Alcithoe and her sisters denied the divinity of Bacchus, and refused to join in his worship. Whilst the Theban women were employed celebrating the orgies of that god, the daughters of Minyas (for that was their father's name) continued at their looms. To enliven their hours of labour, one of them proposed that each in her turn should relate some amusing tale, to which, the other sisters agreeing, she with whom the idea originated was requested to begin. After hesitating for some time which of her numerous collections would be most agreeable—whether Babylonian Dercetis changed to a fish or her daughter to a dove, or Naias, who by magic transformed young men to fishes, or the tree the berries of which were formerly white, but turned to purple by being stained with blood—she preferred the last in consequence of its being little known. She then narrates the simple but beautiful and affecting fable of Pyramus and Thisbe. Leuconoe next, after mentioning the exposure of Mars and Venus, relates the history of Leucothoe, with whom Apollo fell in love, and afterwards turned into a rod of frankincense. To this she adds the fiction of Clytie, whom the same god changed into a sunflower. Alcithoe being then requested by her sisters to tell a story—despising as too common the fables of Daphnis, a shepherd on Mount Ida, who, for violating his marriage promise, was transformed to stone; of Scython, who changed his sex; of Celemis, a nurse of Jupiter, converted to adamant; and of the nymph Similax, and her lover Crocus, turned into flowers—prefers the history of the fountain Salmacis, who conceived a violent attachment for Hermaphroditus, the son of Mercury and Venus. These sisters, having discontinued their narrating, remained still obstinate in their contempt of Bacchus, who, in revenge, changed their implements into vines and ivy, and themselves into bats.
Cadmus, a son of Agenor, king of Ph[oe]nicia, and Telephassa or Agriope, was ordered by his father to go in search of his sister Europa, whom Jupiter had carried away, and not to return unless he found her. His search being unsuccessful, he is said to have consulted the oracle of Apollo, by which he was commanded to build a city where he saw a heifer standing on the grass, and call the country B[oe]otia. Having found the heifer, he sent his men to a fountain for water, which was at no great distance, that he might offer a sacrifice in gratitude to the god. But the spring being sacred to Mars, a dragon guarded it, which devoured all his men. By the art of Minerva, he overcame the dragon, and sowed its teeth, which grew up armed men, who, on his throwing a stone amongst them, began to fight, and all were killed except five, who assisted him in building Thebes. Hence Pentheus, in addressing the Thebans, calls them Anguigenae, serpent or snake-descended. The ferocity of the petty tribes who inhabit that part of Greece, and Cadmus's plan of subduing the natives by artfully exciting them to fight against each other until the strength and resources of the contending parties were quite exhausted, satisfactorily explain the tale of the dragon, the armed men that sprang from his teeth, and the stone which he threw among them. He afterwards married Harmonia or Harmonie, the daughter of Mars and Venus, by whom he had one son and four daughters. In advanced life, oppressed with sorrow at the fate of his daughter Ino and her two sons, he fled from Thebes to Illyricum, where he was changed into a dragon.
Halcyone's husband, Ceyx, a king of Trachinia, was drowned while attempting to cross to Claros to consult the Oracle. Disconsolate in consequence of his departure, she incessantly implored the gods for his safe return. Juno, moved by her constant prayers for her husband after his death, and compassionating the violence of her sorrow, entreated Somnus to send Morpheus, who, assuming the form and voice of Ceyx, appeared in a dream, and informed her of his fate. Frantic with grief, she ran to the beach, and, according to her dream, found the body of Ceyx floating lifeless to the shore. The queen of Trachinia was changed into a bird, in her attempt to reach by a bound the body of her husband, which she no sooner touched than it underwent the same transformation. Their mutual attachments remaining, they continue to live together as birds, distinguished by the same tenderness and affection which had marked their conjugal state when in the human form.
Hercules was possessed of the greatest physical strength. He had a great enemy in Hera, who, knowing that the child who should be born that day was fated to rule over all the descendants of Perseus, contrived to delay the birth of Hercules and hasten that of Eurystheus. Eurystheus thus, by decree of fate, became chief of the Perseidae. While yet in the cradle, Hercules showed his divine origin by strangling two serpents sent by Hera to destroy him. In course of time Eurystheus summoned Hercules to appear before him, and ordered him to perform the labours which, by priority of birth, he was empowered to impose on him. Hercules, unwilling to obey, went to Delphi to consult the Oracle, and was informed that he must perform ten labours imposed on him by Eurystheus, after which he should attain to immortality. The first labour imposed on him was to destroy the lion that haunted the forests of Nemea and Cleonae, and could not be wounded by the arrows of a mortal. Hercules boldly attacked the lion and strangled him. The second was to destroy the Learnaean hydra, which he accomplished with the aid of Iolaus; but because he obtained assistance in his work, Eurystheus refused to reckon it. Hercules's third labour was to catch the hind of Diana, famous for its swiftness, its golden horns, and brazen feet. The fourth was to bring alive to Eurystheus a wild boar, which ravaged the neighbourhood of Erymanthus. The fifth was to cleanse the stables of Augeas, king of Elis, where three thousand oxen had been confined for many years; which task he accomplished in one day, by turning the rivers Alpheus and Peneus through the stables. For certain reasons this exploit was not counted. His sixth was to destroy the carnivorous birds, with brazen wings, beaks, and claws, which ravaged the country near the lake Stymphalis, in Arcadia. The seventh was to bring alive to Peloponnesus a bull, remarkable for its beauty and strength, which Poseidon had given to Minos, king of Crete, in order that he might sacrifice it; which Minos refusing to do, Poseidon made the bull mad, and it laid waste the island. Hercules brought the bull on his shoulders to Eurystheus, who set it at liberty. The eighth labour was to obtain the mares of Diomedes, king of the Bistones, in Thrace, which fed upon human flesh. The ninth was to bring the girdle of Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons. The tenth was to kill the monster Geryon, and bring his herds to Argos. These were all the labours originally imposed on Hercules; but as Eurystheus acknowledged only eight of them, Hercules was commanded to perform two more. The eleventh labour was to obtain the golden apples from the garden of the Hesperides. Atlas, who knew where to find the apples, brought them to Hercules, who meantime supported the vault of heaven. The last labour was to bring from the infernal regions the three-headed dog Cerberus. When Hercules brought the dog to Eurystheus, the latter, pale with fright, ordered him to be set at liberty, whereupon Cerberus immediately sank into the earth. Hercules's servitude was now ended, but his great performances were not. He fought with the centaurs and giants. When his period of slavery had ended, he married Dejanira; with her he went to Trachinia. At the river Evenus he encountered the centaur Nessus. Nessus, under pretence of carrying Dejanira over, attempted to offer her violence, which caused Hercules to slay him with a poisoned arrow. Nessus, before expiring, instructed Dejanira how to prepare a love potion for Hercules. He erected an altar to Zeus Kenaeos. In order to celebrate the rite with due solemnity, he sent Lichas to Trachis for a white garment. Dejanira, being jealous, anointed the robe with the philter she had received from Nessus. Hercules put it on, and immediately the poison penetrated his bones. Maddened by the pain, he seized Lichas by the feet and flung him into the sea. He tore off the dress, but it stuck to his flesh, which was thus torn from his bones. Dejanira, being informed of what had taken place, destroyed herself. Hercules repaired to Mount [OE]ta, where he erected a funeral pile, and, ascending it, commanded that it should be set on fire. The pile was suddenly surrounded by a dark cloud, in which, amid thunder and lightning, he was carried up to heaven.
Hymen, the god of marriage, attended the celebration of marriage, and the ancients believed the parties would be miserable during the remainder of their lives unless he attended.
Jason was a famous hero of antiquity. No sooner had he finished his education under the centaur Chiron, than he went boldly to Pelias, who had banished him, and mounted the throne, and demanded the kingdom. Pelias, for various reasons, durst not appeal to arms, but, to accomplish the warlike youth's ruin, advised him to undertake an expedition against AEetes, king of Colchis, who had murdered their relation Phryxus, and, on his return, promised to resign to him the crown. To this proposal Jason agreed, and undertook the voyage to obtain the golden fleece, so celebrated in history under the name of the Argonautic Expedition. After a series of wonderful adventures he arrived at Colchis; and by the assistance of Medea, the king's daughter, whom he promised to marry, he fulfilled the hard terms on which he was to accomplish the object of his voyage. By her aid and directions, he was enabled to tame the bulls with horns and feet of brass, which breathed nothing but fire, and to plough with them a certain field; to kill a huge serpent, from whose teeth sprang up armed men; to destroy a dreadful dragon, which watched continually at the foot of the tree on which the golden fleece was suspended; and then to carry off the prize in the presence of all the Colchians, who were equally confounded at his intrepidity and success. He returned to Thessaly in great triumph, but his future life was rendered miserable by his infidelity, and the barbarous mode of revenge adopted by Medea, whom he married according to promise and carried to Greece. After many years' happiness, it may be remembered, he most iniquitously divorced her. But she severely revenged his ingratitude by causing the death of his favourite Glauce, and the ruin of her family. Not satisfied with these acts of cruelty, she put two of Jason's sons to death before his eyes, and then fled through the air in a chariot drawn by winged dragons. Having visited Corinth, she settled at Athens. Other barbarous actions again forced her to have recourse to her chariot. She returned to Colchis, where a reconciliation took place between her and Jason.
