Divination by means of rods prevailed among the Magi, Chaldaeans, and Scythians, whence it passed to the Sclavonians, and thence to the Germans. The women among the Alani gathered straight rods or wands, and used them in their superstition. In Sheppard's Epigrams we find:
"Some sorcerers do boast they have a rod, Gathered with vows and sacrifice, And borne about will strangely nod To hidden treasure where it lies; Mankind is sure that rod divine, For to the wealthiest ever they incline."
The notion still prevails in England and elsewhere, that water and precious treasure could be discovered, though far below the surface of the earth, by carefully and skilfully handling the divining rod. Men of scientific knowledge have been believers in the occult power ascribed to the divining rod, while others, who have considered the subject, regard the supposed power of this rod as a delusion, and ascribe the whole phenomenon to the effect of a strong impression on the mind of the operator.
Cleromancy was performed by the throwing of dice. At Brura, a city of Achaia, there was a temple and a celebrated oracle of Hercules, where such as consulted the oracle threw four dice, the points whereof being observed by the priest, he was supposed to draw an answer from them. The great Napoleon was a firm believer in various modes of superstition, particularly in Cleromancy. A curious book on divination was found in Bonaparte's cabinet of curiosities at Leipsic, during the confusion that ensued there after the defeat of the French army. It was looked upon by him as a sacred work, and he was accustomed to consult it prior to his most hazardous undertakings. The book, which was upwards of five hundred years old, was written in German. It contained a table called the Oraculum, at the top of which was a column of dots or points similar to those on dice, but arranged in somewhat different order. The way of proceeding to inquire what was about to happen, was by asking questions, and the answer, whether good or bad, was according to the number and position of the dots opposite to the interrogatives. There was also a table containing the letters of the alphabet from A to Q, disposed of in a particular manner, the exact position of which had to be observed in prying into futurity. But as it is not our province to instruct any one in occult science, we shall not further explain the method of procuring answers to the questions propounded.
Information on almost every subject might be asked, if not obtained. Among the list of questions we find:—"Shall I obtain my wish? Shall I have success in my undertaking? Shall I gain or lose my cause? Shall I have to live in foreign parts? Shall I have to travel? Will the stranger return from abroad? Shall I recover my stolen property? Does the person love and regard me? Will the marriage be prosperous? Will my wife have a son or a daughter? Will the patient recover from his illness? Will the prisoner be released? Shall I be lucky or unlucky to-day? What does my dream signify?"
Among many answers and advices there are:—"What you wish for, you will shortly obtain. Be very cautious what you do this day, lest trouble befall you. If you marry this person, you will have enemies unlooked for. The patient should be prepared to leave this world. She will have a son, learned and wise. You had better decline this love, for it will neither be constant nor true. Your travels are in vain; you had better stay at home. You must not expect to regain that which you have lost. You will obtain a great fortune in another country. You may have many impediments in the accomplishment of your pursuits. Beware! an enemy is endeavouring to bring you into strife and misfortune. This day is unlucky, therefore alter your intentions. Your fortune will soon be changed into misfortune."
There were unlucky days, on which one was advised not to consult the Oraculum: for instance, January 1, 2, 4, 6, 11, 12, and 20 were looked on as particularly unpropitious. The 1st, 17th, and 18th February were lucky, and so were the 14th and 16th March. Besides those mentioned, there were unfortunate days in all the months of the year. If a person wished to avoid meeting with severe disappointment, he was not to inquire twice in one day regarding the same subject.
SIGNS, OMENS, AND WARNINGS.
Crying in Youth—Image of Opis—New-born Babes—Man born to Trouble—How Man's Time is spent—Bacon's Belief in Presages—Dugdale's Foresight—Sir Thomas More's Power to judge of Passing Events—Erasmus at the Tomb of Becket—Sir Walter Raleigh's Predictions—What Tacitus foresaw—Solon's Predictions—Cicero's Predictions—Philosophers' Observance of Signs and Omens—Knox's Predictions—Queen Mary and Darnley—Death of Thomas Maitland and of Kirkaldy of Grange predicted—Regent Murray warned against going to Linlithgow—Belief in Physiognomy—Natural Phenomena—The Human Body a medium for discovering Future Events—Phrenology—Hairy People—The Finger Nails—Unaccountable Sounds—Death Warnings—Appearance of Spirits.
If the Romans were right in considering that crying in youth portended ill-fortune in old age, there can be little doubt it has been decreed that man's existence shall be more embittered with disappointments than sweetened with unalloyed pleasures; for it is nearly as common for children to cry as it is for them to come into the world. Parents may pray to their favourite gods for wise, happy children; expectant mothers may wear suspended from their girdles the image of Opis, in the fond expectation that their offspring shall find a smooth passage through life; and nurses may bring new-born babes into contact with sacred things before defiled hands have touched their tender skins,—yet the sad experience of every man and woman is, that misfortunes overtake them sooner or later. True, some people are more fortunate than others, but none are exempted from grief and pain. Have we not the best authority for saying that "man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upwards." This being so, every member of the human family must submit to his destiny, strive against it how he may.
Since the time the old serpent beguiled Eve, to the present day, the half of man's time has been spent in bringing about prosperity and averting evil. He watches the signs of the times; he seeks for tokens and omens, as these, he supposes, are often sent for his guidance. That warnings were given to our fathers and mothers of old in mysterious ways, they fully believed; and if sent to them, there is no good reason for supposing, say our aged relations, that they should not be sent to us. Lord Bacon believed in presages; and so did other learned men of his time. Dugdale anticipated the approaching scenes in 1641, when many ancient monuments were destroyed. So convinced was he of their early destruction, that he hurried on his itinerant labours of taking sketches and engraving inscriptions, to preserve their history and appearance for future times. Sir Thomas More was enabled to judge from passing events of what was to happen in after years. Erasmus, when looking at the tomb of Becket at Canterbury, wished that the jewels with which it was loaded had been given to the poor; "for," said he, "those who have heaped up all this mass of treasure will one day be plundered, and fall a prey to rapacious tyrants in power." His prediction was literally fulfilled twenty years after it was uttered. Sir Walter Raleigh regarded omens, and from these predicted truly. Tacitus foresaw the calamities which long desolated Europe on the fall of the Roman empire, and wrote concerning the future events five hundred years before they happened. Solon predicted many of the miseries that overtook the Athenians. Aristotle collected remarkable information concerning predictions. Cicero always judged of the affairs of the republic by prediction; and he not only told what was to happen in his own time, but he also foretold important things that came to pass long after his death. Philosophers, however, did not pretend to have the second sight, or to possess any superhuman powers; but the art of prediction, if art it could be called, was acquired, they confessed, by carefully observing signs and omens.
Few put more confidence in signs and omens than Knox, the great reformer, did; and he himself foresaw several events, and the fate of certain persons. When condemned to a galley in Rochelle, he predicted that within two or three years he would preach the gospel at St. Giles's, in Edinburgh, which, improbable though it was at the time, happened as he had foretold. Of Queen Mary and Darnley he said, that in justice she would be made an instrument of retribution, and that he (the king) would be overthrown. Knox predicted the death of Thomas Maitland, and of Kirkaldy of Grange; and he solemnly warned the Regent Murray against going to Linlithgow, where he was assassinated. The common people imagined that Knox was not only a preacher, but a prophet. A Spanish friar foretold the death of Henry IV. of France. The king's friends made known to him that his life was in danger, but he disregarded the prediction, and, before a year went round, the friar's words were verified.
None of the persons we have named laid claim to the prophetic gift. Their predictions rested chiefly or solely on the observation of what was passing around them. The augury to which they trusted was more physical than divine. Some believed in physiognomy, others relied on the appearance of the political horizon, and so on. The foolhardy mariner sees the barometer falling, and perceives the blackened heavens, yet he goes to sea with his frail craft: the storm overtakes him, and he, his crew, and ship are lost in the mighty deep. The prudent sailor takes warning: he observes the black clouds gathering over his head, and hears the distant thunder; he stays in port until the disturbed elements cease their raging, and he lives to go to sea again and again. If the weather be propitious, we may expect a plentiful harvest; if a horse is given to stumbling, he is likely to come down some day; if the lakes are frozen, skaters may be expected to be drowned; and if men and women will bathe, we may calculate with certainty that some of them will go beyond their depths and perish in the water. Then again, if a man be diligent in business, we may expect him to become rich; but if he be slothful, he has nothing to look for but poverty. If an individual persist in a course of crime, he will, to an almost absolute certainty, be punished. All this is easily understood by the dullest-headed person, but it is not every one who can comprehend the more secret science that enables the initiated in deep subjects to gain knowledge from such trifles as air-bubbles or spiders' webs.
Everything connected with the human body is a medium through which future events may be foretold. A pale complexion has its signification, and so has a ruddy face. The hands and veins are special objects of observation, and so are the nails of one's fingers. From the colour, shape, and marks on nails, there are, or at least were, people who could read a person's fortune from infancy to old age.
Phrenology is a favourite science among ourselves; and so was it with the ancients, who, however, understood the science in a somewhat different light to what people of the present time do, and therefore we shall give an outline of their observations and deductions. The ancients supposed that a moderately large head denoted a well-conditioned person, studious, and possessed of a good memory and understanding. Those with large heads were supposed to be dull and stupid, gluttonous, rough in their manners, frequently melancholy, and predisposed to madness.
