Chief of all the Amaxosas, including his own tribe, and those this side the Kei, who are divided into the two great divisions—each of which includes several tribes—of the Amangquika and Amandhlambi, which latter has among it the Amagqunukwebi, a tribe of Caffre intermingled with Hottentot blood, and therefore rather looked down upon."[225]

Dr. Nicholson, from whom I quote this evidence, goes on to say that the

"custom then of the heirship of the youngest, appears to me to have not unlikely grown up among a polygamous race, and to have arisen both from considerations of self security and from those of race and rank."

Quite independently of Dr. Nicholson I had come to the same conclusion;[226] and Dr. Nicholson, after handsomely acknowledging my priority in the "discovery," very properly alludes to the not unimportant fact of two workers in the same field coming to like conclusions. It is remarkable that the same distinction between the succession of the youngest son and of the son of the youngest wife appears in folk-tales.[227] Now clearly it would be quite wrong to suggest a parallel between the heirship of the youngest among the Kafir peoples of Africa and heirship of the youngest among the tribal people of early Europe. They are not comparable at all points, and it is just where the point of comparison fails that it becomes so important to science.[228]

I will take one other example, and this is the important practice of human sacrifice which looms so largely in anthropological research, and which is considered by so good an authority as Schrader to have taken a prominent place among the Aryans,[229] though he takes his examples, not from language, but from the unexamined customs of the Greeks, Romans, northerns, Indians, and Persians. We know more about the development of sacrifice now that Professor Robertson Smith has dealt with the Semitic part of the evidence. Without resting on the fact that the occurrence of human sacrifice in a country occupied by Aryan-speaking people does not, of itself alone, imply that the rite was Aryan, it is far more important to point out that among the higher races "the feeling that the slaying involves a grave responsibility and must be justified by divine permission" appears, and "care was taken to slay the victim without bloodshed, or to make believe that it had killed itself."[230] This feeling marks distinctly the Greek sacrifice as at Thargelia and in the Leukadian ceremony, the Roman sacrifice at the Tarpeian Rock, the sacrifice at the Valhalla rock of the northerns, while among the Hindus there is much to show that the idea of human sacrifice in some of the early writings is a literary borrowing from the Hebrews; and that if it ever prevailed among the Aryas of India it was very early superseded by the sacrifice of animals.[231] Colonel Dalton has given good reasons for his views "that the Hindus derived from the aboriginal races the practice of human sacrifices."[232] Although, then, Greek ritual and Greek myth are full of legends which tell of sacrifices once human, but afterwards commuted into sacrifices where some other victim is slain or the dummy of a man is destroyed;[233] although the significant Hindu ceremonial of so throwing the limbs of an animal slaughtered to be burnt with the dead that every limb lies upon a corresponding part of the corpse;[234] although Teuton, Celt, and Norse[235] are credited with the practice by authorities not to be questioned, it appears by the evidence that the European form of human sacrifice has little in common with the savage form except in the nature of the victim. It occurred, as Grimm states, when some great disaster, some heinous crime, had to be retrieved or purged, a kind of sacrifice, says Mr. Lang, not necessarily savage except in its cruelty; and the victims were not tribesmen, but captive enemies, purchased slaves, or great criminals.

These two examples will serve as warning against the too general acceptance of the custom and belief of savage and barbaric races, as identical with the custom and belief of early or primitive man. Such identification is in the main correct; but it is correct not because it has been proved by the best methods to be so, but because, of all possible explanations, this is the only one that meets the general position in a satisfactory manner. In many cases, however, it is monstrously incorrect, and it is the incorrect conclusion which weighs far more against the acceptance of the results of folklore than do the correct conclusions in its favour.

The work which has to be accomplished by the comparative method of research is of such magnitude that it needs to be considered. The labour and research might in point of volume be out of proportion to the results, and it may be questioned, as it has already been questioned by inference, whether it is worth the while. The first answer to this objection is that all historical investigation is justified, however much the labour, however extensive the research. Secondly, considering the very few results which the study of folklore has hitherto produced upon the investigations into prehistoric Europe, it must be worth while for the student of custom and belief to conduct his experiments upon a recognised plan in order to get at the secret of man's place in the struggle for existence, which is determined more by psychological than by physical phenomena. Thirdly, if the psychical anthropology of prehistoric times is to be sought for in the customs and beliefs of modern savages, it is of vital importance to anthropological science that this should be established by methods exactly defined. Whatever of traditional custom and belief is capable of bearing the test and of being definitely labelled as belonging to prehistoric man, becomes thereafter the data for the psychical anthropology of civilised man. Edmund Spenser understood this when his official duties took him among the "wild" Irish. "All the customs of the Irish," he says, "which I have often noted and compared with that I have read, would minister occasion of a most ample discourse of the original of them, and the antiquity of that people, which in truth I think to be more ancient than most that I know in this end of the world; so as if it were in the handling of some man of sound judgment and plentiful reading, it would be most pleasant and profitable."[236]

