Another way of discovering one's future partner:—Let a person take up a position before a mirror, eat an apple before it while combing his or her hair, and now and again holding out the apple, as if offering it to some one supposed to be standing on the right side. Before the hair is properly arranged and the apple eaten, the person whose presence is desired will appear in the attitude of accepting the apple.
By the burning of nuts, it may be discovered whether lovers are to prove true or false to each other. One nut is taken to represent the gentleman, and another is named after the lady. Both nuts are laid in the fire: if they consume quietly together, then it is learned that fortune has appointed the lady and gentleman to spend their lives in happy union; but if one of the nuts start away, or should they both fly off in different directions, the individuals appealing to the fates are to understand that they will never be united in wedlock.
November—gloomy November—was known as Blot-monat (blood month) by the Saxons, as it was the time when large numbers of sheep and cattle were killed for sacrifices and for provisions.
The first day of November—All Saints or All Hallows—is a day of general commemoration of all saints and martyrs in honour of whom no particular days have been expressly assigned. The origin of this festival is supposed to have been in 607, when Phocus, the emperor, wresting the Pantheon from the heathens, gave the splendid edifice to the Christians. Boniface IV. consecrated it to the Virgin Mary and all the saints of both sexes. The Pagan dedication of it was to Cybele and all the gods.
The second day of November is an important day in the eye of the Church of Rome. On this day there are particular services in that Church relative to the souls supposed to be in purgatory. Odilon, abbot of Cluny, enjoined, in the ninth century, the ceremony of praying for the dead. The practice became common after this, and the next century a general festival was established, having for its object the release of suffering souls. Persons dressed in black went round the towns, ringing bells on the streets, every Sunday evening during the month of November, calling upon the inhabitants to remember the deceased suffering the expiatory flames of purgatory, and to join in prayer for the repose of their souls. The practice is still continued in some places, but an edict for its abolition was passed in the reign of Elizabeth. Praying for the dead, and offering sacrifices at their tombs, were early resorted to. Ovid ascribes the origin of the ceremonies to AEneas; and Virgil favours this idea in his fifth book. Certain saints declared that they heard the howlings of devils, as they complained of the souls of men being taken away from them, through the alms and prayers of holy people.
The Romans held a festival which lasted eleven days, during which period they imagined that ghosts were not only relieved from punishment, but were suffered to wander round their tombs. In the Roman Catholic Church mass is performed for the repose of departed souls; but it is requisite that those who desire to aid their deceased friends should give substantial proof of sincerity. In the Clavis Calendaria we read, "When the Duke of Assuna was supplicated for charity by a mendicant friar, he said, 'Put a pistole in this plate, my lord, and you shall release that soul from purgatory, for which you design it.' The duke complying, was assured his charity had been effective. 'Say you so, holy man?' replied his grace; 'then I shall take back my money for a future occasion, as you cannot, nor would you, I am confident, if you were capable, again condemn the poor soul to its former endurance.'"
Frederick the Great of Prussia, desirous of recovering the revenues of one of his forests from a monastery, demanded of the prior by what title it was held. To this question he received the prompt reply, that the income had been given in consideration of the holy brotherhood daily saying mass for the repose of the soul of one of his Majesty's ancestors. "How much longer," said Frederick, "will that holy work continue requisite?" "Sire," said the prior, whose experience far surpassed that of the friar who had addressed the duke, "it is not possible for me to speak of the precise time; but when it shall have been effected, I shall instantly despatch a courier to inform your Majesty."
The 6th November is sacred to St. Leonard. He was the friend of captives and all others in distress. If monkish legends can be credited, the mere mention of his name by one bound in fetters was sufficient to break the chains wherewith he was secured, and cause the prison doors to open, seemingly of their own accord, that the captive might go free. St. Leonard died in the year 500.
On festive and holy days at this period of the year, people strewed the graves of their relatives and the churchyards with evergreens.
Martinmas, now regarded in Scotland as the winter term-day, is observed by Roman Catholics in honour of St. Martin, born in Pannonia in or about the year 316, who is reported to have performed many miracles. Formerly, St. Martin's Day was one of great festivity. Sports were entered into at the market cross and village green, and kept up till a late hour, when, by the ringing of a bell, the people were warned to retire to their homes. It has been supposed that the Martinmas feeing markets, for the engagement of agricultural and other servants, originated at these sports. At those merry gatherings there was invariably a large concourse of people, either taking part in or witnessing the games; consequently the opportunity was taken advantage of by masters requiring servants, and by servants seeking employment.
The 13th of November is St. Britius's Day. He was a pupil of St. Martin, who prophesied that his youthful scholar would be subjected to many severe afflictions, but that he would be appointed a bishop some day. The latter part of the prediction was fulfilled in 399, by the election of St. Britius to the see of Jaurs, on the death of his master. The other part of St. Martin's prophecy also came to pass. Grievous slanders were circulated concerning St. Britius; and among other offences he was accused of being the father of a child by his laundress. The people, enraged at the incontinence of their bishop, threatened to put him to death; and they would have carried their threat into execution, but for most extraordinary evidence coming from the lips of a child only one month old. Holy St. Britius adjured the infant, on the thirtieth day of its existence on earth, to tell who was its father. Whether the infant revealed the name of its paternal parent, we are not informed; but this we are told, that it clearly and audibly testified that it had not sprung from the bishop's loins. This miracle did not satisfy certain wicked people—they attributed the strange occurrence to sorcery; and to give another test of his innocence, St. Britius had recourse to the fiery ordeal. He, to show that he was free from guilt, carried burning coals on his head to the shrine of St. Martin, without the cap he wore being burned or a hair of his head singed. This second miracle was also attributed to his intimacy with Satan, and he was expelled from the city for seven years. At the end of that time he was restored to his dignities, which he enjoyed until his death, in the year 444.
St. Britius was among the first who submitted to a fiery ordeal, but others had been subjected to this mode of trial before him. The first appeal of this nature, we are informed, was that of Simplicius, a bishop of distinction, in the fourth century. Having been married before attaining his high ecclesiastical position, he was charged with continuing to partake of matrimonial indulgences. To prove his innocence, the bishop's wife not only held burning coals in her lap without injury, but applied the coals to her breast without receiving hurt. He, too, submitted to various forms of fiery ordeal, and came out scatheless; and as their innocence was in this way manifested, they were acquitted.
From the strange custom of ordeal by water originated the practice of ducking witches, but to the witch either sinking or swimming proved alike fatal. If she sank she was permitted to drown, and if she swam it was regarded as a proof of guilt, and was therefore forced below the water and drowned. Sometimes the ordeal was by hot water. The bare legs and arms were immersed in boiling liquid, and if they sustained no injury the accused was considered innocent.
Edmund, the king and martyr, to whose memory the 20th of November is sacred, was the last titular of the East Angles. When the Danes first landed in his district, in England, they defeated him, and when he fell into their hands they scourged him, bound him to a tree, pierced him with many arrows, and afterwards beheaded him. Before being captured, Edmund offered to surrender himself to the Danes, provided they would spare his subjects, and permit them to enjoy the privileges of Christians; but the invaders refused to listen to the proposition, hence the Church has regarded him as a martyr. His head was thrown into a thicket, and lay there for twelve months, at the end of which time the Christians found it in a perfect state, guarded by a wolf, which held the precious caput between its paws. Probably it never would have been seen, but for the departed saint being heard uttering the words, "Here, here, here!" Fifty years after the head was discovered, the body was found near the same spot. The remains of Edmund were buried in a remote place in the year 903, but in 1010 they were exhumed and translated to London. In 1012 this human dust was removed to the place whence it was taken.
The Danish invasion and murder of Edmund are ascribed to Bearn, a dissolute English nobleman. The story runs that Lodebrock, king of Denmark, having been alone in a boat, was driven by a tempest from the Danish coast to the Yare, in Suffolk. The inhabitants brought him to Edmund, who treated him with so much mildness and consideration, that his affections were alienated from his own country. Among other pastimes, the Dane was in the habit of hawking with Bearn, the king's huntsman, who at length murdered him. A favourite hound belonging to Lodebrock never quitted the body of its murdered master, except when compelled by hunger. This being noticed, and Bearn being found guilty of the murder, he was sentenced to be put in Lodebrock's boat, without food or instrument of navigation, and committed to the mercies of the sea. By a strange providence, he was carried to the very place in Denmark from which Lodebrock had been driven. The Danes, who knew the boat, and who had heard of the murder, examined Bearn on the rack as to his guilt. To avoid the just punishment of his crime, he affirmed that Edmund was the author of the horrid deed. On hearing the false declaration, wrung from Bearn by torture, Hinguar and Hubba, sons of Lodebrock, to avenge their father's death, sailed for East Anglia, where they killed Edmund.
St. Cecilia's Day is the 22d of November. She was a native of Rome, and suffered martyrdom in consequence of her embracing the Christian religion. Her story is a remarkable one. It is related that she made a vow of chastity, but that nevertheless her parents compelled her to marry a young nobleman named Valerianus, a heathen. On the evening of their wedding day, Cecilia told her husband that he must not enter her chamber, as she was nightly visited by an angel, who would destroy him were he found in it. Surprised at the statement, but not alarmed, he sought an interview with the spirit, but she told him that could not be unless he first became a Christian. He consented to change his religion, and he and his brother Tibertius were baptized. Shortly afterwards the husband found his wife at prayers in her closet with an angel, like a beautiful youth, clothed with brightness, by her side. The angel informed Valerianus that he and his brother would soon be beheaded, and that Cecilia would be thrown into a cauldron of boiling water, and scalded to death. All the predictions were fulfilled. Cecilia's martyrdom took place about the year 230, though some authorities suppose it happened earlier.