One with a head too large for the body, and having a thick neck and extended veins, was generally strong and of a martial spirit. When the head was long and of conical shape, the person was generally impudent and rash; and, if sprightly in early life, was supposed to lose spirit and vivacity before reaching the age of thirty years. A well-proportioned head, but slightly compressed at the sides, denoted a person of good apprehension, proceeding from the spirits domiciled there. A spherical head denoted inconstancy, forgetfulness, and want of discretion. A small head was looked on as an evil sign. The person having such a head was supposed to be vicious and ill-conditioned in many respects, in consequence of the spirits being confined in a narrow compass, and unable to exercise their functions. A person with a spherical head seldom lived beyond middle age. A long oblique head denoted lust and intemperance, and a flat cranium caused one to have a similar disposition.
A large head and broad brow indicated slowness, but laboriousness. A little forehead denoted obstinacy, wickedness, and weakness of intellect, yet conceited and given to mischief. According to Aristotle, a square forehead denoted magnanimity and courage. A person with a forehead without wrinkles showed that he was honest, but at the same time contentious, fond of law, and void of devotion. A forehead pointed at the temples, signified shallow capacity, vanity, and want of courage.
Those with hanging eyebrows were thought to be fraudulent, bold, and unmerciful. A person with a depressed forehead was put down as servile, cowardly, and fearful. Of the lines of the forehead, those which were straight or bent towards the nose foretold good fortune. If they were very crooked or approaching the form of a semicircle, they foreboded evil. Simple and straight lines were the signs of simplicity, honesty, and truth. Many lines signified changes in life, and the fewness of lines spoke of evenness and simplicity. When the lines increased or decreased, they gave warning of approaching changes in person and fortune. If the lines on the forehead near the hair of the head were broad, long, and not winding, they denoted eventful changes in the person's life; for it was believed that the first line next the hair referred to Saturn, that below it to Jupiter, and the next below it to Mars. If the third line mentioned was longer than the others, and not broken or discontinued, and having a cross upon it, the person was looked upon as one courageous and ambitious, and who would be fortunate in war; but if the line was broken or discontinued, or had a semicircular form, dangers and misfortunes were supposed to be threatened. If there were no more than three lines that bended at the extremities, the person was marked to be a prattler; and if the individual was a woman, she was put down as a scold or abusive person. Hairy people were among those on whom fortune smiled; whereas smooth-faced, beardless men were numbered among the despicable and despised ones.
Fortune-telling by means of the finger nails was not uncommon. The ancient practice was to rub the nails with oil and soot or wax, and to hold up the nails, thus prepared, against the sun; and upon the transparent horny substance were supposed to appear figures or characters, which gave the answer required. In more recent times, people have been found predicting by means of nails of the hand, and telling the disposition of persons with certain descriptions of nails. However absurd it may appear, we shall give examples of this superstition:—A person with broad nails is of gentle nature, timid, and bashful. Those whose nails grow into the flesh at the points or sides are given to luxury. A white mark on the nail bespeaks misfortune. Persons with very pale nails are subject to much infirmity of the flesh, and persecution by neighbours and friends. People with narrow nails are ambitious and quarrelsome. Lovers of knowledge and liberal sentiment have round nails. Indolent people have generally fleshy nails. Small nails indicate littleness of mind, obstinacy, and conceit. Melancholy persons are distinguished by their pale or lead-coloured nails; and choleric martial men, delighting in war, have red and spotted nails.
Particular marks on the person were looked on as having reference to one's destiny. A mole on the chin told that the person thus adorned would be prosperous and esteemed. A mole on the right breast denoted sudden accidents and reverse of fortune; one on the left breast was a sign of success and of an amorous disposition. The mole on the right breast foretold that the issue would be girls; that on the left indicated that the children would be boys. A mole under the left breast of a man was a sign of him having an unsettled mind, fond of rambling, and light in his conduct. A similar mark under a lady's left breast showed her to be sincere in love. A mole on the right knee gave tokens of the person so marked being destined to trouble and misfortunes. A mole on the left knee portended a good spouse, with great riches, to the happy individual so marked. A mole on either foot foreboded sudden illness, or unexpected misfortune, and one on any part of the shoulders indicated imperceptible decline and gradual decay in health and fortune. There were many other ways of divining the fate and dispositions of man, such as by the hand, foot, hair, mouth, ears, tongue, eyes, chin, walk, conversation, and complexion; but as it would be unprofitable to treat all these separately, we pass them without further notice in this chapter.
Mysterious knockings and unaccountable noises were indicative of the death of a relative. Warnings of this description were common and believed in. Educated people, as well as the ignorant, were victims of this kind of superstition. In the beginning of the last century a highly respectable gentleman in England was one night surprised by a sudden knock at the street door, so loud that he thought an attempt was being made to break it open. Springing from bed, he seized a brace of pistols, and was hastening to the door, when a second knock, louder than the first, was heard. A third knock followed just as he was withdrawing the bolt, but on looking out not a single person was to be seen, though it was clear moonlight, and nothing to prevent him seeing a long way off. Next post brought a letter informing him that a near relation in London had died just at the time the knocking alarmed him and his family, for they too heard the startling sounds. The disturbed persons firmly believed that, in one way or another, the knockings had reference to their friend's death.
A few years afterwards, the same gentleman, sitting one night at twelve o'clock with a sick brother, heard a noise, as of the driving of nails into a coffin, in the workshop of an undertaker, who was a neighbour. The gentleman thought it was very unkind of the undertaker, an intimate acquaintance of the sick person, to disturb him. As soon as the noise of nail-driving ceased, other and more disagreeable sounds reached his ears. The street door was opened, and, as he thought, two or three men went upstairs with a coffin. He naturally suspected that all this was a forerunner of his brother's death; and so it turned out to be. The invalid died next day at noon. Those who live in our time may think that the gentleman was insane, and that what he heard resulted from him having a diseased brain. If he was labouring under delusions, others must have been deranged too; for it was not uncommon in those days for an undertaker and his family to be advised of an early order to make a coffin by the sound of planes and hammers at work in the workshop. Gravediggers were not without their early notices of funerals. Sometimes the church bell would toll at midnight, the graveyard gate would be thrown open by unseen hands, and a living form be seen to enter alone; or it might be that the whole funeral cortege which would appear in the flesh a few days later, could be observed in spirit in the dreary hours of night. If the deceased person had lived a good and holy life, his spectre appeared in a pleasant, comely form; but if his career was a wicked one, he passed in a hideous shape, probably attended by infernal spirits.
Ornithomancy—Mohammed's Pigeons—A Gigantic Fowl—Cock-crowing—Sacred Geese saving a City—Phenomenon at Rome before Caesar's Death—Young Swallows—Virtue of a Goose's Tongue—Crows' Hearts—Divination by means of a Sieve—Detection of Crime—Capnomancy—Catoptromancy—Dactyliomancy— Cledonism—Onomancy—Names—Romans toasting their Mistresses—How Success in War was ascertained—Loss of Ships' Colours—Importance attached to Regimental Standards—Consecrated Banners—Flag of the Prophet—Battle of the Standard—A Highland Superstition.
Ornithomancy was a popular way of searching into futurity. Mohammed had holy pigeons, which came to his ears and conversed with him about things that were to happen. And the Prophet, it will be recollected, gave an account of a multitude of angels that appeared to him in all kinds of shapes, some of which were in the form of birds. One of the angel birds resembled a white cock, so prodigiously large that its height extended from the first to the second heavens—a distance of five hundred years' journey, according to the rate we usually travel on earth. Many Mohammedans will have it that the sacred bird was even larger than what we have stated. They assert that the fowl's head reached to the seventh heavens; and in describing him, they say his wings were decked with carbuncles and pearls, and that he extended his pinions from the east to the west to a distance proportionate to his height. This winged creature was represented as the chief angel of the cocks, and was said to crow so loud every morning that every living creature, except men and fairies, heard it. Following the example of this great bird, the smaller cocks, before sunrise, herald that bright luminary as he speeds to the west.
When the Gauls under Brennus had scaled the Capitol without arousing even the sentinels or the watch-dogs, the sacred geese, kept in the court of the temple in honour of Juno, heard the approach of the enemy and commenced cackling. The patrician, Manlius, struck with the noise, roused his fellow-soldiers—the Gauls were discovered, attacked, and driven back. Thenceforth Roman geese were fattened, but not eaten. A golden image of a goose was made to commemorate their vigilance, and upon a certain day in every year one was placed in a litter, and carried in state about the city, while a dog was impaled upon a stake, to denote the national contempt for that animal. A singular circumstance happened at Rome about twenty-four hours before Caesar's death. A little bird was observed to direct its flight towards the senate-house, consecrated by Pompey, whilst a flock of other birds was seen to follow in close pursuit, apparently to destroy the little bird, or to deprive it of a sprig of laurel it carried through the air. The bird was overtaken, and torn to pieces by its pursuers.
We are told that if one take young swallows and put them in a pot to cook them, he will, on taking off the lid, find two of the swallows kissing each other, and two turning one from the other. If the kissing birds be dissolved in oil of roses, they will prove effectual, when applied according to custom, in securing the affections of the most blooming young lady in the parish; but in making use of the birds found back to back, for creating sympathetic feelings, they require to be pounded into an ointment, and applied to the eyelids of him or her whose affections are sought. If the tongue of a goose be cut out when the fowl is alive, and laid on the breast of a man or woman when asleep, he or she will confess every sin of life. When a man carried the heart of a male crow, and his wife the heart of a female crow, they lived in peace and happiness. It was customary with the good housewives of England, on placing eggs in a nest for incubation, to swing a lighted candle over them, as a charm to prevent hawks, crows, and other birds of prey, flying away with the young birds hatched from the eggs.
