In Britain there are references in the ancient monkish writings to a man in the moon; and in the Record Office there is an impression of a seal of the fourteenth century bearing the device of a man carrying a bundle of thorns in the moon. The legend attached is, 'Te Waltere docebo cur spinas phebo gero' ('I will teach thee, Walter, why I carry thorns to the moon'), which Mr. Hudson Taylor, who describes the seal, thinks to be an enigmatical way of saying that honesty is the best policy—the thorns having evidently been stolen.
Chaucer has more than one reference to the man in the moon, and so have most of the older poets. Shakespeare not only refers frequently to 'a' man, but in the Midsummer Night's Dream Peter Quince distinctly stipulates that the man who is to play 'the moon' shall carry 'a bush of thorns.'
The man in the moon, according to Dante, is Cain, carrying a bundle of thorns, and yet in that planet he found located only those comparatively mild sinners who had partly neglected their vows. A French legend, on the other hand, identifies 'the man' with Judas Iscariot. Per contra, in India the Buddhist legend places a hare in the moon, carried there by Indra for kindly service rendered to him on earth.
May not this hare of the Indian mythology be the moon-dog of some of our own legends? Peter Quince, we know, recommended that the moon should have a dog as well as a bundle of sticks, and the association of the quadruped in the story is very common. The North American Indians believe that the moon is inhabited by a man and a dog. The Maoris believe in the man, but not in the dog, which is not surprising when we remember the limited fauna of the antipodes. The Maori legend runs something like this. A man called Rona went out one night to fetch water from a well, but, falling, sprained his ankle so as to be unable to return home. All at once the moon, which had risen, began to approach him. In terror he clung to a tree, which gave way, and both tree and Rona fell on the moon, where they remain even unto this day. Here we have clearly a variation of the 'bundle of sticks' legend, but there is an absence of apparent cause and effect in the Maori legend which is unsatisfactory.
More precise is the Bushman legend, quoted by Dr. Bleek. According to this, the moon is a man who incurs the wrath of the sun, and is consequently pierced by the knife (the rays) of the latter, until there is only a little piece of him left. Then he cries for mercy for his children's sake, and is allowed to grow again until once more he offends his sunship; the whole process being repeated monthly.
Dr. Rink relates a curious tradition of the Eskimo, not quite quotable here, the gist of which is that a man who desired to make his sister his wife was transformed into the moon, while the woman became the sun. Something like the same legend has been traced as far south as Panama. Another notable thing about Eskimo traditions is that the moon is associated with fertility in woman. This superstition is both very ancient and very widespread, and, indeed, seems to have been the root both of the moon-worship of the Oriental nations and of the mysterious rites of the Egyptians referred to by Herodotus. Luna is identified by some mythologists with Soma of the Indian mythology, i.e., the emblem of reproduction.
In China, according to Dr. Dennys, the man in the moon is called Yue-lao, and he is believed to hold in his hands the power of predestining marriages. He is supposed to tie together the future husband and wife with an invisible silken cord, which never parts while life lasts. Miss Gordon-Cumming, in her interesting account of Wanderings in China, relates that, in the neighbourhood of Foo-Chow, she witnessed a great festival being held in honour of the full moon, which was mainly attended by women. There was a Temple-play, or sing-song, going on all day and most of the night, and each woman carried a stool so that she might sit out the whole performance. This recalls what Mr. Riley states in The Book of Days, as related by John Andrey in the seventeenth century: 'In Scotland, especially among the Highlanders, the women make a courtesy to the new moon, and our English women in this country have a touch of this, some of them sitting astride on a gate or stile the first evening the new moon appears, and saying, "A fine moon! God bless her!" The like I observed in Herefordshire.'
As illustrative of this superstition may be instanced a curious practice in this country, in olden times, of divination by the moon. It is quoted by Mr. Thiselton-Dyer from an old chap-book: 'When you go to bed (at the period of harvest moon) place under your pillow a Prayer-Book open at the part of the matrimonial service, which says, "With this ring I thee wed"; place on it a key, a ring, a flower, and a sprig of willow, a small heart-cake, a crust, and the following cards: a ten of clubs, nine of hearts, ace of spades, and ace of diamonds. Wrap all these in a thin handkerchief, and, on getting into bed, cover your hands, and say:
"Luna, every woman's friend, To me thy goodness condescend: Let me this night in visions see Emblems of my destiny."
It is certainly hard to imagine pleasant dreams as the result of such a very uncomfortably-stuffed pillow.
In this same connection may be named other items of folklore related by Mr. Dyer. For instance, in Devonshire it is believed that if on seeing the first new moon of the year you take off one stocking and run across a field, you will find between two of your toes a hair which will be the colour of the lover you are to have. In Berkshire the proceeding is more simple, for you merely look at the new moon, and say:
'New moon, new moon, I hail thee! By all the virtue in thy body, Grant this night that I may see He who my true love shall be!'
The result is guaranteed to be as satisfactory as it is in Ireland, where the people are said to point to the new moon with a knife, and say:
'New moon, true morrow, be true now to me, That I to-morrow my true love may see!'
In Yorkshire, again, the practice was to catch the reflection of the new moon in a looking-glass, the number of reflections signifying the number of years which will elapse before marriage. All these superstitions are suggestive of that which Tylor calls 'one of the most instructive astrological doctrines'—namely, that of the 'sympathy of growing and declining nature with the waxing and waning moon.' Tylor says that a classical precept was to set eggs under the hen at new moon, and that a Lithuanian precept was to wean boys on a waxing and girls on a waning moon—in order to make the boys strong and the girls delicate. On the same grounds, he says, Orkney-men object to marry except with a growing moon, and Mr. Dyer says that in Cornwall, when a child is born in the interval between an old and a new moon, it is believed that he will never live to manhood.
Dr. Turner relates several traditions of the moon current in Samoa. There is one of a visit paid to the planet by two young men—Punifanga, who went up by a tree, and Tafaliu, who went up on a column of smoke. There is another of a woman, Sina, who was busy one evening cutting mulberry-bark for cloth with her child beside her. It was a time of famine, and the rising moon reminded her of a great bread-fruit—just as in our country it has reminded some people of a green cheese. Looking up, she said: 'Why cannot you come down and let my child have a bit of you?' The moon was so indignant at being taken for an article of food, that she came down forthwith and took up woman, child and wood. There they are to this day, for in the full moon the Samoans still see the features of Sina, the face of the child, and the board and mallet.
Mr. Andrew Lang finds in an Australian legend of the moon something oddly like Grimm's tale of the Wolf and the Kids, which, again, he likens to the old Greek myth of Cronos. The Australian legend is that birds were the original gods, and that the eagle especially was a great creative power. The moon was a mischievous being, who walked about the earth doing all the evil he could. One day he swallowed the eagle. The eagle's wives coming up, the moon asked where he could find a well. They pointed out one, and while he was drinking, they struck him with a stone tomahawk, which made him disgorge the eagle. This legend is otherwise suggestive from the circumstances that among the Greeks the eagle was the special bird of Zeus, and it was the eagle which carried off Ganymede.
There is another Australian fable that the moon was a man, and the sun a woman of doubtful reputation who appears at dawn in a coat of red kangaroo-skin belonging to one of her lovers. In Mexico, also, the moon is a man, across whose face an angry immortal once threw a rabbit; hence the marks on the surface of the planet. These same marks are accounted for in the Eskimo legend already mentioned as the impressions of the woman's sooty fingers on the face of her pursuer. By some mythologists the moon is thought to be Medea, but it is more common to interpret Medea as the daughter of the sun, i.e., the dawn.
It is certainly not a little curious to find the moon-lore, as the star-lore, having so many points of resemblance among such widely-separated and different peoples as the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Australians, the Eskimos, the Bushmen of South Africa, the North American Indians, and the New Zealand Maoris. The comparative mythologists would argue from this resemblance a common origin of the myth, and a distribution or communication from one race to the other. The folk-lore mythologists would infer nothing of the sort. They say there is nothing remarkable in all savage races imputing human motives and sex to the heavenly bodies, for, in fact, to this day there are savages, as in the South Pacific, who suppose even stones to be male and female, and to propagate their species. On this method of interpretation the hypothesis is not that the Australians, Indians, etc., received their myths from, say, the Greeks, either by community of stock or by contact and borrowing, but because the ancestors of the Greeks passed through the same intellectual condition as the primitive races we now know. And thus it is that in listening to the beautiful legends of the Greeks, we are but, as Bacon says, hearing the harsh ideas of earlier peoples 'blown softly through the flutes of the Grecians.'
Now, beside the personality of the moon, and the peculiar influence he or she is supposed to exercise on mortals, there has survived an old superstition that the moon has direct influence on the weather. Apropos of this association, there is a pretty little Hindoo legend which is current in Southern India, and which has been translated by Miss Frere, daughter of Sir Bartle Frere. This is the story as told her by her Lingaet ayah:
'One day the Sun, the Moon, and the Wind went out to dine with their uncle and aunt, the Thunder and Lightning. Their mother (one of the most distant stars you see far up in the sky) waited alone for her children's return. Now, both the Sun and the Wind were greedy and selfish. They enjoyed the great feast that had been prepared for them, without a thought of saving any of it to take home to their mother; but the gentle Moon did not forget her. Of every dainty dish that was brought round she placed a small portion under one of her beautiful long fingernails, that the Star might also have a share in the treat. On their return, their mother, who had kept watch for them all night long with her bright little eye, said: "Well, children, what have you brought home for me?" Then the Sun (who was eldest) said: "I have brought nothing home for you. I went out to enjoy myself with my friends, not to fetch a dinner for my mother!" And the Wind said: "Neither have I brought anything home for you, mother. You could hardly expect me to bring a collection of good things for you, when I merely went out for my own pleasure." But the Moon said: "Mother, fetch a plate; see what I have brought you;" and shaking her hands, she showered down such a choice dinner as never was seen before. Then the Star turned to the Sun, and spoke thus: "Because you went out to amuse yourself with your friends, and feasted and enjoyed yourself without any thought of your mother at home, you shall be cursed. Henceforth your rays shall ever be hot and scorching, and shall burn all that they touch. All men shall hate you, and cover their heads when you appear"; and this is why the sun is so hot to this day. Then she turned to the Wind, and said: "You also, who forgot your mother in the midst of your selfish pleasures, hear your doom. You shall always blow in the hot, dry weather, and shall parch and shrivel all living things, and men shall detest and avoid you from this very time"; and this is why the wind in the hot weather is still so disagreeable. But to the Moon she said: "Daughter, because you remembered your mother, and kept for her a share in your own enjoyment, from henceforth you shall be ever cool, and calm, and bright. No noxious glare shall accompany your pure rays, and men shall always call you blessed"; and that is why the moon's light is so soft, and cool, and beautiful even to this day.'