Comparative folklore, then, to be of value must be based upon scientific principles. The unmeaning custom or belief of the peasantry of the Western world of civilisation must not be taken into the domains of savagery or barbarism for an explanation without any thought as to what this action really signifies to the history of the custom or belief in question. No doubt the explanation thus afforded is correct in most cases, and perhaps it was necessary to begin with the comparative method in order to understand the importance and scope of the study of apparently worthless material. A new stage in comparative folklore must now be entered upon. It must be understood what the effective comparison of a traditional peasant custom or belief with a savage custom or belief really amounts to. The process includes the comparison of an isolated custom or belief belonging, perhaps secretly, to a particular place, a particular class of persons, or perhaps a particular family or person, with a custom or belief which is part of a whole system belonging to a savage race or tribe; of a custom or belief whose only sanction is tradition, the conservative instinct to do what has been done by one's ancestors, with a custom or belief whose sanction is the professed and established polity or religion of a people; of a custom or belief which is embedded in a civilisation, of which it is not a part and to which it is antagonistic, with a custom or belief which helps to make up the civilisation of which it is part. In carrying out such a comparison, therefore, a very long journey back into the past of the civilised race has been performed. For unless it be admitted that civilised people consciously borrow from savages and barbaric peoples or constantly revert to a savage original type of mental and social condition, the effect of such a comparison is to take back the custom or belief of the modern peasant to a date when a people of savage or barbaric culture occupied the country now occupied by their descendants, the peasants in question, and to equate the custom or belief of this ancient savage or barbaric culture with the custom or belief of modern savage or barbaric culture. The line of comparison is not therefore simply drawn level from civilisation to savagery; but it consists, first, of two vertical lines from civilisation and savagery respectively, drawn to a height scaled to represent the antiquity of savage culture in modern Europe, and then the level horizontal line drawn to join the two vertical lines. Thus the line of comparison is

Ancient savagery Ancient savagery - Savagery Civilisation

We thus arrive at some conception of the work to be accomplished by and involved in comparative folklore. The results are worth the work. They relate to stages of culture in the countries of civilisation which are recoverable by no other means. The stages of culture are practically lost to history. In ancient Greek and Roman history, and in ancient Scandinavian history, there are priceless fragments of information which tell us much. But these fragments are not the complete story, and they belong to relatively small areas of European history. Every nation has the right to go back as far in its history as it is possible to reach. It can only do this by the help of comparative folklore. In our own country we have seen how history breaks down, and yet historical records in Britain are perhaps the richest in Europe. The traditional materials known to us as folklore are the only means left to us, and we can only properly avail ourselves of these when we have mastered the methods of science which it is necessary to use in their investigation.


[182] Mr. MacCulloch, in the title of his interesting book, the Childhood of Fiction, has emphasised this mischievous idea. I am not convinced to the contrary by the evidence he gives as to the popularity of the folk-tale among all peoples (p. 2). Indeed, the book itself is an emphatic testimony against its title. Mr. MacCulloch evidently began with the idea that the folk-tale belonged to the domain of fiction. Thus the opening words of his book are: "Folk-tales are the earliest form of romantic and imaginative literature—the unwritten fiction of early man and of primitive people in all parts of the world;" whereas as he nears the end of his study he observes: "Thus, in their origin, folk-tales may have had some other purpose than mere amusement; they may have embodied the traditions, histories, beliefs, ideas, and customs of men at an early stage of civilisation" (p. 451). Mr. MacCulloch himself proves this to be the case, and it is therefore all the more unfortunate that he should have stamped his very important study with the word "fiction."

[183] A folk-tale of the Veys, a North African people, explains this view most graphically in its opening sentences. The narrator begins his tale by saying: "I speak of the long time past; hear! It is written in our old-time-palaver-books—I do not say then; in old time the Vey people had no books, but the old men told it to their children and they kept it; afterwards it was written" (Journ. Ethnol. Soc., N.S., vi. 354). A parallel to this comes from Ireland: "What I have told your honour is true; and if it stands otherwise in books, it's the books which are wrong. Sure we've better authority than books, for we have it all handed down from generation to generation" (Kohl's Travels in Ireland, 140).

[184] I am the more willing to take this as my illustration of myth because, strangely enough, Mr. MacCulloch has omitted it from the examples he uses in his Childhood of Fiction.

[185] Myth, Ritual, and Religion, i. 166.

[186] Mr. Jeremiah Curtin has collected and published the Creation Myths of Primitive America (London, 1899), and his introduction is a specially valuable study of the subject. I printed the Fijian myth from Williams' Fiji and Fijians, i. 204, and the Kumis myth from Lewin's Wild Races of South-east India, 225-6, in my Handbook of Folklore, 137-139, and Mr. Lang, in cap. vi. of his Myth, Ritual, and Religion deals with a sufficient number of examples. Cf. also Tylor, Primitive Culture, cap. ix.

