Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

DOTARD DEITIES.

311

The more impressive and attractive myths transferred to christian saints—as the flowers sacred to Freyja became Our Lady's-glove, or slipper, or smock—there remained to the old gods, in their own name, only the repulsive and puerile, and by this means they were doomed at once to become unmitigated knaves and fools. If Titans, Jötunn or Jinni, they were giant humbugs, whom any small Hans

[graphic][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

or Jack might outwit and behead. Our Fairy lore is full of stories which show that in the North as well as in Latin countries there had already been a long preparation for the contempt poured by Christianity upon the Norse deities. Many of the stories, as they now stand in Folktales, speak of the vanquished demon or giant as the devil, but it is perfectly easy to detach the being meant from the name so indiscriminately bestowed by christian priests upon most of the outlawed deities. In Lithuania, where survived too much reverence for some of the earlier deities to admit 312

CARPENTER, DEITY, AND DEVIL.

of their being identified with the devil, we still find them triumphed over by the wit and skill of the artisan. Such is the case in a favourite popular legend of that country in which Perkunas—the ancient Thunder-god, corresponding to Perun in Russia—is involved in disgrace along with the devil by the sagacity and skill of a carpenter. The aged god, the venerable Devil, and the young Carpenter, united for a journey. Perkun kept the beasts off with thunder and lightning, the Devil hunted up food, the Carpenter cooked. At length they built a hut and lived in it, and planted the ground with vegetables. Presently a thief invaded their garden. Perkun and the Devil successively tried to catch him, but were well thrashed; whereas the Carpenter by playing the fiddle fascinated the thief, who was a witch, a hag whose hand the fiddler managed to get into a split tree (under pretence of giving her a music lesson), holding her there till she gave up her iron waggon and the whip which she had used on his comrades. After this the three, having decided to separate, disputed as to which should have the hut; and they finally agreed that it should be the possession of him who should succeed in frightening the two others. The Devil raised a storm which frightened Perkun, and Perkun with his thunder and lightning frightened the Devil; but the Carpenter held out bravely, and, in the middle of the night, came in with the witch's waggon, and, cracking her whip, the Devil and Perkun both took flight, leaving the Carpenter in possession of the hut.?

So far as Perkun is concerned, and may be regarded as representative of the gods, the hut may be symbol of Europe, and the Carpenter type of the power which conquered all that was left of them after their fair or

1 Schleicher, ‘Litauische Märchen,' 141-145. Mr. Raiston's translation abridged.

WEREWOLVES IN DECLINE.

313

noble associations had been transferred to christian forms. Somewhat later, the devil was involved in a like fate, as we shall have to consider in a future chapter.

The most horrible superstitions, if tracked in their popular development, reveal with special impressiveness the progressive emancipation of man from the phantasms of ferocity which represented his primal helplessness. The universal werewolf superstition, for instance, drew its unspeakable horrors from deep and wide-spreading roots. Originating, probably, in occasional relapses to cannibalism among tribes or villages which found themselves amid circumstances as urgent as those which sometimes lead a wrecked crew to draw lots which shall die to support the rest, it would necessarily become demonised by the necessity of surrounding cannibalism with dangers worse than starvation. But it would seem that individuals are always liable, by arrest of development which usually takes the form of disease or insanity, to be dragged back to the savage condition of their race. In the course of this dark history, we note first an increasing tendency to show the means of the transformation difficult. In the Volsunga Saga it is by simply putting on a 'wolf-shirt' (wolfskin) that a man may become a wolf. Then it is said it is done by a belt made of the skin of a man who has been hung-all executed persons being sacred to Wodan (because not dying a natural death), to whom also the wolf was sacred. Then it is added, that the belt must be marked with the signs of the zodiac, and have a buckle with seven teeth. Then it is said that only a seventh son' is possessed of this diabolical power; or others say one whose brows meet over his nose. The means of detecting werewolves and retransforming them to human shape multiplied as those of transformation diminished in number, and such remedies reflected the advance of human

314

WEREWOLVES VANISH.

skill. The werewolf could be restored by crossing his path with a knife or polished steel; by a sword laid on the ground with point towards him; by a silver ball. Human skill was too much for him. In Posen mothers had discovered that one who had bread in his or her mouth could by even such means discover werewolves; and fathers, to this hint about keeping 'the wolf from the door,' added that no one could be attacked by any such monster if he were in a cornfield. The Slav levelled a plough at him. Thus by one prescription and another, and each representing a part of man's victory over chaos, the werewolf was driven out of all but a few unlucky'days in the year, and especially found his last refuge in Twelfth Night. But even on that night the werewolf might be generally escaped by the simple device of not speaking of him. If a wolf had to be spoken of he was then called Vermin, and Dr. Wuttke mentions a parish priest named Wolf in East Prussia who on Twelfth Night was addressed as Mr. Vermin! The actual wolf being already out of the forests in most places by art of the builder and the architect; the phantasmal wolf driven out of fear for most of the year by man's recognition of his own superiority to this exterminated beast; even the proverbial 'ears' of the vanishing werewolf ceased to be visible when on his particular festnight his name was not mentioned.

The last execution of a man for being an occasional werewolf was, I believe, in 1589, near Cologne, there being some evidence of cannibalism. But nine years later, in France, where the belief in the Loup-garou had been intense, a man so accused was simply shut up in a madhouse. It is an indication of the revolution which has occurred, that when next governments paid attention to werewolves it was because certain vagabonds went about professing to be able to transform themselves into wolves, REFUGES OF DEMONS.

315

in order to extort money from the more weak-minded and ignorant peasants. There could hardly be conceived a more significant history: the werewolf leaves where he entered. Of ignorance and weakness trying, too often in vain, 'to keep the wolf from the door,' was born this voracious phantom; with the beggar and vagabond, survivals of helplessness become inveterate, he wanders thin and crafty. He keeps out of the way of all culture, whether of field or mind. So is it indeed with all demons in decline-of which I can here only adduce a few characteristic examples. So runs the rune

When the barley there is,
Then the devils whistle;
When the barley is threshed,

Then the devils whine;
When the barley is ground,
Then the devils roar;
When the flour is produced,

Then the devils perish.
The old Scottish custom, mentioned by Sir Walter
Scott, of leaving around each cultivated field an untilled

Of this latter kind of hungry werewolf a specimen still occasionally revisits the glimpses of the moonshine which, for too many minds, still replaces day. light. So recently as January 17, 1878, one Kate Bedwell, a 'pedlar,' was sentenced in the Marylebone Police Court, London, to three months' hard labour for obtaining various sums of money, amounting to gs. iod., by terrorism, from Eliza Rolf, a cook. The pedlar came to the plaintiff's place of work and asked her if she would like to have her fortune told. Eliza replied, "No, I know it; it is hard work or starving. The fortune-teller asked her next time if she would have her planet ruled; the other still said no; but her nerves yielded when the ‘Drud' told her she lived under three stars, one good the others bad, and that she could disfigure her or turn her into something else.' "Thank God, she did not !' exclaimed the poor woman in court. However, she seemed to have trusted rather in her money than in any other providence for her immunity from an unhappy transformation. But even into this rare depth of ignorance enough light had penetrated to enable Eliza to cope with her werewolf in the civilised way of haling her before a magistrate. When Fenris gets three months with hard labour, he no doubt realises that he has exceeded his mental habitat, and that the invisible cords have bound him at last.

« ZurückWeiter »