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Balder The Beautiful, Vol. I. by Sir James George Frazer

Part 5 out of 8

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remembered with regret the days when they used to foot it as nimbly.
Sometimes the fires were kindled on the tops of high hills. The people
also carried firebrands about the fields.[499] The custom of kindling
bonfires on Midsummer Eve prevailed all over Cumberland down to the
second half of the eighteenth century.[500] In Northumberland the custom
seems to have lasted into the first quarter of the nineteenth century;
the fires were lit in the villages and on the tops of high hills, and
the people sported and danced round them.[501] Moreover, the villagers
used to run with burning brands round their fields and to snatch ashes
from a neighbour's fire, saying as they did so, "We have the flower (or
flour) of the wake."[502] At Sandhill bonfires were kindled on the Eve
of St. Peter as well as on Midsummer Eve; the custom is attested for the
year 1575, when it was described as ancient.[503] We are told that "on
Midsummer's eve, reckoned according to the old style, it was formerly
the custom of the inhabitants, young and old, not only of Whalton, but
of most of the adjacent villages, to collect a large cartload of whins
and other combustible materials, which was dragged by them with great
rejoicing (a fiddler being seated on the top of the cart) into the
village and erected into a pile. The people from the surrounding country
assembled towards evening, when it was set on fire; and whilst the young
danced around it, the elders looked on smoking their pipes and drinking
their beer, until it was consumed. There can be little doubt that this
curious old custom dates from a very remote antiquity." In a law-suit,
which was tried in 1878, the rector of Whalton gave evidence of the
constant use of the village green for the ceremony since 1843. "The
bonfire," he said, "was lighted a little to the north-east of the well
at Whalton, and partly on the footpath, and people danced round it and
jumped through it. That was never interrupted." The Rev. G.R. Hall,
writing in 1879, says that "the fire festivals or bonfires of the summer
solstice at the Old Midsummer until recently were commemorated on
Christenburg Crags and elsewhere by leaping through and dancing round
the fires, as those who have been present have told me."[504] Down to
the early part of the nineteenth century bonfires called Beal-fires used
to be lit on Midsummer Eve all over the wolds in the East Riding of

[The Midsummer fires in Herefordshire, Somersetshire, Devonshire, and
Cornwall; the Cornish fires on Midsummer Eve and St. Peter's Eve.]

In Herefordshire and Somersetshire the peasants used to make fires in
the fields on Midsummer Eve "to bless the apples."[506] In Devonshire
the custom of leaping over the midsummer fires was also observed.[507]
"In Cornwall, the festival fires, called bonfires, are kindled on the
Eves of St. John Baptist and St. Peter's day; and Midsummer is thence,
in the Cornish tongue, called _Goluan_, which signifies both light and
rejoicing. At these fires the Cornish attend with lighted torches,
tarred and pitched at the end, and make their perambulations round their
fires, going from village to village and carrying their torches before
them; this is certainly the remains of Druid superstition; for, _Faces
praeferre_, to carry lighted torches was reckoned a kind of gentilism,
and as such particularly prohibited by the Gallick Councils."[508] At
Penzance and elsewhere in the county the people danced and sang about
the bonfires on Midsummer Eve. On Whiteborough, a large tumulus near
Launceston, a huge bonfire used to be kindled on Midsummer Eve; a tall
summer pole with a large bush at the top was fixed in the centre of the
bonfire.[509] The Cornish fires at this season appear to have been
commonly lit on high and conspicuous hills, such as Tregonan, Godolphin,
Carnwarth, and Cam Brea. When it grew dusk on Midsummer Eve, old men
would hobble away to some height whence they counted the fires and drew
a presage from their number.[510] "It is the immemorial usage in
Penzance, and the neighbouring towns and villages, to kindle bonfires
and torches on Midsummer-eve; and on Midsummer-day to hold a fair on
Penzance quay, where the country folks assemble from the adjoining
parishes in great numbers to make excursions on the water. St. Peter's
Eve (the twenty-eighth of June) is distinguished by a similar display of
bonfires and torches, although the 'quay-fair' on St. Peter's-day (the
twenty-ninth of June), has been discontinued upwards of forty years. On
these eves a line of tar-barrels, relieved occasionally by large
bonfires, is seen in the centre of each of the principal streets in
Penzance. On either side of this line young men and women pass up and
down, swinging round their heads heavy torches made of large pieces of
folded canvas steeped in tar, and nailed to the ends of sticks between
three and four feet long; the flames of some of these almost equal those
of the tar-barrels. Rows of lighted candles, also, when the air is calm,
are fixed outside the windows or along the sides of the streets. In St.
Just, and other mining parishes, the young miners, mimicking their
fathers' employments, bore rows of holes in the rocks, load them with
gunpowder, and explode them in rapid succession by trains of the same
substance. As the holes are not deep enough to split the rocks, the same
little batteries serve for many years. On these nights, Mount's Bay has
a most animating appearance, although not equal to what was annually
witnessed at the beginning of the present century, when the whole coast,
from the Land's End to the Lizard, wherever a town or a village existed,
was lighted up with these stationary or moving fires. In the early part
of the evening, children may be seen wearing wreaths of flowers--a
custom in all probability originating from the ancient use of these
ornaments when they danced around the fires. At the close of the
fireworks in Penzance, a great number of persons of both sexes, chiefly
from the neighbourhood of the quay, used always, until within the last
few years, to join hand in hand, forming a long string, and run through
the streets, playing 'thread the needle,' heedless of the fireworks
showered upon them, and oftentimes leaping over the yet glowing embers.
I have on these occasions seen boys following one another, jumping
through flames higher than themselves."[511]

[The Midsummer fires in Wales and the Isle of Man; burning wheel rolled
down hill.]

In Wales the midsummer fires were kindled on St. John's Eve and on St.
John's Day. Three or nine different kinds of wood and charred faggots
carefully preserved from the last midsummer were deemed necessary to
build the bonfire, which was generally done on rising ground. Various
herbs were thrown into the blaze; and girls with bunches of three or
nine different kinds of flowers would take the hands of boys, who wore
flowers in their buttonholes and hats, and together the young couples
would leap over the fires. On the same two midsummer days roses and
wreaths of flowers were hung over the doors and windows. "Describing a
midsummer fire, an old inhabitant, born in 1809, remembered being taken
to different hills in the Vale of Glamorgan to see festivities in which
people from all parts of the district participated. She was at that time
about fourteen, and old enough to retain a vivid recollection of the
circumstances. People conveyed trusses of straw to the top of the hill,
where men and youths waited for the contributions. Women and girls were
stationed at the bottom of the hill. Then a large cart-wheel was thickly
swathed with straw, and not an inch of wood was left in sight. A pole
was inserted through the centre of the wheel, so that long ends extended
about a yard on each side. If any straw remained, it was made up into
torches at the top of tall sticks. At a given signal the wheel was
lighted, and sent rolling downhill. If this fire-wheel went out before
it reached the bottom of the hill, a very poor harvest was promised. If
it kept lighted all the way down, and continued blazing for a long time,
the harvest would be exceptionally abundant. Loud cheers and shouts
accompanied the progress of the wheel."[512] At Darowen in Wales small
bonfires were kindled on Midsummer Eve.[513] On the same day people in
the Isle of Man were wont to light fires to the windward of every field,
so that the smoke might pass over the corn; and they folded their cattle
and carried blazing furze or gorse round them several times.[514]

[The Midsummer fires in Ireland; passage of people and cattle through
the fires; cattle driven through the fire; ashes used to fertilize the
fields; the White Horse at the Midsummer fire.]

A writer of the last quarter of the seventeenth century tells us that in
Ireland, "on the Eves of St. John Baptist and St. Peter, they always
have in every town a bonfire, late in the evenings, and carry about
bundles of reeds fast tied and fired; these being dry, will last long,
and flame better than a torch, and be a pleasing divertive prospect to
the distant beholder; a stranger would go near to imagine the whole
country was on fire."[515] Another writer says of the South of Ireland:
"On Midsummer's Eve, every eminence, near which is a habitation, blazes
with bonfires; and round these they carry numerous torches, shouting and
dancing, which affords a beautiful sight."[516] An author who described
Ireland in the first quarter of the eighteenth century says: "On the
vigil of St. John the Baptist's Nativity, they make bonfires, and run
along the streets and fields with wisps of straw blazing on long poles
to purify the air, which they think infectious, by believing all the
devils, spirits, ghosts, and hobgoblins fly abroad this night to hurt
mankind."[517] Another writer states that he witnessed the festival in
Ireland in 1782: "At the house where I was entertained, it was told me,
that we should see, at midnight, the most singular sight in Ireland,
which was the lighting of fires in honour of the sun. Accordingly,
exactly at midnight, the fires began to appear; and taking the advantage
of going up to the leads of the house, which had a widely extended view,
I saw on a radius of thirty miles, all around, the fires burning on
every eminence which the country afforded. I had a farther satisfaction
in learning, from undoubted authority, that the people danced round the
fires, and at the close went through these fires, and made their sons
and daughters, together with their cattle, pass through the fire; and
the whole was conducted with religious solemnity."[518] That the custom
prevailed in full force as late as 1867 appears from a notice in a
newspaper of that date, which runs thus: "The old pagan fire-worship
still survives in Ireland, though nominally in honour of St. John. On
Sunday night bonfires were observed throughout nearly every county in
the province of Leinster. In Kilkenny, fires blazed on every hillside at
intervals of about a mile. There were very many in the Queen's County,
also in Kildare and Wexford. The effect in the rich sunset appeared to
travellers very grand. The people assemble, and dance round the fires,
the children jump through the flames, and in former times live coals
were carried into the corn-fields to prevent blight."[519] In County
Leitrim on St. John's Eve, which is called Bonfire Day, fires are still
lighted after dusk on the hills and along the sides of the roads.[520]
All over Kerry the same thing continues to be done, though not so
commonly as of old. Small fires were made across the road, and to drive
through them brought luck for the year. Cattle were also driven through
the fires. On Lettermore Island, in South Connemara, some of the ashes
from the midsummer bonfire are thrown on the fields to fertilize
them.[521] One writer informs us that in Munster and Connaught a bone
must always be burned in the fire; for otherwise the people believe that
the fire will bring no luck. He adds that in many places sterile beasts
and human beings are passed through the fire, and that as a boy he
himself jumped through the fire "for luck."[522] An eye-witness has
described as follows a remarkable ceremony observed in Ireland on
Midsummer Eve: "When the fire burned for some hours, and got low, an
indispensable part of the ceremony commenced. Every one present of the
peasantry passed through it, and several children were thrown across the
sparkling embers; while a wooden frame, of some eight feet long, with a
horse's head fixed to one end, and a large white sheet thrown over it
concealing the wood and the man on whose head it was carried, made its
appearance. This was greeted with loud shouts of 'The white horse!' and
having been safely carried by the skill of its bearer several times
through the fire with a bold leap, it pursued the people, who ran
screaming and laughing in every direction. I asked what the horse was
meant for, and was told that it represented 'all cattle.'"[523]

[Lady Wilde's account of the Midsummer fires in Ireland.]

Lady Wilde's account of the midsummer festival in Ireland is picturesque
and probably correct in substance, although she does not cite her
authorities. As it contains some interesting features which are not
noticed by the other writers on Ireland whom I have consulted, I will
quote the greater part of it in full. "In ancient times," she says, "the
sacred fire was lighted with great ceremony on Midsummer Eve; and on
that night all the people of the adjacent country kept fixed watch on
the western promontory of Howth, and the moment the first flash was seen
from that spot the fact of ignition was announced with wild cries and
cheers repeated from village to village, when all the local fires began
to blaze, and Ireland was circled by a cordon of flame rising up from
every hill. Then the dance and song began round every fire, and the wild
hurrahs filled the air with the most frantic revelry. Many of these
ancient customs are still continued, and the fires are still lighted on
St. John's Eve on every hill in Ireland. When the fire has burned down
to a red glow the young men strip to the waist and leap over or through
the flames; this is done backwards and forwards several times, and he
who braves the greatest blaze is considered the victor over the powers
of evil, and is greeted with tremendous applause. When the fire burns
still lower, the young girls leap the flame, and those who leap clean
over three times back and forward will be certain of a speedy marriage
and good luck in after-life, with many children. The married women then
walk through the lines of the burning embers; and when the fire is
nearly burnt and trampled down, the yearling cattle are driven through
the hot ashes, and their back is singed with a lighted hazel twig. These
rods are kept safely afterwards, being considered of immense power to
drive the cattle to and from the watering places. As the fire diminishes
the shouting grows fainter, and the song and the dance commence; while
professional story-tellers narrate tales of fairy-land, or of the good
old times long ago, when the kings and princes of Ireland dwelt amongst
their own people, and there was food to eat and wine to drink for all
comers to the feast at the king's house. When the crowd at length
separate, every one carries home a brand from the fire, and great virtue
is attached to the lighted _brone_ which is safely carried to the house
without breaking or falling to the ground. Many contests also arise
amongst the young men; for whoever enters his house first with the
sacred fire brings the good luck of the year with him."[524]

[Holy water resorted to on Midsummer Eve in Ireland.]