Divination by means of a sieve was often resorted to. The sieve was suspended after the operator had repeated a particular form of words, and, by certain manipulations, information was obtained concerning thefts, etc. The names of suspected parties were repeated while the implement was made to turn round; and on the guilty person being named, the sieve, instead of turning swiftly and steadily, began to oscillate and shake. This was a very ancient practice, in which great faith was put. Theocritus mentions a woman who was very skilful in her art. At times the sieve was suspended by a thread, or fixed at the point of a pair of scissors, giving it room to turn, and naming, as before, the suspected persons. Coscinomancy was practised in England at no distant date.
Divination by means of smoke (Capnomancy) was in use among the ancients in their sacrifices. It was a good sign when the smoke rose light and straight. If, on the contrary, the smoke ascended dark and dense, evil was foretold.
Catoptromancy was a species of divination performed by the aid of a mirror. This method of divination was common among the Achaians. The mode of procedure was, when one was sick and in danger of death, to let down a mirror into a fountain before the temple of Ceres, and, from the appearance of the glass, to judge what was to be the result—whether the sickness was to be removed, or death to take place. If a ghastly, disfigured face was seen, it was regarded as a certain evidence of death; but if the patient's face appeared fresh, healthy, and comely, it was a sign of recovery.
Dactyliomancy was divination performed by means of a ring. The ring was suspended by a thread above a round table, on the edge of which letters of the alphabet were marked. The ring, in shaking or vibrating over the table, stopped over certain of the letters, which, on being connected, supplied the answer asked. But the operation was preceded and accompanied by several superstitious ceremonies. In the first place, the ring had to be consecrated; the person from whose hand it was suspended required to be clothed in linen garments; his head had to be shaven all round; and he required to hold vervain in his hand.
Cledonism denoted divination drawn from words only occasionally uttered. Cicero observes that the Pythagoreans made observations not only of the words of gods, but those of men also. Accordingly the people thought it was unlucky to pronounce at meal-time such words as conveyed peril, evil consequences, sickness, death, estrangement of friends, or the displeasure of their deities. In another sense Cledonism seems to be divination drawn from the movements of birds, such as those noticed in another part of our work.
Onomancy, Onomamancy, or Onomatomancy, was the art of divining the good or bad fortune of man from the letters of his name. This mode of divination was popular among the ancients. The Pythagoreans taught that the mind, actions, and successes of mankind were according to their fate, genius, and name. Plato, who recommended parents to give their children happy names, was inclined to think they were right, and adduced grounds for maintaining his opinion. Some of the Bible worthies are referred to in support of Onomancy; and a certain profane writer calls attention to tippling Meroe, supposing she would drink her wine without water. Hippolitus was torn to pieces by his own coach-horses, as his name imported; Agamemnon signified that he should linger long before Troy; Priam, that he should be redeemed out of bondage in his childhood. The greatest empires and states have been founded and destroyed by men of the same name. Cyrus, the son of Cambyses, established the Persian monarchy; and Cyrus, the son of Darius, ruined it; Darius, son of Hystaspes, restored it; and again, Darius, son of Asamis, overthrew it. Philip, son of Amyntas, greatly enlarged the kingdom of Macedonia; and Philip, son of Antigonus, lost it. Augustus was the first emperor of Rome; Augustulus, the last. Constantine founded the empire of Constantinople, and Constantine lost it. Some names are unfortunate to princes: Caius, among the Romans; John and Henry of France, and John of England and Scotland. One of the principal rules of this kind of divination among the Pythagoreans was, that an even number of vowels in a name signified an imperfection in the left side of a man, and an odd number in the right side. Another rule was, that the persons were the most happy in whose names the numeral letters added together, made the greatest sum; for which reason, it was alleged, Achilles vanquished Hector, the numeral letters in the former name amounting to a greater number than in the latter. From a like idea, the young Romans toasted their mistresses at their meetings as often as their names contained letters. Theodotus, king of the Goths, being anxious to ascertain the success of his wars against the Romans, consulted a Jew, who ordered him to shut up a number of swine in styes, and to give some of them Roman and others Gothic names, and there to keep them until a certain day. The Jews' instructions were complied with; and, on inspecting the styes at the appointed time, it was discovered that the animals which had received the Gothic names were dead, and those to which the Roman names had been assigned were alive. From these circumstances, the fortune-teller truly predicted the defeat of the Goths.
There was an old superstition among seamen, which is supposed to linger among them still,—we mean the evil that was feared would follow the total loss or tearing of a ship's colours. Sailors would have been less grieved at all their sails being split, their spars carried away, and their masts gone by the board, than at being deprived of their colours. The loss or tearing of a flag was a sign of misfortune, both to the vessel and the crew.
Soldiers, particularly those in Highland and Irish regiments, were equally credulous. Vast importance was attached to the preservation of their standards, and hence in some instances the great bravery that has been displayed in preventing the enemy carrying away a standard. A brave Highlander, or courageous Irish soldier, would rather die than surrender the flag of his company. Not only did the loss of regimental colours bring disgrace for the time on those whose duty it was to defend them, but it portended future defeats and demoralisation.
Consecrated banners were common in times when almost every man was a soldier. "Go, conquer by this" was the motto inscribed on ensigns of several nations. In the devices of standards were found the eagle, the wolf, the horse, the boar, the lion, and often a figure of Victory or Mars. The "Flag of the Prophet" was the sacred banner of the Mohammedans. It was composed of the turban of the Koreish, captured by Mohammed. A black flag was afterwards substituted in its place, consisting of a curtain that used to hang in front of the door of Ayeshah's (one of the Prophet's wives) tent. The Mohammedans regarded this flag as a most sacred relic. Subsequent to passing through several hands, it was brought to Europe by Amurath III. It was kept in a costly casket, and deposited in a chapel, guarded by emirs. The banner used to be unfolded when war broke out, and carefully laid aside, as stated, when peace was restored.
In the history of the "Battle of the Standard," which took place on Cutton Moor, near Northallerton, between the English and Scots, at which the Scots lost 10,000 men, the success of the English was reported to have been due to their having consecrated banners with them. The battle derived its name from the circumstance of a flag-staff being attached to a waggon in the army's centre, bearing at its top the consecrated host, and the banners of St. John of Beverley, St. Peter of York, and St. Wilfred of Ripon.
A superstition long lingered in the Scottish Highlands, that it was unlucky for a clansman to learn any handicraft engaged in by Lowlanders. If a Highland youth left his native mountains and engaged in mercantile or mechanical pursuits, his friends thought he turned effeminate. For warfare he became unsuited, either as a leader or follower. The prowess of his ancestors forsook him, he became incapable of handling the bow or spear skilfully, and, what was worse, he carried ill luck with himself and to his companions wherever he went. Powerful clans have been beaten in the open field by opposing clansmen of inferior numbers, solely through the circumstance of the former having in their ranks men who had imprudently, in an evil hour, apprenticed themselves to the vulgar callings of life. To be a soldier was honourable, to be a tiller of the ground was not a disgrace, to be a cattle reiver was not a crime, but for a clansman to condescend to earn his bread by ordinary industry in a workshop, could not fail to bring discredit and misfortune on himself and kindred, however remote the relationship might be. To this superstition the nation is indebted for the many stalwart Highlanders who have fought England's battles, and won them too, at home and abroad. Ask the decrepit old woman, leaning on her staff, far up yonder glen, the cause of the expiring zeal among the mountain youths to study the art of war, and she will tell you in effect what we have said; and will add, that through the intimacy that has long existed between Highlanders and Lowlanders, and the frequent evictions that have brought a scandal on our nation, her country no longer remains a recruiting ground for armies.
Caution of our Ancestors—A Magpie crossing one's Path—What four Magpies betokened—The Poet and the Magpies—More about Magpies—Flight of Birds—Swarming of Bees—Howling of Dogs—Lowing of Cattle—Crowing of Cocks—Dogs' Power of Sight—Stockings wrong side out—Evil effect of Suspended Eggs—Burning Fish Bones—Sign of a Letter coming—Sneezing of a Cat—Various Signs—The sight of a Fox foreboding Evil—Owls and Ravens—Various Signs and Omens—How to prevent Ill Luck—Reputed Witches crossing the Path—Highland Superstition—Print of a Caldron, what it denoted—Unlucky to pass over a Balance—How to see in the Dark—When not to pare your Nails—Touching a Dead Body—Funeral Processions—Storks and Storks' Hearts—How to Sit—Marriages—A Prophetic Rhyme—Favourable and Unfavourable Times for Marriages—Unfortunate to lose or break a Wedding Ring—Rules to be observed in taking possession of a House—Throwing Slippers, Besoms, Salt, and Rice after Newly-married Persons—Charms for Bridegrooms and Brides—Mothers and Children—More about Marriages—Rules to be observed at Baptisms—How to treat Young Children.
Mark the caution of our ancestors: If a magpie crossed one's path when setting out on a journey, his mission, whatever it happened to be, was certain to prove unsuccessful, unless the traveller immediately crossed himself—a ceremony he invariably performed—and thus the unfavourable influence of the hateful bird ceased. In the south of England, people supposed that if a person saw four magpies at one time, he would soon lose by death a dear friend. But an old English poet, writing of magpies, says:
"One is a sign of sorrow; two are a sign of mirth; Three are a sign of a wedding; and four a sign of birth."
