Storyology - Essays in Folk-Lore, Sea-Lore, and Plant-Lore
by Benjamin Taylor
1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse


Essays in Folk-Lore, Sea-Lore, and Plant-Lore



London: Elliot Stock, 62, Paternoster Row, E.C. 1900.



The principal object of this Foreword is to inform the expert Folkloreist and the case-hardened Mythologist (comparative or otherwise) that the following pages are intended for those who, being neither expert nor case-hardened, come under that gracious and catholic term—general reader. The writer addresses not the scholiast, but the ordinary person who likes to read about what he has not time to study.

Some portion of what is here printed has appeared in a once popular magazine now defunct. The author hastens to add, for the relief of the irreverent, that the journal long survived the ordeal of the publication. Nevertheless this book appears on its merits, or otherwise, and seeks no support from past attainment. Neither does it make any pretension to originality of matter or method, though it may, perhaps, contain one or two new ideas.

It is unnecessary to add that the publication is made only at the tearful entreaty of multitudinous friends. That, of course, is well understood among myth-hunters.























What is a myth?

According to Webster, it is 'a fabulous or imaginary statement or narrative conveying an important truth, generally of a moral or religious nature: an allegory, religious or historical, of spontaneous growth and popular origin, generally involving some supernatural or superhuman claim or power; a tale of some extraordinary personage or country that has been gradually formed by, or has grown out of, the admiration and veneration of successive generations.' Here is a choice of three definitions, but not one of them is by itself satisfying. Let us rather say that a myth is a tradition in narrative form, more or less current in more or less differing garb among different races, to which religious or superhuman significations may be ascribable. We say 'may be' ascribable because, although the science of comparative mythology always seeks for such significations, it is probable that the modern interpretations are often as different from the original meaning as certain abstruse 'readings' of Shakespeare are from the poet's own thoughts.

In their introduction to Tales of the Teutonic Lands, Cox and Jones declare that the whole series of Arthurian legends are pure myths. These tales, they say, can be 'traced back to their earliest forms in phrases which spoke not of men and women, but of the Dawn which drives her white herds to their pastures'—the white clouds being the guardians of the cattle of the Sun—'of the Sun which slays the dew whom he loves, of the fiery dragon which steals the cattle of the lord of light, or the Moon which wanders with her myriad children through the heaven.' It is claimed that 'a strict etymological connection has been established' with regard to a large number of these and similar stories, 'but the link which binds the myth of the Hellenic Hephaistos with that of the Vedic Agni justifies the inference that both these myths reappear in those of Regin and of Wayland, or, in other words, that the story of the Dame of the Fine Green Kirtle is the story of Medeia, and that the tale of Helen is the legend of the loves of Conall Gulban. Elsewhere one reads that in the myth of Endymion, the Sun who has sunk to his dreamless sleep, the Moon appears as Asterodia journeying with her fifty daughters through the sky. 'In the Christian myth she becomes St. Ursula with her eleven thousand virgins—this Ursula again appearing in the myth of Tannhaeuser, as the occupant of the Horselberg, and as the fairy queen in the tale of True Thomas of Ercildoune.' By the same method of comparative mythology, the whole series of the Arthurian stories are placed 'in that large family of heroic legends which have their origin in mythical phrases describing the phenomena of the outward world, and more especially those of the day and of the year.'

This seems hard, for it compels us to believe that our remote ancestors were very much more intelligent, and imaginative, and poetical, and religious than anything else which they have sent down to us would have suggested. It is true that Cox and Jones do not deny that the names which figure in many of these legends, as in those of Greece, may have been the names of real personages, but yet the narrative, they say, must not be taken as historical. This may be true, but in what sense can we regard it as more probable that the story-makers invented allegories, and clothed them with the names of contemporary or preceding heroes, than that they invented tales of wonder to fit these heroes? Is it easier to believe, for instance, that Arthur came after the myths, and was tacked on to them, than that the myths, or stories, came after Arthur, and were tacked on to him? Is there anything in the story of St. Ursula and her virgins which could not have had natural 'spontaneous growth' in an age of deep devotional faith in miracles, that we must be compelled to regard it as purely a mediaevalized version of the Greek myth of the sun and moon?

I am not writing for experts and scholars, and therefore do not use the scientific terms and allusions familiar to students of these matters. I am merely writing for ordinary persons, who are often puzzled and pained by the extraordinary meanings which specialists contrive to twist out of simple and familiar things. It is not too much to say that the professional mythologists are among the most troublesome meddlers who disturb the repose of 'the average reader.' Even Mr. Ruskin suffers in this connection. In The Queen of the Air he has given us one of his most delightful books, but there are probably few, outside the circle of philologists and comparative mythologists, who have not thought in reading the lovely interpretations of the myths of Athena, that there was more of Ruskin than of the Ancient Greek in the meaning evolved. Somehow, it seems easier to think that these things were conceived by a Professor of Art in the nineteenth century, than that they were the deliberate convictions of a primitive people ever so many centuries before Christ—a people, too, known to be steeped in sensualities, and addicted to very barbarous practices.

Are there, then, reasons for supposing that comparative mythologists are not always right—that, in fact, their science is but a doubtful science after all? Mr. Andrew Lang boldly says that there are. In Custom and Myth his object is to show the connection between savage customs—or rather the customs of savage and uncivilized races—and ancient myths. But before this branch of Storyology is reached, we must consider the question of the relation between our familiar nursery-tales, the folk-lore of our own and other countries, and the old romances, with these same myths. There is something more than monotony in the theory which 'resolves most of our old romances into a series of remarks about the weather.' The author of Primitive Culture (Mr. Tylor) rebels against this theory. There is no legend, no allegory, no nursery-rhyme, he says, safe from it, and, as an amusing illustration, he supposes the Song of Sixpence to be thus interpreted by the mythologists. Obviously, the four-and-twenty blackbirds are four-and-twenty hours, and the pie to hold them is the underlying earth covered with the over-arching sky. How true a touch of nature is it, 'when the pie is opened,' that is, when day breaks, 'the birds begin to sing!' The King is the Sun, and his 'counting out his money' is pouring out the sunshine, the golden shower of Danae; the Queen is the Moon, and her transparent honey the moonlight. The maid is the rosy-fingered Dawn, who rises before the Sun, her master, and hangs out the clothes (the clouds) across the sky; the particular blackbird who so tragically ends the tale, by 'nipping off her nose,' is the hour of sunrise. The time-honoured rhyme really wants, as Mr. Tylor remarks, only one thing to prove it a sun-myth, and that one thing is some other proof than a mere argument from analogy.

The same proof is wanting for those who would argue that the story of Red Riding Hood is only another dawn-myth. Mr. Hussin holds this view, but is not the story of the Cat and the Well capable of the same kind of reading? Pussy is the earth; Tommy, who shoves her into the well, is the evening or twilight; the well is Night; Johnny Stout is the Dawn who pulls the earth out of darkness again. There is no limit to this kind of application of so elastic a theory. But the very ease with which such explanations can be attached to any nursery-rhyme or folk-tale should warn us against their probability. As Mr. Tylor says: 'Rash inferences which, on the strength of mere resemblances, derive episodes of myth from episodes of nature, must be regarded with utter distrust, for the student who has no more stringent criterion than this for his myths of sun, and sky, and dawn, will find them wherever it pleases him to seek them.'

The mention of the story of Red Riding Hood suggests a familiar folk-tale, upon which that of Red Riding Hood may or may not have been founded, but which certainly forms the basis of a good many similar tales, and has been the subject of a good deal of wise exposition by the mythologists. In the story of the Wolf and the Seven Little Kids, as told by Grimm, there is a goat who goes out one day, leaving her seven little ones safely locked in the house, after warning them to beware of the wolf, whom she describes. The wolf comes begging for entrance, pretending to be their mother, but they distrust first his voice and then his black paws. He gets his paws whitened and comes back, showing them against the window as proof that he is indeed their mother. Therefore they open the door, and he swallows six of them, one after the other, without going through the ceremony of mastication. After this he goes back to the wood and falls asleep under a tree, where the disconsolate mother finds him. With the assistance of the seventh and youngest kid, who had escaped by hiding herself in the clock-case, the wolf is cut open, and the six kids jump out all alive and kicking. Stones are then placed in the wolf's stomach, and it is sewed up. When the wolf wakens he cannot account for the jumbling and tumbling in his stomach, so he goes to the well to get a drink. But the weight of the stones makes him top-heavy; he falls in and is drowned.

Now, there is nothing more remarkable in this story than there is in scores of our nursery or household tales, in which not only animals but also inanimate objects are gifted with speech, and in which the love of the marvellous rises superior to natural laws.

According to Cox, we must understand the myth of the Wolf and Kids thus: 'The wolf is here the night, or the darkness, which tries to swallow up the seven days of the week, and actually swallows six. The seventh—the youngest—escapes by hiding herself in the clock-case; in other words, the week is not quite run out, and before it comes to an end, the mother of the goats unrips the wolf's stomach and places stones in it in place of the little goats, who come trooping out, as the days of the week begin again to run their course.'