When the princes of Greece had, in fulfilment of their oaths, taken up arms to revenge the criminal conduct of Paris, Agamemnon, on account of his military talents, and being the brother of Menelaus, was appointed commander-in-chief of the combined forces. After the army had assembled in the port of Aulis, Diana, provoked at his having killed one of her favourite stags, prevented by contrary winds their sailing for Troy. On consulting the Oracle, the Greeks were informed that Iphigenia, daughter of Agamemnon, must be sacrificed to appease the enraged goddess, otherwise they must remain in harbour. Struck with horror at this awful response, Agamemnon sternly refused to give up his daughter, and ordered the princes to return home with their troops. But the winning eloquence of Ulysses and the urgent remonstrances of the other chiefs at last prevailed, and paternal affection yielded to military fame. Ulysses was then sent to Mycenae, to carry the beautiful Iphigenia to bleed on the altar of Diana. The innocent victim's blood procured a favourable wind to the Grecian fleet.
Orion sprang from Jupiter and Mercury. These gods promised to Hyricus, a B[oe]otian peasant, who had entertained them hospitably, whatever he would ask. Having no child, his wife being dead, and he being bound by promise not to marry again, requested a son. The gods then put water into the hide of a bull, which Hyricus had offered to them in sacrifice on discovering their divinity, and ordered him to bury it in the earth for nine months. At the end of that time, taking it out, he found a lively boy.
Palici, twin brothers, were sons of Jupiter and Thalia or AEtna, a daughter of Vulcan, who during her pregnancy prayed to be saved from the fury of Juno, by being concealed in the bowels of the earth. Her request was granted, and Tellus at the proper time brought to light the two boys. They were worshipped with great solemnity by the Sicilians. Their temple stood near the lakes or springs, strongly impregnated with sulphur, to which those who wished to put an end to quarrels by oath used to repair. False swearers were punished there in a miraculous manner, whilst the innocent escaped without injury. Some suppose that the perjured persons were destroyed by secret fire, while others think they were drowned.
Palladium was a statue of the goddess Pallas or Minerva, said to have fallen from heaven, near the tent of the king of Troy, when he was building the Citadel. An ancient oracle declared that, so long as the Palladium remained within the walls, Troy could not be taken. On that account it was kept with great care. The Greeks, aware of this prediction, sent Diomedes and Ulysses to carry it away during the night—a feat which they accomplished.
Paris was a son of Priam, king of Troy. His father ordered him to be put to death at his birth, in consequence of his mother having dreamt that she was delivered of a firebrand which reduced the city to ashes, and the augurs interpreting the dream to portend that the child would occasion the destruction of Troy. The persons appointed to despatch the child, contented themselves with exposing him on Mount Ida, where he was brought up by the shepherds. On account of his extraordinary strength and courage in defending the flocks from ravenous beasts and repelling the attacks of robbers, he was called Alexander. There he passed the early part of his life, and, whilst engaged tending his flock, gave judgment in the appeal of the three goddesses, Venus, Juno, and Minerva, who contended for the golden apple. Each endeavoured to bribe him: Juno promised him a kingdom, Minerva military glory, and Venus the most beautiful woman in the world for his wife. Upon the mind of the noble shepherd the promise made by Venus produced the deepest impression, and he adjudged the golden apple to her. The decision of Paris, which gave great offence to the other two goddesses, provoked their wrath against the empire and nation, and caused the Trojan War, and all the evils and calamities to which that memorable struggle gave rise. His father subsequently received him at court, and treated him as his son. After spending some time in his native city among the Trojan princes, Paris set out for the court of Menelaus, king of Sparta, with a view to carry off his wife Helena, the most beautiful woman in the world, as the reward of the judgment which he had pronounced in favour of Venus. The young Trojan met with a most welcome reception at the Spartan court; but he abused the laws of hospitality by prevailing on the queen to elope with him. Though demanded back by all the princes who had sworn to protect her, and threatened with the vengeance of the combined forces of Greece, he persisted in refusing their request. His father, on account of Ajax carrying off his sister Hesione, encouraged him in his obstinacy and guilt. In consequence of this outrage, the Greeks immediately commenced hostilities, which ended in the total destruction of the city and kingdom of Troy.
To bring out more fully the story of the apple adjudged by Paris to Venus, it is necessary to notice what happened at the marriage of Peleus and Thetis. At the celebration of the nuptials, all the gods and goddesses were present except the goddess of discord, who, exasperated at not being invited, threw into the assembly a golden apple with the inscription, "Detur Pulchriori." At first all the female deities asserted their right to the apple; but subsequently it was claimed by Juno, Minerva, and Venus only. These three agreed to refer the matter to Jupiter. But the sovereign of Olympus, knowing that it could not justly be given to Juno, and dreading the effects of her anger were it awarded to either of the other goddesses, advised them to plead their cause before Paris. The decision of Paris, and the serious results thereof; are already known.
Pentheus foolishly refused to acknowledge the divinity of Bacchus. To complete his impiety, the Theban king sent his servants to bring the god in chains before him. Assuming the appearance of one of his attendants, Bacchus allowed himself to be taken prisoner, and to be carried into the presence of the king, to whom, under the character of Ac[oe]tes, he related the transformation of the Tuscan sailors. Despising the narrative, Pentheus ordered him to be put to death. Loaded with fetters, the attendants of that prince shut him up in prison, from which he miraculously escaped. Pentheus then went out to see the Bacchanals, and to learn their mysteries; but, approaching too near, he was torn in pieces.
Quirinus, son of Rhea Sylvia, sometimes called Ilia, a vestal virgin, the daughter of Numitor, king of Alba Longa, was the twin brother of Remus. This princess, to extenuate her guilt, and to give divinity to her sons, declared that Mars, the god of war, was their father. Amulius, who had dispossessed his brother Numitor, killed the sons of the latter, and made Rhea a vestal, and, to secure the crown to himself and his descendants, ordered his niece to be burnt alive, and her infants thrown into the Tiber. The river at that time being swollen above its banks, the persons appointed to dispose of the children could not reach the main current. The cradle in which the twins were exposed floated to a place of safety on dry ground; and the infants were suckled by a wolf until found by Faustulus, the king's shepherd, who carried them to his house, where they were brought up as his own children. Their youthful years were spent in feeding cattle. After they were grown up, Remus being taken prisoner by the servants of Amulius, Faustulus, anxious to preserve the captive, disclosed to Romulus the truth respecting their birth. He, with the assistance of a few daring and resolute young men, killed Amulius, delivered his brother, and restored their grandfather to the throne.
After this event, the two brothers formed a design of building a city on the mountains where they had spent the early part of their life. From its being unknown which of them was the elder, they had recourse to augury to decide which of them should have the honour of founding and governing the new city. To Remus six ravens appeared, and to Romulus twelve. The former claimed the sovereignty from the priority of his omen, and the latter from the greater number of the birds. Each being saluted king by his own party, a battle ensued, in which Remus was killed. Others say that he was killed by Romulus, because he had, in contempt, leapt over the wall the latter was building when founding the city of Rome. The measures which Romulus adopted to increase the number of his subjects, the plans he formed for the regulations of the city, and the laws he enacted, discovered a surprising degree of political knowledge. His military talents were still more remarkable. He conquered every nation which declared war against him. The Sabines and Romans having for a considerable time fought with great ferocity, and victory inclining to neither side, they coalesced, and Tatius, the king, was appointed joint sovereign of Rome with Romulus. After the death of Tatius, Romulus found himself sole master of the city. His prosperity rendered him insolent and tyrannical. When reviewing his army, the senators, taking advantage of a storm that suddenly arose, tore him in pieces, and reported that he had been translated to heaven. The Romans, believing the story, deemed Romulus worthy of divine honours, and accordingly ranked him among their gods under the name of Quirinus.
Scylla, a daughter of Phorcys, was turned by Circe into a sea-monster of a most hideous form, either from jealousy, because she was a greater favourite with Glaucus, or at the request of that deity. According to some, she retained her original form and beauty down to the waist; but others say she had six heads and as many throats, and instead of hands had two claws. Her middle was compassed by dogs, which never ceased barking. The lower part of her body terminated in a large fish with a forked tail.
There was another Scylla, the daughter of Nisus, king of Megara, who conceived a violent passion for Minos when he was besieging her father's capital. To ensure the fall of the city, she cut off from her father's head, whilst he slept, a hair of purple colour, on which his good fortune depended, and presented it to her lover. Possessed of this charm, Minos soon carried the place, but he punished the perfidy of Scylla: she was thrown into the sea, and changed, according to one account, into a fish, and, if we can believe another narrative, her form became that of a bird.