The 30th November is the anniversary of St. Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland. There is a wonderful legend regarding St. Andrew's Cross. The cross, we are informed, appeared in heaven to Achaius, king of Scots, and Hungus, king of the Picts, to encourage them to engage in battle with Athelstane, king of England. Achaius and Hungus led on their forces, and were victorious. In acknowledgment of this wonderful manifestation, they vowed to bear St. Andrew's Cross for ever on their ensigns and banners.
November was considered a good month for invalids being bled or physicked, but every day was not considered equally lucky for applying the lance or swallowing the draught. Almanacs were therefore sold, with directions how to avoid the inauspicious times.
December, it is generally believed, was consecrated to Saturn; others, however, think it was sacred to Vesta. In ancient times the Saxons called it Midwinter-monat and Yule-monat. This last-mentioned name points to the far-back period and high festivals held this month by the Northern nations in honour of the sun. The evergreens with which houses are decked, and Christmas trees with their gifts, are relics of the symbols by which our heathen ancestors exhibited their belief in the power of the sun to deck the earth anew with green, and to laden the trees with rich fruit. The misletoe, exhibited at Christmas and the New Year in almost every house, is looked upon as a semi-sacred thing, that possesses charms and confers privileges on people possessed of it, or who may come under the support from which it is suspended. In olden times the ancient Britons believed their gods were in the oaks. When the misletoe berries were ripe, the Druids invited the people to a great feast, and the oldest Druid, dressed in white, climbed up the trees where the misletoe grew, and with a golden sickle cut it down, while the other Druids sang and prayed. We have various accounts of the misletoe, and of the strange superstitious proceedings in gathering it. The misletoe is supposed to be the golden bough which AEneas made use of, to introduce himself to the Elysian regions. It is often worn about the neck of children, to prevent convulsions and pain when getting their teeth.
New Year's gifts and Christmas boxes were given by friends to friends in ancient times. Both the Greeks and Romans gave presents and entertainments during their annual superstitious meetings. Masses and prayers were offered for the safety of persons and ships, but more particularly for vessels that went on long voyages. A box, devoted to each ship, was kept by the priest, into which money might be dropped, in order to give efficacy to the supplications of the Church; and these boxes being opened at Christmas in each year, acquired the name of Christmas boxes. In course of time all presents given at this season of the year were familiarly called boxes. Poor people begged box money to enable them to supply the priest's box, that they might have the benefit of his prayers.
The old salutation of "a merry Christmas," like that of wishing "a happy New Year," adverted to the hospitality of the rich, whose spacious halls, crowded with tenants and neighbours, were scenes of boundless hospitality. Boar's-head is sometimes served on Christmas Day, to give expression of the abhorrence of Judaism. Plum-puddings are emblematical of the offerings of the wise men; and mince-pies, with their pieces of paste over them in the form of a hay rack, commemorate the manger in which the Saviour was first laid. Dancing and gambols have been among the Christmas amusements for a long series of years.
The wassail bowl was the vessel out of which our Saxon ancestors took such copious draughts, that legislative measures were adopted with the view of enforcing temperance. Wassail not only refers to a certain liquid preparation, but it is a term applied to drinking songs, which in the cider-producing counties were sung on the eve of the Epiphany, when libations were poured out to the apple-trees for a fruitful season—a custom evidently followed in example of the heathen sacrifices to Pomona, the goddess of fruit-trees and orchards.
Dunstan, to check the vicious habit of excessive indulgence in intoxicating liquors, introduced the custom of marking or pegging drinking-cups at certain places, to restrain the draught to a limited quantity. But the contrivance, instead of being attended with good effects, led to greater excess; for those who formerly strove to avoid intoxication, were now, they thought, obliged to drink to the "pegs," it being understood that it was imperative to drain the vessel to the pin.
From the use of peg or pin-cups or tankards, may be traced phrases yet repeated. When a person is in a cheerful mood, he is said to be in a merry pin. Speaking of bringing a man "down a peg," refers to a regulation which deprived a troublesome fellow of his turn of drinking. When a person is dull, he is described as being "a peg too low." "Getting on peg by peg," means that a man is gradually emptying his cup.
Anciently, confectionery was presented to the Fathers of Rome, made up in the forms of crosses, infants, etc., to which has been ascribed the origin of bakers presenting their customers with cakes, or, as they are sometimes called, "Yule dough." It is supposed that the New Year's ode composed by the Poet Laureate was originally regarded as a Yule song or Wassail song. For such verses Christmas carols were substituted, as being more appropriate for the season of the year, observed with joy in honour of Christ's birth in Bethlehem.
MIRACLES PERFORMED BY SAINTS AND OTHER HOLY PERSONS, AND THE INFLUENCE OF SACRED RELICS.
Introductory—St. Peter and Simon the Magician—Clement's Miracles and Death—St. Agnes the Innocent—A Miraculous Circumstance—St. Blase's Power over Men and Beasts—St. Agatha's Holy Life, Tortures, and Wonder-working Veil—St. Patrick's Missionary Labours, and Expulsion of Reptiles from Ireland—St. Germanus stilling the Raging of the Sea—St. David and the Welsh Leeks—The Stirrup Cup, and Origin of "Pledging"—Elfrida's Treachery and Remorse—St. Benedict's Power over the Elements—St. Dunstan cured by an Angel; his Encounter with Satan—The AEolian Harp—St. Columba's Prophecy concerning Iona—The Dream of Columba's Mother—Tragic Events—Prayer answered—Sacred Ducks of Ireland—St. Paul binding a Dragon—Saints and Frogs—Friars and Jesuits—Father Mark proof against Fire—Virtue of Holy Water—St. Noel's Imprecation—Men-wolves—Stories about Bees—Strange Story about the Host—Blood-stained Jews—Miracles—St. Boniface—Pope Silvester assisted by Satan—Necromancing Popes—St. Januarius's Blood—St. Anthony's Conflicts with the Devil—St. Anthony's Hog and Bees—A Tradition concerning Melrose—St. Cuthbert—Waves of Blood—Strange Narrative—A Princess swallowed up by the Earth—Monk Waldevus's inexhaustible Stores—Holy Relics—Rusticus and his Hog.
In laying down rules for our own guidance in carrying on this work, we resolved to make few allusions to the miracles and mysteries related in the Old Testament. We also determined to avoid reference to Christian rites, ceremonies, and performances, either in early or later times, when that could be accomplished without materially affecting the subject of superstition generally so called; but as an important link would be left out were we to refrain from giving a few examples of miracles wrought, or said to have been wrought, by holy persons connected with Christian churches, we are under the necessity (considering those persons have had numerous base imitators) of departing to a certain extent from our original plans, and of devoting this chapter to the "Miracles performed by Saints and other Holy Persons" since the dawn of Christianity.
St. Peter, whom the Roman Catholics place at the head of the list of bishops of Rome, did undoubtedly perform miracles; but tradition tells us of so many strange circumstances concerning him, that at least a few of the relations must be regarded as nothing better than romance. We are informed that he went to Rome to oppose Simon, the celebrated magician; that at their first interview, at which Nero was present, the magician flew up into the air, but that the devil, who assisted him up, let him fall from a great height to the ground, by which his legs were broken. This tradition was long believed; and a reddish stone, supposed to be blood-stained, was pointed out as the stone on which Simon received his injuries.
We read that Clement, the third bishop of Rome, was banished by Trajan beyond the Euxine Sea; that there he caused a fountain to spring up miraculously for the benefit of Christians; and that he converted the whole country to the true faith. These acts provoked the Emperor so much that he ordered him to be thrown into the sea, with an anchor fastened to his neck. On the anniversary of his death, the sea ebbed to the place where he had been drowned, though three miles from the shore; that on its retiring there appeared a most magnificent temple of the finest marble, and in the temple a monument containing the saint's body; that the sea continued thus to retire every year on the same day, and did not return for a week, that worshippers might, without apprehension of danger, perform their devotions in honour of the holy martyr. In connection with these ceremonies, a most wonderful circumstance occurred, even more strange than what has been related of the temple. One year a mother left her young infant in the temple, and on her return next year she found her child not only alive, but in perfect health. Gregory of Tours and many others gave credit to this story.
St. Agnes was so great a favourite that her festivals were celebrated with more than ordinary pomp. She was descended from a Roman family of rank and opulence, and endowed by nature with great personal beauty. She was beheaded at the early age of thirteen, in the year 306. By the sentence of her judge, she was ordered to be treated in a most shameful manner, but through a providential interposition she was saved from the ignominy her persecutors intended for her. After that event the Roman women worshipped her. The parents of St. Agnes were blessed with a vision while praying at her tomb, in which she appeared to them in white raiment, with a lamb standing by her side, being the universally acknowledged emblem of innocence. On the fast held on St. Agnes's Day, two of the whitest lambs that could be procured were presented at her altar, and afterwards carefully reared until they were shorn. Their wool was then hallowed, and converted into white cloth for holy garments. Rural virgins were said to practise singular rites, in keeping St. Agnes's Fast, for the purpose of discovering their future husbands.