[187] Grey, Polynesian Mythology, 1-15. I have only summarised the full legend on the lines adopted by Dr. Tylor.

[188] On the Kronos myth consult Farnell, Cults of the Greek States, i. 23-31, who gives an admirable summary of the evidence as it at present stands; Harrison and Verrall, Mythology and Monuments of Anc. Athens, 192; Lang, Myth, Ritual, and Religion, i. 295-323.

[189] Mr. Crawley discovered this story in Mr. Bain's A Digit of the Moon, 13-15, and printed it in his Mystic Rose, 33-34.

[190] "The Interpreters of Genesis and the Interpreters of Nature," and "Mr. Gladstone and Genesis," in Science and Hebrew Tradition, cap. iv. and v.

[191] Adonis, Attis and Osiris, 4, 25. Mr. Jevons, too, lays stress upon "the source of errors in religion" as human reason gone astray, Introd. to Hist. of Religion, 463.

[192] Mr. Jevons practically arrives at this conclusion from a different standpoint. "Beliefs," he says, "are about facts, are statements about facts, statements that certain facts will be found to occur in a certain way or be of a certain kind" (Introd. to Hist. of Religion, 402). Mr. Curtin, Creation Myths of Primitive America (p. xx), confirms the view I take.

[193] Orpen, Cape Monthly Magazine. Quoted in Lang's Myth, Ritual, and Religion, i. 71.

[194] This myth is, I think, worth giving, because of its obvious object to account for the difference between white and black races. It is as follows: "In the beginning of the world God created three white men and three white women, and three black men and three black women. In order that these twelve human souls might not thenceforth complain of Divine partiality and of their separate conditions, God elected that they should determine their own fates by their own choice of good and evil. A large calabash or gourd was placed by God upon the ground, and close to the side of the calabash was also placed a small folded piece of paper. God ruled that the black man should have the first choice. He chose the calabash, because he expected that the calabash, being so large, could not but contain everything needful for himself. He opened the calabash, and found a scrap of gold, a scrap of iron, and several other metals of which he did not understand the use. The white man had no option. He took, of course, the small folded piece of paper, and discovered that, on being unfolded, it revealed a boundless stock of knowledge. God then left the black men and women in the bush, and led the white men and women to the seashore. He did not forsake the white men and women, but communicated with them every night, and taught them how to construct a ship, and how to sail from Africa to another country. After a while they returned to Africa with various kinds of merchandise, which they bartered to the black men and women, who had the opportunity of being greater and wiser than the white men and women, but who, out of sheer avidity, had thrown away their chance."

[195] Native Tribes of South-east Australia, cap. viii.

[196] Northern Tribes of Central Australia, cap. xxii.; Native Tribes of Central Australia, cap. xviii.

[197] Spencer and Gillen, Northern Tribes, 624; cf. Native Tribes of Central Australia, 564.

[198] Spencer and Gillen, Native Tribes of Central Australia, 229.

[199] Grey, Polynesian Mythology, p. xi. Cf. Taylor, Te Ika a Maui, where myths told by the priests are given in cap. vi. and vii., and Trans. Ethnological Soc., new series, i. 45.

[200] White's Anc. Hist. of the Maori, i. 8-13.

[201] Curtin, Creation Myths of Primitive America, p. xxi.

[202] Im Thurn, Indians of Guiana, 335; Landtman, Origin of Priesthood, 117.

[203] Primitive Manners and Customs, cap. i. "Some Savage Myths and Beliefs," and cap. viii., "Fairy Lore of Savages."

[204] Introd. to Hist. of Religion, 263. Of course I do not accept Mr. J. A. Stewart's "general remarks on the [Greek: mythologia] or story-telling myth" in his Myths of Plato, 4-17. All Mr. Stewart's research is literary in object and result, though he uses the materials of anthropology.

[205] H. H. Wilson, Rig Veda Sanhita, i. p. xvii.

[206] H. H. Wilson, Vishnu Purana, i. p. iv; Rig Veda Sanhita, i. p. xlv.

[207] Religion of the Semites, 19.

[208] Mr. Hartland passes rapidly in his opening chapter from the myth as primitive science to the myth as fairy tale, from the savage to the Celt (Science of Fairy Tales, pp. 1-5), and I do not think it is possible to make this leap without using the bridge which is to be constructed out of the differing positions occupied by the myth and the fairy tale.