Very plausible this, from a comparative mythologist's point of view, and not easy to dispute—until we find that a similar tale is current all over the world where clock-cases are even yet unknown. We are told that the negroes of Georgia have such a legend; that the natives of Australia have one; that the Zulus have it; that the Indians of North America and of British Guiana, and the Malays, all have versions of it. In Brittany it is traceable in the legend of Gargantua; in Germany there are several variations; and in Greece it finds its counterpart in the legend of Saturn or Cronus. The Kaffirs tell the same story of a cannibal, but the way the negroes have it is like this: 'Old Mrs. Sow had five little pigs, whom she warned against the machinations of Brer Wolf. Old Mrs. Sow died, and each little pig built a house for himself. The youngest pig built the strongest house. Brer Wolf, by a series of stratagems, entrapped and devoured the four elder pigs. The youngest pig was the wisest, and would not let Brer Wolf come in by the door. He had to enter by way of the chimney, fell into a great fire the youngest pig had lighted, and was burned to death.' Here we have no clock-case, and no resurrection of the victims, but otherwise the motif of the story is the same. Certainly the negroes did not receive this tale from the white races, and it seems equally certain that they had no notion of typifying the dawn or the night, or anything else, but only the popular notion among nearly all primitive peoples that the youngest is usually the most specially gifted and blessed.

This is Mr. Lang's view: 'In the tale of the Wolf and the Seven Kids, the essence is found in the tricks whereby the wolf deceives his victims; in the victory of the goat; in the disgorging of the kids alive; and the punishment of the wolf (as of Cronus in Hesiod) by the stone which he is obliged to admit into his system. In these events there is nothing allegorical or mystical, no reference to sunrise or storms. The crude ideas and incidents are of world-wide range, and suit the fancy of the most backward nation.' The only thing in Grimm's tale which differs materially from those of 'world-wide range' is the clock-case—clearly a modern addition, but an item which forms an essential factor in Cox's definition of the 'myth.'

So much by way of illustration; but dozens of tales might be produced, all pointing the same way. This is to the belief that, although stories have unquestionably been transmitted from race to race throughout the ages, and so have become widely distributed over the world, all the current nursery, or household, or folk, stories have not necessarily been so transmitted from some one creative race of myth-makers. We have just seen how an evidently modern interpolation (a clock-case) has come to be regarded as an essential part of a myth, and it is surely easier to believe that the other features are relics of some ancient customs of which we have no record, than that they bear the ingenious references to natural phenomena which the mythologists suppose.

Max Mueller holds that all the stories of princesses, imprisoned or enchanted, and delivered by young lovers, 'can be traced back to mythological tradition about the Spring being released from the bonds of Winter.' But he requires, first, to have the names of the personages of the story, because he traces the connection more by their etymology than by the incidents of the narrative—of which more anon. With regard to purely nursery or household tales, the question seems to resolve itself pretty much into this: Are they the remains of an older and higher mythology, or are they the foundations upon which the priests and medicine-men and minstrels of later ages built their myths? Are they, in short, surviving relics, or were they germs? The favourite scientific theory adopts the former view; I incline to the latter. There are many of the familiar folk-tales which it is impossible to explain, and there are many, doubtless, which are in some sort fragments of the old mythologies filtered to us through Greece. But, on the whole, it is more reasonable to conclude that the simple stories of the marvellous or irrational have their origin in 'the qualities of the uncivilized imagination.'

Thus, with regard to the current superstitions of our peasantry and of the Highlanders, it is much more rational to consider them, as Dr. Robert Chambers did, as 'springing from a disposition of the human mind to account for actual appearances by some imagined history which the appearances suggest,' than as relics of the old-world mythologies. The untutored mind disregards the natural, even in these days of applied science. There is an old weir across the Tweed which the common people, forgetting the mill, that had disappeared, pointed out as the work of one of the imps of Michael Scott, the wizard. Wherever there are three-topped hills there is sure to be a legend of the work of this same Michael, or some other wizard. In the same way, deep, clear lakes exist in various parts of the country, concerning which traditions survive of cities lying at the bottom, submerged for their wickedness, or by the machinations of some evil spirit. Old buildings exist in many parts in such unfavourable situations that popular tradition can only account for the singularity by the operation of some unfriendly spirit transporting them from their original locality. Large solitary rocks off the coast, or on hilltops, have been deposited where they are by witches. Water springing from a rock by the roadside has always been the result of the stroke of some magician or saint. Large depressions on hillsides are generally the footprints of giants, like the mark left by Buddha's foot as he ascended to heaven, still to be seen on a hill in Ceylon. The circular green marks in the fields are the rings drawn by the fairies for their midnight dances, and a scaur or cliff bearing the marks of volcanic action or of lightning is invariably associated with some tale of diabolic fury. Almost every reader can add instances of natural appearances or effects idealized by the workings of the imagination of uncivilized or uncultivated minds.


One of the most common forms of these idealized phenomena is that known as the 'Fairy-ring,' about which Nether Lochaber has said, in the Highlands of Scotland, 'We can perfectly understand how in the good old times, ere yet the schoolmaster was abroad, or science had become a popular plaything, people—and doubtless very honest, decent people, too—attributed those inexplicable emerald circles to supernatural agency; if, indeed, anything connected with the "good folks" or "men of peace" could properly be called supernatural in times when a belief in fairies and every sort of fairy freak and frolic was deemed the most correct and natural thing in the world. Did not these circles, it was argued, appear in the course of a single night? In the sequestered woodland glade, nor herd nor milkmaid could see anything odd or unusual as the sun went down, and lo! next morning, as they drove their flocks afield, there was the mysterious circle, round as the halo about the wintry moon.... And if we know better nowadays than to believe these green circles to be fairy-rings, we also know better than to give the slightest credence to certain authors of our own day who have gravely asserted that they are caused by electricity.... Fairy-rings ... are in truth caused by a mushroom (Agaricus pratensis), the sporule dust or seed of which, having fallen on a spot suitable for its growth, instantly germinates, and, constantly propagating itself by sending out a network of innumerable filaments and threads, forms the rich green rings so common everywhere.'

Hardly more excusable than the electricity theorists, thinks this writer, are those learned authors who tell us that the West received the first hint of the existence of fairies from the East at the time of the Crusades, and that almost all our fairy lore is traceable to the same source, 'the fact being that Celt and Saxon, Scandinavian and Goth, Lapp and Finn, had their "duergar," their "elfen" without number, such as dun-elfen, berg-elfen, munt-elfen, feld-elfen, sae-elfen and waeter-elfen—elves or spirits of downs, hills and mountains, of the fields, of the woods, of the sea, and of the rivers, streams and solitary pools—fairies, in short, and a complete fairy mythology, long centuries before Peter the Hermit was born, or Frank and Moslem dreamt of making the Holy Sepulchre a casus belli.'

There is something very suggestive in these remarks, and one thought suggested is particularly in the direction of our inquiry, and that is, may not the theory of the Aryan mythological origin of our folk-tales be as imaginary and as groundless as the theory of the Oriental origin of fairies? At the same time, let us admit that the superstitious belief in capnomancy—i.e., divination by smoke—still said to be prevalent in some parts of the Highlands, is probably the relic of the old sacrifices by fire to the gods. In so far the superstition has a mythological significance, but then, are we not driven back to the consideration whether these gods were not actual personages in the minds of the old Celtic worshippers, and not symbols of natural phenomena?

So much, however, for popular superstitions; and, as regards folk-tales, we must, in speculating as to their origin,[1] 'look not into the clouds, but upon the earth; not in the various aspects of nature, but in the daily occurrences and surroundings.' The process of diffusion must always remain uncertain. 'Much may be due to the identity everywhere of early fancy, something to transmission,' but 'household tales occupy a middle place between the stories of savages and the myths of early civilization.'[2] And as nursery-rhymes are but the simplified form of household or folk-tales, let us consider with Mr. Lang the relation between savage customs and ancient myths.

The foundation of the method of comparative mythology is the belief that 'myths are the result of a disease of language, as the pearl is the result of a disease of the oyster.' The method of inquiry is to examine the names which occur in the stories, and having found or invented a meaning for these names, to argue back from them to a meaning in the myths. But then almost each scholar has his peculiar fancy in etymology, and while one finds a Sanskrit root, another finds a Greek, a third a Semitic, and so on. Even when they agree upon the derivation of the proper names, the scholars seldom agree upon the interpretation of them, and thus the whole system is full of perplexity and confusion to all who approach its study with unbiassed minds. There is a further division among the mythologists, for there are some who have a partiality for sun-myths, others for cloud-myths, sky-myths and fire-myths, and each seeks to work out an interpretation of an old-world story to suit his own taste in myths. How can they be all right? And in whom can we have confidence when we find so much disagreement, first, on the derivation of names, and second, on their meaning after the derivation is discovered? And then, how do we know that words had the same meaning to the ancients as they have to us? Was the sky, for instance, to the original story-makers 'an airy, infinite, radiant vault,' as it is to us, or was it a material roof, or even a person? And, further, how is it that we find the same myth, with slight alterations, in various parts of the world, but with totally different names?