In the time of Liberius, a Roman of wealth and rank, named John, having no children, resolved to make a gift of his whole substance to the Holy Virgin. With the consent of his wife, the entire estate was therefore conveyed to Mary, whom they thenceforth jointly entreated in their prayers to let them know by some token in what manner she chose to dispose of it. Their prayers were heard. On the night of the 4th August, when the heat was great at Rome, there was a miraculous fall of snow, which covered part of the Esquiline Mount. The same night John and his wife were advised in their dreams to build a church on the ground which they should find covered with snow. Next morning they went to acquaint Pope Liberius with what had happened. Strange to say, the Pope had had a similar dream. A grand procession of the whole clergy, in which the Pope walked himself, attended by crowds of people, went to the above-mentioned mount, and having discovered the snow-covered spot, the Pope laid the foundation of a magnificent church there, long known as Saint Mary in the Snow.
St. Blase, who suffered martyrdom by decapitation in the year 289, after having been cruelly whipped and scourged, wrought numerous miracles of an extraordinary nature. Shortly before his decease, he prayed that whosoever sought his help in consequence of disease in the throat, or any sickness, he might have the assistance desired. After this, all who implored the aid of the saint were heard and healed. In his lifetime he saved from death a devout widow's son, who, without his assistance, would have been choked by a fish bone. Even the wild beasts of the field were under the saint's control. A wolf that had carried away a poor person's pig, was forced by the holy man to bring back another animal of equal value. In honour of St. Blase, candles were offered to him, which, through the very act of devotion, were rendered holy, and became serviceable for all pious uses.
St. Agatha performed many miracles. Quintianus, the governor of Catania, smitten with her beauty and extraordinary accomplishments, endeavoured to gain her affections, but was unsuccessful. Consequently his love turned into inveterate hatred, which ended in the fair Agatha being scourged and cast into a loathsome prison. The Pagan ruler commanded her to sacrifice to heathen deities, but she adhered to her Christian principles in spite of his wrath, which found vent in burning her with hot irons and cutting off her breasts. To manifest the displeasure of heaven, the walls of her prison were thrown down by some unseen power, and two of the governor's servants were deprived of life in a mysterious manner when torturing her. Her enemy had intended other and more fearful cruelties, but, in answer to her earnest prayers, death stepped in and relieved her from every trouble. In Catania a church was built and dedicated to St. Agatha, and her sacred veil, which she had often used to conceal her lovely features from the lustful Quintianus, was placed in it, to protect that city from the eruptions of Mount AEtna, and the earthquakes so frequent in Sicily. This valuable relic was long preserved by those who believed in its efficacy. It not only had power over the mountain and internal fires, but it conveyed virtue to everything it touched, similar to that which itself possessed. There were few Catanians who did not obtain, through this veil, sovereign protections from evil.
St. Patrick, the apostle and father of the Hibernian Church, and patron or tutelar saint of Ireland, was a Briton by birth, having been born at Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton, in the year 377. When about sixteen years of age he was taken prisoner and conveyed to Ireland, where he was sold as a slave. Escaping from his master, he returned to the place of his nativity. When in exile, he saw the evils arising from Paganism, and resolved to do what he could to convert the Irish Pagans to Christianity. In due time he entered into his missionary labours with indefatigable zeal, and proved to be the blessed means of converting the benighted Irish to the true faith. The miracles attributed to him are numerous, the most noted of which is the expulsion of reptiles from the Irish soil. It was he who made the shamrock—the Irish national emblem—so famous.
St. Germanus, bishop of Auxerre, and St. Lupus, bishop of Troyes, were sent to Britain by Celestine, the forty-second bishop of Rome, in the year 429, to preach Christianity. The two missionaries, on their way, passed through Paris; thence they pursued their journey to the sea-side, and embarked. On the ocean a storm was raised by the devil, when Germanus, who was asleep, awoke just as the vessel was on the point of sinking, and having rebuked the sea and poured a few drops of oil into it, the raging of the waves ceased. Germanus, after safely landing in Britain, restored to sight a blind girl by the application of certain relics he possessed.
St. David was a learned, elegant, and zealous saint, reported to have performed miracles. The Welsh regarded him as their tutelar saint, and annually held festivals in his honour. In answer to the saint's prayers in the year 640, the Britons, under King Cadwallader, gained a complete victory over the Saxons. From a garden near the battle-field, he caused leeks to be pulled and stuck in the caps of the British warriors, to enable them to distinguish each other, whereas the opposing parties, through want of a distinguishing badge, mistook friends for foes, and cut one another to pieces. From this circumstance sprang the custom of the Welsh wearing leeks in their hats on St. David's Day. Tradition says that the birth of this saint was predicted thirty years before the event took place; that a spirit constantly attended him, to minister to his wants; that the waters of Bath received their excellent qualities from his benediction; that he healed the sick; and that he even restored the dead to life.
Edward, the martyr, was crowned King of the West Saxons, when a youth, by Archbishop Dunstan, who had espoused his cause in opposition to the wishes of Elfrida, his step-mother, who desired to secure the throne for her own son Ethelred. Four years after his accession, Edward was hunting one day in Dorsetshire, near Elfrida's castle, and took the opportunity of paying her a visit, unattended by any of his retinue. After what was thought an agreeable interview, he mounted his horse to ride away, and when in the act of drinking the stirrup-cup, a servant, instigated by Elfrida, stabbed him behind. The youthful prince, finding himself wounded, put spurs to his steed, but, becoming faint from loss of blood, fell from the saddle and was killed. The foul deed struck the nation with so much dread, that subsequently every man secured the protection of a staunch friend before he would venture in public to drain the wassail-bowl. Hence arose the expression of "pledging," when partaking of the cheerful glass. Elfrida, seized with remorse, strove to atone for her guilt, but could not get rid of the heavy load that constantly weighed her down. At length she gave way to despair, her conscience causing her to imagine that a monstrous fiend was always on the watch to drag her down to the place of everlasting torment. When alone, in the still hours of the night, she imagined she felt the infernal being's grasp, and, to protect herself, she had recourse to charms.
St. Benedict possessed the power of performing miracles. Not only could he control the actions of man in a way that showed his supernatural ability, but he also set the elements at defiance. In the year 529, Benedict, with a few devotees selected from the many pious men around him, went to Monte Casino, where idolatry prevailed, and broke the images in Apollo's temple; they then founded a monastery there, and instituted the order after the saint's name. The manner of this Christian's death is not mentioned, but it is supposed to have been easy and natural. When the Goths invaded Italy, they attempted to burn him in his cell. Fiercely did the flames rage around him, but they could not burn so much as a hair of his head. This preservation still more enraged the heathen, who threw him into a close hot oven, and kept him there till next day. To their surprise, when the oven was opened, they found the saint safe—neither his body being scorched nor his clothes singed.
St. Dunstan was thought by the ignorant people to be in league with infernal spirits. When a boy, disease brought him to the point of death, but he was restored to health by medicine brought to him by a spirit riding in a storm. Feeling himself well again, Dunstan repaired to the church to return grateful thanks. Satan met him on the way, surrounded him with numerous fierce-looking black dogs, and endeavoured to defeat his pious intention. Nothing daunted, the holy saint pursued his way, and, by the assistance of an angel that came to his help, he defeated the devil and his black dogs. Dunstan found the church door shut; and to save time, lest Satan should overtake them before entering the sacred edifice, the angel carried him through the roof to the proper place of devotion. At another time, while St. Dunstan was working at his forge, the devil attempted to lead him into evil paths. The evil spirit appeared, not in a hideous form, but as a beautiful young lady, all smiles and endearments. Though the hook was skilfully concealed, the deception did not succeed: the saint knew the arch-fiend, and suddenly taking a pair of red-hot tongs from the fire, seized the fiend's nose with them, whereby the nasal organ was disfigured for ever. The AEolian harp is thought to have been invented by St. Dunstan, and he is said to have been able to play upon that instrument without touching a string thereof. At one time, in consequence of the high esteem in which harps were held, every person of rank was supposed to possess one of these instruments, and to be able to perform on it. Slaves were prohibited from performing on this sacred instrument. Creditors were prevented by law from seizing for debt a gentleman's harp, though everything else he possessed might be sold to discharge his obligations.
St. Columba was the apostle of the Highlands and Western Islands of Scotland, and founder of the famous cathedral of Iona, long regarded as the mother church of the Picts. Concerning this building he wrote the prophetic lines, which have been in part verified:
"O sacred dome of my beloved abode! Whose walls now echo to the praise of God; The time shall come when lauding monks shall cease, And howling herds here occupy their place; But better ages shall hereafter come, And praise re-echo in this sacred dome."
Striking miracles were ascribed to him; his prophecies almost invariably came to pass, and he had marvellous visions. Columba's mother dreamed, one night before his birth, that a person of superhuman mien and figure presented her with a veil of the most beautiful texture; that in a short time the giver resumed possession of his gift, and, raising it up, it flew through the heavens. Gradually the veil extended itself on all sides, till it spread over mountains and plains. Grieved at the loss of such a valuable article, she expressed her sorrow; but he who had given and taken away, comforted her with the assurance that it was an emblem of the child soon to be born, who, he assured her, would prove a blessing to the nation. One day, while the saint was a youth, a young girl, pursued by a barbarian, came running to him for protection; but before he could lift his slender arm to save her, the monster pierced her through with a spear. One who witnessed the tragic deed exclaimed, "Ah! how long will this atrocious crime remain unpunished?" To this question Columba replied, "The soul of the murderer may yet be in hell as soon as that of the murdered is in heaven." Scarcely had he uttered these words, than the unhappy criminal fell a lifeless corpse. At another time the saint observed a man falling from a considerable height, and beseeched an angel to uphold him. The good man's prayer was heard: a heavenly messenger, with a speed swifter than that of lightning, came to the rescue, and the man escaped unhurt.