[209] It will be interesting, I think, to preserve here one or two instances of the actual practice of telling traditional tales in our own country. Mr. Hartland has referred to the subject in his Science of Fairy Tales, but the following instances are additional to those he has noted, and they refer directly back to the living custom. They are all from Scotland, and refer to the early part of last century. "In former times, when families, owing to distance and other circumstances, held little intercourse with each other through the day, numbers were in the habit of assembling together in the evening in one house, and spending the time in relating the tales of wonder which had been handed down to them by tradition" (Kiltearn in Ross and Cromarty; Sinclair, Statistical Account of Scotland, xiv. 323). "In the last generation every farm and hamlet possessed its oral recorder of tale and song. The pastoral habits of the people led them to seek recreation in listening to, and in rehearsing the tales of other times; and the senachie and the bard were held in high esteem" (Inverness-shire, ibid., xiv. 168). "In the winter months, many of them are in the habit of visiting and spending the evenings in each other's houses in the different hamlets, repeating the songs of their native bard or listening to the legendary tales of some venerable senachie" (Durness in Sutherlandshire, ibid., xv. 95).

[210] W. H. R. Rivers, The Todas, 3-4.

[211] Pausanias, viii. cap. xv. Sec. 1.

[212] Journ. Roy. Asiatic Soc., ii. p. 218.

[213] Hist. of Rome, i. pp. 177-179. Cf. Gunnar Landtman, Origin of Priesthood, p. 77.

[214] Perhaps Mr. Lang's study of "Cinderella and the Diffusion of Tales" in Folklore, iv. 413 et seq., contains the best summary of the position.

[215] Crawley, Tree of Life, 5, 144.

[216] Train, Hist. of Isle of Man, ii. 115.

[217] The ceremony is fully described in Relics for the Curious, i. 31; Gentleman's Magazine, 1784 (see Gent. Mag. Library, xxiii. 209), quoting from a tract first published in 1634; and see Proc. Soc. Antiq. Scot., x. 669.

[218] See Folklore, iii. 253-264; Rhys, Celtic Folklore, i. 337-341.

[219] Couch, Hist. of Polperro, 168.

[220] I have investigated the bee cult at some length, and it will form part of my study on Tribal Custom which I am now preparing for publication.

[221] Carleton, Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry.

[222] Mr. Eden Phillpotts mentions in one of his Cornish stories exactly this conception. Rags were offered. "Just a rag tored off a petticoat or some such thing. They hanged 'em up around about on the thorn bushes, to shaw as they'd 'a' done more for the good saint if they'd had the power."—Lying Prophets, 60.

[223] I gave an example of this false classification of folklore in accord with its apparent modern association in my preface to Denham Tracts, ii. p. ix. The left-leg stocking divination is not associated with dress, but with the left-hand as opposed to the right-hand augury, and I pointed out that the district of the Roman wall, the locus of the Denham tracts, thus preserves the luck of the left, believed in by the Romans, in opposition to the luck of the right believed in by the Teutons. See Schrader, Prehistoric Antiquities of the Aryan Peoples, 253-7.

[224] I elaborated this plan of comparative analysis in a report to the British Association at Liverpool, in 1896 (see pp. 626-656), illustrating it from the fire customs of Britain.

[225] Archaeological Review, ii. 163-166; cf. the Rev. J. Macdonald in Folklore, iii. 338.

[226] Athenaeum, 29th December, 1883; Archaeologia, vol. l. p. 213.

[227] See MacCulloch's Childhood of Fiction, chap. xiii., where this distinction is noted, though its significance is not pointed out.

[228] Dr. Rivers has dealt with a very similar case of dual origin in connection with bride capture, see Journ. Roy. Asiatic Soc., 1907, p. 624.

[229] Schrader's Prehistoric Antiquities of the Aryan Peoples, 422.

[230] Robertson Smith's Religion of the Semites, 397.

[231] Monier Williams, Indian Wisdom, pp. 29-31. The word-equations for sacrifice are given by Schrader, op. cit., 130, 415.

[232] Journ. Asiatic Soc. Bengal, xxxiv. p. 7. On the influence of the aboriginal races cf. Monier Williams, Indian Wisdom, 312-313; Steel and Temple's Wide Awake Stories, 395; Campbell, Tales of West Highlands, l. p. xcviii.

[233] Lang, Myth, Ritual, and Religion, i. p. 271.

[234] H. H. Wilson, Religion of the Hindus, ii. 289. I compare this with the custom of the cow following the coffin mentioned by Mannhardt, Die Gotterwelt, 320, and the soul shot or gift of a cow at death recorded by Brand, ii. 248.

[235] Cf. Olaus Magnus, pp. 168, 169, for the significant Norse ceremony.

[236] Spenser, View of the State of Ireland, 1595 (Morley reprint), 73.