The chattering of one of these birds in the morning bespeaks the arrival of a stranger before evening. It is thought unlucky to kill a magpie or a swallow. The congregating of magpies on a house-top precedes an important event, in which the inmates are interested. If a bird fly through a window, it is a sign that one of the inmates will soon die. If a pigeon, which does not belong to any one of the family, come into a house, it forebodes death to the occupant of the domicile. The alighting of a swarm of bees on a dead tree or on the withered bough of a living tree, signifies that the owner of the tree will soon pass through death's portal. The howling of dogs, the lowing of cattle, and the crowing of cocks at night, foretell the death of some person in the neighbourhood. Dogs are supposed by not a few people to see death as it enters a dwelling; and hence, in their opinion, the cause of that quadruped's frequent dismal howling.
When one, by mistake, puts on his stockings in the morning wrong side out, he secures good luck for that day at least. Birds' eggs hung up in a house, prevent good luck entering that dwelling. He who wishes to thrive should abstain from burning fish bones. A spark in the candle gives notice that a letter is coming. If the cat sneeze or cough, nothing is more certain than that one person, at least, in the house will soon have a cold. When one's ears tingle, lies are being told about him. When his cheeks burn, he is assured people are talking about him. If the right eye itches, good luck is expected; and when the left eye waters, misfortune is looked for. When the nose itches, vexation—probably the death of friends—is expected. The meeting of a fox, or the seeing of one crossing the path, presages the attempt of an impostor to commit a fraud at the expense of the traveller. Owls or ravens appearing on important occasions, portend unlucky events. If a weasel be met in the morning, it is necessary to turn three times on the heel and throw three stones, to prevent ill luck. It is more lucky to meet a man than a woman as a first-foot. Every person is advised to avoid meeting a cat, when going on an important mission. It is also unlucky to meet a pig; and it is thought prudent to return home when a hare or a reputed witch crosses the path ere the morning dew disappears before the sun. A man leading or riding on a mare with foal, is cautioned against allowing the animal to go in the track of a wolf; because, if she place a hoof on the spot where that ravenous beast's foot has been, she will cast her foal.
Time was, in Great Britain as in the East, when almost every one, whether walking, riding, or sailing in a boat, went with the sun, when setting out on a journey, or proceeding to sea. The Highlanders of Scotland invariably went deiseal, or to the right, at every meeting of importance. They went to the right, around the grave, with the corpse—to the right three times around the consecrated well before drinking. The company at a marriage went three times round the house before crossing the threshold. Companies, on taking their seats at table, were expected to turn to the right. Even at the present day, the loving-cup and decanters are handed to the right around the social board. When one lets salt fall on the floor or table, he should not omit to cast a small quantity of the condiment over his left shoulder. Beware of passing the salt at table unless it be asked for, and of placing your fork and knife cross-ways.
When one sneezed, he did not evoke Jupiter to save him, the same as the people of some other countries did, but he, or some of his friends present, said Deiseal. When an infant was born, the midwife encircled it three times right about with a burning candle. These customs were no doubt commenced by the Highlanders in honour of the sun, which they once worshipped; but in later times people did as their forefathers and foremothers had done, through a superstitious belief, thinking that by so doing they would prevent evil consequences, and secure good fortune.
It is unlucky to leave the print of a caldron in the ashes after taking the utensil off the fire. If people are wise, they will not pass over a balance, or take up fire with a sword. To enable a person to see in the dark, he is recommended to anoint his eyes with a salve prepared from the right eye of a hedgehog, boiled in oil, and preserved in a brazen vessel. A blackamoor is an unlucky first-foot. If the chickens do not come out readily to feed in the morning, the owner may make up his or her mind to meet with disappointments before night.
It was formerly, if not now, unlucky to pare your nails on Sunday or Friday. To prevent one dreaming about a dead person he has seen, it is necessary to touch the body. To secure money being always in one's pocket, he is advised to keep a bent sixpence, or a coin with a hole in it, in his purse; to take it out and spit on it at every new moon; and to return it to the pocket while wishing himself good luck.
It is unlucky to look at a funeral through a door or a window. Should one wish to gaze on the melancholy procession, he ought to take his position in the open air. The family will be fortunate on the roof of whose house a stork builds its nest; and if any one take the heart of a stork, and tie it up in the skin of a hawk or of a vulture, no enemy can conquer him so long as he carries the charm attached to his right arm. To sit with one's hands closed is bad, but to sit cross-legged secures good fortune. At a card-table, people occasionally sit in the latter position, with the view of bringing lucky deals.
A bride should not be married in a white satin dress. That a newly-married couple may have no obstacles in the way of prosperity, every one meeting them going to church to be united, or returning home after the hymeneal knot is tied, should retrace his steps with them a short distance. No small importance is attached to the old rhyme:
"Blessed is the bride that the sun shines on; Blessed is the corpse that the rain rains on."
Marriages at the festival of St. Joseph are carefully avoided as unfortunate. All fast-days and vigils should also be avoided as marriage-days, they being considered inauspicious. The first day of May continues in many lands to be held in great esteem, and the 12th of that month is a high day among the witches. At that time they may be seen dancing on the surface of lakes, brushing the dew off the grass, milking cows in their folds, and flying through the air, or escaping from pursuers in the shape of hares.
If a married woman lose her wedding ring, she has reason to fear the estrangement of her husband's affections. If she break it, she thinks there is danger of the matrimonial tie being soon severed by death. If a newly-married couple go into a clean-swept house, they expect to be poor all their days; but if the house be but indifferently cleaned, and the precaution taken to throw salt and a small quantity of coals in at the door before any furniture or household goods are carried across the threshold, good luck is expected. As a warning, however, to persons who might wish to injure their neighbours, we think it right to say that, down to the time we write, it is considered that any one removing from a dwelling with clean-swept floors, has reason to expect grief and trouble in his new abode. Every one knows that slippers, besoms, salt, and rice should be thrown after a newly-wedded pair; and that a cake must be broken over a bride's head when she first enters the house of her husband; but it is not so well known that a bridegroom should have silver—say sixpences—and salt in his shoes, when he first approaches the marriage bed, and that the bride should avoid putting her bare feet on the floor when preparing to retire for the night with her future companion in life. If these precautions be neglected, there is danger of the wedded pair being deprived of little prattlers around their fire in the early days of their wedded life, and of having sons or daughters to comfort them in declining years. A mother should not enter a neighbour's house after having an infant before she is "kirked"; nor should she carry her child even to her nearest and dearest friend's abode before the little one has been baptized.
It is unlucky for a bridegroom to have for his "best-man" one who is not his blood relation. It is unlucky for a "best-man" to have on a black coat at a marriage; it is an omen of evil to the bride and bridegroom. If a bride slip her foot or her horse stumble when proceeding to church to be married, it is regarded as an evil sign; and if the bridegroom come down when on his way to meet his betrothed, before the hymeneal knot is tied, misfortunes are expected. If he has to cross a stream, and his bonnet or hat fall into the water, his death is not far distant. A bride's glove should not be taken off before the bridegroom's is removed, preparatory to their joining hands in wedlock before the clergyman. If any part of a dinner-set or tea-set be broken at a marriage or baptismal feast, it is a sign that misfortunes are coming.
If two children—a boy and a girl—are baptized in church on the same day, and the latter be sprinkled before the former, the girl's relations have reason to fear that in ripe years she will have a beard. If a mother or nurse do not give bread and cheese to the first person she meets when going to church with a child to be baptized, it is questionable whether the infant's career through life shall prove prosperous. The "first-foot," on receiving his bread and cheese, is expected to return a short distance with the child, to show his good will.
If a person, who is a stranger, leave a house wherein there is an unbaptized child, particularly if it be a girl, without eating or drinking, the infant's beauty is in danger of being taken away. It is unlucky to let a child see its face in a mirror before it is a year old. When an infant is suspended by the dress with its head downwards for a few seconds after being washed in the morning, it prevents an evil eye from affecting the little one that day.
Floors should not be swept at Night—Fires at New Year and Christmas—Presents at New Year and Christmas—Lucky and Unlucky "First-Foots"—Looking through a Ladder—Sneezing—Air Bubbles on Tea—Tea Stalks—Stepping out with the Left Foot—Left Shoe to be put on first—Weather Prognostications—How to secure Favourable Gales—Superstitious Customs at time of Death—Corpse of one guilty of Felo-de-se, how to be Buried—Finding of Persons who die unseen—Superstitious Belief of Russian Seamen—Ancient Customs of Scotland—Friday an Unlucky Day for commencing an Important Undertaking—Friday as a Marriage Day—Anecdote of a Ship called "Friday"—Loss of the Ship "Amazon"—Sunday a Favourable Day for commencing a Voyage—Lawyers and Clergymen, how looked upon by Sailors at Sea—It is Lucky to have Women and Children at Sea—Dogs and Cats at Sea—Rats deserting a Ship—Whistling to raise the Wind—Deceased Sailors' Clothes—Old Boats not to be Broken up—Reluctance to go to Sea in a Boat from which a Person has been Drowned—Sharks following a Ship—Unfavourable Sign to see a Hatch turned upside down—A Four-footed Beast not to be named at Sea—Legend of Vanderdecken or the Flying Dutchman—A Grandfather's Axe—Other Signs and Warnings.