In olden times there were sixteen ducks that usually swam about a certain lake in Ireland; but when any injury was done to the church or clergy they flew away, and did not return until satisfaction was given and reparation made for the wrong perpetrated. During the absence of the ducks, the water of the lake, naturally clear, became corrupt and smelt so badly that man and beast refused to taste it. If any person injured one of those birds, condign punishment was sure to overtake him. A kite having caught one of them, flew to a tree with it, but immediately all the ravenous bird's members became so powerless that it could not devour its prey. At another time a fox caught a second bird of the flock, but he had better, we are told, have let it alone, for next day the greedy animal was found dead near the lake, with the innocent duck sticking in its throat.
St. Paul, bishop of Leon, was entreated by the inhabitants of a seaport in Ireland to deliver them from a dragon that had killed many people. The pious bishop assured them of help, provided they repented and renounced their superstitions. They promised to do all he required of them. An altar was prepared, whereon he said mass. Then he went out and, with a loud voice, commanded the dragon to come before him. Immediately it appeared with open mouth and rolling eyes, and cast itself at the saint's feet. St. Paul cast a stole round its neck, and, fixing his staff in the ground, bound the dangerous creature so that it could not hurt any one after that time.
A holy saint, being disturbed one day by the croaking of a number of frogs in a pool near the church, went and smote the waters with his staff. Presently the frogs ceased their noise, and never croaked again.
Once upon a time a rivalship existed between the Austin friars and the Jesuits. The father-general of the Austin friars was dining with the Jesuits, and, on the table-cloth being removed, he entered into a formal discourse touching the superiority of the monastic order, and charged the Jesuits with assuming the title of "Fratres," while they held not the three vows which other monks were obliged to consider sacred. The general was very eloquent and authoritative. On the contrary, the superior of the Jesuits being unlearned, though shrewd in many respects, preferred to see a miracle performed, to prove the superiority of his order, rather than enter into a controversy. He therefore proposed that one of his friars and an Austin friar should show which of them would most readily obey his superior. The Austin friar consented. The Jesuit then, turning to the holy friar Mark, who was waiting on them, said, "Brother Mark, our companions are cold; I command you, in virtue of the obedience you have sworn to me, to bring instantly, in your hands, some burning coals from the kitchen fire, that our friends may warm themselves over your hands." Father Mark obeyed, and, to the astonishment of the Austin friars, brought on his palms a supply of red burning coals, that whoever thought proper might warm himself. The father-general, with the rest of his brethren, stood amazed. He looked wistfully at one of his monks, as if he wished to command him to perform a similar exploit; but the Austin monk, who understood what was meant, said, "Reverend father, forbear; do not command me. I am ready to fetch fire in a chafing dish, but not in my bare hands." The triumph of the Jesuits was complete: the miracle was noised about to their advantage. But the Austin friars could never account for the miracle, nor could they imitate it.
A priest in Ireland, travelling in Ulster, was forced to pass a night in a forest. He, and a boy who accompanied him, lighted a fire under the branches of a tree. Scarcely had they seated themselves than a wolf came near, and spoke as follows:—"Fear nothing; I am of a race of men-wolves, from which every seven years, by force of an imprecation made by St. Noel, two from among us, a male and a female, are constrained to lay aside the outward shape of reasonable creatures, and live in the form of wolves for seven years. At the end of that period other two men-wolves are sent out, and the former two return, if they survive the dangers of wolf-life. Not far from this place, my wife, who is the female wolf, lies very unwell, and I beseech you to go and comfort her." So the priest, ever ready to perform a good act, went to see the sick wolf. She was in the hollow of a tree, suffering great pain. He administered comfort to the invalid, but possessed not the power of changing her into her natural shape. The male wolf conducted the priest back to the fire, remained on watch all night to keep the other wolves away, and in the morning directed the priest how to go.
A French peasant, whose bees were dying of disease, was advised to go to the communion, carry off the host, and blow it into one of his hives. He did as recommended, but the result proved different to what he expected. Some time afterwards he discovered that his bees were dead. On examining the hive, he was amazed to find that the host put among the honey-combs was turned into a beautiful infant—cold, however, in the arms of death. Intending to bury the child's body in the church, he was proceeding thither, when, on the way to the sacred edifice, the infant vanished. This unhallowed use of the host brought a curse on the neighbourhood. The people were so chastised by divers calamities, that the country was depopulated, and became like a wilderness.
Another peasant, having communicated on Easter Day, received the host into his mouth; but instead of using it according to sacred rules, he laid it among his bees, thinking that by doing so he would bring all the bees in the neighbourhood, with their honey, to his hives. So far did his project succeed; but the bees brought no fruit which the wicked peasant could desire. They hummed melodious music, and built a small wax church at the time the wicked wretch thought they should be collecting honey for him. One day, walking near the hive into which he had put the host, the bees came out, and stung him nearly to death. Remorse seized him, and in bitter anguish he went to the priest to confess his fault. As the case was an extraordinary one, the priest consulted the bishop, who advised that the parishioners, headed by the priest, should go in procession to the hives. On the people's arrival, the bees testified their joy by their melodious humming. In the hive into which the host had been put an altar of wax was found, and a sacred relic lying thereon.
In 1399 a woman and her daughter engaged to procure consecrated hosts for a band of wicked Jews, who intended to use them for unhallowed purposes. The woman went to a church and stole three hosts when the friars were at dinner. Having received the hosts, the Jews assembled in a cellar, threw them contemptuously on a table, and stabbed them with a dagger. Blood spurted out from the dagger holes, and covered the faces of the impious men. The marks could not be washed away, so that they, Cain-like, bore unmistakeable signs of guilt to the day of their death. Blood also ran on the cellar floor, and could not by any means be removed. The Jews being terrified, sent two men to bury the hosts in a field. As the men passed a pious youth, named Paul, who had charge of two oxen, the hosts flew up in the air, and became like beautiful butterflies. At the sight of these, the oxen kneeled down on the ground. Paul, on becoming acquainted with what had happened, hastened to a magistrate to give information against the wicked people. Instead of being believed, he was cast into prison as a base fellow. In answer to his prayers, the prison gates opened of themselves; so he went out, and again presented himself before the judge. This time Paul's word was taken. The case was reported to the bishop, who ordered the hosts to be collected for preservation. Proceedings were taken against the Jews: they were burned, and their goods confiscated. By order of the king, a church was built at the place where the hosts appeared to Paul as butterflies. Many miracles were afterwards wrought there. From that time to the year 1604 no fewer than 382 were performed, the most notable ones being the raising of thirty-six persons from the dead.
St. Boniface, the apostle of Germany, slept one night in a tent pitched in an open plain. In the still dark hours a bright light suddenly appeared, in which he saw St. Michael, who spoke words of encouragement to him. After devotional services in the forenoon, he ordered his steward to prepare dinner, but the servant told him he had nothing in that barren place to set on the table. "What!" replied the apostle, "has he that fed his people forty years in the wilderness nothing to give his servant and his attendants?" Having said this, he ordered the cloth to be spread on the table, and immediately a large bird came flying with a fish, sufficient to feed the whole company for a day.
Another good story is told of St. Boniface. When he was a child, he observed a fox running away with a hen belonging to his mother. He hastened to the church, and prayed that the hens and chickens, which his mother fed in her back-yard to maintain herself and little family, might be preserved. To his astonishment, on returning home, the fox appeared before him with the hen, unhurt, in its mouth. Crouching like a spaniel, the beast of prey laid the fowl at the child's feet, and fell down dead.
Pope Silvester II. is reported to have reached the Papal chair by Satan's assistance. In his youth Silvester was a monk, but he deserted the monastery, and became a follower of the devil. He went to Spain in search of magical instruction. Being introduced to a Saracen philosopher skilful in magic, he became his disciple. But his stay with the learned man was short; for seeing a valuable book of necromancy belonging to his instructor, he stole it. Fleeing to a place of safety, he studied the black art very closely. His intercourse with Satan was frequent. Through the devil's assistance, he became an archbishop, and subsequently a pope, upon condition that, after his death, he would become the absolute property of the black fiend. During his popedom he kept a brazen head, which he regularly consulted concerning diabolical subjects. Desirous to know how long he would reign, Silvester betook himself to the devil for information. In answer to a question, the wicked spirit informed him that if he stayed away from Jerusalem he would live to an old age. A few years after this information, Silvester imprudently went to the Holy City, where he was suddenly seized with fever. Before his senses left him he repented, and confessed his familiarity with Satan. He desired that, after death, his hands and tongue might be cut off, because with them he had served the devil; that his mutilated body should be put into a cart, with horses having no driver, and that wherever they halted, after being started, his body should be buried there. All being done as requested by the dying pope, the horses stopped when they came to the church of Lateran, and there he was interred. Whatever became of his soul, it is plain the devil did not let his body alone. Shortly before the death of many popes who succeeded him, his bones were heard to rattle, and his tomb was seen to sweat. By these signs people knew when the dissolution of a pope was nigh. This narration may seem strange to the present generation, but to people living in olden times it was not considered very extraordinary. Report says that eighteen popes, who succeeded one another, were necromancers. Benedictus IX. was, through his wickedness and sorcery, called Maledictus. He was killed, we are told, by the Devil in a wood. After his death, a hermit met his body, in the form of a bear, with a mitre on his head. The hermit, so the story goes, asked him how it happened that he was metamorphosed. "Because," said he, "in my popedom I lived without law, and now I wander like a beast."