It is remarkable, nevertheless, that among Western peoples, at any rate, the moon has usually been associated with the uncanny. It is an old belief, for instance, that the moon is the abode of bad spirits; and in the old story of the Vampire it is notable that the creature, as a last request, begged that he might be buried where no sunlight, but only moonlight, might fall on his grave. Witches were supposed to be able to control the moon, as witness the remark of Prospero in The Tempest:
'His mother was a witch, and one so strong, That could control the moon.'
The Rev. Timothy Harley, who has collected much moon-lore, suggests that if the broom on which witches rode to the moon be a type of the wind, 'we may guess how the fancy grew up that the airy creation could control those atmospheric vapours on which the light and humidity of the night were supposed to depend.'
But the 'glamour' of the moon is not a mere poetic invention or a lover's fancy. Mr. Moncure Conway reminds us that glam, in its nominative form glamir, is a poetical name for the moon, to be found in the Prose Edda. It is given in the Glossary as one of the old names for the moon. Mr. Conway also says that there is a curious old Sanscrit word, glau or glav, which is explained in all the old lexicons as meaning the moon. Hence 'the ghost or goblin Glam (of the old legend of Grettir) seems evidently to have arisen from a personification of the delusive and treacherous effects of moonlight on the benighted traveller.'
Similar delusive effects are found referred to in old Hindoo writings, as, for instance, in the following passages from Bhasa, a poet of the seventh century:
'The cat laps the moonbeams in the bowl of water, thinking them to be milk; the elephant thinks that the moonbeams threaded through the intervals of the trees are the fibres of the lotus-stalk; the woman snatches at the moonbeams as they lie on the bed, taking them for her muslin garment. Oh, how the moon, intoxicated with radiance, bewilders all the world!'
'The bewildered herdsmen place the pails under the cows, thinking that the milk is flowing; the maidens also put the blue lotus-blossom in their ears, thinking that it is the white; the mountaineer's wife snatches up the jujube fruit, avaricious for pearls. Whose mind is not led astray by the thickly-clustering moonbeams?'
Such was the 'glamour' of Glam (the moon) in ancient eyes, and still it works on lovers' hearts. The fascination has been felt and expressed by nearly all the poets, and by none better, perhaps, than by Sir Philip Sidney:
'With what sad steps, O moon, thou climb'st the skies! How silently, and with how wan a face! What, may it be, that even in heavenly place That busy archer his sharp arrow tries? Sure if that long with love-acquainted eyes Can judge of love, thou feel'st a lover's case. I read it in thy looks—thy languish'd grace To me, that feel the like, thy state descries.'
The number of human beings who have, articulately or inarticulately, cried with Endymion, 'What is there in thee, Moon, that thou should'st move my heart so potently?' are not to be measured in ordinary figures.
To return, however, to the bad side of Luna's character. We read that in Assyria deadly influences were ascribed to the moon. In Vedic mythology there is a story, which Mr. Moncure Conway tells in Demonology and Devil-lore, of a quarrel between Brahma and Vishnu as to which was the first born. Siva interferes, and says he is the first born, but will recognise as his superior whoever is able to see the crown of his head or the soles of his feet. Vishnu thereupon transforms himself into a boar, pierces underground, and thus sees the feet of Siva, who salutes him on his return as the firstborn of the gods. Now, De Gubernatis regards this fable as 'making the boar emblem of the hidden moon'; and Mr. Conway thinks there is no doubt that the boar at an early period became emblematic of the wild forces of Nature. 'From being hunted by King Odin on earth, it passed to be his favourite food in Valhalla, and a prominent figure in his spectral hunt.' But it is with the moon, not with Odin, that we are at present concerned, and so note two curious items mentioned by Conway. In Sicilian legend, he says, 'Zafarana, by throwing three hog's bristles on embers, renews her husband's youth'; and in Esthonian legend, a prince, by eating pork, acquires the faculty of understanding the language of birds. All this opens up a very suggestive field of inquiry. Thus, Plutarch says that the reason why the Jews would not eat swine's flesh was because Adonis was slain by a boar, and Bacchus and Adonis, he says, were the same divinities. Now, if we turn to Herodotus, we find that wonderful narrator saying: 'The only deities to whom the Egyptians offer swine are Bacchus and Luna; to these they sacrifice swine when the moon is full, after which they eat the flesh,' which at other times they disdained. The meaning of these sacrifices is understood by those interested, and I do not propose to go further into the matter. All I wish to do is to point out the curious involvements, among so many nations, of the moon and the boar.
May we not even trace a connection with the superstition current in Suffolk, according to 'C. W. J.,' in The Book of Days? 'C. W. J.' says that in his part of the world it is considered unlucky to kill a pig when the moon is on the wane; and if it is done, the pork will waste in boiling. 'I have known,' he says, 'the shrinking of bacon in the pot attributed to the fact of the pig having been killed in the moon's decrease; and I have also known the death of poor piggy delayed or hastened so as to happen during its increase.' Truly the old superstitions die hard!
The moon's supposed influence on the weather is a matter of general knowledge. The writer last quoted mentions it as a very prevalent belief that the general condition of the atmosphere throughout the world, during any lunation, depends on whether the moon changed before or after midnight. Another superstition is, that if the new moon happens on a Saturday the weather will be bad during the month. On the other hand, in Suffolk the old moon in the arms of the new one is accounted a sign of fine weather; contrary to the belief in Scotland, where, it may be remembered, in the ballad of Sir Patrick Spens, it is taken as a presage of storm and disaster.
Shakespeare has many allusions to the moon's influence on the weather, as: 'The moon, the governess of floods, pale in her anger, washes the air'; 'The moon, one thinks, looks with a watery eye; and when she weeps, weeps every little flower'; 'Upon the corner of the moon there hangs a vaporous drop profound'; and so forth. Then we have the old proverb: 'So many days old the moon is on Michaelmas Day, so many floods after.' Other beliefs are mentioned by Mr. Harley, such as, that if Christmas comes during a waning moon, we shall have a good year, and the converse; that new moon on Monday is a certain sign of good weather; that a misty moon indicates heavy rain; that the horns of the moon turned upward predict a good, and turned downward a bad, season; that a large star near the moon is a certain prognostication of storm.
In fact, the superstitions in this connection are legion, and are not confined to any country. They are as common in China, where the moon is still worshipped, as they are in England, where, in some places, old men still touch their hats and maidens still bob a courtesy in sight of the new moon. Thus the relics of moon-worship are about us still, as well as a strong popular belief that the moon is an active physical agent. That the actual influence of the moon on the tides lies at the basis of the belief in its influence on the weather is probable; and, at any rate, it is curious that the Persians held that the moon was the cause of an abundant supply of water and rain; while in a Japanese fairy-tale the moon is made to rule over the blue waste of the sea with its multitudinous salt waters. The horticultural superstitions about sowing and planting according to the age of the moon is, no doubt, a product of the fusion of the meteorological superstition and that of the old-world belief in Luna being the goddess of reproduction.
Any who have still doubts on the meteorological question cannot do better than refer to a letter of Professor Nichol's—once Professor of Astronomy in the University of Glasgow—which is quoted in The Book of Days. He asserts positively, as the result of scientific observation, that no relation whatever exists between the moon and the weather.
But does any exist between the moon and the brain? 'Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad'; and the moon was supposed to be the instrument—nay, still is, as the very word 'lunacy' implies. The old astrologers used to say that she governed the brain, stomach, bowels, and left eye of the male, and the right eye of the female. Some such influences were evidently believed in by the Jews, as witness Psalm cxxi.: 'The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.' It may be remarked that Dr. Forbes Winslow is not very decided in dismissing the theory of the influence of the moon on the insane. He says it is purely speculative, but he does not controvert it. The subject is, however, too large to enter upon here. Whether or not it be true that 'when the moon's in the full then wit's on the wane,' it certainly is not true, as appears to be believed in Sussex, that the new May Moon has power to cure scrofulous complaints.
Before leaving the subject, it is well to mention a remarkable coincidence to which Mr. Harley draws attention. In China, where moon-worship largely prevails, during the festival of Yue-Ping, which is held during the eighth month annually, incense is burned in the temples, cakes are made like the moon, and at full moon the people spread out oblations and make prostrations to the planet. These cakes are moon-cakes, and veritable offerings to the Queen of Heaven, who represents the female principle in Chinese theology. 'If we turn now to Jeremiah vii. 18, and read there, "The women knead dough to make cakes to the Queen of Heaven, and to pour out drink-offerings unto other gods," and remember that, according to Rashi, these cakes of the Hebrews had the image of the god or goddess stamped upon them, we are in view of a fact of much interest.' The interest becomes greater when we learn that in parts of Lancashire there exists a precisely similar custom of making cakes in honour of the Queen of Heaven.
From these facts, the discovery of two buns, each marked with a cross, in Herculaneum, and other evidences, we are driven to the conclusion that the 'hot-cross buns' of Christian England are in reality but a relic of moon-worship!