Although the great mass of folklore rests upon tradition and tradition alone, an important aid to tradition comes from certain psychological conditions which we must now consider. At an early stage all students of folklore will have discovered that it is not entirely to tradition that folklore is indebted for its material. There are still people capable of thinking, capable of believing, in the primitive way and in the primitive degree. Such people are of course the descendants of long ancestors of such people—people whose minds are not attuned to the civilisation around them; people, perhaps, whose minds have been to an extent stunted and kept back by the civilisation around them. There can be no doubt that civilisation and all it demands of mankind acts as a deterrent upon the minds of some living within the civilisation zone, and belonging apparently to the civilised society. This is the root cause of some of the lunacy and much of the crime which apparently exists as a necessary adjunct of civilisation, and it leads to various forms of thought inconsistent with the knowledge and ideas of the age. When these forms of thought are not concentrated into a new religious sect by the operation of social laws, they become what is sometimes called mere superstition, that kind of superstition which consists of using the same power of logic to a narrow set of facts which primitive man was in the habit of using, and thus repeating in this age the methods of primitive science. We cannot quite understand this in the age of railways and schools and inventions, but it will be understood better if we go back for only a generation or two to those parts of our country which are most remote from civilising influences, and obtain some information as to their condition.

This cannot be better accomplished than by referring to a Scottish author writing, in 1835, of the superstitions then prevailing in Scotland. "Our whole genuine records," says Dalyell,

"teem with the most repulsive pictures of the weakness, bigotry, turbulence, and fierce and treacherous cruelty of the populace. False and corrupt innovations of literature, a compound of facts and fiction, intermingling the old and the new in heterogeneous assemblage, would persuade us to think much more of our forefathers than they thought of themselves. Scotland, until the most modern date, was an utter stranger to civilisation, presenting a sterile country with a famished people, wasted by hordes of mendicants readier to seize than to solicit—void of ingenious arts and useful manufactures, possessed of little skill and learning, plunged in constant war and rapine, full of insubordination, disturbing public rule and private peace. For waving pendants, flowing draperies, brilliant colours, eagles' feathers, herons' plumes, feasts or festivals so splendid in imagination, let naked limbs, scanty, sombre garments to elude discovery by the foe, bits of heath stuck in bonnets if they had them, precarious sustenance, abject humility and all those hardships inseparable from uncultivated tribes and countries be instituted as a juster portrait of earlier generations."[237]

This statement as to Scotland is correctly drawn from social conditions which have now passed away, but which, down to the beginning of last century, belonged to the ordinary life of the people. Thus it is recorded that

"over all the highlands of Scotland, and in this county in common with others, the practice of building what are called head-dykes was of very remote antiquity. The head-dyke was drawn across the head of a farm, when nature had marked the boundary betwixt the green pastures and that portion of hill which was covered totally or partially with heath. Above this fence the young cattle, the horses, the sheep and goats were kept in the summer months. The milch cows were fed below, except during the time the farmer's family removed to the distant grazings called sheilings. Beyond the head-dyke little attention was paid to boundaries. These enclosures exhibit the most evident traces of extreme old age."[238]

In Ireland the same conditions obtained so late as the sixteenth century; the native Irish retained their wandering habits, tilling a piece of fertile land in the spring, then retiring with their herds to the booleys or dairy habitations, generally in the mountain districts in the summer, and moving about where the herbage afforded sustenance to their cattle.[239] An eighteenth-century traveller in Ireland was assured that the quarter called Connaught was "inhabited by a kind of savages," and there is record of the capture of a hairy dwarf near Longford, who appears hardly to belong to civilisation.[240] Similar conditions obtained in the northern counties of England, and in other parts.[241] Special circumstances kept the borderland outside the influences of ordinary civilised thought and control, and these circumstances have been recorded by an eighteenth-century observer, from whom I will quote one or two facts as to the mode of life of these people: "That they might be more invisible during their outrodes and consequently less liable to the effects of their enemies' vigilance, the colour of their cloathes resembled that of the scenes of their employment or of their season of action, that is, of a brown heath and cloudy evening. Thus examples of what might condemn their conduct were never offered to them, and immemorial custom seemed as it were to sanctify their wildness. Every border-man, almost without exception, was brought up in a state which we would call unhappy, and every circumstance of his life tended to confirm his partiality for an uncertain bed and unprovided diet."[242]

The evidence which this acute observer collected led him to conclude that the "almost uniform train of circumstances which affected these countries from their border situation, and the little difference there was between one of the dark ages and another, strongly induce me to believe that the Northern people were little altered in manners from very remote times to those immediately preceding the reign of Queen Elizabeth," and this is confirmed by what we actually find from the report of the Commissioners appointed to settle the peace of the Marches by fixed and established ordinances, who collected "their ordinances from the traditional accounts of ancient usages that had been sanctified as laws by the length of time which they had endured. These laws were different from most others, nay, almost peculiar to the men to whom they belonged."[243]