St. Januarius, the patron saint of Naples, suffered martyrdom about the end of the third century. When he was beheaded, a pious lady secured a small quantity of his blood, which, report says, has been preserved in a bottle ever since, without losing a grain of its weight. The blood is usually congealed, but when brought near the saint's carefully preserved head, it is miraculously liquified. The experiment is, or at least was, made twice a year by the Neapolitans. When there is an eruption of Mount Vesuvius, the saint's head is, or was, carried in procession, in order to render the outbreak harmless.
St. Anthony had serious conflicts with the Devil in bodily shape, when victory was generally declared in favour of the good man. The saint performed miracles, and was famed for curing the disease called after his name. In youth he was a swine-herd, and afterwards became the patron saint of swine-herds. To do him honour, the Romanists were wont to keep a hog at the public expense, which was venerated, and designated St. Anthony's hog. A picture or an image of the saint, hung up in a house, kept away the plague from the dwelling. As the relics of this saint were capable of curing St. Anthony's fire, so were those of St. Lucia useful in removing toothache, and those of St. Apollonia were infallible remedies in cases of hydrophobia.
The history of Melrose is made up in great part of romance and superstitious traditions. Melrose, Malerose, or Mull-ross, signifying a bare promontory, derived its name from a young princess, who was obliged to fly from her home on an island of the Greek Archipelago, in consequence of her too close intimacy with a lover to whom she was sincerely attached. In her country a breach of the seventh commandment by a young female was visited by death. As soon as her guilt became known, she, to save her life, fled in search of an asylum, where she might have time and opportunity to atone for her guilt. Certain good priests whom she consulted, directed her to sail northwards to an island called Hibernia; and, moreover, the priests offered to accompany her wherever she went, for the good of her soul. They accordingly set sail, and landed at a port on the north-east coast of Scotland. She and her companions went inland, and settled down at Melrose, on the banks of the Tweed, where she erected an abbey. St. Cuthbert was an abbot at Melrose before he removed to Lindisfarne, now called Holy Island, where he was appointed bishop of St. Peter's Church at the latter place. He died at Holy Island in the year 687, and was buried in a stone coffin there. Eleven years after the interment he was taken out of the grave, when it was found that the body was free from corruption.
Three years afterwards, Abbot Edred stealthily removed the body, carrying it from town to town for seven years. Many of the inhabitants of Holy Island, on learning that the saint's body was taken away, left their property, and went south after it. In consequence of the persecution then raging in England, the body, it was resolved, should be conveyed to Ireland for its greater security. The bishop, abbot, and others engaged in transporting the body, went on board a ship with their sacred treasure, intending to cross the Channel. A storm was encountered, three waves were turned into blood, and the ship was driven ashore, and cast on its side. A volume, containing the Evangelists' writings, in letters of gold and having its boards set with precious stones, fell from the vessel into the sea, which caused the saint to appear in a vision to one of the monks, and commanded him to search the shore for the book. He searched and found it, and, to his surprise, it appeared more beautiful than before, seeming to have been polished with a heavenly hand. On attempting to remove the body again, it became heavy and difficult to carry, which greatly perplexed those bearing the burden; but their difficulty was of short duration, for they perceived a bridle on a tree, and a red horse running toward them, which, on its approach, offered to carry St. Cuthbert's body. Accepting the proffered service, the body was put on the mysterious animal's back, which carried it to Crake Minster. Thence it was conveyed to Chester, where it remained a hundred and ten years. At the termination of that time it was removed to Ripon, to be laid beside the body of St. Wilfrid; but it was not destined to remain there more than a few months. As war, which had devastated the country, had ceased, St. Cuthbert's body was lifted with the intention of bringing it back to Chester; but the bearers halting with it at Wardenlaw, could not remove it again, as it seemed to be fastened to the ground. This caused the monks to pray for three days, and instructions were asked as to how the body was to be disposed of. Their prayers were heard: it was revealed to Eadmer, one of the monks, that the body should be taken to Durham, as its last resting-place. The extraordinary heaviness of the remains was no longer felt; it was removed thither, and deposited in the abbey in the year 997, where it lies to the present day.
Another story of St. Cuthbert is related. He lived on the borders of the Pictish territory, where many people went to him for instructions. At this time the king's daughter was injured by a young man, whom the princess spoke of as "the solitary young man who dwelleth hard by." Greatly incensed, the king went to St. Cuthbert, thinking that he was the guilty person, and accused him of committing the crime. For unknown reasons, the princess stated, and persisted in saying, that the holy man was the offender. Knowing his innocence, the saint prayed that the work of iniquity should be laid open, and that by some token it would be made known that the accusation was false. A sign was soon given; for scarcely had the supplication been made than the earth on which the princess stood suddenly opened with a hissing noise, and swallowed her up. The king, struck with terror, and in great distress at the loss of his daughter, implored the saint to restore the princess. This petition the holy father granted, clogging it, however, with the condition, that thenceforward no woman should resort to him. From that time a woman was never seen approaching his place of seclusion; and more than that, the restriction was extended to all the Pictish churches dedicated to him.
In connection with the history of Melrose, there is a tale of a monk named Waldevus, who increased the corn in the granaries belonging to the monastery in the villages of Eildon and Gattonside, out of which were fed, in a time of scarcity, four thousand poor people for three months, without any diminution of the first quantity, until the fruits of harvest were gathered, and then the store began to diminish according to the quantities withdrawn from it. Waldevus's tomb was opened twelve years after his death, which took place about the middle of the twelfth century, when his body was found entire, and his garments undecayed. In the year 1240 Waldevus's place of sepulchre was again opened, but his remains were then decayed. Those who were present carried away some of the small bones, leaving the rest of the ashes to repose in peace. William, son of the Earl of Dunbar, was one of the company present: he secured one of the saint's teeth, which turned out to be a valuable prize, for by it many wonderful miracles were performed.
Waldevus and his corn reminds us of Rusticus and his hog. Two Christian pilgrims, we are informed, were travelling in Poland, when they were hospitably entertained by Rusticus, then a Pagan peasant, afterwards converted, and promoted to sovereignty. They arrived at his residence when he was preparing to give an entertainment on the occasion of the birth of a son. A hog was killed for the feast, to which the wearied travellers were invited; and rumour has it, that they did ample justice to the good things, particularly to the hog's flesh, set before them. To show their gratitude, they resolved to work a miracle for the everlasting benefit of their host and his family. Half of the hog remained uneaten, and over it they prayed earnestly that it might never be consumed, but become a constant source of supply to the family. Their prayers were heard; and the swine's flesh remained undiminished in weight, however freely slices were carved from it for hungry mortals. Such was the effect produced on Rusticus's mind by this miracle, that he forsook heathenism and became a Christian.
HOW THE POETS HAVE FANNED THE FLAME OF SUPERSTITION.
Prophetic Verse—Druids called Bardi—The Bardi as Instructors—Virtue of Serpents' Eggs—Bards maintained by Noblemen—Queen Elizabeth and the Bards—Effects of Prophetic Sayings, and of Pipe Music—Message, how conveyed to another World—Voices of Deceased Friends heard in the Gale—Human Forms in the Clouds—Evenings in the Highlands—Michael Scott—Constant Work for Evil Spirits—Stemming the Tweed—How the Eildon Hills were formed—Place of Torment—Ropes of Sand—Scott and his Magic Books buried at Melrose—Ossianic Poems—Stories by Bards.
Poets have done much to fan the flame of superstition. They have indulged in prophetic verse, and handed down to posterity the strange belief of our ancestors. Certain Druids, called Bardi, were well known to be versed in astrology. They are supposed to have been the same, in particular respects, among the Britons as the Sophi among the Greeks, or the Magi among the Persians. Having been chosen from the best families in the land, the Bardi were held in the highest esteem by the common people; and the children of the chiefs were instructed by them. Their practical verses were never written, but given to their pupils viva voce, that they might assist in conveying them orally to the people. The Bardi dealt in particular charms, such as serpents' eggs, gathered in a particular way, and under certain phases of the moon. These eggs were imagined to be effectual for the gaining of law-suits, and for the securing of the good graces of princes. The Vates (another class of Druids), if not the Bardi, sought for omens among the entrails of victims offered in sacrifice.
The Bards, at various periods, possessed uncommon privileges, but these were from time to time diminished or increased, according to the caprice of those under whose government they lived. Almost every nobleman of distinction maintained bards in his family, and treated them with great consideration. Queen Elizabeth, however, acted differently: she ordered bards and minstrels to be hanged as traitors, as she believed they instigated rebellion by their songs. Bards followed clans to the field, where they eulogized the chiefs, and sang in extravagant verse the deeds of the favourite warriors. Before a battle, they went from tribe to tribe, or from clan to clan, exhorting and encouraging by prophetic sayings, in which success to friends was foretold and the doom of enemies pronounced. In the tumult of fight, when the bards' voices could not be heard, they were succeeded by pipers, who with inspiring warlike strains kept alive the enthusiasm the composers of verse had kindled. After the contest was sounded, the bards were employed to honour the memory of the brave that had fallen in battle, to celebrate the deeds of those who survived, and to excite to future acts of heroism. The piper was called upon, in turn, to sound mournful lamentations for the slain. In poetical language, the people were told that the dead sympathized with the living left behind to maintain the honour of their clans or country. Messages were given to dying friends, that they might be delivered to the spirits of relatives in another world. Highlanders imagined they heard, in the passing gale, the voices of departed relatives, and in their solitude they beheld the forms of their fathers in the bright clouds. In cases of emergency, the spirit of the mountains gave friendly warnings, which enabled cautioned ones to avoid dangers, that otherwise could neither be foreseen nor prevented.