In opposition to the method of reading myths by the philological analysis of names, there is the method of reading them by folk-lore, i.e., by a comparison of the folk-tales and customs of primitive peoples. The student of folk-lore has to collect and compare the similar relics of old races, the surviving superstitions and traditions, and the ideas which still live. He is thus led to compare the usages, myths, and ideas of savages with those which remain among the European peasantry—classes which have least altered by education, and have shown the smallest change in progress. It is thus that we find even in our own country and in our own day such things as the beliefs in fairies and divination by smoke, which are as old as time. Similarly, the harvest-custom which is still practised by the children in parts of rural England and Scotland—the dressing up of the last gleaning in human shape, and conducting it home in musical procession—is parallel with a custom in ancient Peru, and with the Feast of Demeter of the Sicilians. But that does not necessarily prove any original connection between Peruvians, Scotch and Sicilians, any more than the fact that the negroes of Barbadoes make clay figures of their enemies and mutilate them, as the Greeks and Accadians of old used to do, proves any connection between the negroes and the Greeks and Accadians. If we find the Australians spreading dust round the body of a dead man in order to receive the impression of the footprints of any ghostly visitor, the same custom has been observed among the Jews, among the Aztecs, among the French, and even among the Scotch. Where we find, therefore, an apparently irrational and anomalous custom in any country, we must look for a country where a similar custom prevails, and where it is no longer irrational and anomalous, but in harmony with the manners and ideas of the people among whom it prevails. When we read of Greeks dancing about in their 'mysteries' with live serpents, it seems unintelligible, but when we read of Red Indians doing the same thing with live rattlesnakes, we can understand the meaning because we can see implied a test of physical courage. May not a similar motive have originated the Greek practices?

The method of folk-lore, then, is 'to compare the seemingly meaningless customs or manners of civilized races with the similar customs and manners which exist among the uncivilized, and still retain their meaning. It is not necessary for comparison of this sort that the uncivilized and the civilized race should be of the same stock, nor need we prove that they were ever in contact.'[3] Similar conditions of mind produce similar practices, apart from identity of race, or borrowing of ideas and manners. In pursuing this method we have to compare the customs and tales of the most widely separated races, whereas the comparative mythologists, who hold it correct to compare Greek, Slavonic, Celtic and Indian stories because they occur in languages of the same family, and Chaldean and Greek stories because the Chaldeans and the Greeks are known to have been in contact, will not compare Greek, Chaldean, Celtic, or Indian stories with those of the Maoris, the Eskimos, or the Hottentots, because these last belong to a different language-family, and are not known to have ever been in contact with Aryan races.

The 'bull-roarer,' a toy familiar to most children, is one example selected by Mr. Lang. It is a long, thin, narrow piece of wood, sharpened at both ends; attached to a piece of string, and whirled rapidly and steadily in the air, it emits a sound which gradually increases to an unearthly kind of roar. The ancient Greeks employed at some of their sacred rites a precisely similar toy, described by historians as 'a little piece of wood, to which a string was fastened, and in the mysteries it is whirled round to make a roaring noise.' The performers in the 'mysteries' at which this implement was used daubed themselves all over with clay. Demosthenes describes the mother of Aeschines as a dabbler in mysteries, and tells how Aeschines used to assist her by helping to bedaub the initiate with clay and bran. Various explanations have been offered of these practices, but let us see how they tally with any prevailing customs. First, the bull-roarer is to be found in almost every country in the world, and among the most primitive peoples. It is so simple an instrument that it is within the scope of the mechanical genius of the most degraded savages, and therefore it is quite unnecessary to suppose that the idea of it was ever transmitted from race to race. And as an instrument employed in religious rites or mysteries, it is found in New Mexico, in Australia, in New Zealand and in Africa, to this day. Its use in Australia is to warn the women to keep out of the way when the men are about to celebrate their tribal mysteries. It is death for women to witness these rites, and it is also forbidden for them to look upon the sacred turndun, or bull-roarer. In the same way, among the Greeks, it was forbidden for men to witness the rites of the women, and for women to witness those of the men. Among the Indians of Zuni, Mr. Cushing found the same implement used by the priests to summon the tribe to the sacrificial feasts. In South Africa, Mr. Tylor has proved that the bull-roarer is employed to call the men only to the celebration of sacred functions, and the instrument itself is described in Theal's Kaffir Folklore.

Now, the same peoples who still employ the bull-roarer as a sacred instrument also bedaub their bodies with clay, for no apparent reason unless it may be to frighten their enemies or repel intruders. We thus find still prevailing in our own time among savage races practices which are perfectly analogous to practices which prevailed among the Greeks. The reasonable inference, therefore, is not that the bull-roaring and body-daubing were first used in the rites of a civilized race of Greeks, and thence transmitted to Africa, Australia and America, but that the employment of these things by the Greeks was a survival of the time when the Greeks were in the same savage condition as are the peoples among whom we find the same things now.

The Greek story of Saturn is familiar to every schoolboy. Saturn, it will be remembered, wounds and drives away his father, Uranus, because of his unkindness to himself and his brothers. Afterwards Saturn marries his sister Rhea, and has several children—Demeter, Hera, Hades, Poseidon and Zeus—whom he swallowed as they were born, lest they might serve him as he served Uranus. But Rhea didn't like this, and at the time when Zeus was born she ran away to a distant place. Saturn followed, and, asking for the child, was given a stone, which he swallowed without looking at it. Zeus grew up in security, and in due time gave his father a dose which made him disgorge, first, the stone (which was placed at Delphi, where it became an object of public worship), and then the children, one after another, all living and hearty.

The tale is told in various ways, but these are the main incidents. It is interpreted by the mythologists to typify, in its first part, the birth of the world and the elements; and the second part is held by some to typify the operations of time, by others the alternations of night and day—the stone swallowed by Saturn being the sun, which he afterwards disgorges at daybreak. By others Saturn is held to be the sun and ripener of the harvests; by others, again, the storm-god, who swallows the clouds, whose sickle is the rainbow, and whose blood is the lightning; by others still Saturn is regarded as the sky, which swallows and reproduces the stars, and whose sickle is the crescent moon. There is a great deal of diversity of opinion, it will be observed, about this myth of Saturn, or Cronus, but it is curious to note how all the leading incidents of this myth may be traced in various parts of the world.[4] Among the Maoris, the story of Tutenganahau is told, and this is a story of the severing of heaven and earth, very similar to the Greek story. In India and in China, legends tell of the former union of heaven and earth, and of their violent separation by their own children. As regards the swallowing performances of Saturn, they find analogues in tales among the Australians, among the Red Indians, among the natives of British Guiana, and among the Kaffirs.

The conclusion, then, is that the first part of the Saturn myth is evidently the survival of an old nature-myth which is common to races who never had any communication with the Greeks. The second part is unintelligible, except as just such a legend as might be evolved by persons in the same savage intellectual condition as, say, the Bushmen, who account for celestial phenomena by saying that a big star has swallowed his daughter and spat her out again.

Any myth which accounts for the processes of nature or the aspects of natural phenomena may, says Mr. Lang, conceivably have been invented separately, therefore it is not surprising to find the star-stories of savages closely resembling those of civilized races. The story of the lost sister of the Pleiades, according to the Greek myth, finds a parallel in a tradition among the Australians. Of star-lore generally, it may be said that it is much the same even among the Bushmen of Africa, as it was among the Greeks and Egyptians, and as it is among the Australians and Eskimos.

Another interesting inquiry is to trace the legend current among the Greeks, and known to us as that of Jason and the Golden Fleece, in the Storyology of the Africans, the Norse, the Malagasies, the Russians, the Italians, the Samoans, the Finns, the Samoyedes and the Eskimo. Some of the resemblances are so exceedingly close and curious as to severely shake our belief in the dawn-sun-spring-lightning interpretations of the mythologists. They drive us to the conclusion that the Jason myth is not a story capable of explanation as a nature-myth, or as a result of 'a disease of language'; for as is pertinently remarked, 'So many languages could not take the same malady in the same way; nor can we imagine any stories of natural phenomena that would inevitably suggest this tale to so many diverse races.' The rational theory is that the Jason story, like its analogues among strange races, had its origin in a time of savage conditions, when animals were believed to talk, when human sacrifices and cannibalism were practised, and when efforts to escape being eaten were natural.



It is sufficiently remarkable that the rod, besides being an emblem of authority, is also an instrument of the supernatural. An indispensable instrument, one may say; for was ever a magician depicted in book, in picture, or in the mind's eye, without a wand? Does even the most amateurish of prestidigitateurs attempt to emulate the performances of the once famous Wizard of the North, without the aid of the magic staff? The magician, necromancer, soothsayer, or conjurer, is as useless without his wand as a Newcastle pitman is without his 'daug.'