MYTHOLOGY OF GERMANY, GREAT BRITAIN, SCANDINAVIA, ETC.
Mythology of Germany, Great Britain, and Scandinavia—Scandinavian Gods, Giants, and Elves—The world Niflheim—The world Muspelheim—How Ymir was created—The cow Aedhumla—Ymir's Offspring—Odin, the chief God—Odin's Seat and Ravens—Valhalla—Queen Frigga—How the Seas, Waters, Mountains, and Heavens were made—Chariots and Horses in Heaven—Night and Day—What a Wolf is to do—Three beautiful but evil-disposed Maidens—Creation of New Beings—Bridge between Midgard and Asgard—Sacred Fountain—Roots of the ash Yggdrasil—Baldur's Dreams and sad End—Loki, the Evil Spirit—Hel and her Brothers—Ignorance of Giants, and Cunning of Dwarfs—Worship of Scandinavian Gods—Norsemen and their Ancient Gods and Goddesses—The Volsung Tale—Odin, Loki, and Haenir's Wanderings—The Sword Gram—Sigurd's Exploits—What the Worshippers of Odin believed—Frodi's Maidens and Quern—Thor, and Subordinate Gods of the Laplanders—Belief and Worship of the Laplanders—Drums as Implements of Superstition—Sale of Winds—Power of Demons—Lucky and Unlucky Days—Other Superstitions.
The mythology of Germany, Great Britain, Scandinavia, and the other northern nations is as extraordinary as that of Greece and Rome. Every race and nation under the heavens were at one time steeped in superstition to such an extent as to make people, living in enlightened ages, wonder that creatures endowed with reasoning powers should ever have given themselves over to such vile delusions as some of our forefathers seem to have done. The adventures of the Scandinavian gods, giants, and elves were not behind those of the gods and supernatural beings in the south and east. In the beginning of time, we are informed, a world existed in the north called Niflheim, in the centre of which was a well from which sprang twelve rivers. In the south was another world, Muspelheim—a light, warm, radiant world, the boundary of which was guarded by Surt with a flaming sword. From Niflheim flowed cold streams called Elivaager, which, hardening into ice, formed one icy layer upon the other, within the abyss of abysses that faced the north. From the south there streamed forth the sparkling heat of Muspelheim; and as the heat and cold met, the melting ice-drops became possessed of life, and produced, through the power of him who had sent forth heat, Ymir, the sire of the frost giants. Ymir obtained his nourishment from four milky streams that escaped from the udders of the cow Aedhumla—a creature formed from the melting frost. From Ymir there came forth offspring while he slept, viz. a man and woman, who emerged from under his left arm, and sons from his feet. Thus was produced the race of the frost giants. Meantime, as the cow Aedhumla licked the frost-covered stones, there came forth the first day a man's hair, a head the second day, and a man, complete in all his parts, the third day. This man, Buri, had a son named Bor, who married Beltsa, one of the giant race, by whom he had three sons, Odin, Vili, and Ve.
Odin became the chief god, and ruled heaven and earth, and was omniscient. As ruler of heaven, his seat was Valaskjalf, from whence he sent two black ravens, daily, to gather tidings of all that was being done throughout the world. As god of war, he held his court in Valhalla, whither brave warriors went after death to revel in the tumultuous joys in which they took pleasure when on earth. Odin had different names and characters, as many of the gods had. By drinking from Mimir's fountain, he became the wisest of gods and men. He was the greatest of sorcerers, and imparted a knowledge of his wondrous art to his favourites. Frigga was his queen, and the mother of Baldur, the Scandinavian Apollo; but he had other wives and favourites, and a numerous progeny of sons and daughters. All over Scandinavian lands, but particularly in Denmark, the people imagine that they hear his voice in the storm.
The other two brothers were less famous, but they were gods, and assisted Odin to slay Ymir, and carry his body into the middle of Ginnungagap, and formed from it the earth and heavens. Of his blood the brothers made all the seas and waters, taking the gore that flowed from his body to form the impassable ocean which is supposed to encircle the earth. Of his bones they made the mountains, using the broken splinters and his teeth for the stones and pebbles. From his skull they made the heavens, at each of the four corners of which was stationed a dwarf, of whom we shall hear more by-and-bye. Of Ymir's brains clouds were formed, of his hair plants and herbs, and of his eyebrows a wall of defence was made against the giants round Midgard, the central garden or place of abode of the sons of men. The work of the celebrated brothers was not ended by these achievements; for they took the sparks that were cast out of the world Muspelheim, and, throwing them over the face of the heavens, produced the sun, moon, stars, and fiery meteors, and so arranged them in their places and courses, that days, months, and years followed. Allfader placed chariots and horses in heaven, where Night rode round the earth with her horse Hrimfaxi, from whose bit fell the rime-drops that every morning bedewed the earth. After her course followed her son Day, with his horse Skinfaxi, from whose shining mane light beamed. Mani directed the course of the moon, and Sol drove the chariot of the sun. They were followed by a wolf, which was of the giant race, and that will in the end of time swallow, or assist to swallow, up the moon, darken the sun's brightness, let loose the boisterous winds, and drink the blood of every dying man.
Three beautiful but evil-disposed maidens arrived at Asgard from the giants' world, Jotunheim, by whom confusion and ill-will were spread over the world. Then the gods determined to create new beings to people the universe. They gave human bodies and understanding to dwarfs, who had been generated within the dead body of Ymir, and who took up their abodes in the bowels of the earth, in rocks, in stones, and in trees and flowers. Then Odin, with two companions, went forth on an excursion to the earth, and created a man and woman; and from this pair, whose abode was at Midgard, the human race sprang. A bridge of various colours, known to men as the rainbow, connected Midgard with Asgard, and over this the gods rode daily to a sacred fountain. This fountain lay at one of the three roots of the ash Yggdrasil, whose branches spread over the whole earth and reached above the heavens. Under one of these roots was the abode of Hel, the goddess of the dead, under another that of the frost giants, and under the third was the dwelling of human beings.
Baldur dreamt evil dreams of threatened danger to his life. He related them to the gods, who endeavoured to protect him from injury. Frigga made fire, water, iron, and all metals, stones, earth, plants, beasts, birds, serpents, poison, and all diseases, swear that they would not hurt Baldur. Loki was displeased at this. He changed himself into the form of an old woman, and, inquiring the cause of Baldur's invulnerability, was told by Frigga that all things, animate and inanimate, had sworn not to harm him, with the exception of one little shrub, the misletoe. Loki, rejoicing at the information he had received, procured this little shrub, and hastened with it to an assembly of the gods, where he placed it in the hands of the blind Hoder, the god of war, who cast it at Baldur, and pierced him to the heart. Hermoder, the son of Odin, offered to proceed to Hel to release Baldur; and Hel, on hearing the request made, consented to let him go, on condition that all things would weep for Baldur. All men, all living beings, and all things wept except the witch Thock, who refused to mourn for the departed god. Baldur was therefore compelled to remain in Hel, where he will be to the end of the world.
Loki was beautiful, and possessed of great knowledge and cunning. He often brought the gods into trouble, from which, however, through his craft he extricated them. Hence he was regarded as the Evil Spirit. Sometimes he was called Asa-Loki, to distinguish him from Utgarda-Loki, a king of the giants, whose kingdom lay at the uttermost limits of the earth.
Hel, who dwelt under one of the three roots of the sacred ash Yggdrasil, was the daughter of the wicked Loki. Hel, together with her brother, the wolf Fenrir, and the serpent Jormundgand, was brought up in the giants' home of Jotunheim, where she remained until, at the request of the gods, Allfader sent for her and her brothers to destroy them, as it was known that by their origin they would prove the instruments of calamity. After casting the serpent that surrounded all lands into the deep ocean, he hurled Hel into Niflheim, and gave her authority over nine worlds, in which she was to assign places to all who died of sickness and old age. Her abode was surrounded by a high enclosure and massive gates. She was of fierce aspect, was inexorable, and would set no one at liberty who had once entered her domain. Her dish was hunger, her knife starvation, her servants slow-moving, her bed sickness, and her curtains wide-spread misery.
With Ymir perished all the giants except Bergelmir. It was a popular belief that, through the power of giants, mountains and islands were raised, and that, by these monsters, mountains and rocks were hurled from their original sites. Notwithstanding the huge bulk and the number of heads and arms that many of the giants had, they were supposed to be ignorant monsters, unable to cope with ordinary human beings.