THE DEVIL'S CANDLE.
So much legendary lore and so many strange fables have had their origin in the mandrake, or the 'Devil's Candle,' as the Arabians call it, that it is worth while to endeavour to trace if any, and what, analogy there be between it and the mandragoras of the Greeks and the Soma of the Indian mythology.
The mandrake is so called from the German Mandragen, 'resembling man'—at least, so says Mr. Thiselton-Dyer; but this derivation is not quite satisfactory. The botanical name is Mandragora officinalis, and sometimes the May-apple, or Podophyllum peltatum, is also called mandrake; but the actual plant of fact and fancy belongs to the Solanum, or potato family.
Although one may doubt if the English name be really derived from the German Mandragen, it is certain that the Germans have long regarded the plant as something uncanny. Other names which they have for it are Zauberwurzel, or Sorcerer's Root, and Hexenmaennchen, or Witch's Mannikin, while they made little dolls or idols from it, which they regarded with superstitious veneration, and called Erdmann, or Earth-man.
Yet in other places, according to one authority, the mandrake was popularly supposed to be 'perpetually watched over by Satan; and if it be pulled up at certain holy times and with certain invocations, the evil spirit will appear to do the bidding of the practitioner.' A superstition once common in the South of England was that the mandrake had a human heart at its root, and, according to Timbs, it was generally believed that the person who pulled it would instantaneously fall dead; that the root shrieked or groaned whenever separated from the earth; and that whoever heard the shriek would either die shortly afterwards or become afflicted with madness.
To this last superstition there is direct reference made by Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet:
'And shrieks like mandrakes torn out of the earth, That living mortals hearing them run mad.'
Frequent allusions to this superstition are to be found in the old poets, although it is held by some that the effects claimed for decoctions of the mandrake really refer to those of the nightshade. This confusion has certainly arisen at times, but the most general idea concerning the mandrake was that it was a stimulant rather than a narcotic. It is true that Shakespeare regarded mandragora as an opiate, for he makes Cleopatra to exclaim:
'Give me to drink mandragora, That I might sleep out this great gap of time My Antony is away.'
And, again, when in Othello he makes Iago say:
'Nor poppy, nor mandragora, Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world Can ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep Which thou owedst yesterday.'
But, on the other hand, we find Apuleius—himself, by the way, not unsuspected of magical arts—writing that when the root of the mandrake is steeped in wine it produces vehement intoxication. The same idea is reflected in Mrs. Browning's Dead Pan:
'In what revels are ye sunken In old Ethiopia? Have the Pygmies made you drunken, Bathing in mandragora, Your divine pale lips that shiver Like the lotus in the river?'
And there can be little doubt that the mysterious 'Lhasis,' referred to by Sir William Davenant—a word whose etymology is so obscure—is nothing else than the mandrake or mandragora; if so, then we see that the plant was valued for its exciting and stimulating effects rather than as an opiate.
Many commentators and most dictionaries dispose of Reuben's mandrakes as something altogether different from the plant now known by the name; but there is really no warrant for such a conclusion. The Mandragora officinalis is quite common in Celicia, Syria, and elsewhere in the East, and is easily identifiable with the root of Baaras, which Josephus describes in the Wars of the Jews. This root, he says, is in colour like to that of flame, and towards the evening it sends out a certain ray like lightning. It is not easily to be pulled, it will not yield quietly, and it is certain death to anyone who dares pull it, unless he hangs it with the head downwards. As to the uses of the root, Josephus continues: 'After all his pains in getting it, it is only valuable on account of one virtue it hath: that if it only be brought to sick persons, it quickly drives away those called Demons, which are no other than the spirits of the wicked, which enter into men that are alive and kill them, unless they can obtain some help against them'; and the root was esteemed a useful stimulant, although in Baaras, at any rate, it seems to have lost its reputation as a love-philtre. It is noteworthy that Josephus also tells how Solomon had great skill in enchantments, and cast out devils by means of this root—an accomplishment he is said to have learned from some of the numerous foreign ladies with whom he surrounded himself.
Now, it is interesting to turn from the old Jewish historian to the old English herbalist, Gerarde, who in 1597 wrote in his Herball pointing out how, by 'the corruption of time and the errour of some,' mandragora has been mistaken for what he calls Circaea, or Enchanter's Nightshade. But of the mandrake, or mandragoras, Gerarde says: 'There hath been many ridiculous tales brought up of this plant, whether of old wives, or some runagate surgeons, or physickemongers, I know not; but sure some one or more that sought to make themselves famous or skillful above others were the first brochers of the errour'—that the root resembles a man. 'They add further,' he says, 'that it is never, or very seldome, to be found growing naturally, but under a gallowes, where the matter that hath fallen from the dead body hath given it the shape of a man, and the matter of a woman the substance of a female plant, with many other such doltish dreames. The fable further affirms that he who would take up a plant thereof ... he should surely die in short space after.'
This is clearly Josephus's 'root of Baaras' over again. Gerarde further holds it to be the identical mandragoras of the Greeks, and called Circaea because it was used by Circe for love-potions and enchantments. If this be so, then what was the 'moly' given to Odysseus by Hermes wherewith to counteract the charms of Circe? Was it a totally different plant, or was it merely the same applied on the homoeopathic principle? Mr. Andrew Lang thinks they cannot be the same, because the 'moly' is described by Homer as having a black root and a white flower, while the mandragoras is described by Pliny as having a yellow flower and white, fleshy roots. But we know that Homer is somewhat confusing in the matter of colours, and it is possible that various shades of the purplish flower of the true mandrake might appear to one observer as white, and to another as yellow. Upon the whole, the probability is that the two names meant one and the same plant, for the characteristics are too peculiar to be alike possessed by different species. If the moly were not mandragoras there is nothing else known to modern botany that it could be, unless it were rue, with which some scholars have sought to identify it, but not very successfully.
The learned author of Pseudosia Epidemica, or Vulgar Errors, at any rate, was clearly of opinion that moly and mandragoras were one and the same. He quotes also from Pliny that the ancient way of pulling the root was to get on the windward side of the plant, and with a sword to describe three circles about it, whilst the operator kept his face turned to the west. The dangers attending the plucking of mandrakes are shrewdly disposed of by Sir Thomas Browne with the remark that it is 'derogatory unto the Providence of God ... to impose so destructive a quality on any plant ... whose parts are usefull unto many.' The same author mentions the superstition that the mandrake grows under gallows, fructified by the decaying bodies of criminals, that it grows both male and female, and that it shrieks upon eradication. This last idea he derides as 'false below confute, arising perhaps from a small and stridulous noise which, being firmly rooted, it maketh upon divulsion of parts.' 'A slender foundation,' he remarks, 'for such a vast conception; for such a noise we sometimes observe in other plants—in parsnips, liquorish, eringium, flags, and others.'
The belief that the root of the mandrake resembles the human figure is characterized by the writer last quoted, as a 'conceit not to be made out by ordinary inspection, or any other eyes than such as regarding the clouds behold them in shapes conformable to pre-apprehensions.' It is traceable to the bifurcation of the root; a formation, however, which is frequently found 'in carrots, parsnips, briony, and many others.' There is no other importance, therefore, to be attached to 'the epithet of Pythagoras, who calls it anthropomorphon, and that of Columella, who terms it semihomo;' nor to Albertus, 'when he affirmed that mandrakes represent mankind with the distinction of either sex.' The roots, which were commonly sold in various parts of Europe 'unto ignorant people, handsomely made out the shape of man or woman. But these are not productions of nature but contrivances of art, as divers have noted.... This is vain and fabulous, which ignorant people and simple women believe; for the roots which are carried about by impostors are made of the roots of canes, briony, and other plants.' And the method of manufacture is then explained by the erudite doctor. It is evident from what has been cited that the prevalence of the superstition, and the existence of the German erdmann, were matters of common knowledge in the latter half of the seventeenth century.
But the superstition can be traced still later, for as recently as 1810 some of these root-images were to be seen on sale in certain parts of France, and were purchased as love-charms. It is said that even now at this very day bits of the Mandragoras officinalis are worn by the young men and maidens of Greece to bring them fortune in their love-affairs.
In some parts of England—viz., in Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, and Somersetshire—the briony is called mandrake, and a small portion of the root is frequently given to horses among their food to make them sleek and improve their condition, and it is still also sold 'for medicinal and other purposes.' Yet in other places it is called 'Devil's Food,' because Satan is supposed to be perpetually watching over it and to jealously guard its magical properties. It is partly on this account, and partly because of its supposed effect in stimulating the passions, that the Arabs sometimes call the mandrake Tuphacel-sheitan, or Devil's Apple, although it is otherwise known as the Stone Apple. In many parts of Europe the mandrake is believed to possess, in common with some other plants, the power of opening locks and unshoeing horses.
The belief that the mandrake had some peculiar association with the devil has made it a favourite plant with sorcerers and workers of enchantment in all ages. Lord Bacon refers to it as a favourite in his time, 'whereof witches and impostors make an ugly image, giving it the form of a face at the top of the root,' and leaving the natural threads of the root 'to make a broad beard down to the foot.' Mr. Moncure Conway, however, says that the superstition rightly belonging to the mandrake was often transferred to other roots—probably in ignorance as to the identity of the real plant.
'Thus,' he says, 'the author of Secrets du Petit Albert says that a peasant had a bryonia root of human shape, which he received from a gipsy. He buried it at a lucky conjunction of the moon with Venus' (the reader will not fail to note the reference to the Goddess of Love) 'in spring, and on a Monday, in a grave, and then sprinkled it with milk in which three field-mice had been drowned. In a month it became more humanlike than ever. Then he placed it in an oven with vervain, wrapped it afterwards in a dead man's shroud, and so long as he kept it he never failed in luck at games or work.'