At first thought it might be assumed that the association of the rod or wand with necromancy is merely an indication of power or authority, in the same way as the sceptre is associated with kingship. But there is something more in it. Magic has been well called 'the shadow of religion,' and the early religious idea found expression in symbols. These symbols, as we know, have in many cases retained a certain significance long after the ideas they were meant to convey have been lost, or abandoned, or modified. If we bear these things in mind, it is not difficult to discover a religious origin for the symbolic wand of necromancy.

Mr. Moncure Conway, in his book on Demonology and Devil-lore, mentions a thing which seems peculiarly apposite to our subject. In the old town of Hanover there is a certain schoolhouse, in which, above the teacher's chair, there was originally a representation of a dove perched upon a rod—the rod in this case being meant to typify a branch. Below the dove and rod there was this inscription: 'This shall lead you unto all Truth.' But the dove has long since disappeared, and there remains now but the rod and the inscription. It is natural that the children of the school should apply the admonition to the rod, ignorant that the rod was but the supporter of a symbol of the Holy Spirit. Thus has the pious design of inculcating a Divine lesson left only an emblem of mysterious terror. In some way, too, has the magic wand lost its religious significance and become but a dread implement of the occult.

Yet we might trace the origin of the magician's wand to the very same root as that of the iron rod of the Hanover schoolhouse. We may find it in the olive-branch brought by the dove into the ark—a message of Divine love and mercy—and therefore a connecting-link between human needs and desires and superhuman power. To construe a mere symbol into a realized embodiment of the virtue symbolized were surely as easy in this case as in that of the Eucharist.

But if this suggestion of the origin of the magician's wand be thought too hypothetical, there will be less objection to our finding it in Aaron's rod. Moses was commanded to take a rod from the chiefs of each of the twelve tribes, and to write upon each rod the name. The rods were then to be placed in the Tabernacle, and the owner of the one which blossomed was designated as the chosen one. The rod of the house of Levi bore the name of Aaron, and this was the only one of the twelve which blossomed. Here once more was the rod used to connect human needs with Divine will; but now a special virtue is made to appear in the rod itself. This virtue appeared again, when Pharaoh called all the sorcerers and magicians of Egypt to test their enchantments with Aaron's. All these magicians bore wands, or rods, and when they threw them on the ground the rods turned into serpents. Aaron's rod also turned into a serpent, and swallowed all the others. Now, here we find two things established. First, that even in these early days necromancy was a profession, and the rod a necessary implement of the craft; and, second, that the rod was esteemed not merely an emblem of authority, or a mere ornament of office, but as a thing of superhuman power in itself although the power could only be evoked by the specially gifted.

We find the beginning of the idea in the story of Moses' rod which turned into a serpent when he cast it on the ground at the Divine command. This was what led up to the trial of skill with the Egyptian magicians, and seems to have been the first suggestion in early history of the miraculous virtues of the rod. Then we must remember that it was by the stretching forth of the rod of the prophet that all the waters of Egypt were made to turn into blood, and that the plagues of frogs and lice were wrought, and that the hail was called down from heaven which destroyed the crops and flocks of the Egyptians. In fact, all the miracles performed in the land of Egypt were made to appear more or less as the result of the application of the magic rod, just as to this day the clever conjurer appears to produce his wonderful effects with his wand.

It was by the stretching forth of the rod of Moses that the Red Sea divided, and that the water sprang from the rock. The staff of Elisha and the spear of Joshua may also be cited in this connection, and other examples in Holy Writ may occur to the reader. They are mentioned here in no spirit of irreverence, but merely as evidence that the magic virtue of the rod was a fixed belief in the minds of the early writers.

Belief in the vitalizing power of the rod may be found embalmed in many a curious mediaeval legend. The budding rod, borrowed from the tradition of Aaron's, is, for instance, very frequent. Thus in the story of St. Christophoros, as preserved in Von Buelow's Christian Legends of Germany, we read of the godly man carrying the Child-Christ on his back through a raging torrent, and afterwards lying down on the banks of the stream, exhausted, to sleep. The staff which he stuck in the ground ere he lay down, budded and blossomed before he awoke, and in the morning he found a great umbrageous tree bearing fruit, and giving shelter to hundreds of gorgeous birds. There are many such legends in the traditions of all the Christian nations, and the collection and comparison of them would be an interesting and instructive task, but one too large for our present purpose.

It is related by Holinshed, in connection with many wonderful visions which were seen in Scotland about A.D. 697, that once when the Bishop was conducting the service in the church of Camelon, with the crozier-staff in his hand, 'it was kindled so with fire that by no means it could be quenched till it was burnt even to ashes.' This was supposed to have been the handiwork of the devil, who has on other occasions used the staff or wand to emphasize his intentions or mark his spite. Thus, of the famous Dr. Fian it is narrated in the 'Newes from Scotland, declaring the damnable Life of Doctor Fian, a notable Sorcerer, who was burned at Edenborough in Januarie last 1591; which Doctor was Register to the Devill, that sundrie times Preached at North-Baricke Kirke to a number of notorious Witches,' etc.—that he made the following, among his other confessions: 'That the devill had appeared unto him in the night before, appareled all in blacke, with a white wand in his hande, and that the devill demanded of him if he would continue his faithfull service according to his first oath and promise made to that effect, whome (as hee then said) he utterly renounced to his face, and said unto him in this manner: "Avoide, avoide, Satan, for I have listened too much unto thee, and by the same thou hast undone me, in respect whereof I utterly forsake thee." To whom the devill answered, "That once, ere thou die, thou shalt be mine," and with that (as he sayed) the devill brake the white wand, and immediately vanished from sight.' After which, the chronicle goes on to tell how the redoubtable doctor actually escaped from prison, and began to resume his Satanic practices.

This brings us to the most frequent use of the rod in superstitions—for the purposes of divination. There is a suggestion of the practice by Nebuchadnezzar, when he 'stood at the parting of the way, at the head of two ways, to use divinations, he made his arrows bright,' etc. He then threw up a bundle of arrows to see which way they would alight, and because they fell on the right hand he marched towards Jerusalem. Divination by the wand is also suggested in the shooting of an arrow from a window by Elisha, and by the strokes upon the ground with an arrow by which Joash foretold the number of his victories.

Sir Thomas Browne speaks of a common 'practice among us to determine doubtful matters by the opening of a book and letting fall of a staff.' The 'staff' business is not quite so familiar in present days, but the opening of a book for prophetic guidance is, perhaps, more common than most people suppose.

Sir Thomas Browne also speaks of a 'strange kind of exploration and peculiar way of Rhabdomancy' used in mineral discoveries. That is, 'with a fork of hazel, commonly called Moses his rod, which, freely held forth, will stir and play if any mine be under it. And though many there are,' says the learned doctor, 'who have attempted to make it good, yet until better information, we are of opinion, with Agricola, that in itself it is a fruitless exploration, strongly scenting of pagan derivation and the virgula divina proverbially magnified of old. The ground whereof were the magical rods in poets—that of Pallas, in Homer; that of Mercury, that charmed Argus; and that of Circe, which transformed the followers of Ulysses. Too boldly usurping the name of Moses' rod, from which notwithstanding, and that of Aaron, were probably occasioned the fables of all the rest. For that of Moses must needs be famous unto the Egyptians, and that of Aaron unto many other nations, as being preserved in the Ark until the destruction of the Temple built by Solomon.'

One may look in vain, perhaps, for modern instances of the divining-rod under the name of 'Moses his rod,' as old Sir Thomas found it.

It is curious, however, that Sir Thomas Browne, who was so fond of delving among ancient writers, makes no reference to a striking passage in Herodotus. That historian, speaking of the Scythians, says, 'They have amongst them a great number who practise the art of divination. For this purpose they use a number of willow-twigs in this manner: they bring large bundles of these together, and having untied them, dispose them one by one on the ground, each bundle at a distance from the rest. This done, they pretend to foretell the future, during which they take up the bundles separately and tie them again together.'

From this it may be seen that while the divining-rod was a familiar instrument 450 years before Christ, it was also then disbelieved in by some. Curious to think that what the old historian of Halicarnassus was wise enough to ridicule four centuries and a half before the birth of Christ, there are yet people, nineteen centuries after His advent, simple enough to accept!

Herodotus goes on to tell that this mode of divination was hereditary among the Scythians, so how many centuries earlier it may have been practised one can hardly guess. He says that the 'enaries, or effeminate men, affirm that the art of divination was taught them by the goddess Venus,' a statement which will carry some significance to those who are familiar with the theories so boldly advocated by the author of Bible Folklore.