In Ireland, as elsewhere, water was also apparently thought to acquire a
certain mystical virtue at midsummer. "At Stoole, near Downpatrick,
there is a ceremony commencing at twelve o'clock at night on Midsummer
Eve. Its sacred mount is consecrated to St. Patrick; the plain contains
three wells, to which the most extraordinary virtues are attributed.
Here and there are heaps of stones, around some of which appear great
numbers of people, running with as much speed as possible; around others
crowds of worshippers kneel with bare legs and feet as an indispensable
part of the penance. The men, without coats, with handkerchiefs on their
heads instead of hats, having gone seven times round each heap, kiss the
ground, cross themselves, and proceed to the hill; here they ascend, on
their bare knees, by a path so steep and rugged that it would be
difficult to walk up. Many hold their hands clasped at the back of their
necks, and several carry large stones on their heads. Having repeated
this ceremony seven times, they go to what is called St. Patrick's
Chair, which are two great flat stones fixed upright in the hill; here
they cross and bless themselves as they step in between these stones,
and, while repeating prayers, an old man, seated for the purpose, turns
them round on their feet three times, for which he is paid; the devotee
then goes to conclude his penance at a pile of stones, named the Altar.
While this busy scene is continued by the multitude, the wells and
streams issuing from them are thronged by crowds of halt, maimed, and
blind, pressing to wash away their infirmities with water consecrated by
their patron saint, and so powerful is the impression of its efficacy on
their minds, that many of those who go to be healed, and who are not
totally blind, or altogether crippled, really believe for a time that
they are by means of its miraculous virtues perfectly restored."[525]

[The Midsummer fires in Scotland; fires on St. Peter's Day (the
twenty-ninth of June).]

In Scotland the traces of midsummer fires are few. We are told by a
writer of the eighteenth century that "the midsummer-even fire, a relict
of Druidism," was kindled in some parts of the county of Perth.[526]
Another writer of the same period, describing what he calls the
Druidical festivals of the Highlanders, says that "the least
considerable of them is that of midsummer. In the Highlands of
Perthshire there are some vestiges of it. The cowherd goes three times
round the fold, according to the course of the sun, with a burning torch
in his hand. They imagined this rite had a tendency to purify their
herds and flocks, and to prevent diseases. At their return the landlady
makes an entertainment for the cowherd and his associates."[527] In the
northeast of Scotland, down to the latter half of the eighteenth
century, farmers used to go round their lands with burning torches about
the middle of June.[528] On the hill of Cairnshee, in the parish of
Durris, Kincardineshire, the herdsmen of the country round about
annually kindle a bonfire at sunset on Midsummer Day (the twenty-fourth
of June); the men or lads collect the fuel and push each other through
the smoke and flames. The custom is kept up through the benefaction of a
certain Alexander Hogg, a native of the parish, who died about 1790 and
left a small sum for the maintenance of a midsummer bonfire on the spot,
because as a boy he had herded cattle on the hill. We may conjecture
that in doing so he merely provided for the continuance of an old custom
which he himself had observed in the same place in his youth.[529] At
the village of Tarbolton in Ayrshire a bonfire has been annually kindled
from time immemorial on the evening of the first Monday after the
eleventh of June. A noted cattle-market was formerly held at the fair on
the following day. The bonfire is still lit at the gloaming by the lads
and lasses of the village on a high mound or hillock just outside of the
village. Fuel for it is collected by the lads from door to door. The
youth dance round the fire and leap over the fringes of it. The many
cattle-drovers who used to assemble for the fair were wont to gather
round the blazing pile, smoke their pipes, and listen to the young folk
singing in chorus on the hillock. Afterwards they wrapped themselves in
their plaids and slept round the bonfire, which was intended to last all
night.[530] Thomas Moresin of Aberdeen, a writer of the sixteenth
century, says that on St. Peter's Day, which is the twenty-ninth of
June, the Scotch ran about at night with lighted torches on mountains
and high grounds, "as Ceres did when she roamed the whole earth in
search of Proserpine";[531] and towards the end of the eighteenth
century the parish minister of Loudoun, a district of Ayrshire whose
"bonny woods and braes" have been sung by Burns, wrote that "the custom
still remains amongst the herds and young people to kindle fires in the
high grounds in honour of Beltan. _Beltan_, which in Gaelic signifies
_Baal_, or _Bel's-fire_, was antiently the time of this solemnity. It is
now kept on St. Peter's day."[532]

[The Midsummer fires in Spain and the Azores; divination on Midsummer
Eve in the Azores; the Midsummer fires in Corsica and Sardinia.]

All over Spain great bonfires called _lumes_ are still lit on Midsummer
Eve. They are kept up all night, and the children leap over them in a
certain rhythmical way which is said to resemble the ancient dances. On
the coast, people at this season plunge into the sea; in the inland
districts the villagers go and roll naked in the dew of the meadows,
which is supposed to be a sovereign preservative against diseases of the
skin. On this evening, too, girls who would pry into the future put a
vessel of water on the sill outside their window; and when the clocks
strike twelve, they break an egg in the water and see, or fancy they
see, in the shapes assumed by the pulp, as it blends with the liquid,
the likeness of future bridegrooms, castles, coffins, and so forth. But
generally, as might perhaps have been anticipated, the obliging egg
exhibits the features of a bridegroom.[533] In the Azores, also,
bonfires are lit on Midsummer Eve (St. John's Eve), and boys jump over
them for luck. On that night St. John himself is supposed to appear in
person and bless all the seas and waters, driving out the devils and
demons who had been disporting themselves in them ever since the second
day of November; that is why in the interval between the second of
November and the twenty-third of June nobody will bathe in the sea or in
a hot spring. On Midsummer Eve, too, you can always see the devil, if
you will go into a garden at midnight. He is invariably found standing
near a mustard-plant. His reason for adopting this posture has not been
ascertained; perhaps in the chilly air of the upper world he is
attracted by the genial warmth of the mustard. Various forms of
divination are practised by people in the Azores on Midsummer Eve. Thus
a new-laid egg is broken into a glass of water, and the shapes which it
assumes foreshadow the fate of the person concerned. Again, seven
saucers are placed in a row, filled respectively with water, earth,
ashes, keys, a thimble, money, and grass, which things signify travel,
death, widowhood, housekeeping, spinsterhood, riches, and farming. A
blindfolded person touches one or other of the saucers with a wand and
so discovers his or her fate. Again, three broad beans are taken; one is
left in its skin, one is half peeled, and the third is peeled outright.
The three denote respectively riches, competence, and poverty. They are
hidden and searched for; and he who finds one of them knows accordingly
whether he will be rich, moderately well-off, or poor. Again, girls take
slips of paper and write the names of young men twice over on them.
These they fold up and crumple and place one set under their pillows and
the other set in a saucer full of water. In the morning they draw one
slip of paper from under their pillow, and see whether one in the water
has opened out. If the names on the two slips are the same, it is the
name of her future husband. Young men do the same with girls' names.
Once more, if a girl rises at sunrise, goes out into the street, and
asks the first passer-by his Christian name, that will be her husband's
name.[534] Some of these modes of divination resemble those which are or
used to be practised in Scotland at Hallowe'en.[535] In Corsica on the
Eve of St. John the people set fire to the trunk of a tree or to a whole
tree, and the young men and maidens dance round the blaze, which is
called _fucaraia_.[536] We have seen that at Ozieri, in Sardinia, a
great bonfire is kindled on St. John's Eve, and that the young people
dance round it.[537]

[The Midsummer fires in the Abruzzi; bathing on Midsummer Eve in the
Abruzzi; the Midsummer fires in Sicily; the witches at Midsummer.]

Passing to Italy, we find that the midsummer fires are still lighted on
St. John's Eve in many parts of the Abruzzi. They are commonest in the
territory which was inhabited in antiquity by the Vestini; they are
rarer in the land of the ancient Marsi, and they disappear entirely in
the lower valley of the Sangro. For the most part, the fires are fed
with straw and dry grass, and are kindled in the fields near the
villages or on high ground. As they blaze up, the people dance round or
over them. In leaping across the flames the boys cry out, "St. John,
preserve my thighs and legs!" Formerly it used to be common to light the
bonfires also in the towns in front of churches of St. John, and the
remains of the sacred fire were carried home by the people; but this
custom has mostly fallen into disuse. However, at Celano the practice is
still kept up of taking brands and ashes from the bonfires to the
houses, although the fires are no longer kindled in front of the
churches, but merely in the streets.[538] In the Abruzzi water also is
supposed to acquire certain marvellous and beneficent properties on St.
John's Night. Hence many people bathe or at least wash their faces and
hands in the sea or a river at that season, especially at the moment of
sunrise. Such a bath is said to be an excellent cure for diseases of the
skin. At Castiglione a Casauria the people, after washing in the river
or in springs, gird their waists and wreath their brows with sprigs of
briony in order to keep them from aches and pains.[539] In various parts
of Sicily, also, fires are kindled on Midsummer Eve (St. John's Eve),
the twenty-third of June. On the Madonie mountains, in the north of the
island, the herdsmen kindle them at intervals, so that the crests of the
mountains are seen ablaze in the darkness for many miles. About
Acireale, on the east coast of the island, the bonfires are lit by boys,
who jump over them. At Chiaromonte the witches that night acquire
extraordinary powers; hence everybody then puts a broom outside of his
house, because a broom is an excellent protective against
witchcraft.[540] At Orvieto the midsummer fires were specially excepted
from the prohibition directed against bonfires in general.[541]

[The Midsummer fires in Malta ]

In Malta also the people celebrate Midsummer Eve (St. John's Eve) "by
kindling great fires in the public streets, and giving their children
dolls to carry in their arms on this day, in order to make good the
prophecy respecting the Baptist, _Multi in nativitate ejus gaudebunt_.
Days and even weeks before this festival, groups of children are seen
going out into the country fields to gather straw, twigs, and all sorts
of other combustibles, which they store up for St. John's Eve. On the
night of the twenty-third of June, the day before the festival of the
Saint, great fires are kindled in the streets, squares, and market
places of the towns and villages of the Island, and as fire after fire
blazes out of the darkness of that summer night, the effect is
singularly striking. These fires are sometimes kept up for hours, being
continually fed by the scores of bystanders, who take great delight in
throwing amidst the flames some old rickety piece of furniture which
they consider as lumber in their houses. Lots of happy and reckless
children, and very often men, are seen merrily leaping in succession
over and through the crackling flames. At the time of the Order of St.
John of Jerusalem, the Grand Master himself, soon after the _Angelus_,
used to leave his palace, accompanied by the Grand Prior, the Bishop,
and two bailiffs, to set fire to some pitch barrels which were placed
for the occasion in the square facing the sacred Hospital. Great crowds
used to assemble here in order to assist at this ceremony. The setting
ablaze of the five casks, and later on of the eight casks, by the Grand
Master, was a signal for the others to kindle their fires in the
different parts of the town."[542]

[The Midsummer fires in Greece; the Midsummer fires in Macedonia and

In Greece, the custom of kindling fires on St. John's Eve and jumping
over them is said to be still universal. One reason assigned for it is a
wish to escape from the fleas.[543] According to another account, the
women cry out, as they leap over the fire, "I leave my sins behind
me."[544] In Lesbos the fires on St. John's Eve are usually lighted by
threes, and the people spring thrice over them, each with a stone on his
head, saying, "I jump the hare's fire, my head a stone!" On the morning
of St. John's Day those who dwell near the coast go to bathe in the sea.
As they go they gird themselves with osiers, and when they are in the
water they let the osiers float away, saying, "Let my maladies go away!"
Then they look for what is called "the hairy stone," which possesses the
remarkable property not only of keeping moths from clothes but even of
multiplying the clothes in the chest where it is laid up, and the more
hairs on the stone the more will the clothes multiply in the chest.[545]
In Calymnos the midsummer fire is supposed to ensure abundance in the
coming year as well as deliverance from fleas. The people dance round
the fires singing, with stones on their heads, and then jump over the
blaze or the glowing embers. When the fire is burning low, they throw
the stones into it; and when it is nearly out, they make crosses on
their legs and then go straightway and bathe in the sea.[546] In Cos the
lads and lasses dance round the bonfires on St. John's Eve. Each of the
lads binds a black stone on his head, signifying that he wishes to
become as strong as the stone. Also they make the sign of the cross on
their feet and legs and jump over the fire.[547] On Midsummer Eve the
Greeks of Macedonia light fires after supper in front of their gates.
The garlands, now faded, which were hung over the doors on May Day, are
taken down and cast into the flames, after which the young folk leap
over the blaze, fully persuaded that St. John's fire will not burn
them.[548] In Albania fires of dry herbage are, or used to be, lit
everywhere on St. John's Eve; young and old leap over them, for such a
leap is thought to be good for the health.[549]

[The Midsummer fires in America.]

From the Old World the midsummer fires have been carried across the
Atlantic to America. In Brazil people jump over the fires of St. John,
and at this season they can take hot coals in their mouths without
burning themselves.[550] In Bolivia on the Eve of St. John it is usual
to see bonfires lighted on the hills and even in the streets of the
capital La Paz. As the city stands at the bottom of an immense ravine,
and the Indians of the neighbourhood take a pride in kindling bonfires
on heights which might seem inaccessible, the scene is very striking
when the darkness of night is suddenly and simultaneously lit up by
hundreds of fires, which cast a glare on surrounding objects, producing
an effect at once weird and picturesque.[551]

[The Midsummer fires among the Mohammedans of Morocco and Algeria.]