If a housewife wish everything to prosper with her and her family, she will not permit the floors of her house to be swept at night. The sweeping not only prevents good fortune, but it disturbs the spirits of the dead, supposed to be constantly walking about in thousands. If the kitchen fire burn down on New Year's morning or Christmas eve, it is thought, some person belonging to the house will die before these seasons come round again. Old women, who wish to have a peep into futurity, are accustomed to cover over with ashes the smouldering embers of their fires on the last night of the year. If a death is to happen in the house before twelve months expire, the foot marks of the doomed individual will be imprinted in the ashes; but if no such event is to happen, the ashes will remain with a smooth surface, and the embers kindled below. It is thought lucky to receive a present on New Year's day or Christmas; but it is unlucky to borrow or lend on these days. The destiny of the members of a family is greatly affected for a whole year, if not for life, by the "first-foot" on New Year's and Christmas mornings. An unlucky "first-foot" brings misfortune with him or her, but a lucky "first-foot" introduces prosperity.
If one look through a ladder, he should spit three times to prevent evil consequences; and it is unlucky to hand anything through a ladder. Sneezing to the left hand is unlucky, but prosperous when to the right. Plutarch relates that, by the sneezing of a soldier towards his right hand, the soothsayer predicted the victory of the Greeks and the complete overthrow of the Persians in battle. Candles and lights burn dim when spirits are present. The stalk of the tea plant floating on the surface of a cup of tea, foretells the coming of a stranger. If the stalk be short, look for a female visitor; but if long, then a man may be expected. Air bubbles on tea denote kisses and money. It is thought lucky to step out with the left foot first; and no one who has attended to the recommendation of his grandmother, thinks of putting his right shoe on first in the morning. These precautions—stepping out with the left foot first, and putting the left shoe on before the right—keep one from stumbling.
With reference to prognosticating the state of the weather, our fathers, we may premise, carefully observed the winds, the clouds, the sky, and the seasons. If the wind blew from the west on New Year's night, it was considered lucky, and supposed to foretell a season of abundance.
In the north of Scotland, the people wished to see the first three days of winter dark and cloudy. A northern bard says:
"The south wind, heat and plenty, The west wind, fish and milk, The north wind, cold and stormy, The east wind, fruit on trees."
People in Scotland also prognosticated the weather of the coming season, according to whether Candlemas was clear or foul. Every one can repeat the old rhyme, and some put faith in it:
"If Candlemas is fair and clear, Ther'll be twa winters in the year."
When this day passed without a shower of rain or a fall of snow, people imagined there would be severe weather before spring was past; and they expected heavy snow storms before the following Christmas. A showery and tempestuous Candlemas, on the other hand, raised the people's spirits, for by such omens they were to expect a favourable summer and an abundant harvest.
Though they may be well known to most readers, we subjoin a few poetical proverbs on the weather:
"The evening red, and the morning grey, Are certain signs of a fair day."
"If red the sun begins his race, Expect that rain will fall apace."
"In the waning of the moon, A cloudy morn—fair afternoon."
"If woolly fleeces spread the heavenly way, No rain, be sure, disturbs the summer's day."
"When clouds appear like rocks and towers, The earth's refreshed by frequent showers."
From rainbows, shepherds and sailors predicted the state of the weather.
"A rainbow in the morning is the shepherd's warning; A rainbow at night is the sailor's delight."
When peacocks cry, be sure rain will early fall; and when the night owl screeches from the ruined tower, look for a storm; so also, if the cat is seen washing its face with its fore paws, expect a gale. When ocean birds flock on shore, a tempest is brewing on the sea.
Seamen and fishermen's wives can secure a favourable gale for their husbands by going to a chapel after mass, and blowing the dust on the door in the direction the vessels have gone.
When a person is dying, no one in the house, of whatever age, should be permitted to sleep. When one expires, the clock should be immediately stopped, and the dial plate covered with a towel, and mirrors and pictures should be concealed, or their faces turned to the wall. All the cats belonging to the house ought to be caught and confined till after the funeral. That a necessity prevails for putting the feline animals out of the way, will be understood by the existing generation, when they understand that if a cat cross a corpse, and afterwards pass over a living person in a recumbent posture, that individual will be deprived of sight. When a dead body is dressed and laid out, the relatives would do well to put a Bible below the head, and one plate with salt, and another plate with a piece of green turf, on the breast. The corpse of every one guilty of felo-de-se should be buried either in a remote spot not customarily used as a place of burial, or near to a cross road; but if the relatives of any such unhappy person insist on having the remains interred in the ordinary place of sepulchre, they are expected to carry the corpse over the burying-ground wall, and inter it after sunset. It is believed that if a person die unseen, they who first discover the body will meet his death in a similar manner. This superstitious belief often prevents seamen and fishermen picking up and taking ashore dead bodies discovered at sea. Seamen have not yet risen above these superstitious delusions. A few years ago a Russian ship was lying in Leith Docks, when one of the crew fell overboard and was drowned. As long as there was a chance of rescuing the man, his companions did everything they could to save him; but as soon as they discovered that their comrade was dead, they rushed into the forecastle of their vessel, and refused to search for the body, believing that they who first beheld the corpse after being brought to the surface, would, sooner or later, meet a watery grave.
No person who understands the ancient customs of Scotland will think of commencing to make a new garment at the end of the year, if it cannot be finished before the new year comes in; nor will any one commence to make an article of clothing on Saturday, unless it can be ready for wearing on the Sunday. Friday is also an unlucky day for commencing any important undertaking. Some people refuse to be bled or physicked on a Friday. In certain parts of the country, Friday is the usual day for young men and women being united in wedlock, but at other places it is supposed bad luck would cleave to them during the whole of their lives if they were married on that day. It is believed by old crones that children born on Friday are doomed to misfortune. Friday night's dreams are sure to come true. It is well known, seamen dislike going to sea on Friday. Mr. Fenimore Cooper relates a very extraordinary anecdote in reference to Friday. He says:
"A wealthy merchant of Connecticut devised a notable scheme to give a fatal blow to the superstition of Friday being an unlucky day. He caused the keel of a very large ship to be laid on a Friday; he named her the 'Friday'; he launched her on a Friday; he gave the command of her to a captain whose name was Friday; and she commenced her first voyage on a Friday, bound for China with a costly cargo; and in all respects she was one of the noblest and best-appointed ships that ever left the port. The result was, neither ship nor crew was ever heard of afterwards. Thus his well-meant plan," adds Mr. Cooper, "so far from showing the folly of superstition, only confirmed seamen in their absurd belief."
Another instance may be given of a splendid ship sailing on a Friday being lost, as was supposed by the superstitious, through the imprudence of sending her to sea on the sixth day of the week. We refer to the West India steamer "Amazon," whose sad fate is a matter of history. Other examples might be given of ships beginning their voyages on Friday being lost; and, to the present time, sailors will tell you that more misfortunes happen to vessels leaving port on Friday than to ships departing on any other day of the week. Sailors consider Sunday a favourable day for commencing a voyage. They are averse to proceed to sea if a lawyer or clergyman is on board. They think the presence of one of these gentlemen raises a tempest that puts their craft in peril. This superstition is probably founded on the biblical story of Jonah in his flight to Tarshish, when such a mighty tempest was raised as to endanger the lives of those who manned the vessel that conveyed him from Joppa. Sailors are of opinion that it is lucky to have women or children on board a ship. Time was when they objected to sail with a native of Finland as one of the crew, thinking that the Finns were leagued with Satan, and that if they were offended, they took their revenge by raising adverse winds and causing accidents to happen. Old sailors objected to have dogs on board, but cats were held sacred; and if all tales be true, Puss often secured favourable winds, and prevented shipwreck. When rats are seen deserting a ship ready for sea, it is regarded as an evil omen. In calm weather, sailors whistle to raise the wind; but in a gale they neither whistle themselves, nor permit others to do so. It is unlucky to wear the clothes of a fellow-sailor who dies at sea before the termination of the voyage. It is thought unlucky to break up an old boat—a fact which accounts for so many useless boats being seen at fishing villages. If a man be drowned in or from a boat, sailors and fishermen are reluctant to put to sea again with her. It is an evil sign to see sharks following a ship. Inadvertently turning a hatch upside down, is considered an unfavourable sign. A four-footed beast should not be named at sea. A child's caul hung in the cabin, prevents the ship from sinking. A legend of Vanderdecken, the Flying Dutchman, is believed by seamen. It runs thus:—
Three hundred years ago a large Dutch Indiaman, commanded by Mynheer Vanderdecken, attempted to round the Cape of Good Hope against a head wind. His vessel was frequently driven back, but he doggedly persevered, in spite of many signs and warnings of failure, and declared that he would double the Cape, though he sailed till the day of judgment. For this impious saying, and disregard of signs and warnings, the ship and wicked captain, with his crew, were doomed to sail continually in the latitude of the Cape, without doubling it. Sailors have asserted that, in the midnight gale, the ship may be seen, with her antique build and rig, and the figure of Vanderdecken, on the poop, giving orders to his ghostly crew, contending with the wind and waves, which they can never overcome.