The Dwarfs, of whom an account is given in the Eddas, were cunning and crafty elves, and skilled in magic. Some gave them a place between men and giants. It was believed that the dwarfs appeared under the forms of elves, brownies, and fairies. They used charms, and possessed all the skill of witches. It was in their power to raise storms, kill people by their diabolical art, fly away with children, and even with grown-up persons, through the air, or imprison them in caverns within the earth. They assisted men to discover the precious metals, of which they (the dwarfs) were very fond. Occasionally they were seen through an aperture of a hill, in their underground retreat, in palaces with jasper columns, surrounded with vast treasures of gold and silver.
The Scandinavian gods were worshipped in spacious temples, or on stone heaps or altars. These sacred places were always near a consecrated grove or tree and a sacred fountain. Human sacrifices were not uncommon at times of public calamities, such as war, disease, or famine. Three great festivals were held every year, the first of which was celebrated at the new year, in the Yule-month. On these occasions offerings were made to Odin for success in war, and to Freyr for a peaceful year. The chief victim was a hog, which was sacrificed to the latter god, on account of swine having first instructed man to plough the soil. Feasting and games occupied the whole month, therefore it was called the Merry Month. Yule continues to be observed in several places at the present time, and points to the custom of sun worship and the adoration of the early gods of the north. The frumenty eaten on Christmas eve or morning in England, and the sowans in Scotland, seem to be imitations of the offerings paid to Hulda or Berchta, to whom the people looked for new stores of grain. The second festival was in mid-winter, and the third in spring, when Odin was chiefly invoked for prosperity and victory.
The mythology of the Scandinavians and our ancestors was in many respects similar. It was from the principal gods of the northern nations that the names of the days of our week were taken, as will appear under the observations we shall make on the Calendar. But in addition to the chief gods there were inferior deities, who were supposed to have been translated to heaven for their great deeds, and whose greatest happiness consisted in drinking ale out of the skulls of their enemies in the hall of Wodin. The Norsemen delight to recount the exploits of their ancient gods and goddesses and celebrated mythical persons. The Volsung Tale is often referred to with pleasure. Volsung, a descendant of Odin, was taken from his mother's womb by a surgical operation, after six years' bearing. In his hall grew an oak, whose branches spread out in every direction. In that hall, when Volsung's daughter was to be given away to Siggeir, king of Gothland, in came an old guest with one eye. In his hand he held a sword, which at one stroke he drove up to the hilt in the oak. "Let him," said he, "of this company who can pull it out, bear it, and none shall say he bore a better blade." Having said this, he disappeared, and was seen no more. Many tried to possess himself of the sword, but none could draw it from the oak, till Sigmund, the bravest of Volsung's sons, laid his hand upon its hilt. At his touch, it freed itself from the mighty oak; and the sword turned out to be the celebrated blade Gram, of which every Norseman has heard. Sigmund was armed with this weapon when he went out to battle against his brother-in-law, who quarrelled with him about this very sword; for every one who knew its virtues was anxious to become its possessor. All perished in the fight except Sigmund, who was saved by his sister Signy. Sigmund, after taking vengeance against his brother-in-law, took possession of the kingdom, which was his by inheritance. When Sigmund was stricken in years, he went out to fight against the sons of King Hunding. Just as he was about to prove victorious, a one-eyed warrior, of more than mortal might, rushed at him with spear in hand. At the outstretched spear Sigmund struck with his hitherto trusty blade, when it snapped in two. In the one-eyed warrior's features he discovered the giver of the sword, who was no less famous a personage than Odin. Sigmund then knew that his good fortune had departed from him, and he sank down on the battle-field and died.
There is a legend of Odin, Loki, and Haenir in one of their many wanderings coming to a river side, where they saw an otter with a salmon in its mouth. Loki killed the otter with a stone. Then the AEsir passed on, and came at night to Reidmar's house to seek shelter. They showed the otter and salmon to him, on which he cried to his sons to seize and bind them, for they had slain their brother, Otter. To make compensation for what they had done, they agreed to pay any sum Reidmar might name. Otter was flayed, and Reidmar commanded the AEsir to fill the skin with gold, and cover it without that not a hair could be seen. Odin sent Loki down to the dwellings of the black elves to obtain the precious metal. The cunning god caught Andvari, the dwarf, and compelled him to surrender all the gold he had accumulated. The dwarf begged and prayed that he might be permitted to retain one ring, for it was the source of all his wealth, as ring after ring dropped from it. Loki was inexorable; not a penny-worth would he leave with the dwarf. Seeing he could not retain the ring, the dwarf laid a curse on it, and said it would prove a bane to every one into whose possession it might pass. Reidmar having all the gold except the ring laid at his feet, filled the skin with the yellow ore, and set it up on end. Odin poured gold over it until it was covered up. Reidmar carefully looked at the skin, and declared that he saw a grey hair, and desired them to cover it also. Odin reluctantly drew out the ring, which he would fain have kept for himself, and laid it over the grey hair. Before the AEsir departed, Loki repeated the curse which Andvari had laid upon the ring. The curse began to take effect. Regin, one of Reidmar's sons, asked for a share of the gold, but his father refused to give him any. This undutiful son and his brother Fafnir conspired against their sire, slew him, and took possession of the gold. Fafnir being the stronger brother, determined to keep the whole treasure to himself; and not only that, but he threatened that unless Regin went off he would share his father's fate. Regin fled for his life, and his brother assumed the form of a dragon, in which shape he lay on the Glistening Heath, coiled round his store of gold and precious things.
Sigurd requested Regin, who was the best of smiths, to forge him a sword. Two were made, but both broke at the first stroke. The broken pieces of Gram were then obtained, and out of them Regin forged a blade that clave the anvil in the smithy, and cut a lock of wool borne down to it by a stream. Armed with Gram, and mounted on Gran, his steed, which Odin had instructed him to choose, Sigurd rode to the Glistening Heath, dug a pit in the dragon's path, and slew him as he passed over him on his way to drink at the river. Sigurd roasted the heart of Fafnir; and while it was being cooked, he tried it with one of his fingers to see if it were soft. The hot roast burned his finger, which caused him to put it to his mouth. He tasted the dragon's blood, and instantly he understood the songs of birds. Sigurd slew Regin, ate the heart, rode on Gran to Fafnir's lair, took the spoil, and escaped with it.
On and on he rode, till on a lone fell he saw a flame; and when he reached it, it blazed all around a house. No horse but Gran could pass through that flame, and no man but Sigurd could guide him in his fiery path. Brynhildr, Atli's sister, who in consequence of giving victory on the wrong side had the thorn of sleep thrust into her cloak by Odin, lay in the house in a deep sleep. She was under a curse to slumber there until a man bold enough to ride through the fire came to liberate her, and win her for his bride. Dashing onward to where the fair maiden lay, his first touch wakened her from the long sleep to which the cruel god had consigned her. They swore with a mighty oath to love each other, and she taught him runes and wisdom.
Sigurd's mission was not yet accomplished; so on he rode to King Giuki's hall, king of Frankland, whose queen was Grimhildr, who had two sons named Gunnar and Hogni, and a step-son called Guttorm, and whose daughter was the lovely Gudrun. Sigurd, greatly attached to his lovely bride at the lone fell, purposed going back for her; but Grimhildr, who was skilled in the black arts, longed for the brave Volsung for her own daughter, and therefore prepared for him the philter of forgetfulness. He quaffed it off, forgot Brynhildr, fraternised with Gunnar and Hogni, and married Gudrun. Giuki now wanted a wife for Gunnar, and the brothers with their bosom friend set out to woo. They chose Brynhildr, whom they found still sitting on the fell, waiting for Sigurd to come back. She had made it known, that whoever could pass that flame should have her for his wife; so, when Gunnar and Hogni reached the spot, the former rode at the flame, but his horse swerved from the fierce fire; then, by Grimhildr's magic arts, Sigurd and Gunnar changed shapes and arms, and Sigurd mounted Gran, and the noble steed carried him through the flame. Thus Brynhildr was wooed and compelled to yield. That evening they were united in wedlock; but when they retired to rest Sigurd unsheathed Gram, and laid it between them. Next morning, when he arose, he took the ring which Andvari had laid under a curse, and which was among Fafnir's treasures, and gave it to Brynhildr as a gift, and she gave him another ring in return. Then Sigurd returned to his companions in his own shape; and Gunnar went and claimed Brynhildr as his bride, and carried her home. No sooner was Gunnar wedded than the power of the philter ceased to operate: he remembered all that had passed, and the oath he had sworn to the fair Brynhildr. When she discovered that she had been deceived, she engaged Gunnar to revenge her wrong. By charms and prayers the two brothers set on Guttorm, their half-brother, to take vengeance, and the hero was pierced through with a sword while he lay in Gudrun's white arms. Though Sigurd turned and writhed in agony, he had strength left to hurl Gram after the treacherous Guttorm as he fled. The keen blade cut him asunder, and his head rolled out of the room. Brynhildr's love returned; and when Sigurd, who expired of his wound, was laid upon the pile, her heart broke. She in song predicted woes that were to come, made them lay her side by side with Sigurd, with Gram between them, and so went to Valhalla with her old lover. Andvari's curse was thus fulfilled.