The custom of kindling bonfires on Midsummer Day or on Midsummer Eve is
widely spread among the Mohammedan peoples of North Africa, particularly
in Morocco and Algeria; it is common both to the Berbers and to many of
the Arabs or Arabic-speaking tribes. In these countries Midsummer Day
(the twenty-fourth of June, Old Style) is called [Arabic: _l'ansara_].
The fires are lit in the courtyards, at cross-roads, in the fields, and
sometimes on the threshing-floors. Plants which in burning give out a
thick smoke and an aromatic smell are much sought after for fuel on
these occasions; among the plants used for the purpose are giant-fennel,
thyme, rue, chervil-seed, camomile, geranium, and penny-royal. People
expose themselves, and especially their children, to the smoke, and
drive it towards the orchards and the crops. Also they leap across the
fires; in some places everybody ought to repeat the leap seven times.
Moreover they take burning brands from the fires and carry them through
the houses in order to fumigate them. They pass things through the fire,
and bring the sick into contact with it, while they utter prayers for
their recovery. The ashes of the bonfires are also reputed to possess
beneficial properties; hence in some places people rub their hair or
their bodies with them.[552] For example, the Andjra mountaineers of
Morocco kindle large fires in open places of their villages on Midsummer
Day. Men, women, and children jump over the flames or the glowing
embers, believing that by so doing they rid themselves of all misfortune
which may be clinging to them; they imagine, also, that such leaps cure
the sick and procure offspring for childless couples. Moreover, they
burn straw, together with some marjoram and alum, in the fold where the
cattle, sheep, and goats are penned for the night; the smoke, in their
opinion, will make the animals thrive. On Midsummer Day the Arabs of the
Mnasara tribe make fires outside their tents, near their animals, on
their fields, and in their gardens. Large quantities of penny-royal are
burned in these fires, and over some of them the people leap thrice to
and fro. Sometimes small fires are also kindled inside the tents. They
say that the smoke confers blessings on everything with which it comes
into contact. At Salee, on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, persons who
suffer from diseased eyes rub them with the ashes of the midsummer fire;
and in Casablanca and Azemmur the people hold their faces over the fire,
because the smoke is thought to be good for the eyes. The Arab tribe
Ulad Bu Aziz, in the Dukkala province of Morocco, kindle midsummer
bonfires, not for themselves and their cattle, but only for crops and
fruit; nobody likes to reap his crops before Midsummer Day, because if
he did they would lose the benefit of the blessed influence which flows
from the smoke of the bonfires. Again, the Beni Mgild, a Berber tribe of
Morocco, light fires of straw on Midsummer Eve and leap thrice over them
to and fro. They let some of the smoke pass underneath their clothes,
and married women hold their breasts over the fire, in order that their
children may be strong. Moreover, they paint their eyes and lips with
some black powder, in which ashes of the bonfire are mixed. And in order
that their horses may also benefit by the fires, they dip the right
forelegs of the animals in the smoke and flames or in the hot embers,
and they rub ashes on the foreheads and between the nostrils of the
horses. Berbers of the Rif province, in northern Morocco, similarly make
great use of fires at midsummer for the good of themselves, their
cattle, and their fruit-trees. They jump over the bonfires in the belief
that this will preserve them in good health, and they light fires under
fruit-trees to keep the fruit from falling untimely. And they imagine
that by rubbing a paste of the ashes on their hair they prevent the hair
from falling off their heads.[553]

[Beneficial effect ascribed to the smoke of the fires; ill luck supposed
to be burnt in the Midsummer fires; the Midsummer festival in North
Africa comprises rites concerned with water as well as with fire; the
Midsummer festival in North Africa is probably older than

In all these Moroccan customs, we are told, the beneficial effect is
attributed wholly to the smoke, which is supposed to be endued with a
magical quality that removes misfortune from men, animals, fruit-trees,
and crops. But in some parts of Morocco people at midsummer kindle fires
of a different sort, not for the sake of fumigation, but in order to
burn up misfortune in the flames. Thus on Midsummer Eve the Berber tribe
of the Beni Mgild burn three sheaves of unthreshed wheat or barley, "one
for the children, one for the crops, and one for the animals." On the
same occasion they burn the tent of a widow who has never given birth to
a child; by so doing they think to rid the village of ill luck. It is
said that at midsummer the Zemmur burn a tent, which belongs to somebody
who was killed in war during a feast; or if there is no such person in
the village, the schoolmaster's tent is burned instead. Among the
Arabic-speaking Beni Ahsen it is customary for those who live near the
river Sbu to make a little hut of straw at midsummer, set it on fire,
and let it float down the river. Similarly the inhabitants of Salee burn
a straw hut on the river which flows past their town.[554]

Further it deserves to be noticed that in Northern Africa, as in
Southern Europe, the midsummer festival comprises rites concerned with
water as well as with fire. For example, among the Beni-Snous the women
light a fire in an oven, throw perfumes into it, and circumambulate a
tank, which they also incense after a fashion. In many places on the
coast, as in the province of Oran and particularly in the north of
Morocco, everybody goes and bathes in the sea at midsummer; and in many
towns of the interior, such as Fez, Mequinez, and especially Merrakech,
people throw water over each other on this day; and where water is
scarce, earth is used instead, according to the Mohammedan principle
which permits ablutions to be performed with earth or sand when water
cannot be spared for the purpose.[555] People of the Andjra district in
Morocco not only bathe themselves in the sea or in rivers at midsummer,
they also bathe their animals, their horses, mules, donkeys, cattle,
sheep, and goats; for they think that on that day water possesses a
blessed virtue (_baraka_), which removes sickness and misfortune. In
Aglu, again, men, women, and children bathe in the sea or springs or
rivers at midsummer, alleging that by so doing they protect themselves
against disease for the whole year. Among the Berbers of the Rif
district the custom of bathing on this day is commonly observed, and
animals share the ablutions.[556]

[Some Mohammedans of North Africa kindle fires and observe water
ceremonies at their movable New Year; water ceremonies at New Year in
Morocco; the rites of fire and water at Midsummer and New Year in
Morocco seem to be identical in character; the duplication of the
festival is probably due to a conflict between the solar calendar of the
Romans and the lunar calendar of the Arabs.]

The celebration of a midsummer festival by Mohammedan peoples is
particularly remarkable, because the Mohammedan calendar, being purely
lunar and uncorrected by intercalation, necessarily takes no note of
festivals which occupy fixed points in the solar year; all strictly
Mohammedan feasts, being pinned to the moon, slide gradually with that
luminary through the whole period of the earth's revolution about the
sun. This fact of itself seems to prove that among the Mohammedan
peoples of Northern Africa, as among the Christian peoples of Europe,
the midsummer festival is quite independent of the religion which the
people publicly profess, and is a relic of a far older paganism. There
are, indeed, independent grounds for thinking that the Arabs enjoyed the
advantage of a comparatively well-regulated solar year before the
prophet of God saddled them with the absurdity and inconvenience of a
purely lunar calendar.[557] Be that as it may, it is notable that some
Mohammedan people of North Africa kindle fires and bathe in water at the
movable New Year of their lunar calendar instead of at the fixed
Midsummer of the solar year; while others again practise these
observances at both seasons. New Year's Day, on which the rites are
celebrated, is called _Ashur_; it is the tenth day of Moharram, the
first month of the Mohammedan calendar. On that day bonfires are kindled
in Tunis and also at Merrakech and among some tribes of the
neighbourhood.[558] At Demnat, in the Great Atlas mountains, people
kindle a large bonfire on New Year's Eve and leap to and fro over the
flames, uttering words which imply that by these leaps they think to
purify themselves from all kinds of evil. At Aglu, in the province of
Sus, the fire is lighted at three different points by an unmarried girl,
and when it has died down the young men leap over the glowing embers,
saying, "We shook on you, O Lady Ashur, fleas, and lice, and the
illnesses of the heart, as also those of the bones; we shall pass
through you again next year and the following years with safety and
health." Both at Aglu and Glawi, in the Great Atlas, smaller fires are
also kindled, over which the animals are driven. At Demnat girls who
wish to marry wash themselves in water which has been boiled over the
New Year fire; and in Dukkala people use the ashes of that fire to rub
sore eyes with. New Year fires appear to be commonly kindled among the
Berbers who inhabit the western portion of the Great Atlas, and also
among the Arabic-speaking tribes of the plains; but Dr. Westermarck
found no traces of such fires among the Arabic-speaking mountaineers of
Northern Morocco and the Berbers of the Rif province. Further, it should
be observed that water ceremonies like those which are practised at
Midsummer are very commonly observed in Morocco at the New Year, that
is, on the tenth day of the first month. On the morning of that day
(_Ashur_) all water or, according to some people, only spring water is
endowed with a magical virtue (_baraka_), especially before sunrise.
Hence at that time the people bathe and pour water over each other; in
some places they also sprinkle their animals, tents, or rooms. In
Dukkala some of the New Year water is preserved at home till New Year's
Day (_Ashur_) of next year; some of it is kept to be used as medicine,
some of it is poured on the place where the corn is threshed, and some
is used to water the money which is to be buried in the ground; for the
people think that the earth-spirits will not be able to steal the buried
treasures which have thus been sanctified with the holy water.[559]

[The Midsummer festival in Morocco seems to be of Berber origin.]

Thus the rites of fire and water which are observed in Morocco at
Midsummer and New Year appear to be identical in character and
intention, and it seems certain that the duplication of the rites is due
to a conflict between two calendars, namely the old Julian calendar of
the Romans, which was based on the sun, and the newer Mohammedan
calendar of the Arabs, which is based on the moon. For not only was the
Julian calendar in use throughout the whole of Northern Africa under the
Roman Empire; to this day it is everywhere employed among Mohammedans
for the regulation of agriculture and all the affairs of daily life; its
practical convenience has made it indispensable, and the lunar calendar
of orthodox Mohammedanism is scarcely used except for purposes of
chronology. Even the old Latin names of the months are known and
employed, in slightly disguised forms, throughout the whole Moslem
world; and little calendars of the Julian year circulate in manuscript
among Mohammedans, permitting them to combine the practical advantages
of pagan science with a nominal adherence to orthodox absurdity.[560]
Thus the heathen origin of the midsummer festival is too palpable to
escape the attention of good Mohammedans, who accordingly frown upon the
midsummer bonfires as pagan superstitions, precisely as similar
observances in Europe have often been denounced by orthodox
Christianity. Indeed, many religious people in Morocco entirely
disapprove of the whole of the midsummer ceremonies, maintaining that
they are all bad; and a conscientious schoolmaster will even refuse his
pupils a holiday at midsummer, though the boys sometimes offer him a
bribe if he will sacrifice his scruples to his avarice.[561] As the
midsummer customs appear to flourish among all the Berbers of Morocco
but to be unknown among the pure Arabs who have not been affected by
Berber influence, it seems reasonable to infer with Dr. Westermarck that
the midsummer festival has belonged from time immemorial to the Berber
race, and that so far as it is now observed by the Arabs of Morocco, it
has been learned by them from the Berbers, the old indigenous
inhabitants of the country. Dr. Westermarck may also be right in holding
that, in spite of the close similarity which obtains between the
midsummer festival of Europe and the midsummer festival of North Africa,
the latter is not a copy of the former, but that both have been handed
down independently from a time beyond the purview of history, when such
ceremonies were common to the Mediterranean race.[562]

Sec. 5. _The Autumn Fires_

[Festivals of fire in August; Russian feast of Florus and Laurus on
August 18th; "Living fire" made by the friction of wood.]

In the months which elapse between midsummer and the setting in of
winter the European festivals of fire appear to be few and unimportant.
On the evening of the first day of August, which is the Festival of the
Cross, bonfires are commonly lit in Macedonia and boys jump over them,
shouting, "Dig up! bury!" but whom or what they wish to dig up or bury
they do not know.[563] The Russians hold the feast of two martyrs,
Florus and Laurus, on the eighteenth day of August, Old Style. "On this
day the Russians lead their horses round the church of their village,
beside which on the foregoing evening they dig a hole with two mouths.
Each horse has a bridle made of the bark of the linden-tree. The horses
go through this hole one after the other, opposite to one of the mouths
of which the priest stands with a sprinkler in his hand, with which he
sprinkles them. As soon as the horses have passed by their bridles are
taken off, and they are made to go between two fires that they kindle,
called by the Russians _Givoy Agon_, that is to say, living fires, of
which I shall give an account. I shall before remark, that the Russian
peasantry throw the bridles of their horses into one of these fires to
be consumed. This is the manner of their lighting these _givoy agon_, or
living fires. Some men hold the ends of a stick made of the plane-tree,
very dry, and about a fathom long. This stick they hold firmly over one
of birch, perfectly dry, and rub with violence and quickly against the
former; the birch, which is somewhat softer than the plane, in a short
time inflames, and serves them to light both the fires I have

[Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin on the eighth of September at Capri
and Naples.]

The Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin on the eighth day of September
is celebrated at Naples and Capri with fireworks, bonfires, and
assassinations. On this subject my friend Professor A. E. Housman, who
witnessed the celebration in different years at both places, has kindly
furnished me with the following particulars: "In 1906 I was in the
island of Capri on September the eighth, the feast of the Nativity of
the Virgin. The anniversary was duly solemnised by fire-works at nine or
ten in the evening, which I suppose were municipal; but just after
sundown the boys outside the villages were making small fires of
brushwood on waste bits of ground by the wayside. Very pretty it looked,
with the flames blowing about in the twilight; but what took my
attention was the listlessness of the boys and their lack of interest in
the proceeding. A single lad, the youngest, would be raking the fire
together and keeping it alight, but the rest stood lounging about and
looking in every other direction, with the air of discharging
mechanically a traditional office from which all zest had evaporated."
"The pious orgy at Naples on September the eighth went through the
following phases when I witnessed it in 1897. It began at eight in the
evening with an illumination of the facade of Santa Maria Piedigrotta
and with the whole population walking about blowing penny trumpets.
After four hours of this I went to bed at midnight, and was lulled to
sleep by barrel-organs, which supersede the trumpets about that hour. At
four in the morning I was waked by detonations as if the British fleet
were bombarding the city, caused, I was afterwards told, by dynamite
rockets. The only step possible beyond this is assassination, which
accordingly takes place about peep of day: I forget now the number of
the slain, but I think the average is eight or ten, and I know that in
honour of my presence they murdered a few more than usual."

[The Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin may have replaced a pagan
festival; the coincidence of the Midsummer festival with the summer
solstice implies that the founders of the festival regulated their
calendar by observation of the sun.]

It is no doubt possible that these illuminations and fireworks, like the
assassinations, are merely the natural and spontaneous expressions of
that overflowing joy with which the thought of the birth of the Virgin
must fill every pious heart; but when we remember how often the Church
has skilfully decanted the new wine of Christianity into the old bottles
of heathendom, we may be allowed to conjecture that the ecclesiastical
authorities adroitly timed the Nativity of the Virgin so as to coincide
with an old pagan festival of that day, in which fire, noise, and
uproar, if not broken heads and bloodshed, were conspicuous features.
The penny trumpets blown on this occasion recall the like melodious
instruments which figure so largely in the celebration of Befana (the
Eve of Epiphany) at Rome.[565]

Sec. 6. _The Hallowe'en Fires_

[On the other hand the Celts divided their year, not by the solstices,
but by the beginning of summer (the first of May) and the beginning of
winter (the first of November).]

From the foregoing survey we may infer that among the heathen
forefathers of the European peoples the most popular and widespread
fire-festival of the year was the great celebration of Midsummer Eve or
Midsummer Day. The coincidence of the festival with the summer solstice
can hardly be accidental. Rather we must suppose that our pagan
ancestors purposely timed the ceremony of fire on earth to coincide with
the arrival of the sun at the highest point of his course in the sky. If
that was so, it follows that the old founders of the midsummer rites had
observed the solstices or turning-points of the sun's apparent path in
the sky, and that they accordingly regulated their festal calendar to
some extent by astronomical considerations.

[The division seems to have been neither astronomical nor agricultural
but pastoral, being determined by the times when cattle are driven to
and from their summer pasture.]

But while this may be regarded as fairly certain for what we may call
the aborigines throughout a large part of the continent, it appears not
to have been true of the Celtic peoples who inhabited the Land's End of
Europe, the islands and promontories that stretch out into the Atlantic
ocean on the North-West. The principal fire-festivals of the Celts,
which have survived, though in a restricted area and with diminished
pomp, to modern times and even to our own day, were seemingly timed
without any reference to the position of the sun in the heaven. They
were two in number, and fell at an interval of six months, one being
celebrated on the eve of May Day and the other on Allhallow Even or
Hallowe'en, as it is now commonly called, that is, on the thirty-first
of October, the day preceding All Saints' or Allhallows' Day. These
dates coincide with none of the four great hinges on which the solar
year revolves, to wit, the solstices and the equinoxes. Nor do they
agree with the principal seasons of the agricultural year, the sowing in
spring and the reaping in autumn. For when May Day comes, the seed has
long been committed to the earth; and when November opens, the harvest
has long been reaped and garnered, the fields lie bare, the fruit-trees
are stripped, and even the yellow leaves are fast fluttering to the
ground. Yet the first of May and the first of November mark
turning-points of the year in Europe; the one ushers in the genial heat
and the rich vegetation of summer, the other heralds, if it does not
share, the cold and barrenness of winter. Now these particular points of
the year, as has been well pointed out by a learned and ingenious
writer,[566] while they are of comparatively little moment to the
European husbandman, do deeply concern the European herdsman; for it is
on the approach of summer that he drives his cattle out into the open to
crop the fresh grass, and it is on the approach of winter that he leads
them back to the safety and shelter of the stall. Accordingly it seems
not improbable that the Celtic bisection of the year into two halves at
the beginning of May and the beginning of November dates from a time
when the Celts were mainly a pastoral people, dependent for their
subsistence on their herds, and when accordingly the great epochs of the
year for them were the days on which the cattle went forth from the
homestead in early summer and returned to it again in early winter.[567]
Even in Central Europe, remote from the region now occupied by the
Celts, a similar bisection of the year may be clearly traced in the
great popularity, on the one hand, of May Day and its Eve (Walpurgis
Night), and, on the other hand, of the Feast of All Souls at the
beginning of November, which under a thin Christian cloak conceals an
ancient pagan festival of the dead.[568] Hence we may conjecture that
everywhere throughout Europe the celestial division of the year
according to the solstices was preceded by what we may call a
terrestrial division of the year according to the beginning of summer
and the beginning of winter.

[The two great Celtic festivals, Beltane and Hallowe'en.]

Be that as it may, the two great Celtic festivals of May Day and the
first of November or, to be more accurate, the Eves of these two days,
closely resemble each other in the manner of their celebration and in
the superstitions associated with them, and alike, by the antique
character impressed upon both, betray a remote and purely pagan origin.
The festival of May Day or Beltane, as the Celts called it, which
ushered in summer, has already been described;[569] it remains to give
some account of the corresponding festival of Hallowe'en, which
announced the arrival of winter.

[Hallowe'en (the evening of October 31st) seems to have marked the
beginning of the Celtic year; the many forms of divination resorted to
at Hallowe'en are appropriate to the beginning of a New Year; Hallowe'en
also a festival of the dead.]

Of the two feasts Hallowe'en was perhaps of old the more important,
since the Celts would seem to have dated the beginning of the year from
it rather than from Beltane. In the Isle of Man, one of the fortresses
in which the Celtic language and lore longest held out against the siege
of the Saxon invaders, the first of November, Old Style, has been
regarded as New Year's day down to recent times. Thus Manx mummers used
to go round on Hallowe'en (Old Style), singing, in the Manx language, a
sort of Hogmanay song which began "To-night is New Year's Night,
_Hog-unnaa_!"[570] One of Sir John Rhys's Manx informants, an old man of
sixty-seven, "had been a farm servant from the age of sixteen till he
was twenty-six to the same man, near Regaby, in the parish of Andreas,
and he remembers his master and a near neighbour of his discussing the
term New Year's Day as applied to the first of November, and explaining
to the younger men that it had always been so in old times. In fact, it
seemed to him natural enough, as all tenure of land ends at that time,
and as all servant men begin their service then."[571] In ancient
Ireland, as we saw, a new fire used to be kindled every year on
Hallowe'en or the Eve of Samhain, and from this sacred flame all the
fires in Ireland were rekindled.[572] Such a custom points strongly to
Samhain or All Saints' Day (the first of November) as New Year's Day;
since the annual kindling of a new fire takes place most naturally at
the beginning of the year, in order that the blessed influence of the
fresh fire may last throughout the whole period of twelve months.
Another confirmation of the view that the Celts dated their year from
the first of November is furnished by the manifold modes of divination
which, as we shall see presently, were commonly resorted to by Celtic
peoples on Hallowe'en for the purpose of ascertaining their destiny,
especially their fortune in the coming year; for when could these
devices for prying into the future be more reasonably put in practice
than at the beginning of the year? As a season of omens and auguries
Hallowe'en seems to have far surpassed Beltane in the imagination of the
Celts; from which we may with some probability infer that they reckoned
their year from Hallowe'en rather than Beltane. Another circumstance of
great moment which points to the same conclusion is the association of
the dead with Hallowe'en. Not only among the Celts but throughout
Europe, Hallowe'en, the night which marks the transition from autumn to
winter, seems to have been of old the time of year when the souls of the
departed were supposed to revisit their old homes in order to warm
themselves by the fire and to comfort themselves with the good cheer
provided for them in the kitchen or the parlour by their affectionate
kinsfolk.[573] It was, perhaps, a natural thought that the approach of
winter should drive the poor shivering hungry ghosts from the bare
fields and the leafless woodlands to the shelter of the cottage with its
familiar fireside.[574] Did not the lowing kine then troop back from the
summer pastures in the forests and on the hills to be fed and cared for
in the stalls, while the bleak winds whistled among the swaying boughs
and the snow drifts deepened in the hollows? and could the good-man and
the good-wife deny to the spirits of their dead the welcome which they
gave to the cows?

[Fairies and Hobgoblins let loose at Hallowe'en.]

But it is not only the souls of the departed who are supposed to be
hovering unseen on the day "when autumn to winter resigns the pale
year." Witches then speed on their errands of mischief, some sweeping
through the air on besoms, others galloping along the roads on
tabby-cats, which for that evening are turned into coal-black
steeds.[575] The fairies, too, are all let loose, and hobgoblins of
every sort roam freely about In South Uist and Eriskay there is a

"_Hallowe'en will come, will come,
Witchcraft [or divination] will be set agoing,
Fairies will be at full speed,
Running in every pass.
Avoid the road, children, children_."[576]

[Dancing with the fairies at Hallowe'en.]

In Cardiganshire on November Eve a bogie sits on every stile.[577] On
that night in Ireland all the fairy hills are thrown wide open and the
fairies swarm forth; any man who is bold enough may then peep into the
open green hills and see the treasures hidden in them. Worse than that,
the cave of Cruachan in Connaught, known as "the Hell-gate of Ireland,"
is unbarred on Samhain Eve or Hallowe'en, and a host of horrible fiends
and goblins used to rush forth, particularly a flock of copper-red
birds, which blighted crops and killed animals by their poisonous
breath.[578] The Scotch Highlanders have a special name _Samhanach_
(derived from _Samhain_, "All-hallows") for the dreadful bogies that go
about that night stealing babies and committing other atrocities.[579]
And though the fairies are a kindlier folk, it is dangerous to see even
them at their revels on Hallowe'en. A melancholy case of this sort is
reported from the Ferintosh district of the Highlands, though others say
that it happened at the Slope of Big Stones in Harris. Two young men
were coming home after nightfall on Hallowe'en, each with a jar of
whisky on his back, when they saw, as they thought, a house all lit up
by the roadside, from which proceeded the sounds of music and dancing.
In reality it was not a house at all but a fairy knoll, and it was the
fairies who were jigging it about there so merrily. But one of the young
men was deceived and stepping into the house joined in the dance,
without even stopping to put down the jar of whisky. His companion was
wiser; he had a shrewd suspicion that the place was not what it seemed,
and on entering he took the precaution of sticking a needle in the door.
That disarmed the power of the fairies, and he got away safely. Well,
that day twelve months he came back to the spot and what should he see
but his poor friend still dancing away with the jar of whisky on his
back? A weary man was he, as you may well believe, but he begged to be
allowed to finish the reel which he was in the act of executing, and
when they took him out into the open air, there was nothing of him left
but skin and bones.[580] Again, the wicked fairies are apt to carry off
men's wives with them to fairyland; but the lost spouses can be
recovered within a year and a day when the procession of the fairies is
defiling past on Hallowe'en, always provided that the mortals did not
partake of elfin food while they were in elfinland.[581]

[Guleesh and the revels of the fairies at Hallowe'en.]

Sometimes valuable information may be obtained from the fairies on
Hallowe'en. There was a young man named Guleesh in the County of Mayo.
Near his house was a _rath_ or old fort with a fine grass bank running
round it. One Hallowe'en, when the darkness was falling, Guleesh went to
the rath and stood on a gray old flag. The night was calm and still;
there was not a breath of wind stirring, nor a sound to be heard except
the hum of the insects flitting past, or the whistle of the plovers, or
the hoarse scream of the wild geese as they winged their way far
overhead. Above the white fog the moon rose like a knob of fire in the
east, and a thousand thousand stars were twinkling in the sky. There was
a little frost in the air, the grass was white and crisp and crackled
under foot. Guleesh expected to see the fairies, but they did not come.
Hour after hour wore away, and he was just bethinking him of going home
to bed, when his ear caught a sound far off coming towards him, and he
knew what it was in a moment. The sound grew louder and louder; at first
it was like the beating of waves on a stony shore, then it was like the
roar of a waterfall, at last it was like a mighty rushing wind in the
tops of the trees, then the storm burst upon the rath, and sure enough
the fairies were in it. The rout went by so suddenly that Guleesh lost
his breath; but he came to himself and listened. The fairies were now
gathered within the grassy bank of the rath, and a fine uproar they
made. But Guleesh listened with all his ears, and he heard one fairy
saying to another that a magic herb grew by Guleesh's own door, and that
Guleesh had nothing to do but pluck it and boil it and give it to his
sweetheart, the daughter of the King of France, and she would be well,
for just then she was lying very ill. Guleesh took the hint, and
everything went as the fairy had said. And he married the daughter of
the King of France; and they had never a cark nor a care, a sickness nor
a sorrow, a mishap nor a misfortune to the day of their death.[582]

[Divination resorted to in Celtic countries at Hallowe'en.]