I need not continue these notes as to the backwardness of portions of the country compared with its general level of culture, because I have dealt with the evidence elsewhere.[244] What I am anxious to point out here is that the faculty of such people as these to think, not in terms of modern science but in terms of their own psychological conditions, must have been pronounced. If they ever put the question to themselves as to the origin of things, they would answer themselves according to the life impressions they were then receiving, and according to the limited range of their actual knowledge. As with the creators of the traditional myths, the scientific inquirers of primitive times, so with these non-advanced people of later times, they would deal with the problems they did not understand in fashions suitable to their own understanding. It has always appeared to me that the impressions of the surrounding life are not sufficiently regarded in their influence upon primitive thought. They press down upon the mind, and enclose it within barriers so that it can only act through these surroundings. Child-life is, in this respect, much the same as the life of primitive man. A child thinks and acts in terms of his nursery, his school, or his playground. Thus a memory of my own is to the point. When quite a child, probably about eight or nine years old, I was entrusted with the changing of a small cheque drawn by my father in a country town where we were staying. I had never seen a cheque before. I remember the ceremony of writing it and the care with which the necessary instructions were given to me, and I remember the amazement with which I received the golden sovereigns. But my mind dwelt upon this strange thing called a cheque, and after a time I deliberately came to the conclusion that my father was allowed to get money for these cheques on condition only that he wrote them without a mistake and without a blot. The conception is absurd until we come to analyse the cause of it. My young life at that time was receiving its greatest impressions, its all-absorbing impressions, from my school exercises in writing. It was a copybook life for the time being, and when I turned to ask my question as to origins, as every human being has asked himself in turn, I could express myself only in copybook terms. It is so with the primitive mind. It can only express itself in the terms of its greatest impressions, and it is in this way that primitive animism, sympathetic magic and other conceptions obtained from the results of anthropological research, are to be found in much the same degree wherever humanity is found in primitive conditions. As Mr. Hickson puts it so well: "Just as the little black baby of the negro, the brown baby of the Malay, the yellow baby of the Chinaman, are in face and form, in gestures and habits, as well as in the first articulate sound they mutter, very much alike, so the mind of man, whether he be Aryan or Malay, Mongolian or Negrito, has, in the course of its evolution, passed through stages which are practically identical. In the intellectual childhood of mankind natural phenomena, or some other causes, of which we are at present ignorant, have induced thoughts, stories, legends, and myths, that in their essentials are identical among all the races of the world with which we are acquainted;"[245] or to take one other example from the experience of travellers, Mr. Mitchell, speaking of the Australians, says: "I found a native still there, and on my advancing towards him with a twig he shook another twig at me, waving it over his head, and at the same time intimating with it that we must go back. He and the boy then threw up dust at us with their toes (cf. 2 Sam. xvi. 13). These various expressions of hostility and defiance were too intelligible to be mistaken. The expressive pantomime of the man showed the identity of the human mind, however distinct the races or different the language."[246]

This identity is shown in many other ways to have been operating, perhaps to be operating still, upon minds not attuned to the civilisation around them. The resistance of agriculturists to change is well known.[247] The crooked ridges of the open-field system were believed to be necessary because they were supposed to deceive the devil,[248] while a superstitious dislike was entertained against winnowing machines, because they were supposed to interfere with the elements.[249] This is nothing but a modern example of sympathetic magic produced by the introduction of the new machine.

I need not go through the researches of the masters of anthropology to explain what the psychological evidence exactly amounts to, and the realms of primitive thought and experience which it connotes.[250] It will, however, be useful for the purpose of our present study, if we can find among the peasantry of our country (perchance from those districts where we have noted conditions under which primitive thought might retain a continuous hold) examples of belief or superstition which belongs rather to psychological than to traditional influences. The interpretation of dreams, the belief in spirit apparitions, the practice of charms, all belong to this branch of our subject, though I shall illustrate the points I wish to bring out by reference to less common departments.

It was only in the seventeenth century that a learned divine of the Church of England was shocked to hear one of his flock repeat the evidence of his pagan beliefs in language which is as explicit as it is amusing; and I shall not be accused of trifling with religious susceptibilities if I quote a passage from a sermon delivered and printed in 1659—a passage which shows not a departure from Christianity either through ignorance or from the result of philosophic study or contemplation, but a sheer non-advance to Christianity, a passage which shows us an English pagan of the seventeenth century.

"Let me tell you a story," says the Reverend Mr. Pemble, "that I have heard from a reverend man out of the pulpit, a place where none should dare to tell a lye, of an old man above sixty, who lived and died in a parish where there had bin preaching almost all his time.... On his deathbed, being questioned by a minister touching his faith and hope in God, you would wonder to hear what answer he made: being demanded what he thought of God, he answers that he was a good old man; and what of Christ, that he was a towardly youth; and of his soule, that it was a great bone in his body; and what should become of his soule after he was dead, that if he had done well he should be put into a pleasant green meadow."[251]

Of the four articles of this singular creed, the first two depict an absence of knowledge about the central features of Christian belief, the latter two denote the existence of knowledge about some belief not known to English scholars of that time. If it had so happened that the Reverend Mr. Pemble had thought fit to tell his audience only of the first two articles of this creed, it would have been difficult to resist the suggestion that they presented us merely with an example of stupid, or, perhaps, impudent, blasphemy caused by the events of the day. But the negative nature of the first two items of the creed is counterbalanced by the positive nature of the second two items; and thus this example shows us the importance of considering evidence as to all phases of non-belief in Christianity.