The worshippers of Odin believed that at certain times the gracious powers showed themselves in bodily shape, passing through the land, and bringing blessings with them. On other occasions the gods were supposed to ride through the air on clouds and storms, and speaking in awful voice as the tempest howled and the sea raged. They were also supposed to be present in battle, fighting for votaries, and defeating the wicked. The goddesses assisted women in times of peril; they taught the maids to spin, and punished them if the wool remained long on the spindles. It was supposed that Odin had a band of followers who accompanied him in the whirlwind. The wanderings of the gods are mentioned in the Odyssey, and the sanctity of the rites of hospitality, and the dread of turning a wanderer from the door, originated lest the stranger should be a disguised being of exalted character. Goddesses as well as gods were supposed to wander up and down among men, telling them what was to happen. Freyja, the goddess of love and plenty, who presided over marriages, was one of these, and the three moons, Urd, Verdandi, and Skuld, who determined the fate of gods and men, were also among the number.
We are informed that in Frodi's house were two maidens of the old giant race, whom he had bought as slaves, and he made them grind his quern Grotti, out of which peace and gold were produced. He kept them at the mill, not giving them any longer rest than the time the cuckoo's note lasted. That quern turned out anything that the grinder chose, though formerly it had ground nothing but peace and gold. The maidens ground and ground without ceasing. As Frodi was deaf to their cries for rest, they caused the quern to grind fire and war. While the quern went on making these evils, Mysing, the sea rover, came at night and slew Frodi and all his men, and carried away the hand-mill, maidens and all. When at sea, the rover caused the maidens to grind salt; and they performed their task until they ground as much as has kept the sea salt ever since that time.
Thor was the chief god of the Laplanders. They had also subordinate deities, one of which was Storjunkarr, their household god. Wirchu Archa was a female deity worshipped by them. She was the goddess of old women. These deities were represented under the figure of unsculptured stones. Spirits, angels, and devils were worshipped by those people. Souls of departed relations were also prayed to by the more superstitious of the people. Magic was a famous art among them. When sacrificing to Thor, they smeared the head of his image with the victim's blood; and when they made an offering to Storjunkarr, a thread was run through the right ear of the victim. When it was a reindeer that was sacrificed, the horns, head, and other parts were carried to a mountain devoted to Storjunkarr, and deposited there, the animal's tail being tied to one of the horns, and a red thread to the other.
The Laplanders used to sacrifice reindeers to the sun. In this ceremony a white thread was put through the victim's right ear. In sacrificing to the sun, willows were used, but in their other sacrifices birch trees were employed. Many of their superstitions were similar to those of the Greeks, Romans, and Tartars.
So much were the Laplanders given to superstition, that they worshipped the first object that presented itself in the morning. Every house and family had a deity. They had magical drums, which were consulted in a particular manner on important occasions; and when they engaged in battle, these drums were carried to the scene of action. In consequence of their supposed virtue, writers have said that drums were originally implements of superstition in our armies rather than instruments of music. Brass and copper rings, together with a hammer, were appended to a drum. A woman was not allowed to touch a sacred drum, nor was she permitted to go over the same road that it was carried, within three days of its removal.
Laplanders and Norwegians sold favourable winds to sailors and travellers. A rope with three knots was given to the buyer, who, when he wanted a gentle breeze, untied one of the knots; when he wished a fresh strong wind, he undid another; and when he desired storms and tempests, he unfastened the third. The first two descriptions of wind were generally obtained for good purposes, but the third through wicked motives. By the unloosing of the third knot, many a shipwreck was caused to bring about the death of a hated individual, and for the purpose of securing wreck cast ashore by the sea. Magicians could, the moment they were born, control the winds that blew. In this way one magician had power over the east wind, another of the south, a third of the west, and a fourth of the north. Magical shafts, which went through the air unseen, were thrown at enemies, and distempers were caused by charms. Gans or demons were enticed by secret art to perform acts of malice and deeds of revenge.
The Laplanders had their lucky and unlucky days. They thought it was unlucky to meet a woman when they were going out to hunt. When a Laplander died, the house was deserted by the family, because it was supposed the soul of the deceased remained near the inanimate body. When they buried their dead, they, like the ancient Danes, Saxons, and others, deposited a hatchet, warlike implements, a steel, flint, and tinder-box with each body, under the impression that they would be useful to the deceased in another world. Their witches—and they had many—who were born in winter, were supposed to be able to make that season cold, or comparatively mild, as they pleased.
NAMES OF DAYS, WHENCE DERIVED.
The Calendar—Names of Days, whence derived—Worship of Plants—Nature-Worship—The Power of Jupiter—Influence of Zeus—The god Indra—Origin of the term "Hours"—Hours under Planetary Control—Coronation of a Persian King—Evils transferred to the Turks and Kafirs—The Moon's Controlling Power—Time reckoned by Moons—A strange Story—Discovery of Maize, Beans, and Tobacco—Sayings of an Old Writer—Heathen Gods—Thor's Palace—Thor's Power—Frigga's Abilities—Description of Seater or Crodo.
The Fates have apparently decreed that the Pagan religion and superstitions shall be kept in perpetual remembrance. If one examine heraldry, he will find traces of heathen mythology and superstition; if he look at the most famous of Great Britain's public buildings, he will see emblems of the ridiculous; if he glance at the Calendar, he will ascertain that months and days have been named after, or mentioned in connection with, mythological beings or objects of profane adoration; and if he read the pages of the greatest authors, he will discover much that has assisted to keep alive the embers of superstition. Passing over heraldry and ancient edifices, let us inquire whence the names of months and days are derived, and how certain seasons are observed.
The Saxons called the day D[oe]g; whence the term. It is thought they obtained it from the Roman Dies, a Diis, the names of the Roman days having been taken from the planets, which were called Dii, or gods.
In noticing the first day of the week, we need scarcely give the reason for its being denominated "Sabbath," as every Jew and Christian knows the reason why one day of the week is so called; but we shall, in carrying out the line of our narrative, take leave to make a few remarks as to the cause of that day being known as "Sunday." The Romans called it Dies Solis, because it was dedicated to the worship of the sun; and the Saxons gave it the name Sunnan-d[oe]g, or Sun's-day, for a similar heathenish cause. Whether the Saxons received their mythology from the Romans, or whether they had idols of their own, is a matter of doubt. The Romans worshipped the planets by the names of some of their favourite deities; and there is a resemblance in the Latin characteristics to certain of those of the Saxons, though they are in most instances different in their appellations. The names of the days of the week have no doubt been continued from the Saxons, whatever the origin may have been.
The luminous body which gives title to our first day of the week was regarded by the ancient heathen with superstitious reverence, as it was considered to be the superintending and governing power presiding over nature.
The adoration, therefore, that was paid to the sun was the most prevalent of all the errors of superstition. That this should have been the case among people ignorant of the existence of the great omnipotent Being, is not surprising; for how much more glorious were the shining lights in the heavens, but more particularly the sun, than the many objects worshipped by Pagans in our own and other lands! Nature-worship was the foundation of all polytheistic religions; and that the principal heathen deities were originally personifications of the great luminary that gives light and heat to the earth, or of certain influences thereof, admits of little doubt. The solar character of numerous deities is clearly discernible. Jupiter had power over the phenomena of the skies. The future was known to him; the destinies of human beings were in his hands. Strange appearances in the heavens, or wonderful events happening on the earth, were the signs by which he made his pleasure or displeasure known. On special occasions sacrifices were offered to Jupiter, and his favour implored.
Zeus's influence was like that of the sun; he had the rule of the heavens and air, he directed the lightning, and guided the stars in their courses, and controlled the seasons. Prophecy belonged to him, and it was from this god Ph[oe]bus received oracular gifts. Indra was a god of similar attributes; he was the great ruler of the firmament, and the upholder of the heaven and earth, and the god who created the dawn. He presided over the east, and was the god that sent rain and wielded the thunder-bolts. Many sacrifices were offered to him, and homage was also paid in numerous ways. Baal was originally the god of the sun, and ruler of nature. Some suppose that Baal was the same god as Moloch, to whom human sacrifices were offered, and whose worship also consisted principally of purifications, mutilations, perpetual virginity, and ordeals by fire. Bullocks, and even children, were sacrificed to Baal.
The origin of the term "hour" has been supposed by some authors to be derived from Hora, a surname given to the sun, the parent of time, and called by the Egyptians Horus. Hours are occasionally distinguished by the epithet of "planetary," from a supposition of the ancients that the Sun, Venus, Mercury, the Moon, Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars alternately presided over them. The first hour of the first day of the week was under the control of the Sun, the second under that of Venus, the third of Mercury, the fourth of the Moon, the fifth of Saturn, the sixth of Jupiter, and the seventh of Mars. After such rotation, the sun governed the eighth hour, Venus the ninth, and so on through the whole twenty-four hours.