In all Celtic countries Hallowe'en seems to have been the great season
of the year for prying into the future; all kinds of divination were put
in practice that night. We read that Dathi, a king of Ireland in the
fifth century, happening to be at the Druids' Hill (_Cnoc-nan-druad_) in
the county of Sligo one Hallowe'en, ordered his druid to forecast for
him the future from that day till the next Hallowe'en should come round.
The druid passed the night on the top of the hill, and next morning made
a prediction to the king which came true.[583] In Wales Hallowe'en was
the weirdest of all the _Teir Nos Ysbrydion_, or Three Spirit Nights,
when the wind, "blowing over the feet of the corpses," bore sighs to the
houses of those who were to die within the year. People thought that if
on that night they went out to a cross-road and listened to the wind,
they would learn all the most important things that would befall them
during the next twelve months.[584] In Wales, too, not so long ago women
used to congregate in the parish churches on the night of Hallowe'en and
read their fate from the flame of the candle which each of them held in
her hand; also they heard the names or saw the coffins of the
parishioners who would die within the year, and many were the sad scenes
to which these gloomy visions gave rise.[585] And in the Highlands of
Scotland anybody who pleased could hear proclaimed aloud the names of
parishioners doomed to perish within the next twelve months, if he would
only take a three-legged stool and go and sit on it at three
cross-roads, while the church clock was striking twelve at midnight on
Hallowe'en. It was even in his power to save the destined victims from
their doom by taking with him articles of wearing apparel and throwing
them away, one by one, as each name was called out by the mysterious

[Hallowe'en bonfires in the Highlands of Scotland; John Ramsay's account
of the Hallowe'en bonfires; divination from stones at the fire;
Hallowe'en fires in the parishes of Callander and Logierait.]

But while a glamour of mystery and awe has always clung to Hallowe'en in
the minds of the Celtic peasantry, the popular celebration of the
festival has been, at least in modern times, by no means of a
prevailingly gloomy cast; on the contrary it has been attended by
picturesque features and merry pastimes, which rendered it the gayest
night of all the year. Amongst the things which in the Highlands of
Scotland contributed to invest the festival with a romantic beauty were
the bonfires which used to blaze at frequent intervals on the heights.
"On the last day of autumn children gathered ferns, tar-barrels, the
long thin stalks called _gainisg_, and everything suitable for a
bonfire. These were placed in a heap on some eminence near the house,
and in the evening set fire to. The fires were called _Samhnagan_. There
was one for each house, and it was an object of ambition who should have
the biggest. Whole districts were brilliant with bonfires, and their
glare across a Highland loch, and from many eminences, formed an
exceedingly picturesque scene."[587] Like the Beltane fires on the first
of May, the Hallowe'en bonfires seem to have been kindled most commonly
in the Perthshire Highlands. Travelling in the parish of Moulin, near
Pitlochrie, in the year 1772, the Englishman Thomas Pennant writes that
"Hallow Eve is also kept sacred: as soon as it is dark, a person sets
fire to a bush of broom fastened round a pole, and, attended with a
crowd, runs about the village. He then flings it down, heaps great
quantity of combustible matters on it, and makes a great bonfire. A
whole tract is thus illuminated at the same time, and makes a fine
appearance."[588] The custom has been described more fully by a
Scotchman of the eighteenth century, John Ramsay of Ochtertyre. On the
evening of Hallowe'en "the young people of every hamlet assembled upon
some eminence near the houses. There they made a bonfire of ferns or
other fuel, cut the same day, which from the feast was called _Samh-nag_
or _Savnag_, a fire of rest and pleasure. Around it was placed a circle
of stones, one for each person of the families to whom they belonged.
And when it grew dark the bonfire was kindled, at which a loud shout was
set up. Then each person taking a torch of ferns or sticks in his hand,
ran round the fire exulting; and sometimes they went into the adjacent
fields, where, if there was another company, they visited the bonfire,
taunting the others if inferior in any respect to themselves. After the
fire was burned out they returned home, where a feast was prepared, and
the remainder of the evening was spent in mirth and diversions of
various kinds. Next morning they repaired betimes to the bonfire, where
the situation of the stones was examined with much attention. If any of
them were misplaced, or if the print of a foot could be discerned near
any particular stone, it was imagined that the person for whom it was
set would not live out the year. Of late years this is less attended to,
but about the beginning of the present century it was regarded as a sure
prediction. The Hallowe'en fire is still kept up in some parts of the
Low country; but on the western coast and in the Isles it is never
kindled, though the night is spent in merriment and
entertainments."[589] In the Perthshire parish of Callander, which
includes the now famous pass of the Trossachs opening out on the winding
and wooded shores of the lovely Loch Katrine, the Hallowe'en bonfires
were still kindled down to near the end of the eighteenth century. When
the fire had died down, the ashes were carefully collected in the form
of a circle, and a stone was put in, near the circumference, for every
person of the several families interested in the bonfire. Next morning,
if any of these stones was found to be displaced or injured, the people
made sure that the person represented by it was _fey_ or devoted, and
that he could not live twelve months from that day.[590] In the parish
of Logierait, which covers the beautiful valley of the Tummel, one of
the fairest regions of all Scotland, the Hallowe'en fire was somewhat
different. Faggots of heath, broom, and the dressings of flax were
kindled and carried on poles by men, who ran with them round the
villages, attended by a crowd. As soon as one faggot was burnt out, a
fresh one was lighted and fastened to the pole. Numbers of these blazing
faggots were often carried about together, and when the night happened
to be dark, they formed a splendid illumination.[591]

[Hallowe'en fires on Loch Tay; Hallowe'en fires at Balquhidder.]

Nor did the Hallowe'en fires die out in Perthshire with the end of the
eighteenth century. Journeying from Dunkeld to Aberfeldy on Hallowe'en
in the first half of the nineteenth century, Sheriff Barclay counted
thirty fires blazing on the hill tops, and saw the figures of the people
dancing like phantoms round the flames.[592] Again, "in 1860, I was
residing near the head of Loch Tay during the season of the Hallowe'en
feast. For several days before Hallowe'en, boys and youths collected
wood and conveyed it to the most prominent places on the hill sides in
their neighbourhood. Some of the heaps were as large as a corn-stack or
hayrick. After dark on Hallowe'en, these heaps were kindled, and for
several hours both sides of Loch Tay were illuminated as far as the eye
could see. I was told by old men that at the beginning of this century
men as well as boys took part in getting up the bonfires, and that, when
the fire was ablaze, all joined hands and danced round the fire, and
made a great noise; but that, as these gatherings generally ended in
drunkenness and rough and dangerous fun, the ministers set their faces
against the observance, and were seconded in their efforts by the more
intelligent and well-behaved in the community; and so the practice was
discontinued by adults and relegated to school boys."[593] At
Balquhidder down to the latter part of the nineteenth century each
household kindled its bonfire at Hallowe'en, but the custom was chiefly
observed by children. The fires were lighted on any high knoll near the
house; there was no dancing round them.[594]

[Hallowe'en fires in Buchan to burn the witches; processions with
torches at Hallowe'en in the Braemar Highlands.]

Hallowe'en fires were also lighted in some districts of the north-east
of Scotland, such as Buchan. Villagers and farmers alike must have their
fire. In the villages the boys went from house to house and begged a
peat from each householder, usually with the words, "Ge's a peat t' burn
the witches." In some villages the lads collected the peats in a cart,
some of them drawing it along and the others receiving the peats and
loading them on the cart. Along with the peats they accumulated straw,
furze, potato haulm, everything that would burn quickly, and when they
had got enough they piled it all in a heap and set it on fire. Then each
of the youths, one after another, laid himself down on the ground as
near to the fire as he could without being scorched, and thus lying
allowed the smoke to roll over him. The others ran through the smoke and
jumped over their prostrate comrade. When the heap was burned down, they
scattered the ashes. Each one took a share in this part of the ceremony,
giving a kick first with the right foot and then with the left; and each
vied with the other who should scatter the most. After that some of them
still continued to run through the scattered ashes and to pelt each
other with the half-burned peats. At each farm a spot as high as
possible, not too near the steading, was chosen for the fire, and the
proceedings were much the same as at the village bonfire. The lads of
one farm, when their own fire was burned down and the ashes scattered,
sometimes went to a neighbouring fire and helped to kick the ashes
about.[595] Referring to this part of Scotland, a writer at the end of
the eighteenth century observes that "the Hallow-even fire, another
relict of druidism, was kindled in Buchan. Various magic ceremonies were
then celebrated to counteract the influence of witches and demons, and
to prognosticate to the young their success or disappointment in the
matrimonial lottery. These being devoutly finished, the hallow fire was
kindled, and guarded by the male part of the family. Societies were
formed, either by pique or humour, to scatter certain fires, and the
attack and defence were often conducted with art and with fury."[596]
Down to about the middle of the nineteenth century "the Braemar
Highlanders made the circuit of their fields with lighted torches at
Hallowe'en to ensure their fertility in the coming year. At that date
the custom was as follows: Every member of the family (in those days
households were larger than they are now) was provided with a bundle of
fir 'can'les' with which to go the round. The father and mother stood at
the hearth and lit the splints in the peat fire, which they passed to
the children and servants, who trooped out one after the other, and
proceeded to tread the bounds of their little property, going slowly
round at equal distances apart, and invariably with the sun. To go
'withershins' seems to have been reserved for cursing and
excommunication. When the fields had thus been circumambulated the
remaining spills were thrown together in a heap and allowed to burn

[Divination at Hallow-e'en in the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland;
the stolen kail; sowing hemp seed; the winnowing basket; the wet shirt;
the thrown shoe.]

In the Highlands of Scotland, as the evening of Hallowe'en wore on,
young people gathered in one of the houses and resorted to an almost
endless variety of games, or rather forms of divination, for the purpose
of ascertaining the future fate of each member of the company. Were they
to marry or remain single, was the marriage to take place that year or
never, who was to be married first, what sort of husband or wife she or
he was to get, the name, the trade, the colour of the hair, the amount
of property of the future spouse--these were questions that were eagerly
canvassed and the answers to them furnished never-failing
entertainment.[598] Nor were these modes of divination at Hallowe'en
confined to the Highlands, where the bonfires were kindled; they were
practised with equal faith and in practically the same forms in the
Lowlands, as we learn, for example, from Burns's poem _Hallowe'en_,
which describes the auguries drawn from a variety of omens by the
Ayrshire peasantry. These Lowlanders of Saxon descent may well have
inherited the rites from the Celts who preceded them in the possession
of the south country. A common practice at Hallowe'en was to go out
stealthily to a neighbour's kailyard and there, with shut eyes, to pull
up the first kail stock that came to hand. It was necessary that the
plants should be stolen without the knowledge or consent of their owner;
otherwise they were quite useless for the purpose of divination.
Strictly speaking, too, the neighbour upon whose garden the raid was
made should be unmarried, whether a bachelor or a spinster. The stolen
kail was taken home and examined, and according to its height, shape,
and features would be the height, shape, and features of the future
husband or wife. The taste of the _custock_, that is, the heart of the
stem, was an infallible indication of his or her temper; and a clod of
earth adhering to the root signified, in proportion to its size, the
amount of property which he or she would bring to the common stock. Then
the kail-stock or _runt_, as it was called in Ayrshire, was placed over
the lintel of the door; and the baptismal name of the young man or woman
who first entered the door after the kail was in position would be the
baptismal name of the husband or wife.[599] Again, young women sowed
hemp seed over nine ridges of ploughed land, saying, "I sow hemp seed,
and he who is to be my husband, let him come and harrow it." On looking
back over her left shoulder the girl would see the figure of her future
mate behind her in the darkness. In the north-east of Scotland lint seed
was used instead of hemp seed and answered the purpose quite as
well.[600] Again, a mode of ascertaining your future husband or wife was
this. Take a clue of blue yarn and go to a lime-kiln. Throw the clue
into the kiln, but keep one end of the thread in your hand and wind it
on to another clue. As you come near the end somebody or something will
hold the other end tight in the kiln. Then you call out, "Who holds?"
giving the thread at the same time a gentle pull. Some one or something
will thereupon pull the other end of the thread, and a voice will
mention the name of your future husband or wife.[601] Another way is
this. Go to the barn alone and secretly. Be sure to open both doors and
if possible take them off their hinges; for if the being who is about to
appear should catch you in the barn and clap the doors to on you, he or
she might do you a mischief. Having done this, take the sieve or
winnowing-basket, which in Lowland Scotch is called a _wecht_ or
_waicht_, and go through the action of winnowing corn. Repeat it thrice,
and at the third time the apparition of your future husband or wife will
pass through the barn, entering at the windy door and passing out at the
other.[602] Or this. Go to a southward running stream, where the lands
of three lairds meet, or to a ford where the dead and living have
crossed. Dip the left sleeve of your shirt in the water. Then go home,
take off the shirt, hang it up before a fire to dry, and go to bed,
taking care that the bed stands so that you can see your shirt hanging
before the fire. Keep awake, and at midnight you will see the form of
your future spouse come into the room and turn the other side of the
sleeve to the fire to dry it.[603] A Highland form of divination at
Hallowe'en is to take a shoe by the tip and throw it over the house,
then observe the direction in which the toe points as it lies on the
ground on the other side; for in that direction you are destined to go
before long. If the shoe should fall sole uppermost, it is very unlucky
for you.[604]

[The white of eggs in water; the names on the chimney piece; the nuts in
the fire; the milk and meal; the apples in the water; the three plates.]