Then we learn from the same author that a German horse-dealer, of Augsburg, once lost a horse, and being poor, wandered in despair to an inn. There some men gave him a mandrake, and on his return home he found a bag of ducats on the table. His wife, however, did not like the business, and persuaded the man to return to give back the root to those from whom he got it. But he could not find the men again, and soon after the house was burned down, and both horse-dealer and wife perished.
The only suggestion from this story is that the mandrake was supposed to bring 'devil's luck,' although, if so, it is difficult to understand why the erdmanns were so carefully preserved from generation to generation. One German writer, Rist, says that he has seen one more than a century old, which had been kept in a coffin, on which was a cloth bearing a picture of a thief on the gallows and a mandrake growing underneath.
Coles, who wrote The Art of Simpling, in 1656, says the witches use the mandrake-roots, 'according to some, or, as I rather suppose, the roots of briony, which simple people take for the true mandrake, and make thereof an ugly image, by which they represent the person on whom they intend to exercise their witchcraft.' But their professions must at times have been even larger, for it is on record that a witch was executed near Orleans, in France, about 1605, who was charged with having kept a living mandrake-fiend, having the form of a female ape!
So much for the mandrake, of which, however, a good deal more might be said. But what has been said serves to establish that it was identical with the mandragora, and with the mandragoras of the Greeks; that it was probably also the briony; that superstitions have attached to it in all countries and from time immemorial, which ascribed to it occult virtues; that the powers it exercised varied a good deal according to locality and time, but that two main conceptions have almost universally prevailed, viz., that it was a stimulant, and a potent instrument in affairs of the heart.
What, then, is the Soma, or Homa, of the Hindu mythology—the ambrosia of the Indian gods? It has been the subject of much discussion and some difference among comparative mythologists. Soma was the chief deity among the ancient Hindus—the author of life, the giver of health, the protector of the weak, and the guide to immortality. Once he took upon himself the form of man, but was slain by men and braised in a mortar. The similarity with the Christian legend is remarkable, and the method of death should be borne in mind. After his death, Soma rose in flame to heaven, 'to be the benefactor of the world and the mediator between God and man.'
One of the articles of faith with the Hindus, therefore, is that they must hold communion with Soma, and they are taught thus to pray to him: 'O Soma! thou art the strength of our heroes and the death of our enemies, invincible in war! Fulfil our vows in battle, fight for us! None can resist thee; give us superiority! O Soma immortal! May we drink to thee and be immortal like thee!' Mr. Baring-Gould says that the whole legend of Soma is but the allegorical history of the plant Sarcostemma viminalis, which is associated with passionate love 'because of the intoxicating liquor which is derived from its juice. It is regarded as a godsend. The way in which it is prepared is by crushing it in a mortar; the juice is then thrown on the sacrificial flame and so rises to heaven.' The same writer tells us that a similar worship prevailed among the Iranians, who called the juice Homa, but they did not ferment it, and although they ascribed to it divine attributes, they did not make Homa a supreme deity. But both with them and with the Hindus, 'the partaking of the juice was regarded as a sacramental act, by virtue of which the receiver was embued with a portion of the divine nature.'
Another writer, the author of Bible Folklore, says that the 'old Soma was the same as the Persian Homa, a brilliant god, who gives sons to heroes, and husbands to maidens. The juice of the plant, pounded in an iron mortar, is greenish in colour, and is strained through a cloth and mixed with the sap of a pomegranate branch; the yellow juice is then strained through a vessel with nine holes. Among the Parsees it is drunk, not as by the Brahmins in large quantities by sixteen priests, but in small quantities by the two chief priests, and is thus not intoxicating.'
The symbol is confused with the deity, and 'Soma is at once the life-giving spring of the juice of immortality, and the juice itself'—a confusion not without analogy in some of the superstitions narrated of the mandrake. But of old Soma was drunk as mead was drunk by the Scandinavians, before and after battle. It gave power and good fortune as well as light and happiness, and when elevated into a god was supposed to be the origin of all creation.
Now, of the Sarcostemma it is to be noted that it belongs to the family of Asclepiadaceae, which have all something more or less 'fleshy' looking about some parts of them, which, like the Apocyneae, were in the old world credited with medicinal properties, and which are generally acrid, stimulating, and astringent. There are many poisonous members of the family, such as the dog's-bane and wolf's-bane of our own country, favourite plants with the enchanters, while the cowplant of Ceylon is of the same species.
In Garrett's Dictionary of India it is stated that the Soma of the Vedas is no longer known in India, and the same statement is repeated by many writers. It is certainly not indubitable that the Sarcostemma viminalis was the plant of wondrous virtues that was deified. On the other hand, we find that these ascribed virtues closely resemble those attributed to the mandrake, and it is known that the Aryan people received many of their ideas and superstitions from the old Jewish tribes.
We have seen, further, that belief in the peculiar power of the mandrake in certain directions was a settled belief at a very early period of the Jewish history, and we thus arrive at the very probable suggestion that the original Soma was neither more nor less than the mandrake of Reuben, the 'Baaras root' of Josephus, the mandragoras of the Greeks, the moly of Homer, the mandragora of Shakespeare, the mandragen of Germany, and the mandrake, again, of England.
THE SEA AND ITS LEGENDS.
One of the oldest superstitions connected with the sea is undoubtedly that which associated peril with the malefic influence of some individual on shipboard. We find it in the case of the seamen of Joppa, who, when overtaken by a 'mighty tempest' on the voyage to Tarshish, said to each other, 'Come and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is cast upon us.' The lot, as we know, fell upon Jonah, and after some vain wrestling with the inevitable, the men at last 'took up Jonah and cast him forth into the sea, and the sea ceased from her raging.'
Without offering here any comment on, or explanation of, the Scriptural narrative, let us compare it with the following remarkable story, which that indefatigable delver after old-world wonders, Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe, reproduced.
Somewhere about midsummer of the year 1480, a ship, sailing out of the Forth for a port in Holland, was assailed by a furious tempest, which increased to such a remarkable degree for the mild season of the year, that the sailors were overcome with fear, and gave themselves up for lost. At length an old woman, who was a passenger by the vessel, came on deck and entreated them to throw her overboard as the only means of preserving their own lives, saying that she had long been haunted by an 'incubus' in the shape of a man, from whose grasp she could not free herself. Fortunately for all parties there was another passenger on board—a priest—who was called to the rescue. After a long admonition, and many sighs and prayers, 'there issued forth of the pumpe of the ship,' says Hollinshed, 'a foul and evil-favoured blacke cloud, with a mightie terrible noise, flame, smoke, and stinke, which presentlie fell into the sea, and suddenlie, thereupon, the tempest ceassed, and the ship passing in great quiet the residue of her journie, arrived in safetie at the place whither she was bound.'
There is doubtless some association between this class of superstition and the old Talmudic legend, according to which the devils were specially angered when, at the creation, man received dominion over the things of the sea. This was a realm of unrest and tempest, which the devils claimed as belonging to themselves. But, says the legend, although denied control of the life that is in the sea, the devils were permitted a large degree of power over its waters, while over the winds their rule was supreme.
There is scarcely a current legend or superstition which cannot be traced to very remote sources. Thus, in the Chaldaeo-Babylonian cosmogony there was a Triad which ruled the three zones of the universe: the heaven, by Anu; the surface of the earth and the atmosphere, by Bel; and the under-world, by Nonah. Now, Nonah is held to be both the same as the Assyrian Hea, or Saviour, and as the Noah of the Bible. So when Tiamat, the dragon, or leviathan, opens 'the fountains of the great deep,' and Anu, 'the windows of heaven,' it is Hea, or Noah, who saves the life of man.
This legend is supposed by M. Francois Lenormant to explain an allusion in one of the most ancient Accadian manuscripts in the British Museum to 'the serpent of seven heads, that beats the sea.' This Hydra was the type of the destructive water-demon who figures in the legends of all countries.
In the same way, to the Syrian fish deities, Dagon and Artergatis, must we look for the origin of our Undines and fish-maidens, and mermaidens.
The 'Nixy' of Germany has by some been supposed traceable to 'Old Nick'; but this is not probable, since St. Nicholas has been the patron-saint of sailors for many centuries. It was during the time of the Crusades that a vessel on the way to the Holy Land was in great peril, and St. Nicholas assuaged a tempest by his prayers. Since then he has been supposed to be the protector of mariners, even as Neptune was in ancient times; and in most Roman Catholic countries you will find in seaport towns churches dedicated to St. Nicholas, to which sailors resort to return thanks for preservation at sea, and to make votive offerings.
The German Nixy was, no doubt, a later form of the old Norse water-god Nikke. You meet with him again, in another form, in Neckan, the soulless, of whom Matthew Arnold sings:
'In summer on the headlands The Baltic sea along Sits Neckan with his harp of gold, And sings his plaintive song.'
The 'Nixa' along the Baltic coast was once, however, much feared by the fishermen. It was the same spirit which appears as the Kelpie in Scotland—a water-demon which caused sudden floods to carry away the unwary, and then devoured them.
There was a river-goddess in Germany, whose temple stood at Magdeburg, of whom a legend exists that she also once visited earth and went to market in a Christian costume, where she was detected by a continual dripping of water from the corner of her apron. Generally speaking, however, the Nixies may be described as the descendants of the Naiads of ancient times, and as somewhat resembling the Russian Rusalkas, of which the peasantry live in much dread.
A Russian peasant, it is said, is so afraid of the water-spirits that he will not bathe without a cross round his neck, nor ford a stream on horseback without signing a cross on the water with a scythe or knife. In some parts these water-spirits are supposed to be the transformed souls of Pharaoh and his host, when they were drowned, and the number is always being increased by the souls of those who drown themselves.
It is said that 'in Bohemia' fishermen have been known to refuse aid to drowning persons lest 'Vodyany' would be offended and prevent the fish from entering the nets.