Passing on to the two items of positive belief, it is to be noted that the soul resident in the body in the shape of a bone is no part of the early European belief, but equates rather with the savage idea which identifies the soul with some material part of the body, such as the eyes, the heart, or the liver; and it is interesting to note in this connection that the backbone is considered by some savage races, e.g., the New Zealanders, as especially sacred because the soul or spiritual essence of man resides in the spinal marrow.[252] And there is a well-known incident in folk-tales which seems to owe its origin to this group of ideas. This is where the hero having been killed, one of his bones tells the secret of his death, and thus acts the part of the soul-ghost.

In the pleasant green fields we trace the old faiths of the agricultural peasantry which, put into the words of Hesiod, tell us that "for them earth yields her increase; for them the oaks hold in their summits acorns, and in their midmost branches bees. The flocks bear for them their fleecy burdens ... they live in unchanged happiness, and need not fly across the sea in impious ships"—faiths which are in striking contrast to the tribal warrior's conception as set forth by the Saxon thane of King Eadwine of Northumbria. "This life," said this poetical thane, "is like the passage of a bird from the darkness without into a lighted hall where you, O King, are seated at supper, while storms, and rain, and snow rage abroad. The sparrow flying in at our door and straightway out at another is, while within, safe from the storm; but soon it vanishes into the darkness whence it came."

Such faiths as these, indeed, show us primitive ideas at their very roots. This seventeenth-century pagan depended upon himself for his faith. He worked out his own ideas as to the origin of soul and heaven and God and Christ. They were terms that had filtered down to him through the hard surroundings of his life, and he set to work to define them in the fashion of the primitive savage. We meet with other examples. Thus among the superstitions of Lancashire is one which tells us of the lingering belief in a long journey after death, when food is necessary to support the soul. A man having died of apoplexy, near Manchester, at a public dinner, one of the company was heard to remark: "Well, poor Joe, God rest his soul! He has at least gone to his long rest wi' a belly full o' good meat, and that's some consolation," and perhaps a still more remarkable instance is that of the woman buried in Cuxton Church, near Rochester, who directed by her will that the coffin was to have a lock and key, the key being placed in her dead hand, so that she might be able to release herself at pleasure.[253]

These people simply did not understand civilised thought or civilised religion. To escape from the pressure of trying to understand they turned to think for themselves, and thinking for themselves merely brought them back to the standpoint of primitive thought. It could hardly be otherwise. The working of the human mind is on the same plane wherever and whenever it operates or has operated. The difference in results arises from the enlarged field of observation. When the Suffolk peasant set to work to account for the existence of stones on his field by asserting that the fields produced the stones, and for the origin of the so-called "pudding-stone" conglomerate, that it was a mother stone and the parent of the pebbles,[254] he was beginning a first treatise on geology; and when the Hampshire peasant attributes the origin of the tutsan berries to having germinated in the blood of slaughtered Danes,[255] other counties following the same thought, I am not at all sure that he is not beginning all over again the primitive conception of the origin of plants.

This beginning shows the mark of the primitive mind, and that it was operating in a country dominated by scientific thought is the phenomenon which makes it so important to consider psychological conditions among the problems of folklore. They account for some beliefs which may not contain elements of pure tradition. When the Mishmee Hill people of India affirm of a high white cliff at the foot of one of the hills that approaches the Burhampooter that it is the remains of the "marriage feast of Raja Sisopal with the daughter of the neighbouring king, named Bhismak, but she being stolen away by Krishna before the ceremony was completed, the whole of the viands were left uneaten and have since become consolidated into their present form,"[256] we can understand that the belief is in strict accord with the primitive conditions of thought of the Mishmee people. Can we understand the same conditions of the parallel English belief concerning the stone circle known as "Long Meg and her daughters,"[257] and of that at Stanton Drew;[258] or of the allied beliefs in Scotland that a huge upright stone, Clach Macmeas, in Loth, a parish of Sutherlandshire, was hurled to the bottom of the glen from the top of Ben Uarie by a giant youth when he was only one month old;[259] and in England that "the Hurlers," in Cornwall, were once men engaged in the game of hurling, and were turned into stone for playing on the Lord's Day; that the circle, known as "Nine Maidens," were maidens turned into stone for dancing on the Lord's Day;[260] that the stone circle at Stanton Drew represents serpents converted into stones by Keyna, a holy virgin of the fifth century;[261] and that the so-called snake stones found at Whitby were serpents turned into stones by the prayers of the Abbess Hilda.[262] These are only examples of the kind of beliefs entertained in all parts of the United Kingdom,[263] and they seem based upon psychological, rather than traditional conditions.