One day in the Middle Ages, as a troop of Condottieri crossed the Roman country, a young peasant, named Attendole, stood under an oak to admire them. Some of the soldiers invited him to join their company. The peasant was inclined to follow them, but being undecided he said, "I will throw the axe I hold in my hand against this oak, and if it enter far enough into the bark to remain fixed, I will be a soldier." So saying, he threw the axe with so much violence that it entered the tree deep and stuck fast. From that moment all hesitation was over: tearing himself from his friends, he joined the troop. Because it was with all his force he decided what his vocation was to be, his comrades called him Sforza. He fought in more than one hundred battles, and, after having served in Rome and at Milan, he at an advanced age perished while endeavouring to save one of his own pages from drowning. He left a son, who, like his father, gained renown. He rose so high in Italy as to be considered a suitable match for Bianca Visconti, the heiress of Milan. Their son Galeazza, Duke of Milan, used to look on the fair city and say, "See what I owe to my grandfather's axe!"
Warnings of approaching death are given in various ways. There are ancient families to whom the ghosts of their ancestors appear before the death of the chiefs or heads of the families. In one instance we have heard that the ghost of an old murdered lady keeps wandering through the castle halls shortly before any of the family dies; and in another instance it is said that a mysterious light blazes from the lofty battlements before the noble proprietor is laid low in death.
The falling of his portrait or statue is a sure presage of a great man's death. Archbishop Laud, going into his study (which no one could enter without him being present, as he invariably locked the door and kept the key), found his portrait one day lying on its face on the floor. He was extremely perplexed, for to him it was as his death knell, and he commenced setting his house in order. The sad summons was not long of coming, and death took him for its own.
AMULETS AND CHARMS.
Amulets and Charms among the Chaldaeans, Jews, and Persians—Amulets among the Greeks and Romans—Ecclesiastics forbidden to wear Amulets and Phylacteries—Amulets and Charms very numerous—Pericles' Amulet—Lord Bacon's Opinion of Charms—Cramp Rings and Eel Skins—Moss off a Dead Man's Skull—How to remove Warts—Cure for St. Vitus' Dance—Effect of Music—Kittens and Pigeons used as Cures—Yawning and Laughing, Fear and Shame—Diseases cured by Charms—Surprise a Cure for Hooping-cough—A Mad Dog's Bite—Touch of a Torpedo—Philosophers' Opinions of Amulets—Bane and Antidote—Mr. E. Chambers on Amulets—Poets on Enchantments—A Dairymaid's Charm—A Charm sent by a Pope to an Emperor.
Amulets and charms were in great variety among the Chaldaeans, Jews, and Persians. They were also held in estimation among the Greeks and Romans, chiefly on account of their supposed virtue in exciting or conquering the passion of love. The Council of Laodicea forbade ecclesiastics to wear amulets and phylacteries, on pain of degradation. St. Jerome was likewise opposed to their use. Nevertheless, although amulets and charms are not held in the same repute they once were, their efficacy is not supposed to be entirely gone. Among early Christians amulets and charms were acknowledged to possess peculiar virtues beneficial to man. Amulets and charms were, and are, so numerous that it would be a herculean task to give an account of one half of them. Where the inhabitants were destitute of medical resources, amulets and charms were employed for the alleviation of bodily suffering. Pericles wore an amulet about his neck, as such charms were supposed to be capable of preserving the wearers from misfortune and disease. Lord Bacon was of opinion that if a man wore a planet seal, it might aid him in obtaining the affection of his sweetheart, give him protection at sea and in battle, and make him more courageous. Cramp rings and eel skins were worn round the limbs, to prevent sickness; and people were sometimes cured by laying sticks across each other in front of their beds at night. Moreover, the sticks thus placed prevented demons approaching the couch of rest. The moss off a dead man's skull, says the great Mr. Boyle, is an effectual remedy against bleeding at the nose. We are told by Lord Verulam, that when he was at Paris he had above one hundred warts on his hands, and that they were removed by the English ambassador's lady rubbing them with a piece of bacon, afterwards nailed to a post. In five weeks the bacon, being exposed to the sun, melted away, and the warts disappeared.
St. Vitus' dance was cured by the sufferer visiting the tomb of the saint, near Ulm, every May. The bites of certain reptiles are rendered harmless by music. Dr. Sydenham orders, in cases of iliac passion, a live kitten to be laid on the abdomen. Pigeons, split alive and applied to the soles of the feet, are efficacious in fevers and convulsions. Quincey says that yawning and laughing are infectious, and so are fear and shame; and from these, by a system of reasoning peculiarly his own, he endeavours to prove that amulets may be sufficient to counteract, if not to entirely hinder, infection. Throughout the Mohammedan dominions the people were convinced that charms were indispensable to their well-being. By charms they cured every kind of disease, provided predestination had not determined that the sick man's days were at an end. Surprise, it is urged, removes the hooping-cough; looking from a precipice, or seeing a wheel turn swiftly, causes giddiness. "Why then," asks a wise man, "may not amulets or charms, by their secret influence, produce the effects ascribed to them? Who can comprehend by what impenetrable means the bite of a mad dog produces hydrophobia? Why does the touch of a torpedo induce numbness? When these causes and effects are explained," he concludes, "so may the virtue of amulets be accounted for." Ancient philosophers laid it down, as a proof of ignorance, the condemnation of a science not easily understood. In this way the advocates of amulets and charms have been enabled to silence people who have had the hardihood to throw odium on their superstitions. Believers in amulets and charms remind us that it is a well-ascertained fact in nature, that for every bane there is an antidote. Wherever the stinging nettle grows, the slimy stem of the dock is near; whenever the wasp stings, honey gathered by the industrious bee may be had, without going far, to put on the injured part; when the cold is most intense without, the fire burns brightest within; and if there be evil spirits seeking man's hurt, there are good angels hovering round him for his protection.
Mr. E. Chambers, who published his Cyclopaedia, or A Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences, in 1728, says that an amulet (amuletum) is a kind of medicament hung about the neck or other part of the body to prevent or remove diseases. Amulets, he proceeds, are frequently nothing else than spells or charms, consisting of quaint words and characters, supposed to have the virtue of warding off ill. And Mr. Chambers informs his readers, under the word "charm," that a charm is a magic power or spell, by which, with the assistance of the devil, sorcerers and witches are supposed to do wondrous things, far surpassing the power of nature.
Ancient poets, who were of a superstitious turn of mind, attached no small importance to amulets and charms. One of them says:
"Enchantments pluck out of the sky, The moon though she be plac'd on high; Dame Circe with her charms so fine, Ulysses' mates did turn to swine: The snake with charms is burst in twain, In meadows where she doth remain.
* * * * *
These herbs did Meris give to me, And poysons pluckt at Pontos, For there they grow and multiply, And do not so amongst us. With these she made herself become A wolf, and hid her in the wood; She fetched up souls out of the tombe, Removing corn from where it stood."
The following is an old translation from Virgil:
"From thence a virgin priest is come From out Massyla land, Sometimes the temple there she kept, And from her heavenly hand The dragon meat did take: she kept Also the fruit divine, With herbs and liquors sweet that still To sleep did men incline. The minds of men (she saith) from love With charms she can unbind, In whom she list: but others can She cast to cases unkind. The running streams do stand, and from Their course the stars do wreath, And souls she conjure can: then shalt See sister underneath The ground with roring gape and trees, And mountains turn upright."
Ovid is made to say:
"The river I can make retire Into the fountains whence they flow, (Where at the banks themselves admire) I can make standing waters go; With charms I drive both sea and cloud, I can make it calm and blow aloud, The viper's jaws, the rocky stone, With words and charms I break in twain; The force of earth congeal'd in one, I move, and shake both woods and plain; I make the souls of men arise, And pull the moon out of the skies.
* * * * *
And thrice she spake the words that caus'd Sweet sleep and quiet rest; She staid the raging of the sea, And mighty floods supprest."
Other poets, writing of charms, say:
"With charms the corn is spoiled so As that it vades the barren grass; With charms the springs are dried low, That none can see where water was. The grapes from vines, the mast from oaks, And beats down fruit with charming strokes.
* * * * *
She plucks each star out of his throne, And turneth back the raging waves; With charms she makes the earth to cone, And raises souls out of their graves: She burns men's bones as with fire, And pulleth down the lights from heaven, And makes it snow at her desire, Even in the midst of summer season.
* * * * *
The course of nature ceased quite, The air obeyed not his law, The day delayed by length of night, Which made both day and night to yaw; And all was through that charming gear, Which caus'd the world to quake for fear.
* * * * *
They talked with tongues of birds, Consulting with the salt sea coasts, They burst the snake with witching words, Soliciting the spiritual ghosts; They turn the night into the day, And also drive the light away: And what is 't that cannot be made By them that do apply this trade."
Sir Thomas Brown mentions that a chalked tile at each corner of a field and one in the centre thereof were rural charms that prevented weeds growing; and the three following charms are given in Herrick's Hesperides:
"This I'le tell ye by the way, Maidens when ye leavens lay, Cross your dough, and your dispatch Will be better for your batch.
In the morning when ye rise, Wash your hands and cleanse your eyes, Next be sure to have a care To disperse the water farre, For as farre as that doth light, So farre keeps the evil spright.
If ye fear to be affrighted, When ye are (by chance) benighted; In your pocket for a trust Carry nothing but a crust; For that holy piece of bread Charms the danger and the dread."
Here are older charms in metre:
"With blessynges of Saynt Germayne I will me so determyne, That neyther for nor vermyne Shall do my chyckens harme. For your gese seke Saynt Legearde, And for your duckes Saynt Leonarde, There is no better charme.
Take me a napkin folte With the byas of a bolte, For the healing of a colte No better thynge can be; For lampes and for bottes Take me Saynt Thomas Lattes, On my life I warrande ye."