This 'Vodyany,' however, seems rather a variant of the old Hydra, who reappears in the diabolical names so frequently given to boiling springs and dangerous torrents. The 'Devil's Tea-kettles' and 'Devil's Punch-bowls' of England and America have the same association as the weird legends connected with the Strudel and Wirbel whirlpools of the Danube, and with the rapids of the Rhine, and other rivers. Curiously enough, we find the same idea in The Arabian Nights, when 'The sea became troubled before them, and there arose from it a black pillar ascending towards the sky, and approaching the meadow, and behold it was a Jinn of gigantic stature.'
This demon was a waterspout, and waterspouts in China are attributed to the battles of dragons. 'The Chinese,' says Mr. Moncure Conway, 'have canonised of recent times a special protectress against the storm-demons of the coast, in obedience to the wishes of the sailors.'
The swan-maidens, who figure in so many legends, are mere varieties of the mer-maiden, and, according to the Icelandic superstition, they and all fairies were children of Eve, whom she hid away on one occasion when the Lord came to visit her, because they were not washed and presentable! They were, therefore, condemned to be invisible for ever.
A Scotch story, quoted by Mr. Moncure Conway, rather bears against this theory. One day, it seems, as a fisherman sat reading his Bible, a beautiful nymph, lightly clad in green, came to him out of the sea, and asked if the book contained any promise of mercy for her. He replied that it contained an offer of salvation to 'all the children of Adam,' whereupon she fled away with a loud shriek, and disappeared in the sea. But the beautiful stories of water-nymphs, of Undines and Loreleis, and mer-women, are too numerous to be even mentioned, and too beautiful, in many cases, to make one care to analyze.
There is a tradition in Holland that when, in 1440, the dikes were broken down by a violent tempest, the sea overflowed the meadows. Some women of the town of Edam, going one day in a boat to milk their cows, discovered a mermaid in shallow water floundering about with her tail in the mud. They took her into the boat, brought her to Edam, dressed her in women's clothes, and taught her to spin, and to eat as they did. They even taught her something of religion, or, at any rate, to bow reverently when she passed a crucifix; but they could not teach her to speak. What was the ultimate fate of this remarkable creature is not disclosed.
Everybody, of course, is familiar with the old sea-legend of the Flying Dutchman, whether in stories of phantom ships, or in the opera of Wagner. The spirit of Vanderdecken, which is still supposed to roam the waters, is merely the modern version of our old friend, Nikke, the Norwegian water-demon. This is a deathless legend, and used to be as devoutedly believed in as the existence of Mother Carey, sitting away up in the north, despatching her 'chickens' in all directions to work destruction for poor Jack. But Mother Carey really turns out on inquiry to be a most estimable being, as we shall presently see.
'Sailors,' says Brand, in his Popular Antiquities, 'usually the boldest Men alive, are yet frequently the very abject slaves of superstitious Fear. They have various puerile Apprehensions concerning Whistling on Shipboard, carrying a Corpse, etc., all which are Vestiges of the old Woman in human Nature, and can only be erased by the united Efforts of Philosophy and Religion.'
It is to be regretted, however, that the good Brand did not devote as much attention to the superstitions of sailors as he did to those of some other folks.
As is the case with almost all folk-lore, little variety is to be found in the sea superstitions of different nations. The ideas of the supernatural on shipboard are pretty much the same, whether the flag flown be the Union Jack, the German Eagle, the French Tricolor, the American Stars and Stripes, or even the Chinese Dragon. These superstitions are numerous, and are tenaciously preserved, but yet it would not be fair to say that seamen are, as a class, more superstitious than landsmen of their own rank. The great mystery of the sea; the uncertainty of life upon its bosom; the isolation and frequent loneliness; the wonder of the storms, and calms, and lights—everything connected with a sailor's occupation is calculated to impress him with the significance of signs and omens.
That mariners do not like to have a corpse on board is not remarkable, for many people ashore get rather 'creepy' if they have to sleep in a house where lies a dead body. Moreover, the old idea of bad luck which led to the throwing overboard of Jonah, is in this case transferred from the living to the dead. The objection to whistling is also explainable by the time-honoured practice of 'whistling for a wind,' for an injudicious whistler might easily bring down a blow from the wrong quarter.
There are some animals and birds which have a peculiar significance at sea. The cat, for instance, is generally disliked, and many sailors will not have one on board at any price. If there is one which becomes unusually frisky, they will say the cat has got a gale of wind in her tail. On one part of the Yorkshire coast, it is said, sailors' wives were in the habit of keeping black cats to insure the safety of their husbands at sea, until black cats became so scarce and dear that few could afford to buy one. Although Jack does not like a cat in the ship, he will not throw one overboard, for that would bring on a storm.
Miss L. A. Smith, in her book about the Music of the Waters, states that a dead hare on a ship is considered a sign of an approaching hurricane; and Cornish fishermen declare that a white hare seen about the quays at night indicates that there will be rough weather.
The pig is an object of aversion to Japanese seamen, and also to Filey fishermen, who will not go to sea if they meet one in the early morning. But, indeed, the pig seems to be generally disliked by all seafarers—except in the form of salt pork and bacon.
Rats, however, are not objected to; indeed, it would be useless to object, for they overrun all ships. And rats are supposed to leave a vessel only when it is going to sink. A Welsh skipper, however, once cleared his ship of them without the risk of a watery grave, by drawing her up to a cheese-laden ship in harbour. He quietly moored alongside, and, having left the hatches open all night, cast off with a chuckle in the morning, leaving a liberal legacy to his neighbour.
The stormy petrel is supposed to herald bad weather, and the great auk to tell that land is very near. This is true enough as regards the auk, which never ventures beyond soundings; but one doubts the truth of the popular belief that when the sea-gulls hover near the shore, a storm is at hand. The Scotch rhyme runs:
'Seagull, seagull, sit on the sand; It's never good weather when you're on the land!'
Mr. Thiselton-Dyer quotes from Sinclair's Statistical Account of Scotland, in confirmation of this belief, that in the county of Forfar, 'when they appear in the fields, a storm from the southeast generally follows; and when the storm begins to abate, they fly back to the shore.' This does not accord with the present writer's experience of the west coast of Scotland, where the sea-gulls frequent the lochs and hillsides far inland all the summer. Naturally there are storms sometimes after their appearance, but just as often fine weather continues. As well say that the flocks of these beautiful birds that follow in the wake of a tourist steamer, to pick up unconsidered trifles, presage sea-sickness to the passengers!
One has heard that in Cornwall sailors will not walk at night along portions of the shore where there have been many wrecks, because they believe that the souls of the drowned haunt such localities, and that the 'calling of the dead' is frequently audible. Some even say that they have heard the voices of dead sailors hailing them by name. One can readily excuse a timorousness in Jack in such circumstances. Many persons besides sailors shrink from localities which have been the scenes of murder or sudden death.
Friday is the sailor's pet aversion, as an unlucky day on which to sail or begin work. But this is not surprising, when we remember that Friday has everywhere more superstition and folk-lore attached to it than any other day in the week, originating, perhaps, as Mr. Thiselton-Dyer suggests, from the fact that it was the day on which Christ was crucified. Lord Byron had the superstitious aversion to Friday; and even among the Brahmins no business must be commenced on this day. In Lancashire a man will not 'go a-courting on Friday'; and Brand says: 'A respectable merchant of the city of London informed me that no person will begin any business, that is, open his shop for the first time, on a Friday.' The 'respectable merchant' might be hard to find nowadays, but still one does not need to go to sailors to find a prejudice against Friday.
Other things which are accounted unlucky by superstitious seamen are: to sneeze on the left side at the moment of embarking; to count the men on board; to ask fishermen, before they start, where they are bound for; to point with the finger to a ship when at sea; to lose a mop or water-bucket; to cut the hair or nails at sea, except during a storm.
These are a few of the sea superstitions as preserved in rhyme:
'The evening gray, and the morning red, Put on your hat or you'll wet your head.'
(Meaning that it will rain.)
'When the wind shifts against the sun, Trust it not, for it will run.'
(That is, soon change again.)
'When the sun sets in the clear, An easterly wind you need not fear.
'The evening red and morning gray Are sure signs of a fine day.'
(A distich not peculiar to followers of the sea.)
'But the evening gray and morning red Makes the sailor shake his head.'
This refers to the barometer:
'First rise, after low, Indicates a stronger blow.'
'Long foretold, long last; Short notice, soon past.'
These, however, are hardly superstitions, but maxims based on experience. Of the same character are the following:
'In squalls When the rain's before the wind Halyards, sheets, and braces mind.'
'When the wind's before the rain Soon you may make sail again.'
'When the glass falls low, Prepare for a blow; When it rises high, Let all your kites fly.
'A rainbow in the morning, Sailors take warning; A rainbow at night Is the sailor's delight.'
The Manx fishermen have some curious sayings about herrings. Thus the common expression, 'As dead as a herring,' is due to them. They say also, 'Every herring must hang by its own gills'; and their favourite toast is, 'Life to man and death to fish.' They count one hundred and twenty-four fish to the hundred, thus: they first sort out lots of one hundred and twenty, then add three to each lot, which is called 'warp,' and then a single herring, which is called 'tally.' Before shooting the nets at sea, every man goes down on his knees at a sign from the skipper of the boat, and, with his head uncovered, prays for a blessing on the fishing. This, at least, used to be the general practice, but in how prevailing at the present day is doubtful.
The sound of the death-bell is often supposed to be heard at sea before a wreck, and this idea may be either associated with the bell-buoy which marks many sunken, dangerous rocks, or with the religious ceremonies of the old days.
At Malta it is, or was, usual to ring the church bells for an hour during a storm 'that the wind may cease and the sea be calmed,' and the same custom prevails both in Sicily and Sardinia.
A Cornish legend of the bells of a church, which were sent by ship that was lost in sight of the town, owing to the blasphemy of the captain, says that the bells are supposed to be in the bay, and they announce by strange sounds the approach of a storm.