The giant and the witch, or wizard, are terms applied to the unknown personal agent. "The two standing stones in the neighbourhood of West Skeld are said to be the metamorphosis of two wizards or giants, who were on their way to plunder and murder the inhabitants of West Skeld; but not having calculated their time with sufficient accuracy, before they could accomplish their purpose, or retrace their steps to their dark abodes, the first rays of the morning sun appeared, and they were immediately transformed, and remain to the present time in the shape of two tall moss-grown stones of ten feet in height."[264] This is paralleled by the Merionethshire example of a large drift of stones about midway up the Moelore in Llan Dwywe, which was believed to be due to a witch who "was carrying her apron full of stones for some purpose to the top of the hill, and the string of the apron broke, and all the stones dropped on the spot, where they still remain under the name of Fedogaid-y-Widdon."[265] Giant and witch in these cases are generic terms by which the popular mind has conveyed a conception of the origin of these strange and remarkable monuments, whether natural or constructed by a long-forgotten people; and we cannot doubt that such beliefs are generated by the peasantry of civilisation from a mental conception not far removed from that of the primitive savage. Neither their religion nor their education was concerned with such things, so the peasants turned to their own realm and created a myth of origins suitable to their limited range of knowledge.

It may perhaps be urged that such beliefs as these are on the borderland of psychological and traditional influences. Witches and giants certainly belong to tradition, but on the other hand they are the common factors of the natural mind which readily attributes personal origins to impersonal objects. I am inclined on the whole to attribute the beliefs attachable to the unexplained boulders or unknown monoliths to the eternal questionings in the minds of the uncultured peasants of uncivilised countries similar to those of the unadvanced savage. That the peasant of civilisation should confine his questionings to the by-products of his surroundings and not to the greater subjects which occupy the minds of savages, is only because the greater subjects have already been answered for him by the Christian Church.[266]

There is a point, however, where psychological and traditional conditions are in natural conjunction, and I will just refer to this. That matters of legal importance should be preserved by the agency of tradition has already been shown to belong to that part of history for which there are no contemporary records, and its importance in this connection has been proved. Equally important from the psychological side is the fact that law is also preserved by tradition where people are unaccustomed to the use of writing, or by reason of their occupation have little use for writing. To illustrate this, I will quote an excellent note preserved by a writer on Cornish superstitions.

"There is an old 'vulgar error'—that no man can swear as a witness in a court of law to any thing he has seen through glass. This is based upon the formerly universal use of blown glass for windows, in which glass the constant recurrence of the greenish, and barely more than semi-transparent bull's eyes, so much distorted the view that it was unsafe for a spectator through glass to pledge his oath to what he saw going on outside. Now, through our present glass, this belief is relegated to the region of forgotten things, but nevertheless it has hold on Westcountry people still. I was, some years since, investigating the case of a derelict ship which had been found off the Scilly Islands, and towed by the pilots into a safe anchorage for the night. Next morning the pilots going out to complete their salvage, saw some men on board the derelict casting off the anchor rope by which they had secured her, but they distinctly declined to swear to the truth of what they had seen, and it turned out that they had seen through glass, by which they meant a telescope. In the same case I found that when these pilots (men intelligent much beyond the average, as all Scillonians are) had, on boarding the derelict (which had, of course, been deserted by her crew), found a living dog, they had deliberately thrown it overboard. They explained this act of cruelty to me by saying that a ship was not derelict if on board of her was found alive 'man, woman, child, dog, or cat.' And it turned out, on after-investigation, that these were the very words used in an obsolete Act of Parliament of one of the early Plantagenet kings, forgotten centuries ago by the English people, but borne in mind as a living fact by the Scillonians."[267]

In some special departments elementary psychological conditions operate in a considerable degree—operate to produce not waifs and strays of primitive thought and belief, but whole classes. Thus in the curious accretion of superstition around the objects connected with church worship, the same agencies are at work. The general characteristic of popular beliefs which originated with, or have grown up around the consecrated objects of the Church, is that such objects are beneficent in their action when employed for any given purpose. Thus, as Henderson says of the North of England, "a belief in the efficacy of the sacred elements in the Eucharist for the cure of bodily disease is widely spread." Silver rings, made from the offertory money, are very generally worn for the cure of epilepsy. Water that had been used in baptism was believed in West Scotland to have virtue to cure many distempers; it was a preventive against witchcraft, and eyes bathed with it would never see a ghost. Dalyell puts the evidence very succinctly. "Everything relative to sanctity was deemed a preservative. Hence the relics of saints, the touch of their clothes, of their tombs, and even portions of structures consecrated to divine offices were a safeguard near the person. A white marble altar in the church of Iona, almost entire towards the close of the seventeenth century, had disappeared late in the eighteenth, from its demolition in fragments to avert shipwreck." And so what has been consecrated, must not be desecrated. In Leicestershire and Northamptonshire there is a superstitious idea that the removal or exhumation of a body after interment bodes death or some terrible calamity to the surviving members of the deceased's family.[268]

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