In the Hesperides we also find the following spell:
"Holy water come and bring: Cast in salt for seasoning: Set the brush for sprinkling.
Sacred spittle bring ye hither: Meale and it now mix together, And a little oyle to either.
Give the tapers here their light; Ring the saints' bell to affright Far from hence the evil sprits.
And good Saynt Francis' gyrdle, With the hamlet of a hyrdle, Are wholesome for the pyppe.
Besides these charms afore I have feates many more That kepe still in store, Whom I now over hyppe."
The same writer quaintly says:
"A charm or an allay for love, If so be a toad be laid In a sheep-skin newly flaid, And that ty'd to man, 'twill sever Him and his affections ever."
Butler, in his Hudibras, describes the supposed power of a cunning man thus:
"Not far from hence doth dwell A cunning man hight Sidrophel, That deals in destiny's dark counsels, And sage opinion of the moon sells; To whom all people, far and near, On deep importances repair; When brass and pewter hap to stray, And linen slinks out of the way; When geese and pullen are seduced, And sows of sucking pigs are chows'd; When cattle feel indisposition, And need the opinion of physician; When murrain reigns in hogs or sheep And chickens languish of the pip; When yeast and outward means do fail, And have no power to work on ale; When butter does refuse to come, And love proves cross and humoursome; To him with questions and with urine They for discovery flock, or curing."
In the seventeenth century, dairymaids, when churning, used a charm, said over the churn in the following lines:
"Come, butter, come, Come, butter, come; Peter stands at the gate, Waiting for a buttered cake, Come, butter, come."
This having been said three times, the butter came straightway; and very good butter it was, on the good saint being invoked.
A holy Pope of the good old times sent the following lines to an exalted Emperor:
"Balme, Virgine-wax, and holy water, An Agnus Dei make, A gift than which none can be greater, I send thee for to take.
From fountain clear the same hath issue In secret sanctified; 'Gainst lightning it hath soverain virtue, And thunder-cracks beside.
Each hainous sin it wears and wasteth, Even as holy precious blood; And women while their travel lasteth It saves, it is so good.
It doth bestow great gifts and graces On such as well deserve; And borne about in noisome places, From peril doth preserve.
The force of fire, whose heat destroyeth, It breaks and bringeth down; And he or she that this enjoyeth No water shall them drown."
Ear-rings buried by Jacob—Solomon's Belief in Spells—Reginald Scot's Recipe for preserving Cattle—What Mr. Pennant says on Charms—Parts of the Chameleon as Charms—A Condemned Sorcerer's Charm—Virtue of Trees and Plants—Deities' Crowns—Virtue of May Dew—Images Powerful Charms—How the Romans regarded their Images—The Egyptians' Confidence in Amulets and Charms—Evil Eye—Effects of an Evil Eye, how counteracted—Charms for Horses and Children—Sixpence-piece an Excellent Charm—Mothers and Children protected from Fairies—Cold Iron—Holy Things used as Charms—Filings of St. Peter's Keys—Lustral Water—Curing Sick Children by weighing them—Uses of Snow—Transferring Diseases from one Body to another—Keys of a Consecrated Building—Effect of standing on one Foot—Virtue of Consecrated Bread—Virtue rewarded—Pricking the Image of a King—Various Methods of securing Love—Indian Charms—Cure for Corns—Simple Plan for getting rid of a Troublesome Person—Curing the Hooping-cough.
There are people in existence, of opinion that the ear-rings which Jacob buried under the oak of Sechem were charms, and that Solomon had recourse to spells after his strange wives led him away from the true faith.
Reginald Scot gives a recipe for a charm to preserve cattle from witchcraft. Here it is: "At Easter you must take certain drops that lie uppermost of the holy paschal candle; and upon some Sunday morning, light and hold it so as it may drop upon and between the horns and ears of the beast, and burn the beast a little between the horns on the ears with the same wax, and that which is left thereof stick it cross-wise about the stable or stall, or upon the threshold, or over the door, where the cattle go in and out; and for all that year your cattle shall never be touched."
Mr. Pennant says: "The farmers of Scotland preserve their cattle against witchcraft by placing boughs of mountain-ash and honey-suckle in their cow-houses on the 2nd May. They hope to preserve the milk of their cows and of their wives by tying red threads about them." The ancients had several superstitious customs touching the chameleon,—as that its tongue, torn out when the animal was alive, would assist the possessor to gain his law-suits; burning its head and neck with oak-wood, or roasting its liver on a red tile, would bring thunder and rain; that its right eye, torn out before the animal was slain, and steeped in goat's milk, removed disease of the eye; that its tongue, worn as a charm by a married woman, eased her pains; that its right jaw dispelled fear; and that its tail prevented streams overflowing their banks. A famous sorcerer, when under sentence of death, gave directions how to prepare a potent charm. It consisted of a new earthen pot—not bought nor bargained for—with sheep's blood, wool, hair of several beasts, and certain herbs therein. The pot and its contents were to be placed in a secret part in the neighbourhood where its effects were intended to be felt, which might be either the poisoning or tormenting of enemies. The charm could not be taken away but by the person who secreted it or by a superior power.
Particular trees and plants possess peculiar virtues in consequence of crowns for deities having been made from them. Thus we find Jupiter's crown was composed of flowers, generally of laurel; Juno's of the vine; Bacchus' of the vine, with grapes, and branches of ivy, flowers, and berries; those of Castor, Pollux, and the river gods, of bulrushes; that of Apollo, sometimes of laurel, and sometimes rushes; that of Saturn, new figs; that of Hercules, poplar; that of Pan, pine or alder; that of Lucina, dictamnus; that of the Horae, the fruits proper to each season; that of the Graces, olive branches; that of Venus, roses; that of Ceres, ears of corn; and that of the Lares, myrtle or rosemary. Rue was detested by witches and evil spirits. There was a heathen ceremony, called Dendrophoria, which consisted of the carrying of one or more pine trees through a city, at times of sacrifice in honour of certain deities. The pine or pines were afterwards planted, and the branches thereof were supposed to possess virtues not to be found in non-sacred things.
There was a spirit drawn from May dew, which had striking virtues attributed to it. Images were considered the most powerful of all charms. They were held in great reverence by the Romans and other nations. The noble Romans preserved the images of their ancestors with great care, and had them carried in procession at their funerals and triumphs. They placed them in the vestibules of their houses, there to remain, even though the houses happened to be sold, it being considered impious to displace them. It was not, however, allowed for every one who had the images of their ancestors, to have them carried at funerals. The privilege was conferred on those only who had honourably discharged themselves in their various offices in life. Persons who failed in this respect, forfeited all right to bring their images before the public; and the images of persons who had committed serious crimes were broken in pieces.
The Egyptians had great confidence in the power of amulets and charms to prevent and deliver from mischief. There was a class of persons who gained their livelihood by writing billets, to secure the wearers from the power of enchantment and all kinds of accidents. Their most intrinsically valuable relic was the veil sent to the Sultan to cover the Kaaba of Mecca. It was cut in pieces, and distributed over the whole empire. Parts of it were worn by the faithful, as one of the means of grace, and an assurance of divine protection; and these charms were sometimes buried in the grave along with the individuals who had prized them when in life.
The belief of the baneful effect of the evil eye, and of envious commendations, was prevalent in the East. Virgil's shepherd attributed to the malicious glance of an enemy the diseased appearance of his flock. Pliny relates that the Thessalian sorcerers destroyed whole harvests by speaking well of the crops. In Egypt, everything which could possibly attract attention or excite jealousy was protected by some counteracting influence. The eye of the malicious observer was rendered harmless by a sacred sentence, written in conspicuous characters, and placed in a particular way that the wicked eye might see it. The horse, it was believed, carried his rider in safety if a charm of blue beads dangled from the animal's neck. But the anxious mother did not consider her darling child safe, though it had a charm about its person, unless she frequently spat in its face.
When a mother had reason to suppose an evil eye had been cast on her little helpless babe, her duty was to borrow a sixpence from a neighbour, put it into a basin of water, and then wash the child with the water so charmed. By these means the spell was removed. To pass a child over a table was unlucky. Great apprehensions were formerly entertained of the malignant influence and interference of fairies with mothers in child-bed and children unbaptized. A Bible under the pillow protected the mother, or a bottle of holy water at the bed-foot did equally well; and the sacrament of baptism rendered the infant secure from fairies and witches. If one meet or see anything unlucky, all he has to do to avert evil is to touch cold iron. To prevent evil in time of a thunder-storm, let a candle be kept burning until the warring elements have ceased raging. And surely it has not been left for us to tell the good Catholics, that, to extinguish a fire or stop an inundation, their forefathers threw a consecrated wafer into the midst of the flames or overflowing river. Every little Catholic maid, who can count her beads, knows that if she cannot secure the affections of the young man on whom she has set her affections, she should unsparingly besmear him with the holy oil of her Church. We are assured that, before Protestantism weakened the hands of priests and rent the Church asunder, consecrated oil was regarded as an infallible charm and love-philter.
It was the custom at one time for the Popes to send a golden key to faithful priests, wherein was enclosed a small quantity of the filings of St. Peter's keys, kept sacred at Rome. These charms were worn in the bosom, to protect the happy possessor from disease, misfortune, and evil spirits.