The sun, moon, and stars have been considered by the people of nearly every nation on the face of the earth to affect the destiny of mortals here below. A story of the proceedings at the coronation of a Persian king is not without interest. The important ceremony of crowning could not be performed before the lord of the astrologers—an officer of great importance—declared the lucky moments that a happy constellation pointed out the time for placing the crown on the monarch's head. It was recorded that about ten o'clock at night the chief of the astrologers and his companions, having been long observing the position of the stars and conjunction of the planets, returned to give notice to the prince and company that the fortunate time for the coronation would be within twenty minutes. When the twenty minutes were nearly expired, everything being in readiness, the grand astrologer winked, and immediately the prince was made king.
For two years everything went well; but then the king's health began to decline. Sometimes he lay whole weeks together, languishing in his harem. In consequence of his majesty having indulged too freely in stimulants, the court physician applied his secret arts to counteract the effect of the baneful liquids, but without any good result; and the astrologers began to whisper that the monarch would not recover. They could not, they reported, find in his horoscope that he had more than six years to live after the date of his coronation; and they predicted that two of the years he had to survive would be spent in perpetual misery. The queen-mother quarrelled with the physician, asking him how it came to pass that her son was sick, and accused him of treason or ignorance. The man of healing art defended his own conduct, and blamed the stars or astrologers. He said that if the king lay in a languishing condition and could not recover, it was because the astrologers had failed to observe the happy hour, or the aspect of a fortunate constellation at the time of the coronation. This view of the case was taken by many at court, and even by some of the astrologers themselves. One of those wise men made it plain to those whom he addressed, that the moment fixed for the coronation was inauspicious; and afterwards, by arguments, satisfied the queen-mother and chief courtiers that the king's ill-health proceeded from his coronation, which had been solemnized under unfortunate aspects. The king, his wives, and others believed the physician, and therefore it was in vain the unlucky astrologer maintained the correctness of his calculations.
The question now arose, What was to be done to rectify the mistake which had been committed? And at length it was resolved that the king should change his name, and that a second coronation should take place. Long deliberations took place before the second coronation was fixed. The astrologers at length agreed that the happy hour would be about the time of the year that the sun was under the influence of a certain planet, which, according to account, was to be on Tuesday the twentieth of March, about nine in the morning. The new ceremony had the desired effect, for the king became well again.
No sooner had the king improved in health than another danger threatened the nation. A great and remarkable comet appeared, which filled the people's minds with terror. All the Persian astrologers declared that the alarming sign signified wars, murders, seditions, conflagrations, dangerous diseases, overturning of kingdoms and states, and all kinds of calamities; but, by means unknown to us, they transferred all these evils on the Turks, Kafirs, and Christians, and so Persia escaped danger.
Monday was dedicated by the Saxons to the adoration of the moon, whence it was called Mon-day, Moon-day, and Monan-d[oe]g. The Romans, as well as the Saxons, consecrated this day to the moon. They (the Romans) called it Dies Lunae, feria secunda; and anciently, on the first day of every lunar month, festivals were held in commemoration of the benefits bestowed during the former moon, and in gratitude for the return of that luminary. The worship that was paid to the moon as a deity, originated from causes similar to that assigned to the sun. In Europe all avowed sincere adoration of these orbs has ceased, but traces of sun and moon worship having been once common still remain. In several parts of England it is customary to bless the new moon, while in Scotland people not only do the same, but in mock adoration they bow to it at the same time.
Many superstitious beliefs remain as to the influence of the moon. It is unlucky for one to have his hands empty when he first sees the new moon, and it is regarded as a good sign if one has silver in his hand the first time he sees it. It has, or is supposed to have, a great effect on the weather and sea. One often hears it said in times of stormy weather, "We will not have a change before the new moon." It influences the affections of lovers to a very great extent. If a swain is halting between two opinions, viz. whether he will propose to such a lady, let him invite her to take a walk with him by moonlight, and the chances are ten to one, that if they go out together, they will be married. If one doubts this, he is advised to try it, and he will see how warm the affections will become. If one is going to enter into an important undertaking, he will be wise to do so when the moon is filling. People who are married in one of the first two quarters of the moon, are more happy than those who enter into the matrimonial state when it is on the wane; and, taking a sudden bound from the sublime to things that are common, we are compelled to say that not a few consider the effects of the moon so great, that they would not kill their pigs but when it was on the increase. Then every one has heard of the effects the moon has on the human mind; whence the term "lunacy." There are many tribes and nations that reckon time by moons, and not by years, as we now do. This reminds us of a story which shows the credulity of the savages of North America, and how they calculated time. It is this:—
A Swedish minister was preaching a sermon one day to the savages, and when he had finished, an Indian orator stood up to thank him for his discourse, which had reference to our first parents eating the forbidden fruit. "What you have told us," said the orator, "is very good. It is indeed bad to eat apples; it is better to make them all into cider. We are much obliged by your kindness in coming so far to tell us those things which you have heard from your mothers. In return, I will tell you some of those we have heard from ours. In the beginning, our fathers had only the flesh of animals to subsist on; and if they were unsuccessful in the hunt, they could get nothing to eat. Two of our young hunters having killed a deer, made a fire in the wood, to broil part of the flesh. When they were about to satisfy their hunger, they beheld a beautiful woman descend from the clouds, and seat herself near the young men. They said to each other, 'It is a spirit that has smelt our broiled venison, and perhaps wishes to eat of it: let us offer some to her.' They presented her with the tongue. She was pleased with the taste of it, and said, 'Your kindness shall be rewarded. Come,' said she, 'to this place after thirteen moons, and you will find something that will be of great benefit in nourishing you and your children to the latest generation.'
"The hunters, deeply impressed with what the fair one had said, watched with something like impatience the appearance and disappearance of moon after moon, till the thirteenth moon had come and gone, and then they repaired to the spot where they were to receive their reward. To their surprise, they found plants they did not know, but which have been constantly cultivated ever since, to the great advantage of man. Where the woman's right hand had rested, they found maize; where her left hand had touched the ground, they discovered beans; and where she had sat, tobacco grew luxuriantly."
We are accustomed to speak of the sun as "he," and of the moon as "she," but in many other countries the former is considered to be feminine, and the latter masculine. In Hindoo mythology the moon is a male deity, and is represented as the son of the patriarch Atri, who procreated him from his eyes; but by others it is said the moon arose from the milk sea when it was churned by the gods to procure the beverage of immortality. An old writer says that the sun supplies the moon, when reduced by the draughts of the gods to a single ray; and in the same proportion as the moon is exhausted by the celestials, it is replenished by the sun, for the gods drink the nectar accumulated in the moon during half the month; and from this being their food, they are immortal. When the remaining portion of the moon consists but of a fifteenth part, the Manes (infernal spirits, or inferior deities) approach it in the afternoon, and drink the remaining portion of nectar. And probably in this statement are to be found grounds for the superstitious belief that the time when the moon is increasing is more fortunate than when it is waning.
Tuesday was so called from Tiwes-d[oe]g, which signifies the day of Tiw, or Tiu, a name for the old Saxon war god Tyr. Other names were given to it by the Romans and Germans. It was called by the Romans Dies Martis, feria tertia, from its having been dedicated to Mars. Wormius, Marshall, and Sommes endeavour to prove that the day took its name from Thisa or Desa, the goddess of justice, the wife of Thor. Taking the views of any of the authors who have written on the subject, it is plain that the day was named in honour of some mythological deity. Tyr did not belong entirely to the Northern mythology, but was known to the Germans as Ziu or Zio, and to Anglo-Saxons as Tiv.
Tyr, it will be remembered, was single-handed. When the gods prevailed on the wolf Fenrir to allow himself to be bound with the bandage Gleipner, Tyr put his right hand into the wolf's mouth, as a pledge that he would be loosened. The gods refused to liberate the wolf, which in revenge bit off Tyr's hand. He and his enemy, the monster dog Garmr, met their death in the twilight battle of the gods.
The Roman divinity, Mars, was a war god, and seems to have been originally an agricultural deity. To him propitiatory offerings were presented, as the guardian of fields and flocks; but as the shepherds who founded the city of Rome were of a warlike disposition, it is easily understood how Mars became the god of war.
Wednesday signifies Wodin's-day or Odin's-day. Wodin or Odin, as is well known, was a great Northern god. He was believed to be the god of war, who gave victory, and revived courage in the conflict. He was also worshipped as the god of arts and artists; and to him magnificent temples were built, and sacrifices offered. He adopted as his children all those who were slain with swords in their hands; hence the hardihood and brilliant examples of courage displayed by Northern warriors. He had two black ravens, that flew forth daily to obtain tidings of all that was being done throughout the world. His greatest treasure consisted of his eight-footed steed Sleipner, his spear Gungner, and his ring Draupner, by which he performed many strange acts. Frigga was his queen, but he had other wives and favourites, and a numerous family of sons and daughters. By drinking at Mimir's sacred fountain, he became the wisest of gods and men. He is reputed to have possessed every power of witchcraft, prophecy, and transformation; and in the shape of a lion or other beast of prey, he, we are told, destroyed whole armies.