Now, the attempt to divine by means of rods, arrows, staffs or twigs is evidently a good deal older than Herodotus, and it is to be found among almost every race of people on the face of the earth. Let us say 'almost,' because Mr. Andrew Lang instances this as one form of superstition which is not prevalent among savage races; or rather, to use his exact words, 'is singular in its comparative lack of copious savage analogues.' The qualification seems to be necessary, because there are certainly some, if not 'copious,' instances among savage peoples of the use of the divining-rod in one form or other. And Mr. Lang is hardly accurate in speaking of the 'resurrection' of this superstition in our own country. It has, in fact, never died, and there is scarcely a part of the country where a 'diviner' has not tried his—or her, for it is often a woman—skill with the 'twig' from time to time. These attempts have seldom been known beyond the immediate locality and the limited circle of those interested in them, and it is only of late years, since folklore became more of a scientific and general study, that the incidents have been seized upon and recorded by the curious. From the time of Moses until now the 'rod' has been almost continuously used by innumerable peoples in the effort to obtain supplies of water.

In ancient times it was used, as we have seen, for a variety of other purposes; but its surviving use in our generation is to indicate the locality of hidden springs or of mineral deposits. There are cases on record, however, so recently as the last century, when the rod was used in the detection of criminals, and a modified application of it to a variety of indefinite purposes may even be traced to the planchette, which, at this very day, is seriously believed in by many persons who are ranked as 'intelligent.'

Now, of the use of the divining-rod in England, Mr. Thiselton-Dyer thus wrote some years ago: 'The virgula divinatoria, or divining-rod, is a forked branch in the form of a Y, cut off a hazel-stick, by means of which people have pretended to discover mines, springs, etc., underground. It is much employed in our mining districts for the discovery of hidden treasure. In Cornwall, for instance, the miners place much confidence in its indications, and even educated, intelligent men oftentimes rely on its supposed virtues. Pryce, in his Mineralogia Cornubiensis, tells us that many mines have been discovered by the rod, and quotes several; but after a long account of the method of cutting, tying and using it, rejects it, because 'Cornwall is so plentifully stored with tin and copper lodes, that some accident every week discovers to us a fresh vein,' and because 'a grain of metal attracts the rod as strongly as a pound, for which reason it has been found to dip equally to a poor as to a rich lode.'

But in Lancashire and Cumberland also, Mr. Dyer goes on to say, 'the power of the divining-rod is much believed in, and also in other parts of England.' The method of using it is thus described. The small ends, being crooked, are to be held in the hands in a position flat or parallel to the horizon, and the upper part at an elevation having an angle to it of about seventy degrees. The rod must be grasped strongly and steadily, and then the operator walks over the ground. When he crosses a lode, its bending is supposed to indicate the presence thereof. Mr. Dyer's explanation of the result is simple: 'The position of the hands in holding the rod is a constrained one—it is not easy to describe it; but the result is that the hands, from weariness speedily induced in the muscles, grasp the end of the twig yet more rigidly, and thus is produced the mysterious bending. The phenomena of the divining-rod and table-turning are of precisely the same character, and both are referable to an involuntary muscular action resulting from fixedness of idea. These experiments with a divining-rod are always made in a district known to be metalliferous, and the chances are, therefore, greatly in favour of its bending over or near a mineral lode.'

The theory of 'involuntary muscular action' is a favourite explanation, and the subject is one well worthy of the investigation of all students of psychology. But how does this theory square with the story of Linnaeus, told by a writer in The Gentleman's Magazine in 1752? 'When Linnaeus was upon his voyage to Scania, hearing his secretary highly extol the virtues of his divining-rod, he was willing to convince him of its insufficiency, and for that purpose concealed a purse of 100 ducats under a ranunculus which grew up by itself in a meadow, and bid the secretary find it if he could. The wand discovered nothing, and Linnaeus's mark was soon trampled down by the company who were present, so that when Linnaeus went to finish the experiment by fetching the gold himself, he was utterly at a loss where to find it. The man with the wand assisted him, and told him that it could not lie in the way they were going, but quite the contrary; so pursued the direction of the wand, and actually dug out the gold. Linnaeus adds, that such another experiment would be sufficient to make a proselyte of him.'

The explanation of this case by the incredulous would, of course, be that the owner of the wand had made a private mark of his own, and thus knew better than Linnaeus where the gold lay.

The divining-rod, however, is not used only in districts which are known to abound in metalliferous deposits, when minerals are being searched for, but has frequently been used by prospectors in new countries. Thus we recall that Captains Burton and Cameron in their book about the Gold Coast, tell how the rod was used by the early British explorers on the Gambia River. One Richard Jobson, in 1620, landed and searched various parts of the country, armed with mercury, nitric acid, some large crucibles, and a divining-rod. He washed the sand and examined the rocks beyond the Falls of Barraconda, with small success for a long time. At last, however, he found what he declared to be 'the mouth of the mine itself, and found gold in such abundance as surprised him with joy and admiration.' But what part the divining-rod played in the discovery is not related, and, for the rest, 'the mine' has disappeared as mysteriously as it was discovered. No one else has seen it, and all the gold that now comes from the Gambia River is a small quantity of dust washed down from the mountain-ridges of the interior. It is curious, however, to find civilized Europeans carrying the divining-rod to one of the districts where, according to Mr. Andrew Lang, it has no analogue among the primitive savages.

I have mentioned, on the authority of Mr. Thiselton-Dyer, some of the districts of England in which the divining-rod is still more or less used. But something of its more extended use may be learned from Mr. Hilderic Friend's Flowers and Flower-Lore. That writer informs us of a curious custom of the hop-pickers of Kent and Sussex for ascertaining where they shall stand to pick. One of them cuts as many slips of hazel as there are bins in the garden, and on these he cuts notches from one upwards. Each picker then draws a twig, and his standing is decided by the number upon it. This is certainly an interesting instance of the divination by twigs reduced to practical ends. The same writer regards the familiar 'old-wife' fortune-telling by tea-leaves as merely another variation of this old superstition. It does seem to have some analogy to several of the practices to which we have briefly referred, and one finds another analogy in the Chinese custom of divining by straws.

The divining-rod of England is described by Mr. Friend much in the same way as by Mr. Dyer. But, according to Mr. Friend, hazel was not always, although it has for a long time been, the favourite wood for the purpose. Elder, at any rate, is strictly forbidden, as deemed incapable of exhibiting magical powers. In Wiltshire and elsewhere Mr. Friend knows of the magic rod having been used recently for detecting water. It must be cut at some particular time when the stars are favourable, and 'in cutting it, one must face the east, so that the rod shall be one which catches the first rays of the morning sun, or, as some say, the eastern and western sun must shine through the fork of the rod, otherwise it will be good for nothing.'

The same superstition prevails in China with regard to rods cut from the magic peach-tree. In Prussia, it is said, hazel-rods are cut in spring, and when harvest comes they are placed in crosses over the grain to keep it good for years, while in Bohemia the rod is used to cure fevers. A twig of apple-tree is, in some parts, considered as good as a hazel-rod, but it must be cut by the seventh son of a seventh son. Brand records that he has known ash-twigs used, and superstitiously regarded, in some parts of England; but the hazel is more generally supposed to be popular with the fairies, or whoever may be the mysterious spirits who guide the diviner's art. Hence perhaps the name, common in some parts, of witch-hazel, although, of course, philologists will have it that the true derivation is wych. In Germany the witch-hazel is the zauber-streuch, or the magic-tree, and it is probable that both witch and wych are from the Anglo-Saxon wic-en, to bend. It is curious, at any rate, that while in olden times a witch was called wicce, the mountain-ash, which, as we have seen, has supposed occult virtues, was formerly called wice. Whether this root has any connection with another name by which the magic wand is known—viz., the wishing-rod—may be doubted, but there is clearly a close connection between the hazel-twig of superstitious England and the Niebelungen-rod of Germany, which gave to its possessor power over all the world.

Of the employment of the divining-rod for the detection of criminals there are many cases on record, but the most famous in comparatively recent times is that of Jacques Aymar of Lyons. The full details of the doings of this remarkable person are given by Mr. Baring-Gould in his Curious Myths of the Middle Ages; but the story is told more concisely by another writer: 'On July 5, 1692, a vintner and his wife were found dead in the cellar of their shop at Lyons. They had been killed by blows from a hedging-knife, and their money had been stolen. The culprits could not be discovered, and a neighbour took upon him to bring to Lyons a peasant out of Dauphine, named Jacques Aymar, a man noted for his skill with the divining-rod. The Lieutenant-Criminel and the Procureur du Roi took Aymar into the cellar, furnishing him with a rod of the first wood that came to hand. According to the Procureur du Roi the rod did not move till Aymar reached the very spot where the crime had been committed. His pulse then beat, and the wand twisted rapidly. Guided by the wand, or by some internal sensation, Aymar now pursued the track of the assassins, entered the court of the Archbishop's palace, left the town by the bridge over the Rhone, and followed the right bank of the river. He reached a gardener's house, which he declared the men had entered, and some children confessed that three men, whom they described, had come into the house one Sunday morning. Aymar followed the track up the river, pointed out all the places where the men had landed, and, to make a long story short, stopped at last at the door of the prison of Beaucaire. He was admitted, looked at the prisoners, and picked out as the murderer a little hunchback, who had just been brought in for a small theft. The hunchback was taken to Lyons, and he was recognised on the way by the people at all the stages where he had stopped. At Lyons he was examined in the usual manner, and confessed that he had been an accomplice in the crime, and had guarded the door. Aymar pursued the other culprits to the coast, followed them by sea, landed where they had landed, and only desisted from his search when they crossed the frontier. As for the hunchback, he was broken on the wheel, being condemned on his own confession.'