Traditional poetry is highly esteemed by the mountaineers. It is a favourite pastime with the Highlanders, when seated round the evening fire, to relate and listen to tales of witches, fairies, etc., and to sing the soul-stirring songs of their native bards. Formerly, those who could recount the deeds of Fingalian times were special favourites. To such persons every door was open, and every table free. Nothing but ignorance could lead inhabitants of towns to suppose that Highlanders spend their winter months in gloomy solitude. Except where poverty or sickness prevails, the winter evenings among the mountains have something bewitching about them. The day's toil being over, neighbours come in, and parents and children, masters and servants, friends and relations, hold social intercourse in the same apartment, where there blazes a hearty fire of peats and bog-fir. None of the young women remain idle; for while the joke and merry laugh go round, one knits, a second sews, a third spins, and a fourth handles a distaff. Once the happy conversation has commenced, the wind may blow, the tempest roar, without disturbing the friendly group. There may be now less highly-gifted bards in the Highlands, romance and chivalry may have yielded to other ideas and pursuits, but still much of the same characteristic spirit remains: the love of ancient tradition and song exists, and the superstitions of bygone ages are unforgotten. Those who do not venerate their poets, and have respect to the early history of their country, are a dull, besotted people.
Not unfrequently were poets and other men of genius regarded as wizards or magicians. As an instance, we refer to the history of Michael Scott, the celebrated philosopher and poet, who lived in the thirteenth century. He was a native of Fife, and in early life became versant in occult science. After studying in Scotland, he went to Oxford and Paris, where he attained wonderful proficiency in philology, mathematics, natural philosophy, and theology. He visited other foreign countries—in particular, Norway, Germany, and Spain. His fame spread over the whole of Europe. His knowledge of natural magic procured for him the appellations of enchanter, magician, wizard. His works recommended him to the favourable notice of Frederick II. of Germany, by whom he was appointed his royal astrologer. To Scott, it is reported, the heavens were as a great book, wherein was written not only the history of nations, but of individuals also. In the vaulted heavens, he declared, man might read his own fortune. He predicted when, where, and how the Emperor Frederick's death would take place. Scott returned to Scotland, when he had the honour of knighthood conferred on him. He performed almost innumerable miracles; and so thoroughly was he believed to be in league with the Devil, that he was tried for sorcery, but through his influence in high quarters, or his subtle arts, he escaped the fangs of the law. Tradition says that upon a certain occasion, being embarrassed by evil spirits, he undertook to find the wicked ones constant employment. Not a few strange feats were gone through, which Scott thought were impossible for Satan himself to perform. Nevertheless, they were done. One day, the spirits demanded more work; and the wizard ordered that a dam-head should be built across the Tweed at Kelso, to prevent the flow of the river. Next morning the work was found completed. More work was demanded; and this time Scott requested that the Eildon Hill, which had only one cone, should be divided into three parts. Away went the infernal spirits in great glee to perform the task assigned them. On the sun rising the following day, the hill had three cones, as are to be seen at the present time. Back came the wicked beings to intimate that the task was accomplished. This Sir Michael well knew meant a determination to have more work, or to claim him in accordance with an agreement between him and Satan. Scott remembered he had sold himself to his Satanic Majesty, but did not forget that he was entitled to a respite so long as he could procure diabolical work for Satan's favourite imps. "What," Scott asked himself; "is next to be done? Am I to order the world to be turned upside down, and perhaps perish in the ruins? or am I to demand the evil spirits, which torment me night and day, to bring down the sun, moon, and stars, and leave the universe in perpetual darkness? No," replied he, mentally; "to do so, would be to make myself more of a fiend than they that take pleasure in gathering together into the place of torment those who have persistently disobeyed the dictates of reason. Shall I then at once surrender myself to the merciless tyrants, and thereby free the world from an instrument of unrighteousness? Ah!" exclaimed Scott, "life is sweet, and death bitter; let me prolong my days to the utmost limits allowed to man." Exhausted, Sir Michael leaned back on the seat whereon he sat. Long watching, deep study, and vexatious encounters with the evil ones so exhausted him that he fell into a disturbed sleep. In his dreams he beheld the place of torment with all its horrors. The fiery lake looked more dismal than anything he had heard described, or what he could have imagined. Within were many known faces; every one endeavoured to excel the other in his endeavour to make the place what it was intended to be—a place of torment. No one repented of his wicked deeds or expected mercy. The gates of the unholy place were thrown open, and in went the chief spirit that had so often communed with Scott. Like a furnace door, the gate was closed after him. What took place may be imagined. Again the red-hot gate turned on its hinges, and out came Satan, with a thousand of his swiftest messengers, to bring home Sir Michael, against whom a charge was pending of breach of bargain. Horror-stricken, the sleeper started to his feet, and to his great relief found none but his old familiar spirits before him. "Work, more work," said the spirits. "Yes, work, endless work," shouted Scott. "Go," said he, "and make the sea-sand into ropes." With a gloomy countenance the fiends departed, never to return to molest the enchanter. For aught that is known, says the legend, the spirits may still be endeavouring to perform the impossible task of making ropes out of sea-sand. All parties are not agreed as to how Sir Michael Scott died, nor where he was interred, but the general belief as to where his remains rest is, that he was buried, together with his magic books, at Melrose Abbey.
Assuming that the poems asserted to be those of Ossian are authentic, we see there was in his time a general belief that ghosts and spirits floated through the air, that the dead revisited the earth, that the destiny of man was under the control of supernatural beings, and that the astonishing power of witches was real, and not imaginary. This is abundantly proved (always assuming the authenticity of the Ossianic poems) by the work before us, from which we take the following quotations:—
"Fingal advanced his steps wide through the bosom of night, to where the trees of Loda shook amid squally winds.... I beheld the dark moon descending behind thy resounding woods. On thy top dwells the misty Loda, the house of the spirits of men. I saw a deer at Crona's stream; a mossy bank he seemed through the gloom, but soon he bounded away. A meteor played round his branching horns; the awful faces of other times looked from the clouds of Crona. These are the signs of Fingal's death. The king of shields is fallen, and Caracul prevails. 'Rise, Comala, from thy rock; daughter of Sarno, rise in tears. The youth of thy love is low; his ghost is on our hills.'...
"Autumn is dark on the mountains; grey mists rest on the hills. The whirlwind is heard on the heath. Dark rolls the river through the narrow plain. A tree stands alone on the hill, and marks the slumbering Connal. The leaves whirl round with the wind, and strew the grave of the dead. At times are seen here the ghosts of the departed, when the musing hunter alone stalks over the heath....
"The deer of the mountain avoids the place, for he beholds a dim ghost standing there. The mighty lie, O Malvina! in the narrow plain of the rock.
"Often did I turn my ship, but the winds of the east prevailed. Nor Clutha ever since I have seen, nor Moina of the dark-brown hair. She fell in Balclutha, for I have seen her ghost. I knew her as she came through the dusky night, along the murmur of Lora: she was like the new moon, seen through the gathered mist, when the sky pours down its flaky snow, and the world is silent and dark. 'Raise, ye bards,' said the mighty Fingal, 'the praise of unhappy Moina. Call her ghost, with your songs, to our hills, that she may rest with the fair of Morven, the sunbeams of other days, the delight of heroes of old.'...
"The night passed away in song; morning returned in joy. The mountains showed their grey heads; the blue face of ocean smiled. The white wave is seen tumbling round the distant rock; a mist rose slowly from the lake. It came in the figure of an aged man along the silent plain. Its large limbs did not move in steps, for a ghost supported it in mid air. It came towards Selma's hall, and dissolved in a shower of blood.
"The king alone beheld the sight; he foresaw the death of the people....
"'My spirit, Connal, is on my hills: my corse on the sands of Erin. Thou shalt never talk with Crugal, nor find his lone steps in the heath. I am light as the blast of Cromla. I move like the shadow of mist! Connal, son of Colgar, I see a cloud of death: it hovers dark over the plains of Lena. The sons of green Erin must fall. Remove from the field of ghosts.' Like the darkened moon, he retired in the midst of the whistling blast. 'Stay,' said the mighty Connal, 'stay, my dark-red friend. Lay by that beam of heaven, son of the windy Cromla! What cave is thy lonely house? What green-headed hill the place of thy repose? Shall we not hear thee in the storm? in the noise of the mountain stream? when the feeble sons of the wind come forth, and, scarcely seen, pass over the desert.'...
"'Sons of Cona!' Fingal cried aloud, 'stop the hand of death. Mighty was he that is low; much is he mourned in Sora! The stranger will come towards his hill, and wonder why it is so silent. The king is fallen, O stranger! The joy of his house is ceased. Listen to the sound of his woods. Perhaps the ghost is murmuring there! But he is far distant, on Morven, beneath the sword of foreign foe.'