These ways of prying into the future are practised outside of the house;
others are observed in the kitchen or the parlour before the cheerful
blaze of the fire. Thus the white of eggs, dropped in a glass of pure
water, indicates by certain marks how many children a person will have.
The impatience and clamour of the children, eager to ascertain the exact
number of their future progeny, often induced the housewife to perform
this ceremony for them by daylight; and the kindly mother, standing with
her face to the window, dropping the white of an egg into a crystal
glass of clean water, and surrounded by a group of children intently
watching her proceedings, made up a pretty picture.[605] When the fun of
the evening had fairly commenced, the names of eligible or likely
matches were written on the chimney-piece, and the young man who wished
to try his fortune was led up blindfolded to the list. Whatever name he
put his finger on would prove that of his future wife.[606] Again, two
nuts, representing a lad and a lass whose names were announced to the
company, were put side by side in the fire. If they burned quietly
together, the pair would be man and wife, and from the length of time
they burned and the brightness of the flame the length and happiness of
the married life of the two were augured. But if instead of burning
together one of the nuts leaped away from the other, then there would be
no marriage, and the blame would rest with the person whose nut had thus
started away by itself.[607] Again, a dish of milk and meal (in Gaelic
_fuarag_, in Lowland Scotch _crowdie_) or of beat potatoes was made and
a ring was hidden in it. Spoons were served out to the company, who
supped the contents of the dish hastily with them, and the one who got
the ring would be the first to be married.[608] Again, apples and a
silver sixpence were put in a tub of water; the apples naturally floated
on the top and the sixpence sank to the bottom. Whoever could lift an
apple or the sixpence from the water with his mouth, without using his
teeth, was counted very lucky and got the prize to himself.[609] Again,
three plates or basins were placed on the hearth. One was filled with
clean water, another with dirty water, and the third was empty. The
enquirer was blindfolded, knelt in front of the hearth, and groped about
till he put his finger in one of them. If he lighted on the plate with
the clean water, he would wed a maid; if on the plate with the dirty
water, he would marry a widow; and if on the empty plate, he would
remain a bachelor. For a girl the answer of the oracle was analogous;
she would marry a bachelor, a widower, or nobody according to the plate
into which she chanced to dip her finger. But to make sure, the
operation had to be repeated thrice, the position of the plates being
changed each time. If the enquirer put his or her finger into the same
plate thrice or even twice, it was quite conclusive.[610]

[The sliced apple; the white of egg in water; the salt cake or salt

These forms of divination in the house were practised by the company in
a body; but the following had to be performed by the person alone. You
took an apple and stood with it in your hand in front of a
looking-glass. Then you sliced the apple, stuck each slice on the point
of the knife, and held it over your left shoulder, while you looked into
the glass and combed your hair. The spectre of your future husband would
then appear in the mirror stretching forth his hand to take the slices
of the apple over your shoulder. Some say that the number of slices
should be nine, that you should eat the first eight yourself, and only
throw the ninth over your left shoulder for your husband; also that at
each slice you should say, "In the name of the Father and the Son."[611]
Again, take an egg, prick it with a pin, and let the white drop into a
wine-glass nearly full of water. Take some of this in your mouth and go
out for a walk. The first name you hear called out aloud will be that of
your future husband or wife. An old woman told a lady that she had tried
this mode of divination in her youth, that the name of Archibald "came
up as it were from the very ground," and that Archibald sure enough was
the name of her husband.[612] In South Uist and Eriskay, two of the
outer Hebrides, a salt cake called _Bonnach Salainn_ is eaten at
Hallowe'en to induce dreams that will reveal the future. It is baked of
common meal with a great deal of salt. After eating it you may not drink
water nor utter a word, not even to say your prayers. A salt herring,
eaten bones and all in three bites, is equally efficacious, always
provided that you drink no water and hold your tongue.[613]

[Hallowe'en fires in Wales; omens drawn from stones thrown into the
fire; divination by stones in the ashes.]

In the northern part of Wales it used to be customary for every family
to make a great bonfire called _Coel Coeth_ on Hallowe'en. The fire was
kindled on the most conspicuous spot near the house; and when it had
nearly gone out everyone threw into the ashes a white stone, which he
had first marked. Then having said their prayers round the fire, they
went to bed. Next morning, as soon as they were up, they came to search
out the stones, and if any one of them was found to be missing, they had
a notion that the person who threw it would die before he saw another
Hallowe'en.[614] A writer on Wales at the beginning of the nineteenth
century says that "the autumnal fire is still kindled in North Wales,
being on the eve of the first day of November, and is attended by many
ceremonies; such as running through the fire and smoke, each casting a
stone into the fire, and all running off at the conclusion to escape
from the black short-tailed sow; then supping upon parsnips, nuts, and
apples; catching up an apple suspended by a string with the mouth alone,
and the same by an apple in a tub of water: each throwing a nut into the
fire; and those that burn bright, betoken prosperity to the owners
through the following year, but those that burn black and crackle,
denote misfortune. On the following morning the stones are searched for
in the fire, and if any be missing, they betide ill to those who threw
them in."[615] According to Sir John Rhys, the habit of celebrating
Hallowe'en by lighting bonfires on the hills is perhaps not yet extinct
in Wales, and men still living can remember how the people who assisted
at the bonfires would wait till the last spark was out and then would
suddenly take to their heels, shouting at the top of their voices, "The
cropped black sow seize the hindmost!" The saying, as Sir John Rhys
justly remarks, implies that originally one of the company became a
victim in dead earnest. Down to the present time the saying is current
in Carnarvonshire, where allusions to the cutty black sow are still
occasionally made to frighten children.[616] We can now understand why
in Lower Brittany every person throws a pebble into the midsummer
bonfire.[617] Doubtless there, as in Wales and the Highlands of
Scotland,[618] omens of life and death have at one time or other been
drawn from the position and state of the pebbles on the morning of All
Saints' Day. The custom, thus found among three separate branches of the
Celtic stock, probably dates from a period before their dispersion, or
at least from a time when alien races had not yet driven home the wedges
of separation between them.

[Divination as to love and marriage at Hallowe'en in Wales.]

In Wales, as in Scotland, Hallowe'en was also the great season for
forecasting the future in respect of love and marriage, and some of the
forms of divination employed for this purpose resembled those which were
in use among the Scotch peasantry. Two girls, for example, would make a
little ladder of yarn, without breaking it from the ball, and having
done so they would throw it out of the window. Then one of the girls,
holding the ball in her hand, would wind the yarn back, repeating a
rhyme in Welsh. This she did thrice, and as she wound the yarn she would
see her future husband climbing up the little ladder. Again, three bowls
or basins were placed on a table. One of them contained clean water, one
dirty water, and one was empty. The girls of the household, and
sometimes the boys too, then eagerly tried their fortunes. They were
blindfolded, led up to the table, and dipped their hands into a bowl. If
they happened to dip into the clean water, they would marry maidens or
bachelors; if into the dirty water, they would be widowers or widows; if
into the empty bowl, they would live unmarried. Again, if a girl,
walking backwards, would place a knife among the leeks on Hallowe'en,
she would see her future husband come and pick up the knife and throw it
into the middle of the garden.[619]

[Divination at Hallowe'en in Ireland.]

In Ireland the Hallowe'en bonfires would seem to have died out, but the
Hallowe'en divination has survived. Writing towards the end of the
eighteenth century, General Vallancey tells us that on Hallowe'en or the
vigil of Saman, as he calls it, "the peasants in Ireland assemble with
sticks and clubs (the emblems of laceration) going from house to house,
collecting money, bread-cake, butter, cheese, eggs, etc., etc., for the
feast, repeating verses in honour of the solemnity, demanding
preparations for the festival, in the name of St. Columb Kill, desiring
them to lay aside the fatted calf, and to bring forth the black sheep.
The good women are employed in making the griddle cake and candles;
these last are sent from house to house in the vicinity, and are lighted
up on the (Saman) next day, before which they pray, or are supposed to
pray, for the departed souls of the donor. Every house abounds in the
best viands they can afford: apples and nuts are devoured in abundance:
the nut-shells are burnt, and from the ashes many strange things are
foretold: cabbages are torn up by the root: hemp seed is sown by the
maidens, and they believe, that if they look back, they will see the
apparition of the man intended for their future spouse: they hang a
smock before the fire, on the close of the feast, and sit up all night,
concealed in a corner of the room, convinced that his apparition will
come down the chimney and turn the smock: they throw a ball of yarn out
of the window, and wind it on the reel within, convinced, that if they
repeat the _Pater Noster_ backwards, and look at the ball of yarn
without, they will then also see his _sith_ or apparition: they dip for
apples in a tub of water, and endeavour to bring one up in the mouth:
they suspend a cord with a cross-stick, with apples at one point, and
candles lighted at the other, and endeavour to catch the apple, while it
is in a circular motion, in the mouth. These, and many other
superstitious ceremonies, the remains of Druidism, are observed on this
holiday, which will never be eradicated, while the name of _Saman_ is
permitted to remain."[620]

[Divination at Hallow-e'en in Queen's County; divination at Hallow-e'en
in County Leitrim; divination at Hallowe'en in County Roscommon.]

In Queen's County, Ireland, down to the latter part of the nineteenth
century children practised various of these rites of divination on
Hallowe'en. Girls went out into the garden blindfold and pulled up
cabbages: if the cabbage was well grown, the girl would have a handsome
husband, but if it had a crooked stalk, the future spouse would be a
stingy old man. Nuts, again, were placed in pairs on the bar of the
fire, and from their behaviour omens were drawn of the fate in love and
marriage of the couple whom they represented. Lead, also, was melted and
allowed to drop into a tub of cold water, and from the shapes which it
assumed in the water predictions were made to the children of their
future destiny. Again, apples were bobbed for in a tub of water and
brought up with the teeth; or a stick was hung from a hook with an apple
at one end and a candle at the other, and the stick being made to
revolve you made a bite at the apple and sometimes got a mouthful of
candle instead.[621] In County Leitrim, also, down to near the end of
the nineteenth century various forms of divination were practised at
Hallowe'en. Girls ascertained the character of their future husbands by
the help of cabbages just as in Queen's County. Again, if a girl found a
branch of a briar-thorn which had bent over and grown into the ground so
as to form a loop, she would creep through the loop thrice late in the
evening in the devil's name, then cut the briar and put it under her
pillow, all without speaking a word. Then she would lay her head on the
pillow and dream of the man she was to marry. Boys, also, would dream in
like manner of love and marriage at Hallowe'en, if only they would
gather ten leaves of ivy without speaking, throw away one, and put the
other nine under their pillow. Again, divination was practised by means
of a cake called _barm-breac_, in which a nut and a ring were baked.
Whoever got the ring would be married first; whoever got the nut would
marry a widow or a widower; but if the nut were an empty shell, he or
she would remain unwed. Again, a girl would take a clue of worsted, go
to a lime kiln in the gloaming, and throw the clew into the kiln in the
devil's name, while she held fast the other end of the thread. Then she
would rewind the thread and ask, "Who holds my clue?" and the name of
her future husband would come up from the depth of the kiln. Another way
was to take a rake, go to a rick and walk round it nine times, saying,
"I rake this rick in the devil's name." At the ninth time the wraith of
your destined partner for life would come and take the rake out of your
hand. Once more, before the company separated for the night, they would
rake the ashes smooth on the hearth, and search them next morning for
tracks, from which they judged whether anybody should come to the house,
or leave it, or die in it before another year was out.[622] In County
Roscommon, which borders on County Leitrim, a cake is made in nearly
every house on Hallowe'en, and a ring, a coin, a sloe, and a chip of
wood are put into it. Whoever gets the coin will be rich; whoever gets
the ring will be married first; whoever gets the chip of wood, which
stands for a coffin, will die first; and whoever gets the sloe will live
longest, because the fairies blight the sloes in the hedges on
Hallowe'en, so that the sloe in the cake will be the last of the year.
Again, on the same mystic evening girls take nine grains of oats in
their mouths, and going out without speaking walk about till they hear a
man's name pronounced; it will be the name of their future husband. In
County Roscommon, too, on Hallowe'en there is the usual dipping in water
for apples or sixpences, and the usual bites at a revolving apple and
tallow candle.[623]

[Hallowe'en fires in the Isle of Man; divination at Hallowe'en in the
Isle of Man.]