Thursday (Thors-d[oe]g) was dedicated to the adoration of Thor, the bravest of the sons of Odin. Thor was the god of thunder; he had a magnificent palace, which had five hundred and forty pillars, where he received and made happy the warriors who had fallen in battle. By the rolling of his chariot, thunder was produced. He had a smasher or mauler, made by cunning dwarfs, which, after being thrown at an enemy, had the property of returning to him. It was believed by the Pagans that he possessed marvellous power and might, and that all people in the world were subject to him. In the air he governed the winds and clouds; and when displeased, he caused thunder, lightning, and tempest, with excessive rain, hail, and bad weather. When pleased with his worshippers, he gave them favourable weather, and caused corn and fruit to grow abundantly, and kept away disease from man and beast.
The Laplanders represented Thor by the stump of a tree, rudely carved to represent a man; and they supplied him with flint and steel, that he might strike fire when he wanted it. Moreover, they placed a hammer near him, which they supposed he would use with force against evil spirits, for they thought he had sovereign authority over all the mischievous and malevolent spirits that inhabited the air, mountains, and lakes. High festivals were held in honour of this deity, as noticed elsewhere, to supplicate for a propitious year, and at these festivals every excess of extravagant and dissolute pleasure was not only permitted, but was considered requisite.
Friday derived its name from Frigga, the wife of Odin. She, as well as her husband, possessed wonderful abilities, and, like Juno, was held in the highest esteem and veneration for her power of procuring easy access into the world, and bestowing every felicity connected with the softer endearments of life. Frigga was thought to be the mother of all the Pagan divinities of the Northern nations begotten by Odin.
The Romans dedicated this day to Venus; whence its name, Dies Veneris, feria sexta. That goddess having possessed many of the attributes for which Frigga was celebrated, many authors have supposed them originally to have meant the same divinity.
Saturday has its name from Seater or Crodo, worshipped by the old Saxons. He was lean, had long hair and a long beard. In his left hand he held up a wheel, and in his right he carried a pail of water, wherein were flowers and fruits. He stood on the sharp fins of the perch, to signify that the Saxons, for serving him, should pass, without harm, in dangerous and difficult places.
The seventh day of the week was dedicated by the Romans to Saturn, and called, in honour of him, Dies Saturni, feria septima. Seater or Crodo, and the Roman Saturn, have been considered by many to be the same deity.
NAMES OF MONTHS, WHENCE DERIVED.
Names of Months, whence derived—January—First of January, how kept—Heathens and Christians—New Year Gifts—February—Sacrifices for purging Souls—Second of February, how kept—Virtue of Candles—Shrove Tuesday—Eating Pancakes—Partaking of Brose—Choosing a Valentine—March—Prognostications observed in this Month—April dedicated to Venus—First of May—Roman Floral Games—Queen of the May—May Poles and May Fires—Dispute between Men and Gods—Superstitious Customs in Scotland—Superstitious Ceremonies in England—June regarded as the most favourable Month for Fruitful Marriages—July—August—September—October—Hallow-e'en Ceremonies—November—All Hallows—Souls in Purgatory—St. Leonard—St. Britius—December—Christmas Trees and Gifts—The Misletoe—Privileges in Leap Year—Yule Log—Christmas Festivities.
January, it is generally admitted, derived that appellation from the Latin Januarius, in honour of Janus, one of the heathen divinities. Janus was supposed to preside over the gates of heaven. The Saxons originally called this month Wolf-monat, and afterwards it was called Aefter-Yule—After-Christmas. The first of January having been observed by the heathens as a day of great rejoicing, and offering up profane and superstitious sacrifices to Janus, the early Christians observed it as a fast to avoid the appearance of doing honour to a heathen deity. The Grecians, at the commencement of every year, held festive meetings to celebrate the completion of the sun's annual course. From that people the Romans borrowed the custom of observing the first of January; and from the Romans our forefathers received it. In giving New Year gifts, we follow the example of the ancients; and to receive such tokens of goodwill, was then, as now, considered propitious.
The name of February is taken from Februa, Februta, or Februalis, names of Juno, who presided over the purification of women; or, according to other authors, from Februis expiatoriis, sacrifices for purging souls, there having been a feast on the second day of this month, when sacrifices were offered to Pluto for the souls of the dead. This day was kept by certain Christians as a solemn festival, in memory of the humiliation of the Virgin Mary, who submitted to the injunction of the law under which she lived. They offered up thanksgiving on this day, and paraded about with flambeaux and candles—proceedings which some thought were too close imitations of the Pagan customs of brenning—in honour of Juno. There is in this instance a resemblance to the Pagan superstition; and from the burning of candles on the day we are referring to, they were, and are yet, lighted on occasions of danger, to avert evil. Persons in this country have been known to light candles, as a charm against thunder and lightning; and lighted candles, when once charmed (which it is supposed can be done), are considered by the ignorant at home and abroad, to possess virtue sufficiently powerful to frighten away evil spirits. Such candles are sometimes placed in the hands of persons while in the agonies of death, to protect them from the evil one.
Shrove Tuesday, or Fasten's Eve, is a day observed in many lands. In olden times, after the people had made confession at this season, they were permitted to indulge in festive amusements, although not allowed to partake of any repast beyond the usual substitutes for flesh; and hence arose the custom of eating pancakes and fritters, and partaking of brose, in Scotland, at this time. The brose was then made of oatmeal and butter, with a ring in it. The bicker of brose being set in the middle of a table, the unmarried members of the family, and invited friends who had not entered the matrimonial state, seated themselves around and partook of the repast. They took spoonful about till the ring was found, and then it was put into a second dish of brose, and again into a third, and he or she who found the ring twice left the table, assured of being married before another Fasten's Eve. At a later hour of the evening, pancakes, sometimes called "sauty bannocks," were made, and through their magical virtues future husbands and wives were discovered. A large cake or bannock was prepared, in which a ring or other small article was put, and the young person whose lot it was to secure the piece of cake or bannock with the concealed article was looked upon as being as lucky as the individual who picked the ring twice out of the brose. While all this was going on, unbounded mirth prevailed, and before the company broke up, dreaming cakes or bannocks were prepared, that every one might take one and place it under his or her pillow. To make the cakes of any avail, the baker had to remain mute when preparing them, and the receivers had, immediately after obtaining them, to slip off quietly to bed, when, if all the preliminaries had been duly observed, the sleeper's future companion in life appeared in a vision or dream of the night.
The practice of choosing a valentine on the 14th of February is well known. The first person of the opposite sex who was seen by an unmarried person on the morning of that day, was regarded as the valentine for the year. Another way of finding out a valentine was to cast into a receptacle small billets, with (if the consulters were young women) bachelors' names on them, and then to draw them out lottery-wise. The bachelor whose name appeared on a billet thus extracted at random, became the valentine of the spinster to whose lot it fell. In this way a bevy of young ladies ascertained, in a few minutes, secrets they were most anxious should be disclosed. When the gentlemen were anxious to discover their valentines, they proceeded in the same way, taking care, however, that the ladies for whom they had the greatest affection should be named on the billets. A lady's valentine was her knight for the year, and not unfrequently he became her husband. The amusements of Valentine's Day were very popular among all classes in the fifteenth century. It was customary at one time for both sexes to give each other presents, but the ladies, through modesty, or some other cause best known to themselves, have ceased to bestow gifts in their valentines. Many attempts have been made to abolish the heathen custom of young men drawing the names of young women, and vice versa, on this day, but without success.
March was called after Mars, the god of war; but the Anglo-Saxons knew it as Hraed-monat, signifying rugged month, and Hlyd-monat, meaning stormy month. Those who indulged in prognostications, carefully observed the state of the weather in this month. Dry weather at this time portended a plentiful season, while a rainy month indicated scarcity of food.
The fourth month of the year, it is generally believed, derived its name, April, in allusion to the buds then beginning to open; but the old Anglo-Saxons called it Eoster-monat, in honour, some think, of the goddess Easter. The Romans dedicated April to Venus, and frequently called it Mensis Veneris as well as Aprilis. The old and general custom of sending people useless errands on the first of April is so well known that we do not require to say anything more about it, than that it is thought to have originated in the acts of sending Christ backward and forward to various tribunals to secure His condemnation.
On the first day of May the Romans offered sacrifices to Maia, the mother of Mercury. Apollo was the tutelar deity of this month. This day is observed with mirth, in imitation of the old Roman celebration of the days when the goddess Flora was worshipped. The Roman floral games began on the 28th April, and continued a few days. At one time these celebrations were conducted with obscenity, but by degrees the amusements became more moral. It was customary during the middle ages for rich and poor to go out on May-day, with music and other signs of joy and merriment, to gather flowers, and sip the dew before sunrise. The people then decorated their houses with the flowers, conspicuous amongst which was the hawthorn blossom. The most beautiful maid of the district was chosen "Queen of the May," and crowned with flowers. So general was the custom of observing May-day in the reign of Henry VIII. that the Corporation of London went out a-Maying, and so did the king and queen. In England, France, Germany, and elsewhere, every village had its May-pole, till the May games were suppressed, or rather discouraged, on the ground that they were remnants of heathen superstition.