"Lorma sat in Aldo's hall. She sat at the light of a flaming oak. The night came down, but he did not return. The soul of Lorma is sad. 'What detained thee, hunter of Cona? thou didst promise to return. Has the deer been distant far? Do the dark winds sigh round thee on the heath? I am in the land of strangers; who is my friend but Aldo? Come from the sounding hills, O my best beloved.'
"Her eyes are turned towards the gate. She listens to the rustling blast. She thinks it is Aldo's tread. Joy rises in her face! But storm returns again, like a thin cloud on the moon.... His thin ghost appeared on a rock, like a watery beam of feeble light, when the moon rushes sudden from between two clouds, and the midnight shower is on the field. She followed the empty form over the heath. She knew that her hero fell. I heard her approaching cries on the wind, like the mournful voice of the breeze, when it sighs on the grass of the cave!
"She came. She found her hero! Her voice was heard no more. Silent she rolled her eyes. She was pale, and wildly sad! Few her days on Cona. She sank into the tomb. Fingal commanded his bards; they sang over the death of Lorma. The daughters of Morven mourned her for one day in the year, when the dark winds of autumn returned."
In Ossianic times there were prophets and prophetesses, who were consulted by the chiefs of armies and by the common people on important occasions. Even a thousand years after the time of Ossian, the bards uttered their prophetic sayings. We have the story of five bards passing an October night in the house of a chief, who, like his guests, was a poet, entertaining their hearers with poetic descriptions of the night. The first bard delivered himself thus:
"Night is dull and dark. The clouds rest on the hills. No star with green trembling beam; no moon looks from the sky. I hear the blast in the wood, but I hear it distant far. The stream of the valley murmurs, but its murmur is sullen and sad. From the tree, at the grave of the dead, the long-howling owl is heard. I see a dim form on the plain! It is a ghost! it fades, it flies. Some funeral shall pass this way: the meteor marks the path. The distant dog is howling from the hut of the hill. The stag lies on the mountain moss: the hind is at his side. She hears the wind in his branchy horns. She starts, but lies again. The roe is in the cleft of the rock; the heath-cock's head is beneath his wing. No beast nor bird is abroad, but the owl and the howling fox. She on a leafless tree; he in a cloud on the hill. Dark, panting, trembling, sad, the traveller has lost his way. Through shrubs, through thorns he goes, along the gurgling mill. He fears the rock and the fen. He fears the ghost of night. The old tree groans to the blast; the falling branch resounds. The wind drives the weathered burs, clung together, along the grass. It is the light tread of a ghost! He trembles amidst the night. Dark, dusky, howling night, cloudy, windy, and full of ghosts! The dead are abroad! My friends, receive me from the night."
The second bard says:
"The wind is up. The shower descends. The spirit of the mountain shrieks. Woods fall from high. Windows flap. The growing river roars. The traveller attempts the ford. Hark! that shriek! He dies! The storm drives the horse from the hill, the goat, the lowing cow. They tremble as drives the shower, beside the mouldering bank. The hunter starts from sleep, in his lonely hut; he wakes, the fire decayed. His wet dogs smoke around him. He fills the chinks with heath. Loud roar two mountain streams, which meet beside his booth. Sad on the side of the hill the wandering shepherd sits. The tree resounds beside him. The stream roars down the rock. He waits for the rising moon to guide him to his home. Ghosts ride on the storm to-night. Sweet is their voice between the squalls of wind. Their songs are of other worlds. The rain is past. The dry wind blows. Streams roar and windows flap. Cold drops fall from the roof. I see the starry sky. But the shower gathers again. The west is gloomy and dark. Night is stormy and dismal. Receive me, my friends, from night."
The third bard sings:
"The wind still sounds between the hills, and whistles through the grass of the rock. The firs fall from their place. The turfy hut is torn. The clouds divided, fly over the sky, and show the burning stars. The meteor, token of death, flies sparkling through the gloom. It rests on the hill. I see the withered form, the dark-browed rock, the fallen oak. Who is that in his shroud beneath the tree by the stream? The waves dark tumble on the lake, and lash its rocky sides. A maid sits sad beside the rock, and eyes the rolling stream. Her lover promised to come. She saw his boat, when yet it was light, on the lake. Is this his broken boat on the shore? Are these his groans on the wind? Hark! the hail rattles around. The flaky snow descends. The tops of the hills are white. The stormy wind abates. Various is the night, and cold. Receive me, my friends, from night."
The fourth bard takes up the theme thus:
"Night is calm and fair; blue, starry, settled is night. The winds, with the clouds, are gone. They sink behind the hill. The moon is up on the mountain. Trees glister; streams shine on the rock. Bright rolls the settled lake; bright the stream of the vale. I see the trees overturned; the shocks of corn on the plain. The wakeful hind rebuilds the shocks, and whistles on the distant field. Calm, settled, fair is night! Who comes from the place of the dead? That form with the robe of snow; white arms with dark-brown hair! It is the daughter of the chief of the people—she that lately fell! Come, let us view thee, O maid! thou that hast been the delight of heroes! The blast drives the phantom away; white, without form, it ascends the hill. The breeze drives the blue mist slowly over the narrow vale. It rises on the hill, and joins its head to heaven. Night is settled, calm, blue, starry, bright with the moon. Receive me not, my friends, for lovely is the night."
The fifth bard chants:
"Night is calm, but dreary. The moon is in a cloud in the west. Slow moves that pale beam along the shaded hill. The distant wave is heard. The torrent murmurs on the rock. The cock is heard from the booth. More than half the night is past. The housewife, groping in the gloom, rekindles the settled fire. The hunter thinks the day approaches, and calls his bounding dogs. He ascends the hill, and whistles on his way. A blast removes the clouds. He sees the starry plough of the north. Much of the night is to pass. He nods by the mossy rock. Hark! the whirlwind is in the woods! A low murmur in the vale! It is the mighty army of the dead returning from the air. The moon rests behind the hill. The beam is still on the lofty rock. Long are the shadows of the trees. Now it is dark all over. Night is dreary, silent, and dark. Receive me, my friends, from the night."
The chief replies:
"Let clouds rest on the hills, spirits fly, and travellers fear. Let the winds of the woods arise, the sounding storms descend. Roar streams, and windows flap, and green-winged meteors fly! Let the pale moon, from behind the hills, enclose her head in clouds! Night is alike to me, blue, stormy, or gloomy the sky. Night flies before the beam when it is poured on the hill. The young day returns from his clouds, but we return no more.... Raise the song, and strike the harp; send round the shells of joy. Suspend a hundred tapers on high. Maids and youths, begin to dance. Let some grey bard be near me to tell the deeds of other times, of kings renowned in our land, of chiefs we behold no more. Thus let the night pass until morning shall appear on our hills. Then let the bow be at hand, the dogs, the youths of the chase. We shall ascend the hill with day, and awake the deer."
From the foregoing, we obtain a glimpse of the superstitions and customs of remote ages. Greek mythology is confessedly the creation of poets; and to the bards of our own country we are indebted for some of our strangest fictions. Fletcher of Saltoun must have been fully aware of the poetic influence; for he expressed himself as willing to let any one who pleased make the laws, if he were permitted to compose the national ballads.
Shakspeare—An Outline of his Composition—"The Tempest"—Ship at Sea in a Storm—Miranda beseeching Prospero to allay the Wild Waters—Ariel's Readiness to serve his Master—The Witch Sycorax—Ariel kept in a Cloven Pine twelve years—Caliban's Evil Wish—Mischief by Ariel—Neptune chased—Charmed Circle—Miracles—"Midsummer Night's Dream"—Exploits of a Fairy—Doings of Puck—Charmed Flower—Titania and her Attendants—Ghosts and Spirits—Song—"Macbeth"—Weird Sisters—Hecate and the Witches—Magic Arts—Macbeth's Doom—Witches' Caldron—Macbeth admonished by Spirits—Eight Kings and Banquo's Spirit—Noblemen warned by a Spirit—"Antony and Cleopatra"—Dreadful Apparition—King's Death avenged.
Shakspeare, the immortal English poet, born in the year 1564, has assisted in no small degree to spread the knowledge of superstition. So opportunely do his works come to support our statements, that we are induced to give, in prose and verse, an outline of certain portions of his compositions touching the many mysterious subjects on which he wrote.
In the Tempest there is a ship at sea in a storm, with thunder and lightning. On board are the master, boatswain, mariners, Alonso, Sebastian, Antonio, Ferdinand, Gonzalo, and others. The ship is thought to be in danger; but Gonzalo tells his companions to take comfort, for he thought the boatswain had no drowning mark upon him, his complexion being perfectly gallows-like. "If," said Gonzalo, "he be not born to be hanged, our case is miserable." The mariners thought all was lost, and went to prayers.