The ancients had their lustral water for sprinkling and purifying the people. From them the Romanists borrowed the holy water used in their churches. The ancients called Dies Lustricus, or Lustral Day, that whereon the lustrations were performed for a child, and its name given, which was the ninth day from the birth of a boy, and the eighth from that of a girl. Lustral water possessed something like magical virtue. On the great day of ceremony the nurses and domestics handed the child backwards and forwards around a fire on the altars of the gods; after this the infant was sprinkled with the precious water, mixed with saliva and dust. There were public lustrations for purifying cities, fields, and people defiled by crime or impurity. A custom prevailed in the East, of curing sick children by weighing them at the tomb of a saint. The counterpoising or balancing medium consisted of money to be given to the Church.
It was generally supposed that the first snow which fell in the year had particular virtues. Bartholin wrote a treatise on the uses of snow, wherein he endeavoured to show that early gathered snow preserved from the plague, cured fevers, toothache, and sore eyes. In Denmark the people kept snow water, obtained in March, as a medicine.
Transplantation in natural magic was a method resorted to for curing diseases by transferring them from one body to another. The transplantation was effected either by the use of a medium or by simple contact. If a gouty person desire to get rid of his troubles, he is recommended to bore a hole in an oak, and deposit the parings of his nails therein; and if one has whitlow in his finger, the pain might be transferred to the domestic cat by rubbing the sore finger with the ears of the animal.
The keys of a consecrated building, shaken over the heads of dogs, horses, and cattle, when they are ill, effect a cure; and a faithful worshipper finds relief from acute suffering by standing on one foot and holding a wax taper in his hand, during particular portions of the mass. It is common in some places to lay upon the altar, during mass, the nails of a shoe taken from a horse which has become lame, to restore the animal to soundness. Pieces of consecrated bread carried home and preserved is a preventative against the bite of a mad dog. The shepherd who first gives his offering will be rewarded by his ewes bringing forth the finest lambs in the neighbourhood; and the horses and cattle that are watered immediately after the owners or keepers return from mass, will be saved from illness.
In 1589 the people placed on the altars of many of their churches in Paris, wax effigies of King Henry III., and pricked them with pins and needles during mass, in the hope of obtaining a speedy termination to his existence.
The wearing of a ribbon which has been worn by a lady, or a lock of her hair, near the heart, is supposed to be capable of securing her affections. But if everything else fail, the proper application of dead men's bones, holy relics, and magic spells will soften the hard heart.
It is related by the Indians of Vixnu, that a ribbon tied round the neck or arm, with the name "Laximi" (who for many years was worshipped under the form of a cow, and sometimes of a horse) written thereon or attached thereto, is a certain cure for all diseases; and is likewise a preventative against accidents. Corns are cured by one stealing a small piece of beef and burying it in the ground. As the flesh rots, the corns disappear. Whenever either an enemy or friend becomes troublesome, and it is considered necessary to get rid of him, the desire can be accomplished by securing a garment belonging to him and burying it in the earth. Just as sure as the burying of the beef destroys corns, as certain will the concealment of the garment in the earth send the obnoxious person to his long home. Fond mothers endeavoured to cure hooping-cough by passing their afflicted children three times before breakfast under a blackberry bush the branches of which grew into the ground; other parents went out into the highways in search of a man riding on a piebald horse, to ask him what would restore to health their children affected with this painful cough. Whatever he recommended, was adopted as a remedy.
Horse Shoes used as Charms—Spitting on Money to secure Luck—Fortunate Persons to deal with—Methods of securing Cattle against Accidents—Effect of Herbs—Professor Playfair on Superstition—The Lee Penny—How to prevent Toothache—Divers Charms—A Seer's Prescription—Lating the Witches—Grose on Sorcerers, Magicians, and Witches—Man carried away by an Evil Spirit—Irish Shamrock—Praying to Swords—Irish Superstition—Smugglers and Brigands addicted to Superstition—Charm found on a Smuggler—Superstition in the East—Arab Charms—Ladies' Arts.
Horse shoes have long been regarded as most valuable charms. Such shoes, nailed on the back of doors, keep out witches and evil spirits. Horse shoes are also safe-guards on board of ships and boats. To secure good luck in a market, the vendor is in the habit of rubbing or spitting on the first money obtained for goods sold. The good or bad luck of cattle-salesmen and petty merchants, superstitious people think, depends very much on the first purchaser. In the early part of the day a reduced price is sometimes accepted from a person reputed to be lucky, while business will not be entered into under any conditions with uncanny people.
In Suffolk an abortive calf is buried under the path along which the cows go to the fields, to prevent them being accidentally injured. One description of herb given to a horse prevents the horse-shoer pricking the animal's feet; and another, put into a man's shoes, enables him to travel more than forty miles a day without becoming wearied. Moon-wort is a powerful charm that loosens locks, fetters, and shoes from horses' feet. In olden times it was a stratagem in warfare to lead the enemy's horsemen upon a heath where moon-wort grew plentiful, for, in passing over it, the horses were sure to lose their shoes. In Aristotle's time, rue hung about the neck as an amulet prevented witchcraft. Rue was called an herb of grace, because the Romanists used it on Sundays in their exorcisms.
Professor Playfair, in a letter to Mr. Brand, dated from St. Andrews, in 1804, says: "In private breweries a live coal was thrown into the vat, to prevent the interference of the fairies. A cow's milk no fairy could take away, if a burning coal was conducted across her back and under the belly immediately after she calved. Witches and evil spirits were prevented from entering a dwelling-house if the lower end of the crook or iron chain by which the pots were suspended over the kitchen fire was raised up a few links before the inmates retired to bed. It was a common opinion in Scotland and England, that a woman may, by means of charms, convey her neighbour's cow's milk to her own dairy. When a cow's milk was charmed away, a small quantity of rennet was taken from all suspected persons and put into an egg-shell full of milk, and when that obtained from the charmer mingled with it, it presently curdled. Some women used the root of groundsel as a protection against the produce of their dairy being charmed, by putting it among their milk and cream."
The Lee Penny, the property of a Scotch gentleman, was a charm known far and wide. Many were the cures effected by it, i.e. if tradition speaks true. This charm, when applied externally to man or beast, proved better than all known healing medicine, and, when water in which it had been dipped was given to man or beast to drink, it produced an effectual cure. Nails driven into an oak tree prevented toothache. A halter that had been used in suspending a criminal, when tied round the head, prevented headache. A dead man's hand dissipated tumours of the glands, by stroking the affected part nine times with it; but the hand of a man who had been hanged was the most efficacious. Chips cut from a gallows, when carried in a bag suspended from the neck, cured the ague. A stone with a hole in it, tied to the key of a stable door, deterred witches stealing the horses and riding them over the country at night. If a man or woman were afflicted with fits, he or she might be cured by partaking of broth in which a human skull had been boiled. This last-mentioned cure was not uncommon in the beginning of the present century.
A young girl, about sixteen years of age, being seized with fits, a seer was consulted, and he prescribed brose made from oatmeal and the "broo of a dead man's skull." That a cranium might be obtained, a grave was violated, and a body mutilated. The brose was prepared according to directions, and given to the afflicted girl. As might be expected, the matter created no small excitement in Perthshire, in which county the superstitious acts were perpetrated; but though the whole affair was looked on with disapproval by the better educated classes, and proceedings were taken by the authorities against the guilty parties, the death knell of superstition was not rung; for in that county a belief in witches, spirits, and charms still exists.
At one time a custom prevailed in Lancashire, called "lating the witches." It was observed on the eve preceding the 1st November, when witches were supposed to be busier than usual. The ceremony of lating was gone through in this way:—The poorer neighbours called at the houses of the more opulent, and at the door demanded lighted candles to carry in procession. We say demanded them at the door, because it would have been unlucky for those receiving the candles to cross a threshold then, and it would have been equally unlucky for any one of them to enter a house that night from which his or her candle was received, if the light was extinguished before the lating was concluded. Candles were given out according to the number of inmates of a house—one for every person—but it was optional for one to carry his own candle, or to find a substitute who would sally out for him to frighten the witches. The custom originated in the belief that if a lighted candle were carried about from eleven to twelve o'clock at night without being extinguished, the person it represented would be proof against witches during the year, but if the candle went out it foreboded evil.
Grose, in describing the difference between a sorcerer, magician, and witch, speaks highly of the power of charms and invocations. "A witch," he tells us, "derives all her power from a compact with the devil, while a sorcerer commands him and the infernal spirits by his skill in charms and invocations, and also soothes and entices them by fumigations; for the devils," he continues, "are observed to have delicate nostrils, abominating and flying from some kinds of stinks. Witness the flight of the evil spirits into the remote parts of Egypt, driven by the smell of fishes' liver burned by Tobit. The devil and spirits," he tells us, "are, on the other hand, peculiarly fond of certain perfumes."
Lilly writes that one Evans, having raised a spirit, at the request of Lord Bothwell and Sir K. Digby, and forgotten a suffumigation, the spirit, enraged, snatched him out from his circle, and carried him from his house in the Minories into a field near Battersea.
The shamrock is held sacred by the Irish. It became a custom among Irish soldiers, when going to battle, to conceal about their persons bunches of shamrock, to say certain prayers to their swords, to make crosses upon the earth, and thrust the points of their weapons into the ground, under the impression that by so doing they would secure success in the field. The shamrock was highly esteemed by lovers. An exchange of this plant frequently took place between betrothed persons in the same way as engagement rings are exchanged in our time. In Ireland many people continue to put faith in incantations and spells. Women's hair is thought to be a precious amulet; hence the custom of wearing hair bracelets, guards, and other such like ornaments.