Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

116

THE BLACK MONK.

inevitable destruction. All these preparations, joined by the wildness of the adjacent scenery, the terrific aspect of the rocks, and the tempestuous state of the water, were sufficient to produce a powerful sensation on the minds even of those who had been all their lives familiar with dangers; while the shadowy phantoms with which superstition had peopled it threw a deeper gloom over the whole scene.'

Concerning the whirlpool called Wirbel, and the surrounding ruins, the same author writes: 'Each of these mouldering fortresses was the subject of some miraculous tradition, which circulated at every hearth. The sombre and mysterious aspect of the place, its wild scenery, and the frequent accidents which occurred in the passage, invested it with awe and terror; but above all, the superstitions of the time, a belief in the marvellous, and the credulity of the boatmen, made the navigation of the Strudel and the Wirbel a theme of the wildest romance. At night, sounds that were heard far above the roar of the Danube issued from every ruin. Magical lights flashed through their loopholes and casements, festivals were held in the long-deserted halls, maskers glided from room to room, the waltzers maddened to the strains of an infernal orchestra, armed sentinels paraded the battleinents, while at intervals the clash of arms, the neighing of steeds, and the shrieks of unearthly combatants smote fitfully on the boatmen's ear. But the tower on which these scenes were most fearfully enacted was that on the Longstone, commonly called the 'Devil's Tower,' as it well deserved to be—for here, in close communion with his master, resided the ‘Black Monk,' whose office it was to exhibit false lights and landmarks along the gulf, so as to decoy the vessels into the whirlpool, or dash them against the rocks. He was considerably annoyed in his quarters, however, on

DEMONS OF THE RHONE.

137

the arrival of the great Soliman in these regions; for to repel the turbaned host, or at least to check their triumphant progress to the Upper Danube, the inhabitants were summoned to join the national standard, and each to defend his own hearth. Fortifications were suddenly thrown up, even churches and other religious edifices were placed in a state of military defence; women and children, the aged and the sick, as already mentioned in our notice of Schaumburg, were lodged in fortresses, and thus secured from the violence of the approaching Moslem. Among the other points at which the greatest efforts were made to check the enemy, the passage of the Strudel and Wirbel was rendered as impregnable as the time and circumstances of the case would allow. To supply materials for the work, patriotism for a time got the better of superstition, and the said Devil's Tower was demolished and converted into a strong breastwork. Thus forcibly dislodged, the Black Monk is said to have pronounced a malediction on the intruders, and to have chosen a new haunt among the recesses of the Harz mountains.'

When the glaciers send down their torrents and flood the Rhone, it is the immemorial belief that the Devil may be sometimes seen swimming in it, with a sword in one hand and a golden globe in the other. Since it is contrary to all orthodox folklore that the Devil should be so friendly with water, the name must be regarded as a modern substitute for the earlier Rhone demon. We probably get closer to the original form of the superstition in the Swiss Oberland, which interprets the noises of the Furka Glacier, which feeds the Rhone, as the groans of wicked souls condemned for ever to labour there in directing the river's course; their mistress being a demoness who sometimes appears just before the floods, floating on a raft, and ordering the river to rise.

[merged small][ocr errors]

There is a tidal demonolatry also. The author of Rambles in Northumberland' gives a tradition concerning the river Wansbeck: ‘This river discharges itself into the sea at a place called Cambois, about nine miles to the eastward, and the tide flows to within five miles of Morpeth. Tradition reports that Michael Scott, whose fame as a wizard is not confined to Scotland, would have brought the tide to the town had not the courage of the person failed upon whom the execution of this project depended. This agent of Michael, after his principal had performed certain spells, was to run from the neighbourhood of Cambois to Morpeth without looking behind, and the tide would follow him. After having advanced a certain distance he became alarmed at the roaring of the waters behind him, and forgetting the injunction, gave a glance over his shoulder to see if the danger was imminent, when the advancing tide immediately stopped, and the burgesses of Morpeth thus lost the chance of having the Wansbeck navigable between their town and the sea. It is also said that Michael intended to confer a similar favour on the inhabitants of Durham, by making the Wear navigable to their city; but his good intentions, which were to be carried into effect in the same manner, were also frustrated by the cowardice of the person who had to guide the tide.

The gentle and just king Æolus, who taught his islanders navigation, in his mythologic transfiguration had to share the wayward dispositions of the winds he was said to rule; but though he wrecked the Trojan fleet and many a ship, his old human heart remained to be trusted on the appearance of Halcyon. His unhappy daughter of that name cast herself into the sea after the shipwreck of her husband (Ceyx), and the two were changed into birds. It was believed that for seven days before and seven after

[blocks in formation]

the shortest day of the year, when the halcyon is breeding, Æolus restrains his winds, and the sea is calm. The accent of this fable has been transmitted to some variants of the folklore of swans. In Russia the Tsar Morskoi or Water Demon's beautiful daughters (swans) may naturally be supposed to influence the tides which the fair bathers of our time are reduced to obey. In various regions the tides are believed to have some relation to swans, and to respect them. I have met with a notion of this kind in England. On the day of Livingstone's funeral there was an extraordinary tide in the Thames, which had been predicted and provided for. The crowds which had gathered at the Abbey on that occasion repaired after the funeral to Westminster Bridge to observe the tide, and among them was a venerable disbeliever in science, who announced to a group that there would be no high tide, ' because the swans were nesting. This sceptic was speedily put to confusion by the result, and perhaps one superstition the less remained in the circle that seemed to regard him as an oracle.

The Russian peasantry live in much fear of the Rusalkas and Vodyanuie, water-spirits who, of course, have for their chief the surly Neptune Tsar Morskoi. In deprecation of this tribe, the peasant is careful not to bathe without a cross round the neck, nor to ford a stream on horseback without signing a cross on the water with a scythe or knife. In the Ukrain these water-demons are supposed to be the transformed souls of Pharaoh and his host when they were drowned, and they are increased by people who drown themselves. In Bohemia fishermen are known sometimes to refuse aid to one drowning, for fear the Vodyany will be offended and prevent the fish, over which he holds rule, from entering their nets. The wrath of such beings is indicated by the upheavals of water and foam; and they

120

FAIRER FORMS.

are supposed especially mischievous in the spring, when torrents and floods are pouring from melted snow. Those undefined monsters which Beowulf slew, Grendel and his mother, are interpreted by Simrock as personifications of the untamed sea and stormy floods invading the low flat shores, whose devastations so filled Faust with horror (II. iv.), and in combating which his own hitherto desolating powers found their task.

The Sea sweeps on in thousand quarters flowing,
Itself unfruitful, barrenness bestowing ;
It breaks, and swells, and rolls, and overwhelms
The desert stretch of desolated realms. ...
Let that high joy be mine for evermore,
To shut the lordly Ocean from the shore,
The watery waste to limit and to bar,

And push it back upon itself afar ! In such brave work Faust had many forerunners, whose art and courage have their monument in the fairer fables of all these elemental powers in which fear saw demons. Pavana, in India, messenger of the gods, rides upon the winds, and in his forty-nine forms, corresponding with the points of the Hindu compass, guards the earth. Solomon, too, journeyed on a magic carpet woven of the winds, which still serves the purposes of the Wise. From the churned ocean rose Lakshmi (after the solar origin was lost to the myth), Hindu goddess of prosperity; and from the sea. foam rose Aphrodite, Beauty. These fair forms had their true worshipper in the Northman, who left on mastered wind and wave his song as Emerson found it

The gale that wrecked you on the sand,

It helped my rowers to row;
The storm is my best galley hand,

And drives me where I go.

« ZurückWeiter »