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Times), which are occasionally addressed to the London journals:- LERWICK (Shetland), July 7, 1871.-SIR,— It may interest some of your readers to know that last night (being St. John's Eve, old style) I observed, within a mile or so of this town, seven bonfires blazing, in accordance with the immemorial custom of celebrating the Midsummer solstice. These fires were kindled on various heights around the ancient hamlet of Sound, and the children leaped over them, and passed through the fire to Moloch, just as their ancestors would have done a thousand years ago on the same heights, and their still remoter progenitors in Eastern lands many thousand years ago. This persistent adherence to mystic rites in this scientific epoch seems to me worth taking note of.-A. J.'
To this may be added the following recent extract from a Scotch journal:
‘Hallowe'en was celebrated at Balmoral Castle with unusual ceremony, in the presence of her Majesty, the Princess Beatrice, the ladies and gentlemen of the royal household, and a large gathering of the tenantry. The leading features of the celebration were a torchlight procession, the lighting of large bonfires, and the burning in effigy of witches and warlocks. Upwards of 150 torchbearers assembled at the castle as dark set in, and separated into two parties, one band proceeding to Invergelder, and the other remaining at Balmoral. The torches were lighted at a quarter before six o'clock, and shortly after the Queen and Princess Beatrice drove to Invergelder, followed by the Balmoral party of torchbearers. The two parties then united and returned in procession to the front of Balmoral Castle, where refreshments were served to all, and dancing was engaged in round a huge bonfire. Suddenly there appeared from the rear of the Castle a grotesque apparition representing a witch with a train of fol.
lowers dressed like sprites, who danced and gesticulated in all fashions. Then followed a warlock of demoniac shape, who was succeeded by another warlock drawing a car, on which was seated the figure of a witch, surrounded by other figures in the garb of demons. The unearthly visitors having marched several times round the burning pile, the principal figure was taken from the car and tossed into the flames amid the burning of blue lights and a display of crackers and fireworks. The health of her Majesty the Queen was then pledged, and drunk with Highland honours by the assembled hundreds. Dancing was then resumed, and was carried on till a late hour at night.'
The Sixth Council of Constantinople (an. 680), by its sixty-fifth canon, forbids these fires in the following terms :-“Those bonefires that are kindled by certain people before their shops and houses, over which also they use ridiculously to leap, by a certain ancient custom, we command them from henceforth to cease. Whoever, therefore, shall do any such thing, if he be a clergyman, let him be deposed; if he be a layman, let him be excommunicated. For in the Fourth Book of the Kings it is thus written: And Manasseh built an altar to all the host of heaven, in the two courts of the Lord's house, and made his children to pass through the fire.' There is a charming naïveté in this denunciation. It is no longer doubtful that this ‘bonefire' over which people leaped came from the same source as that Gehenna from which the Church derived the orthodox theory of hell, as we have already seen. When Shakespeare speaks (Macbeth) of 'the primrose way to the everlasting bonfire,'' he is, with his wonted felicity, assigning the flames of hell and
1.Pyra, a bonefire, wherein men's bodyes were burned.'—Cooper's Thesaurus. Probably from Fr. bon; Wedgewood gives Dan. baun, beacon.
the fires of Moloch and Baal their right archæological relation.
In my boyhood I have often leaped over a bonfire in a part of the State of Virginia mainly settled by Scotch families, with whom probably the custom migrated thither. In the superstitions of the negroes of that and other Southern States fire plays a large part, but it is hardly possible now to determine whether they have drifted there from Africa or England. Sometimes there are queer coincidences between their notions and some of the early legends of Britain. Thus, the tradition of the shepherd guided by a distant fire to the entrance of King Arthur's subterranean hall, where a flame fed by no fuel coming through the floor reveals the slumbering monarch and his court, resembles somewhat stories I have heard from negroes of their being led by distant fires to luckyothers say unlucky—or at any rate enchanted spots. A negro belonging to my father told me that once, as he was walking on a country road, he saw a great fire in the distance ; he supposed it must be a house on fire, and hastened towards it, meantime much puzzled, since he knew of no house in that direction. As he went on his way he turned into a small wood near which the fire seemed to be, but when he emerged, all he found was a single fire-coal burning in the path. There were no other traces whatever of fire, but just then a large dog leaped past him with a loud bark and disappeared.
In a letter on 'Voudouism in Virginia,' which appeared in the New York Tribune, dated Richmond, September 17, 1875, occurs an account of a class of superstitions generally kept close from the whites, as I have always believed because of their purely African origin. As will be seen, fire represents an important element in the superstitious practices.
'If an ignorant negro is smitten with a disease which he cannot comprehend, he often imagines himself the victim of witchcraft, and having no faith in 'white folks' physic' for such ailments, must apply to one of these quacks. A physician residing near this city was invited by such a one to witness his mode of procedure with a dropsical patient for whom the physician in question had occasionally charitably prescribed. Curiosity led him to attend the seance, having previously informed the quack that since the case was in such hands he relinquished all connection with it. On the coverlet of the bed on which the sick man lay was spread a quantity of bones, feathers, and other trash. The charlatan went through with a series of so-called conjurations, burned feathers, hair, and tiny fragments of wood in a charcoal furnace, and mumbled gibberish past the physician's comprehension. He then proceeded to rip open the pillows and bolsters, and took from them some queer conglomerations of feathers. These he said had caused all the trouble. Sprinkling a whitish powder over them, he burnt them in his furnace. A black offensive smoke was produced, and he announced triumphantly that the evil influence was destroyed and that the patient would surely get well. He died not many days later, believing, in common with all his friends and relatives, that the conjurations of the 'trick doctor' had failed to save him only because resorted to too late.'
The following account of a spell from which his wife was rescued, was given me by a negro in Virginia :
*The wizard,' to quote the exact words of my informant, 'threw a stick on a chest; the stick bounded like a trapball three times; then he opened the chest, took out something looking like dust or clay, and put it into a cup with water over a fire; then he poured it over a board (after chopping it three times), which he then put up
JEWISH HOLY WATER.
beneath the shingles of the house. Returning to the chest he took a piece of old chain, near the length of my hand, took a hoe and buried the chain near the sill of the door of my wife's house where she would pass; then he went away. I saw my wife coming and called to her not to pass, and to go for a hoe and dig up the place. She did this, and I took up the chain, which burned the ends of all my fingers clean off. The same night the conjuror came back: my wife took two half dollars and a quarter in silver and threw them on the ground before him. The man seemed as if he was shocked, and then offered her his hand, which she refused to take, as I had bid her not to let him touch her. He left and never came to the house again. The spell was broken.'
I am convinced that this is a pure Voudou procedure, and it is interesting in several regards. The introduction of the chain may have been the result of the excitement of the time, for it was during the war when negroes were breaking their chains. The fire and water show how wide-spread in Africa is that double ordeal which, as we have seen, is well known in the kingdom of Dahomey:1 But the mingling of something like dust' with the water held in a cup over the fire, is strongly suggestive of the Jewish method of preparing holy water, 'the water of separation. For an unclean person they shall take of the dust of the burnt heifer of purification for sin, and running water shall be put thereto in a vessel.'? The fiery element of the mixture was in this case imported with the ashes of the red heifer. As for this sacrifice of the red heifer itself 3 it was plainly the propitiation of a fiery demon. In Egypt red hair and red animals of all kinds were considered infernal, and all the details of this
See Chapter i. Compare Numbers xxxi. 23. 2 Numbers xix. 17.
3 Ibid. xix. 2, seq.