This is briefly the story of Jacques Aymar, which is authenticated by various eye-witnesses, and of which many explanations have been tendered from time to time. Mr. Baring-Gould commits himself to no definite expression of opinion, but says: 'I believe that the imagination is the principal motive force in those who use the divining-rod; but whether it is so solely I am unable to decide. The powers of Nature are so mysterious and inscrutable that we must be cautious in limiting them, under abnormal conditions, to the ordinary laws of experience.' As, however, Jacques Aymar failed ignominiously under all the subsequent trials to which he was subjected, the most reasonable explanation of his success, with regard to the Lyons murder, is that he was by nature a clever detective, and that he was favoured by circumstances after he had once caught a clue.

To return to the employment of the divining-rod in England, we find numerous instances of its application in searching for water, and these instances happen to be among the best authenticated of any on record. Some years ago a writer in the Times boldly declared that he had himself seen the rod successfully used in seeking for water. He had even tried it himself, with the determination that the rod should not be allowed to twist, 'even if an ocean rolled under his feet.' But he confessed that it did twist in spite of him, and that at the place was found a concealed spring.

Then it is recorded of Lady Milbanke, mother of Lord Byron's wife, that she had found a well by the violent twisting of the twig held in the orthodox way in her hand—turning so violently, indeed, as almost to break her fingers. Dr. Hutton was a witness of the affair, and has recorded his experience, which is quoted in a curious book called Jacob's Rod, published in London many years ago. This case, and others, were cited by a writer in the twenty-second volume of the Quarterly Review. De Quincey also asserted that he had frequently seen the divining-rod successfully used in the quest of water, and declared that, 'whatever science or scepticism may say, most of the tea-kettles in the Vale of Wrington, North Somersetshire, are filled by Rabdomancy.' Mr. Baring-Gould also quotes the case of a friend of his own who was personally acquainted with a Scotch lady who could detect hidden springs with a twig, which was inactive in the hands of others who tried it on the same spots.

Other instances might be cited, but enough has been said to show that the magic rod, from the earliest periods, has been an instrument of supernatural attributes, and that even to this day in our own country it is still believed by some to have the special faculty of indicating the presence of minerals and water. With regard to minerals, there are no instances so well authenticated as those concerning the discovery of water. With regard to these last a considerable amount of haziness still exists, and, without venturing to pronounce them all fictions or productions of the imagination, it may be possible to find an explanation in a theory of hydroscopy. It is held that there are some few persons who are hydroscopes by nature—that is to say, are endowed with peculiar sensations which tell them the moment they are near water, whether it be evident or hidden, a concealed watercourse or a subterranean spring. If the existence of such a faculty, however exceptional, be clearly established, it will afford an explanation of certain successes with the divining-rod.



There is an old superstition, current, probably, in most parts of the country, that the breaking of a mirror will be followed by bad luck—usually a death in the family. This is, doubtless, the survival of a still older superstition—the belief in certain magic qualities of the mirror, which enabled it in certain circumstances to reflect the distant and to forecast the future. Nor was this superstition so childish as were some other popular delusions of old, for it had a certain philosophic basis. It is the peculiar property of the mirror to represent truth; to reproduce faithfully that which is; to show us ourselves as others see us. This is the idea expressed by Hamlet: 'To hold the mirror up to Nature; to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.'

The mirror has been, from time immemorial, a favourite form of charm for the exorcism of devils, and, indeed, to this day some of the African tribes believe that the best defence they have against their extremely ugly devil is a mirror. If they keep one at hand, the devil must see himself in it before he can touch them, and be so terrified at his own ugliness that he will turn tail and flee.

We may take this symbolically—that a man shrinks from his worst self when it is revealed to him; but the untutored mind is prone to mistake symbol for fact. In this way, while the ancient philosophers may have used the mirror as a symbol of the higher nature of man, so polished and clarified that it showed him his lower nature in all its deformity, the crowd came to regard the crystal as an actual instrument of divination.

Some of the oldest romances in the world have to do with the magical operation of the mirror. In the Gesta Romanorum there is a story of a knight who went to Palestine, and who while there was shown by an Eastern magician in a mirror what was going on at home. In the Arabian Nights the story of Prince Ahmed has a variant, an ivory tube through which could be discovered the far-distant—a sort of anticipation of Sam Weller's 'double million magnifying gas microscope of hextra power.'

In the story of Prince Zeyn Alasnam, the enchanted mirror was able to reflect character, and was called the Touchstone of Virtue. Here again we have Hamlet's idea of holding the mirror up to Nature. The young King, Zeyn Alasnam, had eight beautiful statues of priceless value, and he wanted a ninth to make up his set. The difficulty was to find one beautiful enough; but the Prince of Spirits promised to supply one as soon as Zeyn should bring him a maiden at least fifteen years old, and of perfect beauty; only the maiden must not be vain of her charms, and she must never have told an untruth. Zeyn employed his magic mirror, and for a long time without success, as it always became blurred when he looked into it in the presence of a girl. At last he found one whose image was faithfully and brilliantly reflected—whose modesty and truthfulness were attested by the mirror. He took her with reluctance to the Prince of Spirits, because he had fallen in love with her himself; but his faithfulness to the contract was duly rewarded. On returning home, he found that the ninth statue, placed on its pedestal by the Prince of Spirits according to promise, was no cold marble, but the peerless and virtuous maiden whom he had discovered by means of his mirror.

Paracelsus, in one of his treatises on Magic, gives the following account of the uses to which 'the witches and evil spirits' sometimes put the mirror.

'They take a mirror set in a wooden frame and put it into a tub of water, so that it will swim on the top with its face directed towards the sky. On the top of the mirror, and encircling the glass, they lay a cloth saturated with blood, and thus they expose it to the influence of the moon; and this evil influence is thrown towards the moon, and radiating again from the moon, it may bring evil to those who love to look at the moon. The rays of the moon, passing through the ring upon the mirror, become poisoned, and poison the mirror; the mirror throws back the poisoned ether into the atmosphere, and the moon and the mirror poison each other, in the same manner as two malicious persons, by looking at each other, poison each other's souls with their eyes. If a mirror is strongly poisoned in this manner, the witch takes good care of it; and if she desires to injure someone, she takes a waxen image made in his name, she surrounds it with a cloth spotted with blood, and throws the reflex of the mirror through the opening in the middle upon the head of the figure, or upon some other part of its body, using at the same time her evil imagination and curses; and the man whom the image represents may then have his vitality dried up, and his blood poisoned by that evil influence, and he may become diseased and his body covered with boils.'

This, of course, is not divination, but sorcery.

Paracelsus gives very minute directions for the making of a magic mirror. The material should be the 'electrum magicum,' which is a compound of ten parts of pure gold, ten of silver, five of copper, two of tin, two of lead, one part of powdered iron, and five parts of mercury. When the planets Saturn and Mercury conjoin, the lead has to be melted and the mercury added. Then the metal must cool, while you wait for a conjunction of Jupiter with Saturn and Mercury; when that occurs, you melt the amalgam of lead and mercury, and add the tin, previously melted in a separate crucible, at the exact moment of conjunction. Again you wait for a conjunction of either of the above-named planets with the Sun, when you add the gold; with the Moon, when you add the silver; with Venus, when you add the copper. Finally, when a conjunction of either of the planets occurs with Mars, you must complete your mixture with the powdered iron, and stir up the whole molten mass with a dry rod of witch-hazel.

Thus far your metal; but the mirror is not made yet. It must be of about two inches diameter, and must be founded in moulds of fine sand at the moment when a conjunction of Jupiter and Venus occurs. The mirror must be smoothed with a grindstone and polished with tripoly and a piece of lime-wood; but all the operations must be conducted only when the planetary influences are favourable.

By selecting the proper hours, three different mirrors may be prepared, and then, at a time of conjunction of two 'good' planets, while the Sun or Moon 'stands on the house of the lord of the hour of your birth,' the three mirrors should be placed in pure well-water and left for an hour. After this they may be wrapped in clean linen and kept ready for use.

With a mirror made in this way from the 'electrum magicum,' Paracelsus says:

'You may see the events of the past and the present, absent friends or enemies, and see what they are doing. You may see in it any object you may desire to see, and all the doings of men in daytime or at night. You may see in it anything that has been ever written down, said, or spoken in the past, and also see the person who said it, and the causes that made him say what he did, and you may see in it anything, however secret it may have been kept.'

Mirrors made of the 'electrum magicum' are warranted antipathetic to all evil influences, because there is hidden in the metal a 'heavenly power and influence of the seven planets.'