Miranda beseeched Prospero, whom she addressed as father, to allay the wild waters in their roar, and not suffer a brave vessel that had noble creatures in her to sink. Prospero laid aside his magic garment; and while Miranda slept, Ariel declared his readiness, at the request of Prospero, to swim, to dive into the fire, to ride on the curled clouds. In answer to Prospero's inquiry whether the spirit had directed the tempest according to instructions, Ariel answered that he had boarded the ship, joined Jove's lightnings, and made Neptune's bold waves tremble. Ariel, who thought his services were most valuable to his master, craved his liberty; for Ariel was a bound servant of Prospero for a specified time. Prospero reminded the spirit that he had freed him from torment; and asked if he remembered the witch Sycorax, famed for her sorceries, and who had, by the aid of her most potent ministers, put him (Ariel) into a cloven pine, within whose rift he remained imprisoned for twelve years, tormented so greatly that his groans made the wolves howl, and penetrated the breast of every bear. Sycorax could not, proceeded Prospero, undo what she had done; it was his art alone that made the pine gape and set him free. Then he threatened the spirit that if he again murmured, he would send an oak, and peg him in its knotty trunk till he had howled away twelve winters. The spirit asked pardon, and declared his readiness to obey Prospero's commands. Prospero promised that if he did so, he would discharge him in two days. "Go," said Prospero, "make thyself like to the nymph o' the sea; be subject to no sight but mine; invisible to every eye-ball else. Go take this shape, and hither come in't: hence with diligence." Miranda having been awakened, was invited by Prospero to visit his slave Caliban, son of Sycorax, then dead. Ariel here came before his master, who was pleased with his appearance.
On Prospero calling to Caliban, "Thou poisonous slave, got by the Devil himself," to come forth, Caliban appeared and said, "As wicked dew as e'er my mother brush'd with raven's feather from unwholesome fen, drop on you both!" For this, replied Prospero, thou shalt be tortured this night.
Alonso, Sebastian, Antonio, Gonzalo, Adrian, and Francisco escaped to an island, which to them seemed to be a desert. Caliban found them; and a conspiracy was entered into to kill Prospero and secure the person of Miranda. Solemn and strange music was heard, and several strange shapes appeared at a banquet. Thunder rolled, and lightning flashed: Ariel, in the form of a harpy, clapped his wings upon the table, and the banquet vanished. Prospero gave Ferdinand a rich compensation to make amends for past austere punishments; and that compensation was nothing less than the hand of Miranda. He recommended them to be prudent before their nuptials, and told them that if they disregarded his injunctions in this respect, they would have hate and discord between them. Ariel, by an unseen power, induced Caliban and others whom Prospero desired to have in his cell, to repair thither; but before reaching it they were hunted by divers spirits in the shape of hounds, that chased them to the lime groves, where they were secured as prisoners.
Prospero, addressing the elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves, those that on the sands with printless foot chased the ebbing Neptune, the demi-puppets that by moonshine made the sour-green ringlets which ewes would not bite, those whose pastime was to make midnight mushrooms, reminded them that he had, among other mighty deeds, by their aid, rifted. Jove's stout oak, plucked up the pine and cedar, and roused sleepers in the grave. But this rough magic, he informed them, he would abjure, after working his airy charms. This being done, he would break his staff, bury it deep in the earth, and drown his book. Ariel re-entered, and after him Alonso, Gonzalo, Sebastian, Antonio, Adrian, and Francisco, and stood charmed within a circle which Prospero had made.
Gonzalo exclaimed, "All torment, trouble, wonder, and amazement inhabit here! Some heavenly power guide us out of this fearful country!" Prospero made himself known to the king as the wronged Duke of Milan. Pardon was sought, and the dukedom resigned. Alonso craved, that if he were Prospero, he should give them particulars of his preservation, and how he met them there, having, but three hours before, been wrecked upon the shore, where he had lost his dear son Ferdinand. A door was opened, and Ferdinand and Miranda were discovered playing at chess. Sebastian declared this to be a most high miracle. Ariel, who had been instructed by Prospero to go to the ship and bring the master and boatswain to him, entered with these worthies. In answer to the question, "What is the news?" the boatswain answered, "The best news is, that we have safely found our king and company; the next, our ship—which, but three glasses since, we gave out split—is tight and yare, and bravely rigged, as when we first put out to sea." The boatswain, in answer to another query how they came thither? replied, if he were awake, he would strive to tell. He remembered hearing strange noises—roaring, shrieking, howling, jingling chains, and more diversity of sounds, all horrible; and when they were wakened (for they had been asleep), they found themselves at liberty. Prospero, pointing out Caliban, told his friends, "This mis-shapen knave's mother was a witch; and one so strong that she could control the moon, make flows and ebbs." Prospero invited the king and his train to take rest in his cell, where he would tell the story of his life, and in the morning bring them to their ship and give them auspicious gales; then, addressing Ariel, he concluded, "Chick, that is thy charge; to the elements, be free, and fare thee well!"
In the Midsummer Night's Dream Shakspeare brings forward a fairy at a wood near Athens. The fairy, in answer to Puck's question whither it wandered, replied that it went over hill, over dale, through bush, through brier, over park, over pale, through flood, through fire. It wandered everywhere, swifter than the moon's sphere; it served the fairy queen to dew her orbs upon the green. Puck told the fairy that the king would keep revels there that night, and advised that the queen should not come within his sight; for Oberon was fell and wroth, because she, as her attendant, had a lovely boy, a sweet changeling, and that jealous Oberon would have the child to be a knight of his train to trace the forests.
The fairy asked Puck if he was not the knavish spirit that frightened the maidens of the villagery, that skimmed milk, and sometimes laboured in the green, and bootless made the housewife churn, and sometimes made the drink to bear no barm, and whether Puck did not mislead night wanderers, and then laugh at their harm, and do the work of hobgoblins? Puck acknowledged that the fairy spoke aright; said he was the merry wanderer of the night, playing pranks, and making people laugh. A smart angry discussion took place between Oberon and Titania as to which of them was to have the little changeling boy. They parted in rage, Oberon threatening to torment Titania. Oberon summoned Puck to attend him, and bring the herb he once showed him, the juice of which, laid on sleeping eyelids, made man or woman dote upon the next creature seen. Having this herb's juice, Oberon would watch Titania when she was asleep, and drop the liquor into her eyes, that when she wakened she might pursue the first object she cast eyes on with the soul of love, whether it should be lion, bear, wolf, or bull, or meddling monkey, or busy ape. The delusion accomplished, he would give her another herb to remove the charm, but not before she gave up the boy.
Puck found the charmed flower; and while Oberon was to streak Titania's eyes with some of the juice thereof, Puck was to anoint the eyes of the disdainful youth with another quantity of it, that he might be compelled to adore a sweet Athenian lady in love with him. Puck was then dismissed with instructions to meet Oberon before the first cock-crow. Titania, in another part of the wood, distributed her attendants, some to kill cankers in the musk-rose buds, some to war with bats for their leathern wings to make small elves' coats, and some to keep back the clamorous owl that nightly hooted at the quaint spirits. Having given her instructions, she fell asleep. This was Oberon's opportunity—and one he did not neglect. He squeezed the flower on Titania's eyelids, and disappeared.
Titania wakened with eyes fixed on Bottom, who, by Puck's art, had an ass's head. Nevertheless, she thought him wise and beautiful. She instructed her attendant fairies to be kind and courteous to the gentleman, and to feed him with apricots, dewberries, purple grapes, green figs, and mulberries. Then they were to steal the honey-bags from bumble bees for his service, and to crop their waxen thighs, and light them at the fiery glow-worm's eyes, to show her love to bed; and further, to pluck the wings from butterflies, to fan the moonbeams from his sleeping eyes. By Puck's mistake, the love juice was laid in absence of the fair Athenian lady, and so the object desired was not obtained. In consequence of this, much confusion and misunderstanding followed. To prevent a fight, Oberon, whom Puck addressed as "king of shadows," ordered the night to be overcast with drooping fog, that the rivals might be led astray. Other instructions were given, which Puck suggested should be done quickly, as in the distance shone Aurora's harbinger, at whose approach ghosts, wandering here and there, trooped home to churchyards. Damned spirits, he said, that had burial in cross-ways and floods, had already gone to their wormy beds, lest day should look on their shame. Oberon began to pity Titania, and, touching her eyes with an herb, her love for the loathsome visage she had admired for ever vanished.
The Midsummer Night's Dream concludes with the following song, if we except Puck's address:
"Now, until the break of day, Through this house each fairy stray, To the best bride-bed will we, Which by us shall blessed be; And the issue, there create, Ever shall be fortunate. So shall all the couples three Ever true and loving be: And the blots of nature's hand Shall not in their issue stand; Never mole, hare-lip, nor scar, Nor mark prodigious such as are Despised in nativity, Shall upon their children be,— With this field-dew consecrate, Every fairy take his gait; And each several chamber bless, Through this palace with sweet peace: E'er shall it in safety rest, And the owner of it blest. Trip away, Make no stay; Meet me all by break of day."
In gleaning from Macbeth, we shall pass over the weird sisters' predictions as lightly as possible, without breaking the connecting links, though we are greatly tempted to incorporate a considerable part of this play into our collection of tales and traditions, seeing that, in our opinion, none of Shakspeare's works bring out more graphically the superstition of past ages than the poet's Macbeth.
The play is represented as beginning in an open place, where, in a thunder-storm, three witches appeared and disappeared without doing any important deed of darkness. They met again on a heath, in another thunder-storm. One of them told the other hags that she had been away killing swine. Another told tales of a sailor's wife who had gone to Aleppo, and threatened to sail thither in a sieve. Macbeth and Banquo discovered the witches and saluted them. Through the women's subtlety, the fiend entered Macbeth's heart, and induced him to form the bloody plans of removing all obstacles in the way of his obtaining the crown, and handing it down to his descendants. First one victim, and then another, fell under his treachery. He was sorely troubled: the ghost of Banquo haunted him.