In the Isle of Man also, another Celtic country, Hallow-e'en was
celebrated down to modern times by the kindling of fires, accompanied
with all the usual ceremonies designed to prevent the baneful influence
of fairies and witches. Bands of young men perambulated the island by
night, and at the door of every dwelling-house they struck up a Manx
rhyme, beginning

"_Noght oie howney hop-dy-naw_,"

that is to say, "This is Hollantide Eve." For Hollantide is the Manx way
of expressing the old English _All hallowen tide_, that is, All Saints'
Day, the first of November. But as the people reckon this festival
according to the Old Style, Hollantide in the Isle of Man is our twelfth
of November. The native Manx name for the day is _Sauin_ or _Laa
Houney_. Potatoes, parsnips and fish, pounded up together and mixed with
butter, formed the proper evening meal (_mrastyr_) on Hallowe'en in the
Isle of Man.[624] Here, too, as in Scotland forms of divination are
practised by some people on this important evening. For example, the
housewife fills a thimble full of salt for each member of the family and
each guest; the contents of the thimblefuls are emptied out in as many
neat little piles on a plate, and left there over night. Next morning
the piles are examined, and if any of them has fallen down, he or she
whom it represents will die within the year. Again, the women carefully
sweep out the ashes from under the fireplace and flatten them down
neatly on the open hearth. If they find next morning a footprint turned
towards the door, it signifies a death in the family within the year;
but if the footprint is turned in the opposite direction, it bodes a
marriage. Again, divination by eavesdropping is practised in the Isle of
Man in much the same way as in Scotland. You go out with your mouth full
of water and your hands full of salt and listen at a neighbour's door,
and the first name you hear will be the name of your husband. Again,
Manx maids bandage their eyes and grope about the room till they dip
their hands in vessels full of clean or dirty water, and so on; and from
the thing they touch they draw corresponding omens. But some people in
the Isle of Man observe these auguries, not on Hallowe'en or Hollantide
Eve, as they call it, which was the old Manx New Year's Eve, but on the
modern New Year's Eve, that is, on the thirty-first of December. The
change no doubt marks a transition from the ancient to the modern mode
of dating the beginning of the year.[625]

[Hallowe'en fires and divination in Lancashire; candles lighted to keep
off the witches; divination at Hallowe'en in Northumberland; Hallowe'en
fires in France.]

In Lancashire, also, some traces of the old Celtic celebration of
Hallowe'en have been reported in modern times. It is said that "fires
are still lighted in Lancashire, on Hallowe'en, under the name of
Beltains or Teanlas; and even such cakes as the Jews are said to have
made in honour of the Queen of Heaven, are yet to be found at this
season amongst the inhabitants of the banks of the Ribble.... Both the
fires and the cakes, however, are now connected with superstitious
notions respecting Purgatory, etc."[626] On Hallowe'en, too, the
Lancashire maiden "strews the ashes which are to take the form of one or
more letters of her lover's name; she throws hemp-seed over her shoulder
and timidly glances to see who follows her."[627] Again, witches in
Lancashire used to gather on Hallowe'en at the Malkin Tower, a ruined
and desolate farm-house in the forest of Pendle. They assembled for no
good purpose; but you could keep the infernal rout at bay by carrying a
lighted candle about the fells from eleven to twelve o'clock at night.
The witches tried to blow out the candle, and if they succeeded, so much
the worse for you; but if the flame burned steadily till the clocks had
struck midnight, you were safe. Some people performed the ceremony by
deputy; and parties went about from house to house in the evening
collecting candles, one for each inmate, and offering their services to
_late_ or _leet_ the witches, as the phrase ran. This custom was
practised at Longridge Fell in the early part of the nineteenth
century.[628] In Northumberland on Hallowe'en omens of marriage were
drawn from nuts thrown into the fire; and the sports of ducking for
apples and biting at a revolving apple and lighted candle were also
practised on that evening.[629] The equivalent of the Hallowe'en
bonfires is reported also from France. We are told that in the
department of Deux-Sevres, which forms part of the old province of
Poitou, young people used to assemble in the fields on All Saints' Day
(the first of November) and kindle great fires of ferns, thorns, leaves,
and stubble, at which they roasted chestnuts. They also danced round the
fires and indulged in noisy pastimes.[630]

Sec. 7. _The Midwinter Fires_

[A Midwinter festival of fire; Christmas the continuation of an old
heathen festival of the sun.]

If the heathen of ancient Europe celebrated, as we have good reason to
believe, the season of Midsummer with a great festival of fire, of which
the traces have survived in many places down to our own time, it is
natural to suppose that they should have observed with similar rites the
corresponding season of Midwinter; for Midsummer and Midwinter, or, in
more technical language, the summer solstice and the winter solstice,
are the two great turning-points in the sun's apparent course through
the sky, and from the standpoint of primitive man nothing might seem
more appropriate than to kindle fires on earth at the two moments when
the fire and heat of the great luminary in heaven begin to wane or to
wax. In this way the savage philosopher, to whose meditations on the
nature of things we owe many ancient customs and ceremonies, might
easily imagine that he helped the labouring sun to relight his dying
lamp, or at all events to blow up the flame into a brighter blaze.
Certain it is that the winter solstice, which the ancients erroneously
assigned to the twenty-fifth of December, was celebrated in antiquity as
the Birthday of the Sun, and that festal lights or fires were kindled on
this joyful occasion. Our Christmas festival is nothing but a
continuation under a Christian name of this old solar festivity; for the
ecclesiastical authorities saw fit, about the end of the third or the
beginning of the fourth century, arbitrarily to transfer the nativity of
Christ from the sixth of January to the twenty-fifth of December, for
the purpose of diverting to their Lord the worship which the heathen had
hitherto paid on that day to the sun.[631]

[The Yule log is the Midwinter counterpart of the Midsummer bonfire.]

In modern Christendom the ancient fire-festival of the winter solstice
appears to survive, or to have survived down to recent years, in the old
custom of the Yule log, clog, or block, as it was variously called in
England.[632] The custom was widespread in Europe, but seems to have
flourished especially in England, France, and among the South Slavs; at
least the fullest accounts of the custom come from these quarters. That
the Yule log was only the winter counterpart of the Midsummer bonfire,
kindled within doors instead of in the open air on account of the cold
and inclement weather of the season, was pointed out long ago by our
English antiquary John Brand;[633] and the view is supported by the many
quaint superstitions attaching to the Yule log, superstitions which have
no apparent connexion with Christianity but carry their heathen origin
plainly stamped upon them. But while the two solstitial celebrations
were both festivals of fire, the necessity or desirability of holding
the winter celebration within doors lent it the character of a private
or domestic festivity, which contrasts strongly with the publicity of
the summer celebration, at which the people gathered on some open space
or conspicuous height, kindled a huge bonfire in common, and danced and
made merry round it together.

[The Yule log in Germany; the Yule log in Switzerland.]

Among the Germans the custom of the Yule log is known to have been
observed in the eleventh century; for in the year 1184 the parish priest
of Ahlen, in Muensterland, spoke of "bringing a tree to kindle the festal
fire at the Lord's Nativity."[634] Down to about the middle of the
nineteenth century the old rite was kept up in some parts of central
Germany, as we learn from an account of it given by a contemporary
writer. After mentioning the custom of feeding the cattle and shaking
the fruit-trees on Christmas night, to make them bear fruit, he goes on
as follows: "Other customs pointing back to the far-off times of
heathendom may still be met with among the old-fashioned peasants of the
mountain regions. Such is in the valleys of the Sieg and Lahn the
practice of laying a new log as a foundation of the hearth. A heavy
block of oak-wood, generally a stump grubbed up from the ground, is
fitted either into the floor of the hearth, or into a niche made for the
purpose in the wall under the hook on which the kettle hangs. When the
fire on the hearth glows, this block of wood glows too, but it is so
placed that it is hardly reduced to ashes within a year. When the new
foundation is laid, the remains of the old block are carefully taken
out, ground to powder, and strewed over the fields during the Twelve
Nights. This, so people fancied, promotes the fruitfulness of the year's
crops."[635] In some parts of the Eifel Mountains, to the west of
Coblentz, a log of wood called the _Christbrand_ used to be placed on
the hearth on Christmas Eve; and the charred remains of it on Twelfth
Night were put in the corn-bin to keep the mice from devouring the
corn.[636] At Weidenhausen and Girkshausen, in Westphalia, the practice
was to withdraw the Yule log (_Christbrand_) from the fire so soon as it
was slightly charred; it was then kept carefully to be replaced on the
fire whenever a thunder-storm broke, because the people believed that
lightning would not strike a house in which the Yule log was
smouldering.[637] In some villages near Berleburg in Westphalia the old
custom was to tie up the Yule log in the last sheaf cut at harvest.[638]
On Christmas Eve the peasantry of the Oberland, in Meiningen, a province
of Central Germany, used to put a great block of wood called the
_Christklots_ on the fire before they went to bed; it should burn all
night, and the charred remains were believed to guard the house for the
whole year against the risk of fire, burglary, and other
misfortunes.[639] The Yule log seems to be known only in the
French-speaking parts of Switzerland, where it goes by the usual French
name of _Buche de Noel_. In the Jura mountains of the canton of Bern,
while the log is burning on the hearth the people sing a blessing over
it as follows:--

"_May the log burn!
May all good come in!
May the women have children
And the sheep lambs!
White bread for every one
And the vat full of wine_!"

The embers of the Yule log were kept carefully, for they were believed
to be a protection against lightning.[640]

[The Yule log in Belgium.]

"The Christmas fires, which were formerly lit everywhere in the Low
Countries, have fallen into disuse. But in Flanders a great log of wood,
called the _kersavondblok_ and usually cut from the roots of a fir or a
beech, is still put on the fire; all the lights in the house are
extinguished, and the whole family gathers round the log to spend part
of the night in singing, in telling stories, especially about ghosts,
were-wolves, and so on, and also in drinking gin. At Grammont and in the
neighbourhood of that town, where the Yule log is called _Kersmismot_,
it is customary to set fire to the remainder of the gin at the moment
when the log is reduced to ashes. Elsewhere a piece of the log is kept
and put under the bed to protect the house against thunder and
lightning. The charcoal of the log which burned during Christmas Night,
if pounded up and mixed with water, is a cure for consumption. In the
country of Limburg the log burns several nights, and the pounded
charcoal is kept as a preventive (so they say), of toothache."[641]

[The Yule log in France.]

In several provinces of France, and particularly in Provence, the custom
of the Yule log or _trefoir_, as it was called in many places, was long
observed. A French writer of the seventeenth century tells us that on
Christmas Eve the log was prepared, and when the whole family had
assembled in the kitchen or parlour of the house, they went and brought
it in, walking in procession and singing Provencal verses to the
following effect:--

"_Let the log rejoice,
To-morrow is the day of bread;
Let all good enter here;
Let the women bear children;
Let the she-goats bring forth kids;
Let the ewes drop lambs;
Let there be much wheat and flour,
And the vat full of wine_."

Then the log was blessed by the smallest and youngest child of the
house, who poured a glass of wine over it saying, _In nomine patris_,
etc.; after which the log was set on the fire. The charcoal of the burnt
wood was kept the whole year, and used as an ingredient in several

[French superstitions as to the Yule log.]

Amongst the superstitions denounced by the same writer is "the belief
that a log called the _trefoir_ or Christmas brand, which you put on the
fire for the first time on Christmas Eve and continue to put on the fire
for a little while every day till Twelfth Night, can, if kept under the
bed, protect the house for a whole year from fire and thunder; that it
can prevent the inmates from having chilblains on their heels in winter;
that it can cure the cattle of many maladies; that if a piece of it be
steeped in the water which cows drink it helps them to calve; and lastly
that if the ashes of the log be strewn on the fields it can save the
wheat from mildew."[643]

[The Yule log at Marseilles and in Perigord; virtues ascribed to the
charcoal and ashes of the burnt log; the Yule log in Berry.]

In Marseilles the Yule log used to be a great block of oak, which went
by the name of _calendeau_ or _calignau_; it was sprinkled with wine and
oil, and the head of the house kindled it himself.[644] "The Yule log
plays a great part at the festival of the winter solstice in Perigord.
The countryman thinks that it is best made of plum-tree, cherry, or oak,
and that the larger it is the better. If it burns well, it is a good
omen, the blessing of heaven rests upon it. The charcoal and ashes,
which are collected very carefully, are excellent for healing swollen
glands; the part of the trunk which has not been burnt in the fire is
used by ploughmen to make the wedge (_tecoin ou cale_) for their plough,
because they allege that it causes the seeds to thrive better; and the
women keep pieces of it till Twelfth Night for the sake of their
chickens. Nevertheless if you sit down on the log, you become subject to
boils, and to cure yourself of them you must pass nine times under a
bramble branch which happens to be rooted in the ground at both ends.
The charcoal heals sheep of a disease called the _goumon_; and the
ashes, carefully wrapt up in white linen, preserve the whole household
from accidents. Some people think that they will have as many chickens
as there are sparks that fly out of the brands of the log when they
shake them; and others place the extinct brands under the bed to drive
away vermin. In Vienne, on Christmas Eve, when supper is over, the
master of the house has a great log--the Christmas brand--brought in,
and then, surrounded by all the spectators gathered in profound silence,
he sprinkles salt and water on the log. It is then put on the fire to
burn during the three festivals; but they carefully preserve a piece to
be kindled every time that it thunders."[645] In Berry, a district of
Central France, the Yule log was called the _cosse de Nau_, the last
word being an abbreviation of the usual French word for Christmas
(Noel). It consisted of an enormous tree-trunk, so heavy that the united
strength of several men was needed to carry it in and place it on the
hearth, where it served to feed the fire during the three days of the
Christmas festivity. Strictly speaking, it should be the trunk of an old
oak-tree which had never been lopped and had been felled at midnight. It
was placed on the hearth at the moment when the tinkle of the bell
announced the elevation of the host at the midnight mass; and the head
of the family, after sprinkling it with holy water, set it on fire. The
remains of the log were preserved till the same day next year. They were
kept under the bed of the master of the house; and whenever thunder was
heard, one of the family would take a piece of the log and throw it on
the fire, which was believed to guard the family against lightning. In
the Middle Ages, we are told, several fiefs were granted on condition
that the vassal should bring in person a Yule log every year for the
hearth of his liege lord.[646]

[The Yule log in Normandy and Brittany.]

Similar customs and beliefs survived till recent years in some of the
remote country villages of the picturesque district known as the Bocage
of Normandy. There it was the grandfather or other oldest man of the
family who chose the Yule log in good time and had it ready for
Christmas Eve. Then he placed it on the hearth at the moment when the
church bell began to ring for the evening service. Kneeling reverently
at the hearth with the members of his family in a like attitude of
devotion, the old man recited three _Pater Nosters_ and three _Aves_,
and invoked the blessing of heaven on the log and on the cottage. Then
at the sound of the bell which proclaimed the sacrament of the mass, or,
if the church was too far off to allow the tinkle of the bell to be
heard, at the moment when they judged that the priest was elevating the
host before the high altar, the patriarch sprinkled the burning log with
holy water, blessed it in the name of the Father and of the Son and of
the Holy Ghost, and drew it out of the fire. The charred log was then
carefully kept till the following Christmas as a precious relic which
would guard the house against the levin bolt, evil spirits, sorcerers,
and every misfortune that might befall in the course of the year.[647]
In the department of Orne "the Yule-log is called _trefouet_; holy water
is poured on it; it should last the three days of the festival, and the
remains of it are kept to be put on the fire when it thunders. This
brand is a protection both against thunder and against sorcerers."[648]
In Upper Brittany, also, the Yule log is thought to be a safeguard
against thunder and lightning. It is sprinkled with holy water on
Christmas morning and allowed to burn till evening. If a piece of it is
thrown into the well, it will ensure a supply of good water.[649]

[The Yule log in the Ardennes.]

"In almost all the families of the Ardennes," we are told, "at the
present day they never fail to put the Yule log on the fireplace, but
formerly it was the object of a superstitious worship which is now
obsolete. The charred remains of it, placed under the pillow or under
the house, preserved the house from storms, and before it was burned the
Virgin used to come and sit on it, invisible, swaddling the infant
Jesus. At Nouzon, twenty years ago, the traditional log was brought into
the kitchen on Christmas Eve, and the grandmother, with a sprig of box
in her hand, sprinkled the log with holy water as soon as the clock
struck the first stroke of midnight. As she did so she chanted,

'_When Christmas comes,
Every one should rejoice,
For it is a New Covenant_.'

"Following the grandmother and joining in the song, the children and the
rest of the family marched thrice round the log, which was as fine a log
as could be got."[650] We can now, perhaps, understand why in Perigord
people who sat on the Yule log suffered from boils,[651] and why in
Lorraine young folks used to be warned that if they sat on it they would
have the scab.[652] The reason probably was that the Virgin and child
were supposed to be seated, invisible, upon the log and to resent the
indignity of contact with mortal children.

[The Yule log in the Vosges; the Yule log in Franche-Comte and

On Christmas Eve the mountaineers of Rupt, in the Vosges, also never
fail to put on the hearth the largest log which the hearth can hold;
they call it _la galeuche de Noe_, that is, the Yule log. Next morning
they rake the ashes for any charred fragments and keep them as valuable
talismans to guard them against the stroke of lightning. At Vagney and
other places near it in the Vosges it used to be customary on the same
evening to grease the hinges and the latches of the doors, that no harsh
grating sound should break the slumbers of the infant Christ. In the
Vosges Mountains, too, as indeed in many other places, cattle acquired
the gift of speech on Christmas Eve and conversed with each other in the
language of Christians. Their conversation was, indeed, most
instructive; for the future, it seems, had no secret worth mentioning
for them. Yet few people cared to be caught eavesdropping at the byre;
wise folk contented themselves with setting a good store of fodder in
the manger, then shut the door, and left the animals to their
ruminations. A farmer of Vecoux once hid in a corner of the byre to
overhear the edifying talk of the beasts. But it did him little good;
for one ox said to another ox, "What shall we do to-morrow?" and the
other replied, "We shall carry our master to the churchyard." Sure
enough the farmer died that very night and was buried next morning.[653]
In Franche-Comte, the province of France to the west of the Jura
mountains, if the Yule log is really to protect a house against thunder
and lightning, it is essential that it should burn during the midnight
mass, and that the flame should not go out before the divine service is
concluded. Otherwise the log is quite useless for the purpose.[654] In
Burgundy the log which is placed on the fire on Christmas Eve is called
the _suche_. While it is burning, the father of the family, assisted by
his wife and children, sings Christmas carols; and when he has finished,
he tells the smallest children to go into a corner of the room and pray
God that the log may give them sweeties. The prayer is invariably

[The Yule log and the Yule candle in England.]

In England the customs and beliefs concerning the Yule log, clog, or
block, as it was variously called, used to be similar. On the night of
Christmas Eve, says the antiquary John Brand, "our ancestors were wont
to light up candles of an uncommon size, called Christmas Candles, and
lay a log of wood upon the fire, called a Yule-clog or Christmas-block,
to illuminate the house, and, as it were, to turn night into day. This
custom is, in some measure, still kept up in the North of England. In
the buttery of St. John's College, Oxford, an ancient candle-socket of
stone still remains ornamented with the figure of the Holy Lamb. It was
formerly used to burn the Christmas Candle in, on the high table at
supper, during the twelve nights of that festival."[656] "A tall mould
candle, called a Yule candle, is lighted and set on the table; these
candles are presented by the chandlers and grocers to their customers.
The Yule-log is bought of the carpenters' lads. It would be unlucky to
light either of them before the time, or to stir the fire or candle
during the supper; the candle must not be snuffed, neither must any one
stir from the table till supper is ended. In these suppers it is
considered unlucky to have an odd number at table. A fragment of the log
is occasionally saved, and put under a bed, to remain till next
Christmas: it secures the house from fire; a small piece of it thrown
into a fire occurring at the house of a neighbour, will quell the raging
flame. A piece of the candle should likewise be kept to ensure good
luck."[657] In the seventeenth century, as we learn from some verses of
Herrick, the English custom was to light the Yule log with a fragment of
its predecessor, which had been kept throughout the year for the
purpose; where it was so kept, the fiend could do no mischief.[658]
Indeed the practice of preserving a piece of the Yule-log of one year to
light that of the next was observed by at least one family at Cheadle in
Staffordshire down to the latter part of the nineteenth century.[659]

[The Yule-log in Yorkshire; the Yule log in Lincolnshire; the Yule log
in Warwickshire, Shropshire, and Herefordshire; the Yule log in Wales.]

In the North of England farm-servants used to lay by a large knotty
block of wood for the Christmas fire, and so long as the block lasted
they were entitled by custom to ale at their meals. The log was as large
as the hearth could hold.[660] At Belford, in Northumberland, "the lord
of the manor sends round to every house, on the afternoon of Christmas
Eve, the Yule Logs--four or five large logs--to be burnt on Christmas
Eve and Day. This old custom has always, I am told, been kept up
here."[661] The custom of burning the Yule log at Christmas used to be
observed in Wensleydale and other parts of Yorkshire, and prudent
housewives carefully preserved pieces of the log throughout the year. At
Whitby the portions so kept were stowed away under the bed till next
Christmas, when they were burnt with the new log; in the interval they
were believed to protect the house from conflagration, and if one of
them were thrown into the fire, it would quell a raging storm.[662] The
practice and the belief were similar at Filey on the coast of Yorkshire,
where besides the Yule log a tall Yule candle was lit on the same
evening.[663] In the West Riding, while the log blazed cheerfully, the
people quaffed their ale and sang, "Yule! Yule! a pack of new cards and
a Christmas stool!"[664] At Clee, in Lincolnshire, "when Christmas Eve
has come the Yule cake is duly cut and the Yule log lit, and I know of
some even middle-class houses where the new log must always rest upon
and be lighted by the old one, a small portion of which has been
carefully stored away to preserve a continuity of light and heat."[665]
At the village of Wootton Wawen in Warwickshire, down to 1759 at least,
the Yule-block, as it was called, was drawn into the house by a horse on
Christmas Eve "as a foundation for the fire on Christmas Day, and
according to the superstition of those times for the twelve days
following, as the said block was not to be entirely reduced to ashes
till that time had passed by."[666] As late as 1830, or thereabout, the
scene of lighting the hearth-fire on Christmas Eve, to continue burning
throughout the Christmas season, might have been witnessed in the
secluded and beautiful hill-country of West Shropshire, from Chirbury
and Worthen to Pulverbatch and Pontesbury. The Christmas brand or brund,
as they called it, was a great trunk of seasoned oak, holly, yew, or
crab-tree, drawn by horses to the farm-house door and thence rolled by
means of rollers and levers to the back of the wide open hearth, where
the fire was made up in front of it. The embers were raked up to it
every night, and it was carefully tended, that it might not go out
during the whole Christmas season. All those days no light might be
struck, given, or borrowed. Such was the custom at Worthen in the early
part of the nineteenth century.[667] In Herefordshire the Christmas
feast "lasted for twelve days, and no work was done. All houses were,
and are now, decorated with sprigs of holly and ivy, which must not be
brought in until Christmas Eve. A Yule log, as large as the open hearth
could accommodate, was brought into the kitchen of each farmhouse, and
smaller ones were used in the cottages. W---- P---- said he had seen a
tree drawn into the kitchen at Kingstone Grange years ago by two cart
horses; when it had been consumed a small portion was carefully kept to
be used for lighting next year's log. 'Mother always kept it very
carefully; she said it was lucky, and kept the house from fire and from
lightning.' It seems to have been the general practice to light it on
Christmas Eve."[668] "In many parts of Wales it is still customary to
keep part of the Yule-log until the following Christmas Eve 'for luck.'
It is then put into the fireplace and burnt, but before it is consumed
the new log is put on, and thus 'the old fire and the new' burn
together. In some families this is done from force of habit, and they
cannot now tell why they do it; but in the past the observance of this
custom was to keep witches away, and doubtless was a survival of

[The Yule log in Servia; the cutting of the oak tree to form the Yule

But nowhere, apparently, in Europe is the old heathen ritual of the Yule
log preserved to the present day more perfectly than in Servia. At early
dawn on Christmas Eve (_Badnyi Dan_) every peasant house sends two of
its strongest young men to the nearest forest to cut down a young oak
tree and bring it home. There, after offering up a short prayer or
crossing themselves thrice, they throw a handful of wheat on the chosen
oak and greet it with the words, "Happy _Badnyi_ day to you!" Then they
cut it down, taking care that it shall fall towards the east at the
moment when the sun's orb appears over the rim of the eastern horizon.
Should the tree fall towards the west, it would be the worst possible
omen for the house and its inmates in the ensuing year; and it is also
an evil omen if the tree should be caught and stopped in its fall by
another tree. It is important to keep and carry home the first chip from
the fallen oak. The trunk is sawn into two or three logs, one of them
rather longer than the others. A flat, unleavened cake of the purest
wheaten flour is brought out of the house and broken on the larger of
the logs by a woman. The logs are left for the present to stand outside,
leaning on one of the walls of the house. Each of them is called a Yule
log (_badnyak_).

[Prayers to Colleda.]

Meanwhile the children and young people go from house to house singing
special songs called _Colleda_ because of an old pagan divinity Colleda,
who is invoked in every line. In one of them she is spoken of as "a
beautiful little maid"; in another she is implored to make the cows
yield milk abundantly. The day is spent in busy preparations. The women
bake little cakes of a special sort in the shape of lambs, pigs, and
chickens; the men make ready a pig for roasting, for in every Servian
house roast pig is the principal dish at Christmas. A bundle of straw,
tied with a rope, is brought into the courtyard and left to stand there
near the Yule logs.

[The bringing in of the Yule log.]

At the moment when the sun is setting all the members of the family
assemble in the central hall (the great family kitchen) of the principal
house. The mother of the family (or the wife of the chief of the
Zadrooga)[670] gives a pair of woollen gloves to one of the young men,
who goes out and presently returns carrying in his gloved hands the
largest of the logs. The mother receives him at the threshold, throwing
at him a handful of wheat, in which the first chip of the oak tree cut
in the early morning for the Yule log has been kept all day. Entering
the central hall with the Yule log the young man greets all present with
the words: "Good evening, and may you have a happy Christmas!" and they
all answer in chorus, "May God and the happy and holy Christmas help
thee!" In some parts of Servia the chief of the family, holding a glass
of red wine in his hand, greets the Yule log as if it were a living
person, and drinks to its health. After that, another glass of red wine
is poured on the log. Then the oldest male member of the family,
assisted by the young man who brought in the log, places it on the
burning fire so that the thicker end of the log protrudes for about a

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