The plastic and creative power of the mind is the power of imagination; but the power of imagination is, or should be, controlled by the will. It is not alone the mediaeval dabblers in the occult who have adopted, or endeavoured to adopt, various means for suspending the will and making the imagination passive.

The ancient Pythoness, as Dr. Franz Hartmann, the modern German exponent of the Science of Magic, pointed out, attempted to heighten her receptivity by the inhalation of noxious vapours; uncivilized peoples use poison, or the maddening whirl of the dance; others use opium, Indian hemp, or other narcotics—all for the same purpose, to suspend the will, render the mind a blank, and excite the brain so as to produce morbid fancies and illusions. The fortune-teller and the clairvoyant employ methods of their own for concentrating their attention, so as produce a condition of mental passivity. The Indian adept prides himself on being able to extract volition and suspend imagination by the mere exercise of will.

A favourite device to bring about mental passivity has always been by staring at mirrors, or crystal, or sheets of water, or even pools of ink.

'There are numerous prescriptions for the preparation of magic mirrors,' says Dr. Hartmann in his work on Magic, 'but the best magic mirror will be useless to him who is not able to see clairvoyantly, while the natural clairvoyant may call that faculty into action by concentrating his mind on any particular spot, a glass of water, ink, a crystal, or anything else. For it is not in the mirror where such things are seen, but in the mind; the mirror merely serves to assist in the entering of that mental state which is necessary to produce clairvoyant sight. The best of all mirrors is the soul of man, and it should be always kept pure, and be protected against dust, and dampness, and rust, so that it may not become tarnished, but remain perfectly clear, and able to reflect the light of the divine spirit in its original purity.'

A German writer of the fifteenth century takes a less favourable view of what he calls pyromancy, although pyromancy is really divination by fire. He reports the practices of certain Masters of Magic, who made children look into a wretched mirror for the purpose of obtaining information in an unholy manner. 'Young boys are said to behold future things and all things, in a crystal. Base, desperate, and faint-hearted Christians practise it, to whom the shadow and the phantom of the devil are dearer than the truth of God. Some take a clear and beautifully polished crystal, or beryl, which they consecrate and keep clean, and treat with incense, myrrh, and the like. And when they propose to practise their art, they wait for a clear day, or select some clean chamber in which are many candles burning. The Masters then bathe, and take the pure child into the room with them, and clothe themselves in pure white garments, and sit down and speak in magic sentences, and then burn their magic offering, and make the boy look into the stone, and whisper in his ears secret words which have, as they think, some holy import, but which are verily words of the devil.'

A sixteenth-century German tells of a man at Elbingen, in Prussia, who 'predicted hidden truths' by means of a mirror, and sold the knowledge to his customers. Many crystal-seeing old hags are referred to as being upon terms of intimacy with Black Kaspar. Indeed, in German literature, both historical, philosophical, legendary, and romantic, we find endless references to the magic mirror and the divining crystal.

Modern romancists still find dramatic use for the old superstitions. Quite recently a novel of the present day centred its interest upon an ancient mirror, which exchanged its reflection for the mind of him who gazed into it—a practical and startling realization of the idea that the glass reveals one's true self. Then, not to multiply incidents, Wilkie Collins, in The Moonstone, introduces what Mr. Rudyard Kipling in another story calls the 'ink-pool'; and readers of Dante Gabriel Rossetti will recall to mind the doings of the Spirits of the Beryl.

In a large number of stories the magic mirror is not a looking-glass at all. But the beryl, the ink-pool, Dr. Dee's famous spherical speculum, the rock crystal, or even a glass of water, may all, according to the adepts, have the same properties as Vulcan's mirror, in which Penelope, the wife of Ulysses, beheld, according to Sir John Davies, a vision of all the wonder and grandeur of Queen Elizabeth's Court to be. Even a polished sword-blade has been asserted to have made an effective magic mirror, and it is recorded that Jacob Boehme penetrated into the innermost secrets of nature and the hearts of men by means of a tin cup.

As to cups, the Septuagint gives one to understand that the cup placed by Joseph in the sack of Benjamin in Egypt was not an ordinary drinking-vessel, but a divining-cup. Now, the way of divining with a cup was to fill it with pure water, and to read the images which were then reflected.

Some writers have supposed, from the mention of Urim and Thummim in Exodus, that divination by mirror was a recognised institution among the Jews. Urim signifies 'lights,' and Thummim 'reflections,' and the names were applied to the six bright and six dark precious stones on the breastplate of the high priest when he went to seek special revelations.

Cambuscan's mirror was, according to Chaucer, of Oriental origin. It was given by the King of Tartary to the King of Araby, and it seemed to possess all the virtues of several kinds of magic mirrors. Thus it showed whether love was returned, whether an individual confronted with it were friend or foe, and what trouble was in store for those who consulted it. Merlin's mirror, also called Venus's looking-glass, had some of these properties, but was made in Wales, and was given by Merlin to King Ryence. It revealed what was being done by friend or foe at a distance, and it also enabled the fair Britomart to read the features, and also the name, of her future husband.

The consultation of a pool, on certain special occasions, for the lineaments of 'the coming man,' has been a common enough practice with love-sick damsels in much more recent times.

The wonderful looking-glass of Lao, described by Lien Chi Altangi in Goldsmith's Citizen of the World, reflected the mind as well as the body, and the Emperor Chusi used to make his ladies dress both their heads and their hearts before it every morning. Great, however, as are the Chinese in divination, and numerous as are their superstitions, we do not find, pace Oliver Goldsmith, that the mirror occupies any prominent place in their magic.

One of the most famous dealers in catoptromancy (divination by mirror) in this country was Dr. John Dee, who flourished about the middle of the sixteenth century. He had a speculum called the Shew Stone, and sometimes the Holy Stone, with which he divined by the aid of a medium named Kelly. This Kelly was a notoriously bad character, so his example does not carry out the popular idea that the seer must be a stainless child, or some absolutely pure-minded being. Dr. Dee professed to have a number of regular spirit-visitors, whom he described with much circumstantial minuteness, and thus his mirror-magic seems to have possessed more of the character of spiritualistic manifestations than of the usual Oriental crystallomancy.

The famous Cagliostro—Prince of Scoundrels, as Carlyle called him—used a bottle of pure water, into which he directed a child to gaze, with results which were not always satisfactory.

The Orientalist, Lane, published some sixty years ago, or more, a circumstantial narrative of an experience he had with an Egyptian magician, along with Mr. Salt, a British Consul. Invocations were liberally used, in order to summon the two genii of the magician, and verses were recited from the Koran, in order that the eyes of the medium—a boy—should be opened in a supernatural manner. The magician selected one at random from a group of boys, and drew in the palm of the boy's right hand a magic square, inscribed with Arabic figures. He then poured ink into the centre, and told the boy to gaze fixedly, while he himself proceeded to drop more written invocations, on slips of paper, into a chafing-dish.

For some time the boy saw nothing but the reflection of the magician, and then he began to describe various scenes. At last Lane asked that Lord Nelson should be called up, and the boy said that he saw a man in dark-blue clothes, with his left arm across his breast. It was explained that the boy saw things as in a mirror, and that Nelson's empty right sleeve worn across the breast naturally appeared in the glass as the left arm. Now, the boy may have heard of Nelson, but could scarcely have seen him, though the figure of so famous a man must have been familiar to the magician. Hypnotism has, therefore, been suggested as the explanation of what Lane witnessed, and which seemed so miraculous at the time.

Many scholars, philosophers, and scientific students of mediaeval times, who had no pretence to magic, had yet firm faith in the power of mirrors, constructed in a special manner and under auspicious planetary influences, to reveal both the distant-present and the future.

One of the modern adepts was a French magician, who foretold by his mirror the death of a Prince, and the regency of the Duc d'Orleans.

There are many published prescriptions for the making of a magic mirror, but that which has already been given from Paracelsus is a fair specimen of the ultra-scientific method. Among directions for the use of the crystal may be cited those of Barth:

'When a crystal has been ground and polished, it is dedicated to some spirit or other; this is called its consecration. Before being used, it is charged—that is, an invocation is made to the spirit, wherein a vision is requested of the things that one wishes to experience. Ordinarily, a young person is chosen to look into the glass and behold the prayed-for vision. After a little time the crystal becomes enveloped in a cloud, and a tiny vision appears, which represents in miniature the persons, scenes, and things that are necessary to supply the required information. When the information has been obtained, the crystal is discharged, and after receiving thanks for the services he has performed, the spirit is dismissed.'

In modern crystal-gazing and mirror-reading, however, there is no invocation.

An American spiritualist says that he once put a crystal into the hands of a lady who knew nothing about its reputed virtues, but who straightway began to describe a scene which she saw in it, and which turned out afterwards to be a simultaneous incident at Trebizond. The mediumistic influence of the spirit of a North American Indian may not commend the story to non-spiritualists.