There is a suggestion of Sir Ralph the Rover in this legend; but, indeed, the superstitions of those connected with the sea are so interwoven, that it is not easy to disentangle them, and they are numerous enough to need a book to themselves. No doubt our mariners derived many of them from the old Spanish navigators who once swayed the main, for the Spaniards are one of the most superstitious peoples in the world.
MOTHER CAREY AND HER CHICKENS.
Who was Mother Carey the appearance of whose 'chickens' is supposed by the mariner to foretell a coming storm? This question is often asked, but seldom answered, and so a little light on the subject is desirable.
Charles Kingsley gives a very vivid picture of her. In his charming book about The Water-Babies, he tells how little Tom, in search of his old master, Grimes, is instructed to find his way to Peacepool and Mother Carey's Haven, where the good whales go when they die. On his way he meets a flock of petrels, who invite him to go with them, saying: 'We are Mother Carey's own chickens, and she sends us out over all the seas to show the good birds the way home.' So he comes to Peacepool at last, which is miles and miles across; and there the air is clear and transparent, and the water calm and lovely; and there the good whales rest in happy sleep upon the slumbering sea.
In the midst of Peacepool was one large peaked iceberg. 'When Tom came near it, it took the form of the grandest old lady he had ever seen—a white marble lady, sitting on a white marble throne. And from the foot of the throne there swam away, out and in, and into the sea, millions of new-born creatures, of more shapes and colours than man ever dreamed. And they were Mother Carey's chickens, whom she makes out of the sea-water all the day long.'
Now, this beautiful fancy of Kingsley's—and how beautiful it is can only be realized by a reading of the whole story—is based upon fact, as all beautiful fancies must be.
The fundamental idea of Kingsley's picture is that of a fruitful and beneficent mother. And Mother Carey is just the Mater Cara of the medieval sailors. Our Mother Carey's chickens are the 'Birds of the Holy Virgin,' of the South of Europe, the 'Oiseaux de Notre Dame' of the French seamen.
One reason for associating the petrel with the Holy Mother may possibly have been found in its supposed sleeplessness. The bird was believed never to rest, to hatch its eggs under its wings, and to be incessantly flying to and fro on the face of the waters on messages of warning to mariners. Even to this day sailors believe that the albatross, the aristocratic relative of the petrel, sleeps on the wing; and the power of the albatross, for good and evil, readers of the Ancient Mariner will remember. We say for good and evil, because opinion fluctuated. Thus:
'At length did cross an albatross, Through the fog it came; As if it had been a Christian soul, We hailed it in God's name.'
When the mariner with his crossbow did shoot the albatross, the crew said:
'I had done a hellish thing, And it would work them woe; For all averred I had killed the bird That made the breeze to blow. "Ah, wretch!" said they, "the bird to slay, That made the breeze to blow!"'
And once more, when the weather cleared, they changed:
'Then all averred I had killed the bird That brought the fog and mist; "'Twas right," said they, "such birds to slay, That bring the fog and mist!"'
Coleridge got his idea from Wordsworth, who got it from a passage in Shelvocke's voyages, where a long spell of bad weather was attributed to an albatross following the ship.
The poet who sang,
'Oh, stormy, stormy peterel! Thou art a bird of woe, Yet would I thou could'st tell me half Of the misery thou dost know!'
has, however, misunderstood the feeling with which that little harbinger is regarded. So have many other persons. The petrel is not a bird of woe, but a bird of warning.
The Virgin Mary—Mater Cara—was the special protectress of the early Christian seamen, just as Amphitrite had been the tutelary genius of his Greek, and Venus of his Roman, progenitors, and just as Isis, the moon goddess, had been the patroness of the Egyptian navigators. The Catholic mariner still believes that the Virgin has especial power over the winds and the sea.
At Marseilles is the shrine of the Notre Dame de la Garde, greatly venerated by all the Provencal sailors; at Caen is the shrine of Notre Dame de Deliverance; at Havre, that of Notre Dame des Neiges. Brand tells, in his book of Antiquities, that on Good Friday Catholic mariners 'cock-bill' their yards in mourning and hang and scourge an effigy of Judas Iscariot. The practice still continues, and as recently as 1881 a London newspaper contained an account of the ceremony performed on board several Portuguese vessels in the London Docks. The proceedings always closed with a Hymn to the Virgin Mary.
In Rome, at the Church of Santa Maria della Navicella, there is a small marble ship which was offered by Pope Leo the Tenth in execution of a vow after his escape from shipwreck. The first thing done by Magellan and his crew after their safe return to Seville was to perform penance barefooted, clad only in their shirts, and bearing lighted tapers in their hands, at the shrine of Our Lady of Victory. And it is related of Columbus, that on safe arrival after a storm at the Azores, 'The Admiral and all the crew, bearing in remembrance the vow which they had made the Thursday before, to go barefooted, and in their shirts, to some church of Our Lady at the first land, were of opinion that they ought to discharge this vow. They accordingly landed, and proceeded, according to their vow, barefooted, and in their shirts, toward the hermitage.'
Countless instances might be cited, but these will suffice to show the estimation in which Mater Cara was held by Catholic seamen.
How it came to be supposed that the smaller Procellariae are only visible before a storm is not very apparent. In point of fact, there is no more reason for associating the petrel specially with storms than there is for the belief expressed in the old Scotch couplet quoted in the last chapter:
'Seagull, seagull, sit in the sand; It's never good weather when you're on the land!'
As a matter of fact, seagulls do fly far inland in fine weather, and especially during ploughing-time. And also, as a matter of fact, the petrel lives at sea both in fine weather and foul, because he is uncomfortable on land. It is only the breeding season that he spends on shore; while the seagull is just as much at home on the land as on the sea.
The scientific name of the petrel tribe is Procellariae, from the Latin procella—a storm. It is a large family, all the members of which are distinguished by a peculiar tube-like arrangement of the nostrils. Their feet, also, are peculiar in being without any back toe, so that they can only with great difficulty rise on the wing from dry land.
Mother Carey's chickens are among the smaller species of this family, and they have both a shorter bill and a longer leg than their relatives. But all the Procellariae are noted for ranging further from land than any other of the sea-birds. Thus they are often visible from ship-board when no other animal life can be sighted; and thus it was, doubtless, that their appearance suggested safe harbour, and consequent thanks to Mater Cara, to the devout seaman.
Why the petrels are associated with storms is thus not easily explained, seeing that they are abroad in all weathers; but a feasible suggestion was advanced by Pennant. It is that they gather from the water sea-animals which are most abundant before or after a storm, when the sea is in a state of unusual commotion. All birds are highly sensitive to atmospheric changes, and all sea-birds seem to develop extra activity in threatening and 'dirty' weather.
There is another interesting thing about Mother Carey's chicken, and that is, that he is also called petrel, from the Italian 'Petrello,' or Little Peter. This is because he is supposed to be able, like the apostle, to walk on the water, and as in fact he does after a fashion, with the aid of his wings.
Now, St. Peter, both as a fisherman and for his sea-walking, was always a favourite saint with sailors, and was often invoked during storms. He was the patron saint of Cortez, as he was also of the Thames watermen. There is an old legend that St. Peter went on board a fisherman's boat somewhere about the Nore, and that it carried him, without sails or oars, to the very spot which he selected as the site for Westminster Abbey.
In the Russian ports of the Baltic there is firm belief in a species of water-spirits called Rusalkas, who raise storms and cause much damage to the shipping. The great anniversary of these storm-spirits is St. Peter's Day. The John Dory is St. Peter's fish, and it is said that the spots on each side of its mouth are the marks of the apostle's thumb and forefinger. It was called 'janitore,' or doorkeeper, because in its mouth was found the penny with which the temple-tax was paid. Now, St. Peter also was the doorkeeper of heaven, and from janitore to John Dory was an easy transition.
With fishermen, as was natural, St. Peter was held in high honour; and in Cornwall and Yorkshire, until recently, it was customary to light bonfires, and to hold other ceremonies, on St. Peter's Day, to signalize the opening of the fishing season, and to bespeak luck. An old writer says of these customs at Guisboro', in Yorkshire, that:
'The fishermen, on St. Peter's daye, invited their friends and kinfolk to a festivall kept after their fashion, with a free hearte, and no show of niggardnesse. That day their boats are dressed curiously for the showe, their masts are painted, and certain rytes observed amongst them with sprinkling their bows with good liquor, which custome or superstition, sucked from their ancestors, even continueth down unto this present tyme.'
Perhaps at 'this present tyme' the ceremonies are not so elaborate; but survivals of the 'custome or superstition' are to be found yet in our fishing villages.
It is probable that the observers of St. Peter's Day do not know the origin of their curious customs. It is certain that sailors, as a class, do not now know why their favourite little bird is called petrel. We have tried to remove the stigma which in modern times has come to rest upon Mother Carey's chickens. Let us no longer do them wrong by supposing that they are always the harbingers of woe. They have a busy and a useful life, and it is one, as we have seen, with tender, even sacred, associations.
It may be recalled as an interesting, although not an agreeable item, that in the days of the French Revolution there was a notorious brood of Mother Carey's chickens in Paris. They were the female rag-tag-and-bobtail of the city, whose appearance in the streets was understood to forebode a fresh political tumult. What an insult to our feathered friends to bestow their honoured name on such human fiends!
The real Mother Carey is she who appeared to Tom and Ella in Peacepool, after they had learned a few things about themselves and the world. They heard her voice calling to them, and they looked, crying:
'"Oh, who are you, after all? You are our dear Mrs. Do-as-you-would-be-done-by."
'"No, you are good Mrs. Be-done-by-as-you-did; but you are grown quite beautiful now!"
'"To you," said the Fairy; "but look again."
'"You are Mother Carey," said Tom, in a very low, solemn voice, for he had found out something which made him very happy, and yet frightened him more than all that he had ever seen.
'"But you are grown quite young again."
'"To you," said the Fairy; "but look again."
'"You are the Irishwoman who met me the day I went to Harthover!"
'And when they looked again she was neither of them, and yet all of them at once.
'"My name is written in my eyes, if you have eyes to see it there."
'And they looked into her great, deep soft eyes, and they changed again and again into every hue, as the light changes in a diamond.
'"Now read my name," said she at last, and her eyes flashed for one moment, clear, white, blazing light; but the children could not read her name, for they were dazzled, and hid their faces in their hands.
'They were only water-babies, and just beginning to learn the meaning of love.'
DAVY JONES'S LOCKER.
This expression of what may be called nautical slang has now become almost classic. At all events, everybody knows it; and most people may be presumed to know that to 'go to Davy Jones's Locker' is equivalent to 'losing the number of your mess,' or, as the Californian miners say, 'passing in your checks.' Being especially a sea-phrase, it means, of course, to be drowned. But how did the phrase originate? And who was Davy Jones? These questions must have frequently occurred to many, and it is worth while seeking an answer to them. There is an explanation for everything, if one only knows how to look for it.
This saying about Davy Jones is a very old one—so old, that it cannot possibly have any reference to the famous Paul Jones. In fact, one hears very often of 'Davy's Locker' without any reference to 'Jones' at all. Then 'Davy,' again, is a vulgar slang expression for affidavit, but it is also used in thief-parlance by way of an oath. 'So help me Davy!' is the slang equivalent for the concluding sentence of the oath administered in the police-courts with which these gentry are familiar. It has thus been inferred that 'Davy' is a slang expression of somewhat blasphemous import; but this is by no means certain.
It is much more likely to be associated with, or to have the same origin as, the 'Duffy' of the West Indian negroes. Among them Duffy means a ghost; and in the vocabulary of the gutter it may easily have been taken as the equivalent of soul. The transition from Duffy to Davy is by no means difficult.
But how, then, did the vagabond users of 'flash' language get hold of this word? It is probable enough that it was brought home by the sailors from the West Indies, and picked up at the docks by the waifs and strays of our vast vagrant population. On the other hand, it is just as likely that the West Indian negroes picked up 'Duffy' from our own sailors; and that, in fact, Duffy is just the nigger contraction of Davy Jones. There is certainly a very close connection, both in sound and meaning, between the two expressions.
We must go further back and further away, however, to get to the root of this matter. And, if we inquire diligently, we shall find our Davy in the Deva of the Indian mythology. The original Sanskrit meaning of Deva was 'The Shining One,' but in the operation of what has been called 'the degradation of Deities' in the Oriental religions, it became synonymous with our devil. In fact, we owe the word 'devil' to this same Sanskrit root; and it is noteworthy that while Deva meant the Good Spirit to the Brahmans, it meant the Evil Spirit to the Parsees. In this root we may also find the explanation of the gipsy word for God, which, curiously enough, is Devel.
While it is easy to trace the transition from Deva to the sailor's Davy, one may note another curious thing. The name of the fabulous Welshman, Taffy, the thief, is a corruption of Dyved, which, as signifying an evil spirit, is the Cymric form of Deva. This would almost suggest that the addition of the apparent surname, Jones, was a Welsh performance. But this is only an amusing conjecture, not without a certain aptness.
For the origin of Jones we must look to Jonah, who in nautical history is regarded as the embodiment of malevolence at sea. The prophet Jonah is not the only one who has been committed to the deep to appease the storm-fiends, whose anger his presence was supposed to have aroused. It is easy to account for this from the Bible narrative. 'The mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his God. And they said, every one to his fellow, "Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us." So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah. So they took up Jonah and cast him forth into the sea, and the sea ceased from her raging.'
The superstition of sailors is proverbial, and to this day they believe in good or ill luck being brought to a vessel by persons and things. In olden times there were many sacrifices to this Jonah superstition; and even in comparatively recent times, Holcroft, the actor, on a voyage to Scotland, narrowly escaped a watery grave, because the men took him for 'the Jonas.' And to this day 'He's a Jonah' is an expression often enough heard on ship-board applied to some unwelcome passenger.
Here, then, we have the Sanskrit origin of Davy, and the Biblical origin of Jones, both words embodying much the same idea to the mind of the primitive seamen.
But what of the 'locker'?
This, of course, is a familiar piece of ship-furniture which it was not difficult to transfer to the mythical demon of the deep. Lieutenant Bassett thought that the locker might be the whale's belly in which Jonah found refuge; but this is hardly in harmony with the meaning of the phrase. In the sense in which it is thus used, locker does not mean a temporary resting-place or submarine harbour of refuge, but a place of final deposit. It is possible, indeed, to find the origin of the word locker as here applied in Loki, the personification of evil in the Scandinavian mythology. Loki, like Deva, was not always an evil spirit, but he became eventually identified with Satan. He became a flame-demon, a sort of incarnate spirit of fire.
There is good reason for believing in this theory of the Scandinavian origin of the word 'locker' as used in the connection we are considering. It is to be remembered that, in olden times, death by drowning was even more dreaded than now, because drowned bodies were supposed to be debarred from the Resurrection. Going far back, we find that the sea was the abode of Typhoeus, who, besides being a hurricane-raising, was also a fire-breathing, demon, and was feared as the quencher of the sun, who sank at night into his bosom. The legend of St. Brandan and his burning islands preserved the idea that Hades was very near to the bottom of the ocean. Thus, then, we may readily perceive the conception of Loki having his receptacle for drowned mariners in the bed of the sea. A belief prevailed long into the Middle Ages that the sea-bottom was the abode of many demons, who lay in wait for passengers, to drag them down to the infernal depths.
Thus, then, Davy Jones's Locker became, by a mixture of theogonies, 'the ocean, the deep sea-bottom, the place to which the body was committed, and to which the souls of the wicked fled.'
This meaning is now somewhat modified. Sailors do not, as Smollett says they did in his day, regard Davy Jones as the fiend who presides over all the evil spirits of the deep, and who is seen in various shapes, warning the devoted wretches of death and woe. In fact, it is not Davy Jones they think of at all now, but his Locker; for to go to Davy's Locker is to be lost at sea and to find a watery grave.
There is, however, a curious survival of the personal element still to be traced in some of the sailors' chanties. Take, for instance, that remarkable one about 'Burying the Dead Horse,' which still puzzles the passengers on board the packets sailing to the Antipodes. Without going into the question of the song and its attendant ceremonies just now, the following lines may be quoted as bearing on our subject:
'You poor old horse, what brought you here, After carrying turf for many a year? From Bantry Bay to Ballyack, When you fell down and broke your back? You died from blows and sore abuse, And were salted down for the sailors' use. The sailors they the meat despise; They turned you over and —— your eyes; They ate the meat and picked the bones, And gave the rest to Davy Jones.'
All the offal of a ship is thrown over to Davy Jones—doubtless because there is nothing else to be done with it.
The favourite demon, if one may use the expression, of British sailors is now Old Nick, and one may trace his origin even more easily than that of Davy Jones. We can follow him through Saxon, German, Danish and Norwegian transitions to one of the names of Odin—Hnickar—for even All-father Odin shared the fate of his Oriental predecessors, and became demonized. Others, again, have carried the name Hnickar back still further to the Egyptian Nika, the serpent of the lower world, 'the Typhonic enemy of the Sun in his night-journey.'
It is to the same root that we owe the Necken of the Baltic, and the Nixies—the water-fays—of the German legends. It is to the Norwegian Noekke, also, that we owe the Wild Huntsman of the Sea, on which the story of the Flying Dutchman and a host of other legends of demon vessels and demon mariners are founded.
There is, however, some confusion in the nautical mythology between the original Old Nick and the popular Saint Nicholas. This saint became the Christian successor of Neptune, as the protector of seamen. 'This saintly Poseidon,' says Mr. Conway, 'the patron of fishermen, in time became associated with the demon whom the British sailor feared if he feared nothing else. He was also of old the patron of pirates; and robbers were called "St. Nicholas' clerks."'
It is certainly one of the curiosities of plutology that the patron saint of children who is still honoured at Christmas as Santa Claus should be the same as the dreaded Old Nick of the seafarers.
These investigations are extremely interesting, and may lead us far; but our present purpose is merely to find an explanation of a popular phrase.
It is more difficult to explain a number of other marine personalities, who are as lively to-day on shipboard as they were generations ago. There is, for instance, old Mister Storm-Along, of whom the chanty-man sings:
'When Stormy died, I dug his grave— I dug his grave with a silver spade; I hove him up with an iron crane, And lowered him down with a golden chain.'
Who was he? And who was the famous Captain Cottington, of whom it is related, in stentorian tones and with tireless repetition, that:
'Captain Cottington, he went to sea, Captain Cottington, he went to sea-e-e-e, Captain Cottington, he went to sea, Captain Cottington, he went to sea-e!'
Who, also, was 'Uncle Peleg,' of whom a somewhat similarly exhaustive history is chanted? And, still more, who was the mysterious Reuben Ranzo, with whose name every fo'cs'le of every outward-bound British or American ship is constantly resounding?
'Pity Reuben Ranzo— Ranzo, boys, a Ranzo! Oh, pity Reuben Ranzo— Ranzo, boys, a Ranzo!'
He had a remarkable career, this Reuben, according to the song. He was a tailor by trade; went to school on the Monday, learnt to read on Tuesday, and by Friday he had thrashed the master. Then he went to sea, and, after some ignominious experiences, married the captain's daughter, and became himself the captain of a whaler. But who was he? And how does he come to exercise such a fascination over all mariners, even unto this day?
This is one of the mysteries of the ocean. The sea is covered with mystery, and with phantom shapes. Every ship that sails is peopled with a crew of dim shadows of the past that none can explain.
SOME FLOWERS OF FANCY.
That the lily should symbolize purity seems appropriate enough, but why should parsley in olden times have been associated with death? It is recorded that a few bundles of parsley once threw a whole Greek army into panic, because in Greece the tombs of the dead were strewn with the herb. With them 'to be in need of parsley' was equivalent to being beyond hope.
The name itself offers little explanation of this superstition, for it is derived from the Latin petroselinum, which, again, was taken from the Greek name signifying the 'plant of the rocks.' According to the myth, however, it sprang from the blood of Archemorus, or Orpheltes, the son of Lycurgus, King of Nemaea. Archemorus was killed by a serpent while his foster-mother was showing the soldiers of Adrastus where they might find a fountain. On the place where he died there sprang up the parsley, which the Greeks, in grief for his loss, wove into chaplets for the victors at the Nemaean games. At these games it was always customary to deliver a funeral oration in memory of Archemorus, while the participators were dressed in mourning. Hence the association of parsley with death among the Greeks, and the long-prevailing Western belief that the plant is 'unlucky,' is only another instance of the marvellous longevity of superstitions.
It is said by Mr. Thiselton-Dyer that in Devonshire to transplant parsley is accounted a serious offence against the tutelary spirit of the herb, and is certain to be punished within the year by some great misfortune. In South Hampshire the country people will never give parsley away, for fear of trouble; and in Suffolk it is believed that if it be sown on any other day than Good Friday it will not grow double. The Folklore Record, some years ago, gave the case of a gentleman near Southampton whose gardener refused to sow some parsley-seed when ordered, because 'it would be a bad day's work' for him to do so; the most he would do was to bring a plant or two, and throw them down for the master to pick up if he chose. To give them, however, the man regarded as fatal.
But even to move parsley is regarded in some places to be unlucky, and we have heard of a parish clerk in Devonshire who was bedridden, and who was popularly supposed to owe his trouble to having moved some parsley-beds. There is a similar superstition in Germany, and many readers have probably often come across an old saying, that 'Parsley fried will bring a man to his saddle and a woman to her grave.' The allusion to the saddle is obscure; but it is obvious that all the superstitious dread of parsley is a survival of the old Greek fable immortalized in the Nemaean games.
That the rose should be associated with death may appear strange to some, yet so it was. The Greeks certainly used the rose in their funeral rites and for the decoration of their tombs. The Romans used it for similar purposes, and often bequeathed legacies for the express purpose of keeping their tombs adorned with the flower. Whether it was by them that the practice was introduced into England is not capable of direct proof, but it is worthy of note that at Ockley, a place where the Romans were often located in large numbers, it was a custom of comparatively recent experience for girls to plant roses upon the graves of their dead lovers. Hence, no doubt, its origin in Gay's riddle:
'What flower is that which royal honour craves, Adjoins the Virgin, and 'tis strewn on graves?'
The answer is 'Rosemary,' which, although sometimes understood to mean the Rose of the Virgin Mary, is neither a rose, nor is it in any special way associated with the Virgin.
On the other hand, the rose is associated by most Catholics with the Mother of the Saviour, and in Italy especially, during the celebrations of May, the rose is abundantly used. By some it has been thought that the early association of the rose with death led to the expression 'under the rose,' applied to anything to be done in secret or silence. Others, again, have ascribed the origin of that expression to the perfect beauty of the flower, which, as language is unable to portray it, may be a symbol of silence. Sir Thomas Browne, however, says the origin was either in the old custom of wearing chaplets of roses during the 'Symposiack meetings,' or else because the rose was the flower of Venus, 'which Cupid consecrated unto Harpocrates, the god of silence.' There is a basis of probability in both theories, and all know that the rose was peculiarly the property of the Goddess of Love. Indeed, according to the old fable, the flower was originally white until dyed by the blood which flowed from the foot of Venus, pierced by a thorn as she ran to the aid of her loved Adonis. Hence Spenser says:
'White as the native rose, before the change Which Venus's blood did in her leaves impress.'
According to others, however, it was the blood of Adonis which dyed the flower. Thus Bion, in his Lament: 'A tear the Paphian sheds for each blood-drop of Adonis, and tears and blood on the earth are turned to flowers. The blood brings forth the rose, and the tears the wind-flower. Woe, woe, for Adonis! he hath perished, the lovely Adonis!' This tradition is preserved in the German name, Adonis-blume, which, however, is usually applied to the anemone.
The rose being the emblem of love, and love having a natural abhorrence of publicity, it is not difficult to conceive the connection with silence. It is said that the Romans used to place a decoration of roses in the centre of their dining-rooms, as a hint to the guests that all that was said at the banqueting-table was in the nature of 'privileged communications,' and in old Germany a similar custom long prevailed. In the sixteenth century a rose was placed over confessionals, and the inference is that the hint was then well understood.
There was also an obvious meaning in the adoption by the Jacobites of this flower as the emblem of the Pretender, to whose service they were secretly sworn. It was the white rose that was especially affected by the Stuarts, and the Pretender's birthday, the 10th of June, was for long known as 'White Rose Day,' much as 'Primrose Day' is now definitely associated with the late Lord Beaconsfield. The story of the Wars of the Roses is, of course, known to everybody, and how, in consequence of these feuds, the rose became the emblem of England, as the thistle is of Scotland, and the shamrock of Ireland.
In the East there is even more of poetic significance attached to the rose than with us. It is related of Sadi, the Persian poet, that, when a slave, he earned his freedom by the adroit use of the flower. One day he presented a rose to his master, with the remark, made with all humility, 'Do good to thy servant whilst thou hast the power, for the season of power is often as transient as the duration of this flower.' This was in allusion to the Eastern fancy, which makes the white rose the emblem of life—transient and uncertain. In Persia they have a festival called 'The Feast of the Roses,' which lasts during the blooming of the flowers. One of their great works is called The Garden of Roses, and in all their poems and tales they closely associate the rose with the bulbul or nightingale. The belief is that the bird derives his melody from the beauteous flower, and they say, 'You may place a handful of fragrant herbs and flowers before the nightingale, but he wants nothing more than the odour of his beloved rose.'
Thomas Moore seizes, with happy effect, on this legend in Lalla Rookh, which poem, indeed, is redolent of roses. But poetry generally is as full of the rose as the rose is of poetry, and it would take a volume to deal adequately with all the fancies and superstitious associations of the queen of flowers. Before quitting the subject, however, we should not overlook the Oriental traditions of how the rose received its various colours. It is said that when Mohammed was journeying to heaven, the sweat which fell from his forehead produced white roses, and that which fell from Al Borak produced yellow roses. But an older tradition is given by Sir John Mandeville. It is that of Zillah, the beauteous maiden of Bethlehem, who, being falsely accused, was condemned to be burned alive. At the stake the flames passed over her and shrivelled up her accuser, while, on the spot where she stood, sprang up a garden of roses—red where the fire had touched, and white where it had passed. 'And theise werein the first roseres that ever ony man saughe.'
Reference has been made to the lily as the emblem of purity, but, curiously enough, this innocent-looking flower has its baleful superstitions as well.
In Devonshire it is accounted unlucky to plant a bed of lilies-of-the-valley, and to do so is to ensure misfortune, if not death, within a year. Yet this flower has always been closely associated with the Virgin Mary, and according to one legend, it sprang from some of the milk which fell to the ground as she was nourishing the infant Jesus. The Greeks, however, had a similar legend, ascribing the origin of the flower to a drop of Juno's milk. The Greeks have always made a favourite of the lily, and even to this day use it largely in making up bridal wreaths, while the sacred significance which Christians have found in the flower may be traceable to our Lord's use of it in imagery.
In this connection the legend of the budding lily of St. Joseph may be recalled, and also the fact that the mediaeval painters generally depicted the Madonna with a lily in her hand. There is a tradition that the lily was the principal ornament in the crown of Solomon, and that it typified love, charity, purity, and innocence—a combination of virtues hardly to be found in the character of the wise King himself.
Nor must we forget that the sacred flower of the East—the lotus—is a lily, and that even to name it seems to carry ineffable consolation to the Buddhist. Thus, the universal prayer of the Buddhists—that prayer which is printed on slips and fastened on cylinders which are incessantly revolving in Thibet—'Om mani padme hum!' means simply, 'Oh, the jewel in (or of) the lotus! Amen!' So Sir Edwin Arnold, in The Light of Asia:
'Ah, Lover! Brother! Guide! Lamp of the Law! I take my refuge in Thy name and Thee! I take my refuge in Thy Law of Good! I take my refuge in Thy Order! Om! The dew is on the lotus. Rise, Great Sun, And lift my leaf, and mix me with the wave. "Om mani padme hum," the sunrise comes. The dewdrop slips into the shining sea!'
The lily, or lotus, was held sacred also in ancient Egypt, and the capitals of many of the buildings bear the form of an open lotus-flower. And naturally, in a land of Buddhism like China, the lotus occupies there an important place, both in art, in poetry, and in popular fancy. It is recorded that the old Jews regarded the lily, or lotus (Lilium candidum), as a protection against enchantment, and it is said that Judith wore a wreath of lilies when she went to visit Holofernes, by way of counteractant charm.
The lotus which is the sacred lily of the East must not be confounded with the mysterious plant mentioned by Ulysses, and of which Tennyson has sung—the plant of oblivion and sensuousness. That there is an element of enchantment about the lily we have seen is still believed in our own country, but the association of misfortune with it is not universal. On the contrary, in some parts the leaf of the lily is supposed to have curative virtues in cases of cuts and wounds, and Gerarde, the old herbalist, even says that 'the flowers of lily-of-the-valley, being close stopped up in a glass, put into an ant-hill, and taken away again a month after, ye shall find a liquor in the glass, which being outwardly applied, helpeth the gout.' One hears, perhaps, of no modern experiments having been made with this remedy. But if not to cure gout, the flower has, it appears, been used to pay rents, for Grimm says that some lands in Hesse were held upon the condition of presenting a bunch of lily-of-the-valley every year. This, of course, would not be the whole burden, and the custom had, no doubt, a religious origin and significance.