The Celts kindled their May-fires with much superstitious ceremony, a custom which had its origin in the worship of Baal. The principal festival of this worship was held in the beginning of May, but there were similar ceremonies in November. On these occasions all the fires in the district were extinguished, under the pain of death. Needfire was then obtained by friction, and all the fires were rekindled from what was regarded as the sacred flame. At times of public calamities and distress, the practice of kindling needfire was resorted to. It was supposed to counteract sorcery, and stay disease among cattle. These superstitious operations remind one of the story of Prometheus. The myth runs thus:—"During the reign of Zeus, men and gods, once upon a time, were disputing with one another. With the view of outwitting Zeus, Prometheus cut up a bull and divided it into two parts, hiding the meat and the intestines in the skin, and putting an inferior piece on the top, while he heaped the bones together and covered them with fat. Zeus was asked to choose either of the lots, and, suspecting that an attempt was made to deceive him, he selected the good portion; but, enraged at the stratagem, he took his revenge on the mortals by withholding from them the fire necessary for the cooking of meat. Prometheus by his cunning art obtained fire in a hollow staff, and brought it to them; and he took from man the gift of foreseeing future events, but gave him the better gifts of hope and of fire." Down to a recent date, people in the north of Scotland cut a trench in the ground; they then kindled a fire and dressed a repast of milk and eggs, something like a custard. This being done, they kneaded a cake of oatmeal, and toasted it before the fire. The custard was then eaten, and the cake was broken into pieces and thrown into a bag, not, however, before one of the pieces was burned black. Every one of the company in turn was blindfolded, and drew out a piece of the cake; and he who drew out the burned piece was dedicated to Baal, in order to render the year fruitful. The person supposed to be devoted was then compelled to leap three times over the fire, as symbolical of the sacrifices offered to this god in former ages.
In England there were Ram Feasts. At one of these a ram was roasted in its skin, and after it was cooked a great scramble took place for pieces thereof, it having been thought good fortune would attend those who secured a portion. Men and women partook of the feast.
The name of June was given in reverence to Juno, and was called Sear-monat by the Anglo-Saxons. Mercury was regarded by the Romans as the deity who presided over this month. June is considered in the present age as the most favourable period of the year for marriages.
July was originally called Quintilis, or fifth month, in honour of Julius Caesar; but the Anglo-Saxons came to know this month as Maed-monat, or mead month, in consequence of it being the usual season of the year for securing honey and making mead.
St. Swithin's Day (15th July) is observed in commemoration of this wet or rainy saint. He was of Saxon descent, and distinguished for his piety and learning. St. Swithin was buried in the churchyard of Winchester, and the consecrated spot where his remains rest has been, we are told, the scene of frequent miracles. In consequence of the virtues flowing from his body, it was resolved to convey his remains to the choir of the cathedral, but, on the day appointed for the removal of his sacred dust, violent rain commenced, which continued without ceasing for forty days. From this circumstance, it was inferred that the intended removal of his remains was displeasing to St. Swithin, and the intention was for a time abandoned. Subsequently his body was transferred to another resting place, without the elements or the saint manifesting any displeasure. It is unnecessary to do more than recall to memory the wide-spread opinion, that if it rain on St. Swithin's Day, forty days wet weather will follow. Absurd as this superstition may appear, it has been believed in from the time of his death, in 862.
St. Margaret, whose festival falls to be held on the 20th July, was the daughter of an idolatrous priest at Antioch. She became a convert to the Christian religion, from which she was sought to be seduced by Olybius, a ruler in the East who sought her hand in marriage. She refused to forsake the true religion, or to become his wife; and her refusal was fatal to her. The cruel monster put her to the most dreadful torments he could invent, and afterwards ordered her to be beheaded, about the year 275. St. Margaret has been worshipped by the Eastern and Western Churches, from her supposed power to assist females in childbirth. It is related that Satan, in the form of a dragon, swallowed her alive, but that she escaped unhurt from the monster. Her girdle was long preserved in the abbey of St. Germain, in Paris; and females were, it was generally believed, undoubtedly relieved in their hour of suffering by the application of the sacred relic.
August, formerly called Sextilis, was named August in honour of the Emperor Augustus. And September still retains its original Roman name—that of the seventh month, though now really the ninth month—in consequence of the change made by commencing the year in January instead of March; but the Anglo-Saxons knew it by the name of Gerst-monat, or barley month, because their barley crop was usually gathered in in this month.
October, known by the Saxons as Wyn-monat, or wine month, has long been regarded with peculiar interest, owing to the many superstitious customs observed in it. In Rome, a horse, called October, was sacrificed to Mars in this month; and the Greeks and Romans held many Bacchanalian festivals in it, at which the people had recourse to magic and divination. In the days of our ancestors the Hallow-e'en ceremonies were more generally followed than they are by the present generation, but still in various places, particularly in the north of Scotland, people observe them with mirth, mixed with superstitious fear of fairies, ghosts, and other supernatural beings, supposed to be then at large, performing good and evil deeds. At this season, however, the most diabolical fiends are supposed to be chained in their abodes of darkness, or at all events prevented from venting their full wrath against the human race. The worst thing that Satan, assisted by all his emissaries, can do on Hallow-e'en, is to allot to one an ill-looking, decrepit, or sour partner in life, or send him or her a great swarm of children; or perhaps do what is worse—prevent any offspring being given to loving married couples. Unmarried men and women are accustomed to meet at the house of a friend, to spend this evening in searching into futurity. Various are the charms and modes of divination they have recourse to. The first spell they try is pulling kail-stocks in the dark with their eyes closed. There must be no attempt to pick what is thought the best stocks, but each person should pull up the first plant that comes to hand. After every one has obtained a root, the company returns to the house to examine the stocks. A long straight plant denotes that the holder thereof is to get a fine-looking husband or wife, as the case may be; whereas one who has unfortunately pulled a crooked, ill-shaped stock, may expect that his or her conjugal companion will be deformed and uncouth. In proportion to the quantity of earth adhering to the root, so will the riches of the possessor be; and according to the sweet or sour taste of the stem's centre, so will the temper or disposition of the expected partner be. The ceremony of pulling and tasting being over, the stocks are deposited above the door, and careful notice is taken of the strangers who come in when they are there. Favourites are invited in, but those whose presence is not desired are prevented, if possible, from crossing the threshold.
Those in pursuit of pleasure and fortune next proceed to the stack-yard, and pull each a stalk of oats, and, by counting the grains upon the stem, the puller will ascertain the number of little branches that will shoot forth from the family tree. It is peculiarly fortunate if the top grain be found on the stalk.
If a young man or single woman go to the barn three times to winnow corn, an apparition resembling the future spouse will appear before the chaff is separated from the third sieveful of grain. The like result may be expected if one go unperceived to the peat-stack and sow a handful of hempseed, or travel three times round it. Another way of revealing one's husband or wife, is this:—Go to a ford through which a funeral has passed, dip the sleeve of the shirt or chemise, and the wearer, on returning home and going to bed, after hanging the garment before the bedroom fire, will see the apparition of his or her object of affection turn the sleeve to dry the other side. To find the name of one's future spouse, one has nothing more to do than to go on Hallow-e'en to a barn or kiln, throw into it a clew of blue thread, which the person begins to wind up into another clew, having of course kept hold of one end of the thread. Before the winding operation is completed, some one will take hold of the thread, and on the question being asked, "Who holds?" an answer will be returned, in which will appear the name of him or her the fates have destined to be the inquirer's partner in life.
These modes described of lifting the veil that conceals the future are easy, and the objects aimed at pleasant; but even Hallow-e'en has both its lights and shadows; and one has something more to do than to inquire into the affairs of affection and domestic bliss. From curiosity or some other cause, a person may wish to know whether he or any of his neighbours will be taken away by the cold hand of death before another year. If he has such a wish, let him repair to a public highway which branches off in three directions, and take his seat (a three-legged stool is thought the best) in the centre of the road, a little before twelve at night. Simultaneously with the nearest clock striking that hour, he will hear proclaimed the names of those who are to die in the parish before the next Hallow-e'en. The curious individual should not omit to take with him a good many articles of wearing apparel. If he hear pronounced the name of any one whose life he does not desire to prolong, he will do well to retain his property; but if the name of one dear to him is sounded, he may rescue the person from early doom by casting away one of the articles. The life of esteemed friends is precious in one's sight, but his own life is generally dearer, and therefore the listener should take care not to cast away every rag he has, lest his own name should be called after he has parted with his last garment.