The experiences of the Countess Wurmbrand, as related in her curious book, Visionen im Wasserglass, are more matter-of-fact, perhaps, but were also assisted by a mysterious spirit, who enabled her to read pictures in the glass and to describe them to her husband. She was more successful in her time than more recent experimenters and psychologists of her own country have been since.

The Society for Psychical Research have given much attention to the subject, and have reported some remarkable observations—especially those of Miss Goodrich, a lady who has made several scores of experiments of her own in crystal-reading, always taking notes immediately. She tried the back of a watch, a glass of water, a mirror, and other reflecting surfaces, before arriving at the conclusion that polished rock crystal affords the best speculum for divination.

Having reached this point, the lady draped her selected crystal in black, set it where no surrounding objects could be reflected in it, and sought it when in search of light and leading. Sometimes her consultations were very practical. Thus, one finds among her notes:

'I had carelessly destroyed a letter without preserving the address of my correspondent. I knew the county, and searching a map, recognised the name of the town, one unfamiliar to me, but which I was sure I should know when I saw it. But I had no clue to the name of the house or street, till at last it struck me to test the value of the crystal as a means of recalling forgotten knowledge. A very short inspection supplied me with "Hibbs House," in gray letters on a white ground, and having nothing better to suggest from any other source, I risked posting my letter to the address so strangely supplied. A day or two brought an answer headed "Hibbs House" in gray letters on a white ground.'

Let us take an example of another of Miss Goodrich's crystal-readings, and let it be remembered that they are all reported as experiments of our own day:

'One of my earliest experiences was of a picture, perplexing and wholly unexpected—a quaint oak chair, an old hand, a worn black coat-sleeve resting on the arm of the chair—slowly recognised as a recollection of a room in a country vicarage which I had not entered, and but seldom recalled, since I was a child of ten. But whence came this vision? What association has conjured up this picture? What have I done to-day? At length the clue is found. I have to-day been reading Dante, first enjoyed with the help of our dear old vicar many a year ago.'

And again: 'I happened to want the date of Ptolemy Philadelphus, which I could not recall, though feeling sure that I knew it, and that I associated it with some event of importance. When looking in the crystal, some hours later, I found a picture of an old man, with long, white hair and beard, dressed like a Lyceum Shylock, and busy writing in a large book with tarnished massive clasps. I wondered much who he was, and what he could possibly be doing, and thought it a good opportunity of carrying out a suggestion which had been made to me of examining objects in the crystal with a magnifying-glass. The glass revealed to me that my old gentleman was writing in Greek, though the lines faded away as I looked, all but the characters he had last traced, the Latin numerals LXX. Then it flashed into my mind that he was one of the Jewish Elders at work on the Septuagint, and that this date, 277 B.C., would serve equally well for Ptolemy Philadelphus. It may be worth while to add, though the fact was not in my conscious memory at the moment, that I had once learnt a chronology on a mnemonic system which substituted letters for figures, and the memoria technica for this date was, "Now Jewish Elders indite a Greek copy."'

One may, perhaps, find a simple and easy explanation of Miss Goodrich's mirror-reading, in a theory of unconscious cerebration. The crystal simply assisted her memory, and recalled incidents and scenes, just as a chance odour, a bar of music, a word, a look, a name, will often do for most of us. Clearly there is nothing necessarily either magic or spiritualistic in this particular example of the magic mirror.

There are, however, some other experiments recorded which seem to be only explainable on a theory of telepathy; but Mr. Max Dessoir, commenting on the evidence of Miss Goodrich in an American Review, attributes the whole phenomena merely to 'revived memory.'

This is all very well as to past events, but what shall we say to a case such as the following, among Miss Goodrich's experiments?

'In January last I saw in the crystal the figure of a man crouching at a small window, and looking into the room from the outside. I could not see his features, which appeared to be muffled, but the crystal was particularly dark that evening, and the picture being an unpleasant one, I did not persevere. I concluded the vision to be a result of a discussion in my presence of the many stories of burglary with which the newspapers had lately abounded, and reflected with a passing satisfaction that the only windows in the house divided into four panes, as were those of the crystal picture, were in the front attic, and almost inaccessible. Three days later a fire broke out in that very room, which had to be entered from outside through the window, the face of the fireman being covered with a wet cloth as a protection from the smoke, which rendered access through the door impossible.'

Was this coincidence, or prevision, or what Mr. Dessoir calls the 'falsification of memory'? The thing was either a miracle, which none of us is prepared to accept, or the after-confusion of a vague foreboding with an actual occurrence in the mind of the observer. Mr. Dessoir suggested another explanation of crystal pictures in the doctrine of the double consciousness of the human soul; but that opens up another subject.

While we have seen that mirror and crystal-reading is one of the most ancient of occult practices, we have also seen that it is practised in our own country even at this day. Moreover, it is said that there is in England a wholesale manufacture of magic mirrors as a regular industry—the site of which, however, the present writer is unable to specify.



Certainly since, and probably long before, Job 'beheld the moon walking in brightness,' all the peoples of the earth have surrounded that luminary with legends, with traditions, with myths, and with superstitions of various kinds. In our time, and in our own country, the sentiment with which the orb of night is regarded is a soft and pleasing one, for

'That orbed maiden, with white fire laden, Whom mortals call the moon,'

is supposed to look with approval upon happy lovers, and with sympathy upon those who are encountering the proverbial rough places in the course of true love. Why the moon should be partial to lovers one might easily explain on very prosaic grounds—perhaps not unlike the reasoning of the Irishman who called the sun a coward because he goes away as soon as it begins to grow dark, whereas the blessed moon stays with us most of the night!

Except Lucian and M. Jules Verne, one does not readily recall anyone who professes to have been actually up to the moon. Lucian had by far the most eventful experience, for he met Endymion, who entertained him royally, and did all the honours of the planet to which he had been wafted from earth in his sleep. The people of Moonland, Lucian assures us, live upon flying frogs, only they do not eat them; they cook the frogs on a fire and swallow the smoke. For drink, he says, they pound air in a mortar, and thus obtain a liquid very like dew. They have vines, only the grapes yield not wine, but water, being, in fact, hailstones, such as descend upon the earth when the wind shakes the vines in the moon. Then the Moonfolk have a singular habit of taking out their eyes when they do not wish to see things—a habit which has its disadvantages, for sometimes they mislay their eyes and have to borrow a pair from their neighbours. The rich, however, provide against such accidents by always keeping a good stock of eyes on hand.

Lucian also discovered the reason of the red clouds which we on earth often see at sunset. They are dyed by the immense quantity of blood which is shed in the battles between the Moonfolk and the Sunfolk, who are at constant feud.

The reason why the gentler sex are so fond of the moon is satirically said to be because there is a man in it! But who and what is he? An old writer, John Lilly, says: 'There liveth none under the sunne that knows what to make of the man in the moone.' And yet many have tried.

One old ballad, for instance, says:

'The man in the moon drinks claret, But he is a dull Jack-a-Dandy. Would he know a sheep's head from a carrot, He should learn to drink cyder and brandy'

—which may be interesting, but is certainly inconsequential. It is curious, too, that while the moon is feminine in English, French, Latin and Greek, it is masculine in German and cognate tongues. Now, if there is a man in the moon, and if it be the case, as is asserted by antiquarians, that the 'man in the moon' is one of the most ancient as well as one of the most popular superstitions of the world, the masculine is surely the right gender after all. Those who look to Sanscrit for the solution of all mythological, as well as philological, problems will confirm this, for in Sanscrit the moon is masculine. Dr. Jamieson, of Scottish Dictionary fame, gets out of the difficulty by saying that the moon was regarded as masculine in relation to the earth, whose husband he was; but feminine in relation to the sun, whose wife she was!

With the Greeks the moon was a female, Diana, who caught up her lover Endymion; and Endymion was thus, probably, the first 'man in the moon.' The Jews, again, have a tradition that Jacob is in the moon; and there is the nursery story that the person in the moon is a man who was condemned for gathering sticks on Sunday. This myth comes to us from Germany—at all events, Mr. R. A. Proctor traced it there with much circumstantiality. Mr. Baring-Gould, however, finds in some parts of Germany a tradition that both a man and a woman are in the moon—the man because he strewed brambles and thorns on the church path to hinder people from attending Sunday mass, and the woman because she made butter on Sunday. This man carries two bundles of thorns, and the woman her butter-tub, for ever. In Swabia they say there is a mannikin in the moon, who stole wood; and in Frisia they say it is a man, who stole cabbages. The Scandinavian legend is that the moon and sun are brother and sister—the moon in this case being the male. The story goes that Mani, the moon, took up two children from earth, named Bil and Hjuki, as they were carrying a pitcher of water from the well Brygir, and in this myth Mr. Baring-Gould discovers the origin of the nursery rhyme of Jack and Jill. 'These children,' he says, 'are the moon-spots, and the fall of Jack, and the subsequent fall of Jill, simply represent the vanishing of one moon-spot after another as the moon wanes.'

1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse