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Myths and Myth-Makers: Old Tales and Superstitions Interpreted by comparative mythology by John Fiske

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[47] Indeed, the wish-bone, or forked clavicle of a fowl,
itself belongs to the same family of talismans as the

[48] The ash, on the other hand, has been from time immemorial
used for spears in many parts of the Aryan domain. The word
oesc meant, in Anglo-Saxon, indifferently "ash-tree," or
"spear"; and the same is, or has been, true of the French
fresne and the Greek melia. The root of oesc appears in the
Sanskrit as, "to throw" or "lance," whence asa, "a bow," and
asana, "an arrow." See Pictet, Origines Indo-Europeennes, I.

The paths of comparative mythology are devious, but we have
now pursued them long enough I believe, to have arrived at a
tolerably clear understanding of the original nature of the
divining-rod. Its power of revealing treasures has been
sufficiently explained; and its affinity for water results so
obviously from the character of the lightning-myth as to need
no further comment. But its power of detecting criminals still
remains to be accounted for.

In Greek mythology, the being which detects and punishes crime
is the Erinys, the prototype of the Latin Fury, figured by
late writers as a horrible monster with serpent locks. But
this is a degradation of the original conception. The name
Erinys did not originally mean Fury, and it cannot be
explained from Greek sources alone. It appears in Sanskrit as
Saranyu, a word which signifies the light of morning creeping
over the sky. And thus we are led to the startling conclusion
that, as the light of morning reveals the evil deeds done
under the cover of night, so the lovely Dawn, or Erinys, came
to be regarded under one aspect as the terrible detector and
avenger of iniquity. Yet startling as the conclusion is, it is
based on established laws of phonetic change, and cannot be

But what has the avenging daybreak to do with the lightning
and the divining-rod? To the modern mind the association is
not an obvious one: in antiquity it was otherwise. Myths of
the daybreak and myths of the lightning often resemble each
other so closely that, except by a delicate philological
analysis, it is difficult to distinguish the one from the
other. The reason is obvious. In each case the phenomenon to
be explained is the struggle between the day-god and one of
the demons of darkness. There is essentially no distinction to
the mind of the primitive man between the Panis, who steal
Indra's bright cows and keep them in a dark cavern all night,
and the throttling snake Ahi or Echidna, who imprisons the
waters in the stronghold of the thunder-cloud and covers the
earth with a short-lived darkness. And so the poisoned arrows
of Bellerophon, which slay the storm-dragon, differ in no
essential respect from the shafts with which Odysseus
slaughters the night-demons who have for ten long hours beset
his mansion. Thus the divining-rod, representing as it does
the weapon of the god of day, comes legitimately enough by its
function of detecting and avenging crime.

But the lightning not only reveals strange treasures and gives
water to the thirsty land and makes plain what is doing under
cover of darkness; it also sometimes kills, benumbs, or
paralyzes. Thus the head of the Gorgon Medusa turns into stone
those who look upon it. Thus the ointment of the dervise, in
the tale of Baba Abdallah, not only reveals all the treasures
of the earth, but instantly thereafter blinds the unhappy man
who tests its powers. And thus the hand of glory, which bursts
open bars and bolts, benumbs also those who happen to be near
it. Indeed, few of the favoured mortals who were allowed to
visit the caverns opened by sesame or the luck-flower, escaped
without disaster. The monkish tale of "The Clerk and the
Image," in which the primeval mythical features are curiously
distorted, well illustrates this point.

In the city of Rome there formerly stood an image with its
right hand extended and on its forefinger the words "strike
here." Many wise men puzzled in vain over the meaning of the
inscription; but at last a certain priest observed that
whenever the sun shone on the figure, the shadow of the finger
was discernible on the ground at a little distance from the
statue. Having marked the spot, he waited until midnight, and
then began to dig. At last his spade struck upon something
hard. It was a trap-door, below which a flight of marble steps
descended into a spacious hall, where many men were sitting in
solemn silence amid piles of gold and diamonds and long rows
of enamelled vases. Beyond this he found another room, a
gynaecium filled with beautiful women reclining on richly
embroidered sofas; yet here, too, all was profound silence. A
superb banqueting-hall next met his astonished gaze; then a
silent kitchen; then granaries loaded with forage; then a
stable crowded with motionless horses. The whole place was
brilliantly lighted by a carbuncle which was suspended in one
corner of the reception-room; and opposite stood an archer,
with his bow and arrow raised, in the act of taking aim at the
jewel. As the priest passed back through this hall, he saw a
diamond-hilted knife lying on a marble table; and wishing to
carry away something wherewith to accredit his story, he
reached out his hand to take it; but no sooner had he touched
it than all was dark. The archer had shot with his arrow, the
bright jewel was shivered into a thousand pieces, the
staircase had fled, and the priest found himself buried

[49] Compare Spenser's story of Sir Guyon, in the "Faery
Queen," where, however, the knight fares better than this poor
priest. Usually these lightning-caverns were like Ixion's
treasure-house, into which none might look and live. This
conception is the foundation of part of the story of
Blue-Beard and of the Arabian tale of the third one-eyed

Usually, however, though the lightning is wont to strike dead,
with its basilisk glance, those who rashly enter its
mysterious caverns, it is regarded rather as a benefactor than
as a destroyer. The feelings with which the myth-making age
contemplated the thunder-shower as it revived the earth
paralyzed by a long drought, are shown in the myth of
Oidipous. The Sphinx, whose name signifies "the one who
binds," is the demon who sits on the cloud-rock and imprisons
the rain, muttering, dark sayings which none but the
all-knowing sun may understand. The flash of solar light which
causes the monster to fling herself down from the cliff with a
fearful roar, restores the land to prosperity. But besides
this, the association of the thunder-storm with the approach
of summer has produced many myths in which the lightning is
symbolized as the life-renewing wand of the victorious
sun-god. Hence the use of the divining-rod in the cure of
disease; and hence the large family of schamir-myths in which
the dead are restored to life by leaves or herbs. In Grimm's
tale of the Three Snake Leaves," a prince is buried alive
(like Sindbad) with his dead wife, and seeing a snake
approaching her body, he cuts it in three pieces. Presently
another snake, crawling from the corner, saw the other lying
dead, and going, away soon returned with three green leaves in
its mouth; then laying the parts of the body together so as to
join, it put one leaf on each wound, and the dead snake was
alive again. The prince, applying the leaves to his wife's
body, restores her also to life."[50] In the Greek story, told
by AElian and Apollodoros, Polyidos is shut up with the corpse
of Glaukos, which he is ordered to restore to life. He kills a
dragon which is approaching the body, but is presently
astonished at seeing another dragon come with a blade of grass
and place it upon its dead companion, which instantly rises
from the ground. Polyidos takes the same blade of grass, and
with it resuscitates Glaukos. The same incident occurs in the
Hindu story of Panch Phul Ranee, and in Fouque's "Sir Elidoc,"
which is founded on a Breton legend.

[50] Cox, Mythology of the Aryan Nations, Vol. 1. p. 161.

We need not wonder, then, at the extraordinary therapeutic
properties which are in all Aryan folk-lore ascribed to the
various lightning-plants. In Sweden sanitary amulets are made
of mistletoe-twigs, and the plant is supposed to be a specific
against epilepsy and an antidote for poisons. In Cornwall
children are passed through holes in ash-trees in order to
cure them of hernia. Ash rods are used in some parts of
England for the cure of diseased sheep, cows, and horses; and
in particular they are supposed to neutralize the venom of
serpents. The notion that snakes are afraid of an ash-tree is
not extinct even in the United States. The other day I was
told, not by an old granny, but by a man fairly educated and
endowed with a very unusual amount of good common-sense, that
a rattlesnake will sooner go through fire than creep over ash
leaves or into the shadow of an ash-tree. Exactly the same
statement is made by Piny, who adds that if you draw a circle
with an ash rod around the spot of ground on which a snake is
lying, the animal must die of starvation, being as effectually
imprisoned as Ugolino in the dungeon at Pisa. In Cornwall it
is believed that a blow from an ash stick will instantly kill
any serpent. The ash shares this virtue with the hazel and
fern. A Swedish peasant will tell you that snakes may be
deprived of their venom by a touch with a hazel wand; and when
an ancient Greek had occasion to make his bed in the woods, he
selected fern leaves if possible, in the belief that the smell
of them would drive away poisonous animals.[51]

[51] Kelly, Indo-European Folk-Lore, pp. 147, 183, 186, 193.

But the beneficent character of the lightning appears still
more clearly in another class of myths. To the primitive man
the shaft of light coming down from heaven was typical of the
original descent of fire for the benefit and improvement of
the human race. The Sioux Indians account for the origin of
fire by a myth of unmistakable kinship; they say that "their
first ancestor obtained his fire from the sparks which a
friendly panther struck from the rocks as he scampered up a
stony hill."[52] This panther is obviously the counterpart of
the Aryan bird which drops schamir. But the Aryan imagination
hit upon a far more remarkable conception. The ancient Hindus
obtained fire by a process similar to that employed by Count
Rumford in his experiments on the generation of heat by
friction. They first wound a couple of cords around a pointed
stick in such a way that the unwinding of the one would wind
up the other, and then, placing the point of the stick against
a circular disk of wood, twirled it rapidly by alternate pulls
on the two strings. This instrument is called a chark, and is
still used in South Africa,[53] in Australia, in Sumatra, and
among the Veddahs of Ceylon. The Russians found it in
Kamtchatka; and it was formerly employed in America, from
Labrador to the Straits of Magellan.[54] The Hindus churned
milk by a similar process;[55] and in order to explain the
thunder-storm, a Sanskrit poem tells how "once upon a time the
Devas, or gods, and their opponents, the Asuras, made a truce,
and joined together in churning the ocean to procure amrita,
the drink of immortality. They took Mount Mandara for a
churning-stick, and, wrapping the great serpent Sesha round it
for a rope, they made the mountain spin round to and fro, the
Devas pulling at the serpent's tail, and the Asuras at its
head."[56] In this myth the churning-stick, with its flying
serpent-cords, is the lightning, and the armrita, or drink of
immortality, is simply the rain-water, which in Aryan
folk-lore possesses the same healing virtues as the lightning.
"In Sclavonic myths it is the water of life which restores the
dead earth, a water brought by a bird from the depths of a
gloomy cave."[57] It is the celestial soma or mead which Indra
loves to drink; it is the ambrosial nectar of the Olympian
gods; it is the charmed water which in the Arabian Nights
restores to human shape the victims of wicked sorcerers; and
it is the elixir of life which mediaeval philosophers tried to
discover, and in quest of which Ponce de Leon traversed the
wilds of Florida.[58]

[52] Brinton, Myths of the New World, p. 151.

[53] Callaway, Zulu Nursery Tales, I. 173, Note 12.

[54] Tylor, Early History of Mankind, p. 238; Primitive
Culture, Vol. II. p. 254; Darwin, Naturalist's Voyage, p. 409.

"Jacky's next proceeding was to get some dry sticks and wood,
and prepare a fire, which, to George's astonishment, he
lighted thus. He got a block of wood, in the middle of which
he made a hole; then he cut and pointed a long stick, and
inserting the point into the block, worked it round between
his palms for some time and with increasing rapidity.
Presently there came a smell of burning wood, and soon after
it burst into a flame at the point of contact. Jacky cut
slices of shark and roasted them."--Reade, Never too Late to
Mend, chap. xxxviii.

[55] The production of fire by the drill is often called
churning, e. g. "He took the uvati [chark], and sat down and
churned it, and kindled a fire." Callaway, Zulu Nursery
Tales, I. 174.

[56] Kelly, Indo-European Folk-Lore, p. 39. Burnouf, Bhagavata
Purana, VIII. 6, 32.

[57] Baring-Gould, Curious Myths, p. 149.

[58] It is also the regenerating water of baptism, and the
"holy water " of the Roman Catholic.

The most interesting point in this Hindu myth is the name of
the peaked mountain Mandara, or Manthara, which the gods and
devils took for their churning-stick. The word means "a
churning-stick," and it appears also, with a prefixed
preposition, in the name of the fire-drill, pramantha. Now
Kuhn has proved that this name, pramantha, is etymologically
identical with Prometheus, the name of the beneficent Titan,
who stole fire from heaven and bestowed it upon mankind as the
richest of boons. This sublime personage was originally
nothing but the celestial drill which churns fire out of the
clouds; but the Greeks had so entirely forgotten his origin
that they interpreted his name as meaning "the one who thinks
beforehand," and accredited him with a brother, Epimetheus, or
"the one who thinks too late." The Greeks had adopted another
name, trypanon, for their fire-drill, and thus the primitive
character of Prometheus became obscured.

I have said above that it was regarded as absolutely essential
that the divining-rod should be forked. To this rule, however,
there was one exception, and if any further evidence be needed
to convince the most sceptical that the divining-rod is
nothing but a symbol of the lightning, that exception will
furnish such evidence. For this exceptional kind of
divining-rod was made of a pointed stick rotating in a block
of wood, and it was the presence of hidden water or treasure
which was supposed to excite the rotatory motion.

In the myths relating to Prometheus, the lightning-god appears
as the originator of civilization, sometimes as the creator of
the human race, and always as its friend,[59] suffering in its
behalf the most fearful tortures at the hands of the jealous
Zeus. In one story he creates man by making a clay image and
infusing into it a spark of the fire which he had brought from
heaven; in another story he is himself the first man. In the
Peloponnesian myth Phoroneus, who is Prometheus under another
name, is the first man, and his mother was an ash-tree. In
Norse mythology, also, the gods were said to have made the
first man out of the ash-tree Yggdrasil. The association of
the heavenly fire with the life-giving forces of nature is
very common in the myths of both hemispheres, and in view of
the facts already cited it need not surprise us. Hence the
Hindu Agni and the Norse Thor were patrons of marriage, and in
Norway, the most lucky day on which to be married is still
supposed to be Thursday, which in old times was the day of the
fire-god.[60] Hence the lightning-plants have divers virtues
in matters pertaining to marriage. The Romans made their
wedding torches of whitethorn; hazel-nuts are still used all
over Europe in divinations relating to the future lover or
sweetheart;[61] and under a mistletoe bough it is allowable
for a gentleman to kiss a lady. A vast number of kindred
superstitions are described by Mr. Kelly, to whom I am
indebted for many of these examples.[62]

[59] In the Vedas the rain-god Soma, originally the
personification of the sacrificial ambrosia, is the deity who
imparts to men life, knowledge, and happiness. See Breal,
Hercule et Cacus, p. 85. Tylor, Primitive Culture, Vol. II. p.

[60] We may, perhaps, see here the reason for making the Greek
fire-god Hephaistos the husband of Aphrodite.

[61] "Our country maidens are well aware that triple leaves
plucked at hazard from the common ash are worn in the breast,
for the purpose of causing prophetic dreams respecting a
dilatory lover. The leaves of the yellow trefoil are supposed
to possess similar virtues."--Harland and Wilkinson,
Lancashire Folk-Lore, p. 20.

[62] In Peru, a mighty and far-worshipped deity was Catequil,
the thunder-god, .... he who in thunder-flash and clap hurls
from his sling the small, round, smooth thunder-stones,
treasured in the villages as fire-fetishes and charms to
kindle the flames of love."--Tylor, op. cit. Vol. II. p. 239

Thus we reach at last the completed conception of the
divining-rod, or as it is called in this sense the wish-rod,
with its kindred talismans, from Aladdin's lamp and the purse
of Bedreddin Hassan, to the Sangreal, the philosopher's stone,
and the goblets of Oberon and Tristram. These symbols of the
reproductive energies of nature, which give to the possessor
every good and perfect gift, illustrate the uncurbed belief in
the power of wish which the ancient man shared with modern
children. In the Norse story of Frodi's quern, the myth
assumes a whimsical shape. The prose Edda tells of a primeval
age of gold, when everybody had whatever he wanted. This was
because the giant Frodi had a mill which ground out peace and
plenty and abundance of gold withal, so that it lay about the
roads like pebbles. Through the inexcusable avarice of Frodi,
this wonderful implement was lost to the world. For he kept
his maid-servants working at the mill until they got out of
patience, and began to make it grind out hatred and war. Then
came a mighty sea-rover by night and slew Frodi and carried
away the maids and the quern. When he got well out to sea, he
told them to grind out salt, and so they did with a vengeance.
They ground the ship full of salt and sank it, and so the
quern was lost forever, but the sea remains salt unto this

Mr. Kelly rightly identifies Frodi with the sun-god Fro or
Freyr, and observes that the magic mill is only another form
of the fire-churn, or chark. According to another version the
quern is still grinding away and keeping the sea salt, and
over the place where it lies there is a prodigious whirlpool
or maelstrom which sucks down ships.

In its completed shape, the lightning-wand is the caduceus, or
rod of Hermes. I observed, in the preceding paper, that in the
Greek conception of Hermes there have been fused together the
attributes of two deities who were originally distinct. The
Hermes of the Homeric Hymn is a wind-god; but the later Hermes
Agoraios, the patron of gymnasia, the mutilation of whose
statues caused such terrible excitement in Athens during the
Peloponnesian War, is a very different personage. He is a
fire-god, invested with many solar attributes, and represents
the quickening forces of nature. In this capacity the
invention of fire was ascribed to him as well as to
Prometheus; he was said to be the friend of mankind, and was
surnamed Ploutodotes, or "the giver of wealth."

The Norse wind-god Odin has in like manner acquired several of
the attributes of Freyr and Thor.[63] His lightning-spear,
which is borrowed from Thor, appears by a comical
metamorphosis as a wish-rod which will administer a sound
thrashing to the enemies of its possessor. Having cut a hazel
stick, you have only to lay down an old coat, name your
intended victim, wish he was there, and whack away: he will
howl with pain at every blow. This wonderful cudgel appears in
Dasent's tale of "The Lad who went to the North Wind," with
which we may conclude this discussion. The story is told, with
little variation, in Hindustan, Germany, and Scandinavia.

[63] In Polynesia, "the great deity Maui adds a new
complication to his enigmatic solar-celestial character by
appearing as a wind-god."--Tylor, op. cit. Vol. II. p. 242.

The North Wind, representing the mischievous Hermes, once blew
away a poor woman's meal. So her boy went to the North Wind
and demanded his rights for the meal his mother had lost. "I
have n't got your meal," said the Wind, "but here's a
tablecloth which will cover itself with an excellent dinner
whenever you tell it to." So the lad took the cloth and
started for home. At nightfall he stopped at an inn, spread
his cloth on the table, and ordered it to cover itself with
good things, and so it did. But the landlord, who thought it
would be money in his pocket to have such a cloth, stole it
after the boy had gone to bed, and substituted another just
like it in appearance. Next day the boy went home in great
glee to show off for his mother's astonishment what the North
Wind had given him, but all the dinner he got that day was
what the old woman cooked for him. In his despair he went back
to the North Wind and called him a liar, and again demanded
his rights for the meal he had lost. "I have n't got your
meal," said the Wind, "but here's a ram which will drop money
out of its fleece whenever you tell it to." So the lad
travelled home, stopping over night at the same inn, and when
he got home he found himself with a ram which did n't drop
coins out of its fleece. A third time he visited the North
Wind, and obtained a bag with a stick in it which, at the word
of command, would jump out of the bag and lay on until told to
stop. Guessing how matters stood as to his cloth and ram, he
turned in at the same tavern, and going to a bench lay down as
if to sleep. The landlord thought that a stick carried about
in a bag must be worth something, and so he stole quietly up
to the bag, meaning to get the stick out and change it. But
just as he got within whacking distance, the boy gave the
word, and out jumped the stick and beat the thief until he
promised to give back the ram and the tablecloth. And so the
boy got his rights for the meal which the North Wind had blown
away. October, 1870.


IT is related by Ovid that Lykaon, king of Arkadia, once
invited Zeus to dinner, and served up for him a dish of human
flesh, in order to test the god's omniscience. But the trick
miserably failed, and the impious monarch received the
punishment which his crime had merited. He was transformed
into a wolf, that he might henceforth feed upon the viands
with which he had dared to pollute the table of the king of
Olympos. From that time forth, according to Pliny, a noble
Arkadian was each year, on the festival of Zeus Lykaios, led
to the margin of a certain lake. Hanging his clothes upon a
tree, he then plunged into the water and became a wolf. For
the space of nine years he roamed about the adjacent woods,
and then, if he had not tasted human flesh during all this
time, he was allowed to swim back to the place where his
clothes were hanging, put them on, and return to his natural
form. It is further related of a certain Demainetos, that,
having once been present at a human sacrifice to Zeus Lykaios,
he ate of the flesh, and was transformed into a wolf for a
term of ten years.[64]

[64] Compare Plato, Republic, VIII. 15.

These and other similar mythical germs were developed by the
mediaeval imagination into the horrible superstition of

A werewolf, or loup-garou[65] was a person who had the power
of transforming himself into a wolf, being endowed, while in
the lupine state, with the intelligence of a man, the ferocity
of a wolf, and the irresistible strength of a demon. The
ancients believed in the existence of such persons; but in the
Middle Ages the metamorphosis was supposed to be a phenomenon
of daily occurrence, and even at the present day, in secluded
portions of Europe, the superstition is still cherished by
peasants. The belief, moreover, is supported by a vast amount
of evidence, which can neither be argued nor pooh-poohed into
insignificance. It is the business of the comparative
mythologist to trace the pedigree of the ideas from which such
a conception may have sprung; while to the critical historian
belongs the task of ascertaining and classifying the actual
facts which this particular conception was used to interpret.

[65] Were-wolf = man-wolf, wer meaning "man." Garou is a
Gallic corruption of werewolf, so that loup-garou is a
tautological expression.

The mediaeval belief in werewolves is especially adapted to
illustrate the complicated manner in which divers mythical
conceptions and misunderstood natural occurrences will combine
to generate a long-enduring superstition. Mr. Cox, indeed,
would have us believe that the whole notion arose from an
unintentional play upon words; but the careful survey of the
field, which has been taken by Hertz and Baring-Gould, leads
to the conclusion that many other circumstances have been at
work. The delusion, though doubtless purely mythical in its
origin, nevertheless presents in its developed state a curious
mixture of mythical and historical elements.

With regard to the Arkadian legend, taken by itself, Mr. Cox
is probably right. The story seems to belong to that large
class of myths which have been devised in order to explain the
meaning of equivocal words whose true significance has been
forgotten. The epithet Lykaios, as applied to Zeus, had
originally no reference to wolves: it means "the bright one,"
and gave rise to lycanthropic legends only because of the
similarity in sound between the names for "wolf" and
"brightness." Aryan mythology furnishes numerous other
instances of this confusion. The solar deity, Phoibos
Lykegenes, was originally the "offspring of light"; but
popular etymology made a kind of werewolf of him by
interpreting his name as the "wolf-born." The name of the hero
Autolykos means simply the "self-luminous"; but it was more
frequently interpreted as meaning "a very wolf," in allusion
to the supposed character of its possessor. Bazra, the name of
the citadel of Carthage, was the Punic word for "fortress";
but the Greeks confounded it with byrsa, "a hide," and hence
the story of the ox-hides cut into strips by Dido in order to
measure the area of the place to be fortified. The old theory
that the Irish were Phoenicians had a similar origin. The name
Fena, used to designate the old Scoti or Irish, is the plural
of Fion, "fair," seen in the name of the hero Fion Gall, or
"Fingal"; but the monkish chroniclers identified Fena with
phoinix, whence arose the myth; and by a like misunderstanding
of the epithet Miledh, or "warrior," applied to Fion by the
Gaelic bards, there was generated a mythical hero, Milesius,
and the soubriquet "Milesian," colloquially employed in
speaking of the Irish.[66] So the Franks explained the name of
the town Daras, in Mesopotamia, by the story that the Emperor
Justinian once addressed the chief magistrate with the
exclamation, daras, "thou shalt give":[67] the Greek
chronicler, Malalas, who spells the name Doras, informs us
with equal complacency that it was the place where Alexander
overcame Codomannus with dorn, "the spear." A certain passage
in the Alps is called Scaletta, from its resemblance to a
staircase; but according to a local tradition it owes its name
to the bleaching skeletons of a company of Moors who were
destroyed there in the eighth century, while attempting to
penetrate into Northern Italy. The name of Antwerp denotes the
town built at a "wharf"; but it sounds very much like the
Flemish handt werpen, "hand-throwing": "hence arose the legend
of the giant who cut of the hands of those who passed his
castle without paying him black-mail, and threw them into the
Scheldt."[68] In the myth of Bishop Hatto, related in a
previous paper, the Mause-thurm is a corruption of maut-thurm;
it means "customs-tower," and has nothing to do with mice or
rats. Doubtless this etymology was the cause of the floating
myth getting fastened to this particular place; that it did
not give rise to the myth itself is shown by the existence of
the same tale in other places. Somewhere in England there is a
place called Chateau Vert; the peasantry have corrupted it
into Shotover, and say that it has borne that name ever since
Little John shot over a high hill in the neighbourhood.[69]
Latium means "the flat land"; but, according to Virgil, it is
the place where Saturn once hid (latuisset) from the wrath of
his usurping son Jupiter.[70]

[66] Meyer, in Bunsen's Philosophy of Universal History, Vol.
I. p. 151.

[67] Aimoin, De Gestis Francorum, II. 5.

[68] Taylor, Words and Places, p. 393.

[69] Very similar to this is the etymological confusion upon
which is based the myth of the "confusion of tongues" in the
eleventh chapter of Genesis. The name "Babel" is really
Bab-Il, or "the gate of God"; but the Hebrew writer
erroneously derives the word from the root balal, "to
confuse"; and hence arises the mythical explanation,--that
Babel was a place where human speech became confused. See
Rawlinson, in Smith's Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. I. p. 149;
Renan, Histoire des Langues Semitiques, Vol. I. p. 32;
Donaldson, New Cratylus, p. 74, note; Colenso on the
Pentateuch, Vol. IV. p. 268.

[70] Vilg. AEn. VIII. 322. With Latium compare plat?s, Skr.
prath (to spread out), Eng. flat. Ferrar, Comparative Grammar
of Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit, Vol. I. p. 31.

It was in this way that the constellation of the Great Bear
received its name. The Greek word arktos, answering to the
Sanskrit riksha, meant originally any bright object, and was
applied to the bear--for what reason it would not be easy to
state--and to that constellation which was most conspicuous in
the latitude of the early home of the Aryans. When the Greeks
had long forgotten why these stars were called arktoi, they
symbolized them as a Great Bear fixed in the sky. So that, as
Max Muller observes, "the name of the Arctic regions rests on
a misunderstanding of a name framed thousands of years ago in
Central Asia, and the surprise with which many a thoughtful
observer has looked at these seven bright stars, wondering why
they were ever called the Bear, is removed by a reference to
the early annals of human speech." Among the Algonquins the
sun-god Michabo was represented as a hare, his name being
compounded of michi, "great," and wabos, "a hare"; yet wabos
also meant "white," so that the god was doubtless originally
called simply "the Great White One." The same naive process
has made bears of the Arkadians, whose name, like that of the
Lykians, merely signified that they were "children of light";
and the metamorphosis of Kallisto, mother of Arkas, into a
bear, and of Lykaon into a wolf, rests apparently upon no
other foundation than an erroneous etymology. Originally
Lykaon was neither man nor wolf; he was but another form of
Phoibos Lykegenes, the light-born sun, and, as Mr. Cox has
shown, his legend is but a variation of that of Tantalos, who
in time of drought offers to Zeus the flesh of his own
offspring, the withered fruits, and is punished for his

It seems to me, however, that this explanation, though valid
as far as it goes, is inadequate to explain all the features
of the werewolf superstition, or to account for its presence
in all Aryan countries and among many peoples who are not of
Aryan origin. There can be no doubt that the myth-makers
transformed Lykaon into a wolf because of his unlucky name;
because what really meant "bright man" seemed to them to mean
"wolf-man"; but it has by no means been proved that a similar
equivocation occurred in the case of all the primitive Aryan
werewolves, nor has it been shown to be probable that among
each people the being with the uncanny name got thus
accidentally confounded with the particular beast most dreaded
by that people. Etymology alone does not explain the fact that
while Gaul has been the favourite haunt of the man-wolf,
Scandinavia has been preferred by the man-bear, and Hindustan
by the man-tiger. To account for such a widespread phenomenon
we must seek a more general cause.

Nothing is more strikingly characteristic of primitive
thinking than the close community of nature which it assumes
between man and brute. The doctrine of metempsychosis, which
is found in some shape or other all over the world, implies a
fundamental identity between the two; the Hindu is taught to
respect the flocks browsing in the meadow, and will on no
account lift his hand against a cow, for who knows but it may
he his own grandmother? The recent researches of Mr. M`Lennan
and Mr. Herbert Spencer have served to connect this feeling
with the primeval worship of ancestors and with the savage
customs of totemism.[71]

[71] M`Lennan, "The Worship of Animals and Plants,"
Fortnightly Review, N. S. Vol. VI. pp. 407-427, 562-582, Vol.
VII. pp 194-216; Spencer, "The Origin of Animal Worship," Id.
Vol. VII. pp. 535-550, reprinted in his Recent Discussions in
Science, etc., pp. 31-56.

The worship of ancestors seems to have been every where the
oldest systematized form of fetichistic religion. The
reverence paid to the chieftain of the tribe while living was
continued and exaggerated after his death The uncivilized man
is everywhere incapable of grasping the idea of death as it is
apprehended by civilized people. He cannot understand that a
man should pass away so as to be no longer capable of
communicating with his fellows. The image of his dead chief or
comrade remains in his mind, and the savage's philosophic
realism far surpasses that of the most extravagant mediaeval
schoolmen; to him the persistence of the idea implies the
persistence of the reality. The dead man, accordingly, is not
really dead; he has thrown off his body like a husk, yet still
retains his old appearance, and often shows himself to his old
friends, especially after nightfall. He is no doubt possessed
of more extensive powers than before his transformation,[72]
and may very likely have a share in regulating the weather,
granting or withholding rain. Therefore, argues the
uncivilized mind, he is to be cajoled and propitiated more
sedulously now than before his strange transformation.

[72] Thus is explained. the singular conduct of the Hindu, who
slays himself before his enemy's door, in order to acquire
greater power of injuring him. "A certain Brahman, on whose
lands a Kshatriya raja had built a house, ripped himself up in
revenge, and became a demon of the kind called Brahmadasyu,
who has been ever since the terror of the whole country, and
is the most common village-deity in Kharakpur. Toward the
close of the last century there were two Brahmans, out of
whose house a man had wrongfully, as they thought, taken forty
rupees; whereupon one of the Brahmans proceeded to cut off his
own mother's head, with the professed view, entertained by
both mother and son, that her spirit, excited by the beating
of a large drum during forty days might haunt, torment, and
pursue to death the taker of their money and those concerned
with him." Tylor, Primitive Culture, Vol. II. p. 103.

This kind of worship still maintains a languid existence as
the state religion of China, and it still exists as a portion
of Brahmanism; but in the Vedic religion it is to be seen in
all its vigour and in all its naive simplicity. According to
the ancient Aryan, the pitris, or "Fathers" (Lat. patres),
live in the sky along with Yama, the great original Pitri of
mankind. This first man came down from heaven in the
lightning, and back to heaven both himself and all his
offspring must have gone. There they distribute light unto men
below, and they shine themselves as stars; and hence the
Christianized German peasant, fifty centuries later, tells his
children that the stars are angels' eyes, and the English
cottager impresses it on the youthful mind that it is wicked
to point at the stars, though why he cannot tell. But the
Pitris are not stars only, nor do they content themselves with
idly looking down on the affairs of men, after the fashion of
the laissez-faire divinities of Lucretius. They are, on the
contrary, very busy with the weather; they send rain, thunder,
and lightning; and they especially delight in rushing over the
housetops in a great gale of wind, led on by their chief, the
mysterious huntsman, Hermes or Odin.

It has been elsewhere shown that the howling dog, or
wish-hound of Hermes, whose appearance under the windows of a
sick person is such an alarming portent, is merely the tempest
personified. Throughout all Aryan mythology the souls of the
dead are supposed to ride on the night-wind, with their
howling dogs, gathering into their throng the souls of those
just dying as they pass by their houses.[73] Sometimes the
whole complex conception is wrapped up in the notion of a
single dog, the messenger of the god of shades, who comes to
summon the departing soul. Sometimes, instead of a dog, we
have a great ravening wolf who comes to devour its victim and
extinguish the sunlight of life, as that old wolf of the tribe
of Fenrir devoured little Red Riding-Hood with her robe of
scarlet twilight.[74] Thus we arrive at a true werewolf myth.
The storm-wind, or howling Rakshasa of Hindu folk-lore, is "a
great misshapen giant with red beard and red hair, with
pointed protruding teeth, ready to lacerate and devour human
flesh; his body is covered with coarse, bristling hair, his
huge mouth is open, he looks from side to side as he walks,
lusting after the flesh and blood of men, to satisfy his
raging hunger and quench his consuming thirst. Towards
nightfall his strength increases manifold; he can change his
shape at will; he haunts the woods, and roams howling through
the jungle."[75]

[73] Hence, in many parts of Europe, it is still customary to
open the windows when a person dies, in order that the soul
may not be hindered in joining the mystic cavalcade.

[74] The story of little Red Riding-Hood is "mutilated in the
English version, but known more perfectly by old wives in
Germany, who can tell that the lovely little maid in her
shining red satin cloak was swallowed with her grandmother by
the wolf, till they both came out safe and sound when the
hunter cut open the sleeping beast." Tylor, Primitive
Culture, I. 307, where also see the kindred Russian story of
Vasilissa the Beautiful. Compare the case of Tom Thumb, who
"was swallowed by the cow and came out unhurt"; the story of
Saktideva swallowed by the fish and cut out again, in Somadeva
Bhatta, II. 118-184; and the story of Jonah swallowed by the
whale, in the Old Testament. All these are different versions
of the same myth, and refer to the alternate swallowing up and
casting forth of Day by Night, which is commonly personified
as a wolf, and now and then as a great fish. Compare Grimm's
story of the Wolf and Seven Kids, Tylor, loc. cit., and see
Early History of Mankind, p. 337; Hardy, Manual of Budhism, p.

[75] Baring-Gould, Book of Werewolves, p. 178; Muir, Sanskrit
Texts, II. 435.

Now if the storm-wind is a host of Pitris, or one great Pitri
who appears as a fearful giant, and is also a pack of wolves
or wish-hounds, or a single savage dog or wolf, the inference
is obvious to the mythopoeic mind that men may become wolves,
at least after death. And to the uncivilized thinker this
inference is strengthened, as Mr. Spencer has shown, by
evidence registered on his own tribal totem or heraldic
emblem. The bears and lions and leopards of heraldry are the
degenerate descendants of the totem of savagery which
designated the tribe by a beast-symbol. To the untutored mind
there is everything in a name; and the descendant of Brown
Bear or Yellow Tiger or Silver Hyaena cannot be pronounced
unfaithful to his own style of philosophizing, if he regards
his ancestors, who career about his hut in the darkness of
night, as belonging to whatever order of beasts his totem
associations may suggest.

Thus we not only see a ray of light thrown on the subject of
metempsychosis, but we get a glimpse of the curious process by
which the intensely realistic mind of antiquity arrived at the
notion that men could be transformed into beasts. For the
belief that the soul can temporarily quit the body during
lifetime has been universally entertained; and from the
conception of wolf-like ghosts it was but a short step to the
conception of corporeal werewolves. In the Middle Ages the
phenomena of trance and catalepsy were cited in proof of the
theory that the soul can leave the body and afterwards return
to it. Hence it was very difficult for a person accused of
witchcraft to prove an alibi; for to any amount of evidence
showing that the body was innocently reposing at home and in
bed, the rejoinder was obvious that the soul may nevertheless
have been in attendance at the witches' Sabbath or busied in
maiming a neighbour's cattle. According to one mediaeval
notion, the soul of the werewolf quit its human body, which
remained in a trance until its return.[76]

[76] In those days even an after-dinner nap seems to have been
thought uncanny. See Dasent, Burnt Njal, I. xxi.

The mythological basis of the werewolf superstition is now, I
believe, sufficiently indicated. The belief, however, did not
reach its complete development, or acquire its most horrible
features, until the pagan habits of thought which had
originated it were modified by contact with Christian
theology. To the ancient there was nothing necessarily
diabolical in the transformation of a man into a beast. But
Christianity, which retained such a host of pagan conceptions
under such strange disguises, which degraded the "All-father"
Odin into the ogre of the castle to which Jack climbed on his
bean-stalk, and which blended the beneficent lightning-god
Thor and the mischievous Hermes and the faun-like Pan into the
grotesque Teutonic Devil, did not fail to impart a new and
fearful character to the belief in werewolves. Lycanthropy
became regarded as a species of witchcraft; the werewolf was
supposed to have obtained his peculiar powers through the
favour or connivance of the Devil; and hundreds of persons
were burned alive or broken on the wheel for having availed
themselves of the privilege of beast-metamorphosis. The
superstition, thus widely extended and greatly intensified,
was confirmed by many singular phenomena which cannot be
omitted from any thorough discussion of the nature and causes
of lycanthropy.

The first of these phenomena is the Berserker insanity,
characteristic of Scandinavia, but not unknown in other
countries. In times when killing one's enemies often formed a
part of the necessary business of life, persons were
frequently found who killed for the mere love of the thing;
with whom slaughter was an end desirable in itself, not merely
a means to a desirable end. What the miser is in an age which
worships mammon, such was the Berserker in an age when the
current idea of heaven was that of a place where people could
hack each other to pieces through all eternity, and when the
man who refused a challenge was punished with confiscation of
his estates. With these Northmen, in the ninth century, the
chief business and amusement in life was to set sail for some
pleasant country, like Spain or France, and make all the
coasts and navigable rivers hideous with rapine and massacre.
When at home, in the intervals between their freebooting
expeditions, they were liable to become possessed by a strange
homicidal madness, during which they would array themselves in
the skins of wolves or bears, and sally forth by night to
crack the backbones, smash the skulls, and sometimes to drink
with fiendish glee the blood of unwary travellers or
loiterers. These fits of madness were usually followed by
periods of utter exhaustion and nervous depression.[77]

[77] See Dasent, Burnt Njai, Vol. I. p. xxii.; Grettis Saga,
by Magnusson and Morris, chap. xix.; Viga Glum's Saga, by Sir
Edmund Head, p. 13, note, where the Berserkers are said to
have maddened themselves with drugs. Dasent compares them with
the Malays, who work themselves into a frenzy by means of
arrack, or hasheesh, and run amuck.

Such, according to the unanimous testimony of historians, was
the celebrated "Berserker rage," not peculiar to the
Northland, although there most conspicuously manifested.
Taking now a step in advance, we find that in comparatively
civilized countries there have been many cases of monstrous
homicidal insanity. The two most celebrated cases, among those
collected by Mr. Baring-Gould, are those of the Marechal de
Retz, in 1440, and of Elizabeth, a Hungarian countess, in the
seventeenth century. The Countess Elizabeth enticed young
girls into her palace on divers pretexts, and then coolly
murdered them, for the purpose of bathing in their blood. The
spectacle of human suffering became at last such a delight to
her, that she would apply with her own hands the most
excruciating tortures, relishing the shrieks of her victims as
the epicure relishes each sip of his old Chateau Margaux. In
this way she is said to have murdered six hundred and fifty
persons before her evil career was brought to an end; though,
when one recollects the famous men in buckram and the
notorious trio of crows, one is inclined to strike off a
cipher, and regard sixty-five as a sufficiently imposing and
far less improbable number. But the case of the Marechal de
Retz is still more frightful. A marshal of France, a scholarly
man, a patriot, and a man of holy life, he became suddenly
possessed by an uncontrollable desire to murder children.
During seven years he continued to inveigle little boys and
girls into his castle, at the rate of about TWO EACH WEEK, (?)
and then put them to death in various ways, that he might
witness their agonies and bathe in their blood; experiencing
after each occasion the most dreadful remorse, but led on by
an irresistible craving to repeat the crime. When this
unparalleled iniquity was finally brought to light, the castle
was found to contain bins full of children's bones. The
horrible details of the trial are to be found in the histories
of France by Michelet and Martin.

Going a step further, we find cases in which the propensity to
murder has been accompanied by cannibalism. In 1598 a tailor
of Chalons was sentenced by the parliament of Paris to be
burned alive for lycanthropy. "This wretched man had decoyed
children into his shop, or attacked them in the gloaming when
they strayed in the woods, had torn them with his teeth and
killed them, after which he seems calmly to have dressed their
flesh as ordinary meat, and to have eaten it with a great
relish. The number of little innocents whom he destroyed is
unknown. A whole caskful of bones was discovered in his
house."[78] About 1850 a beggar in the village of Polomyia, in
Galicia, was proved to have killed and eaten fourteen
children. A house had one day caught fire and burnt to the
ground, roasting one of the inmates, who was unable to escape.
The beggar passed by soon after, and, as he was suffering from
excessive hunger, could not resist the temptation of making a
meal off the charred body. From that moment he was tormented
by a craving for human flesh. He met a little orphan girl,
about nine years old, and giving her a pinchbeck ring told her
to seek for others like it under a tree in the neighbouring
wood. She was slain, carried to the beggar's hovel, and eaten.
In the course of three years thirteen other children
mysteriously disappeared, but no one knew whom to suspect. At
last an innkeeper missed a pair of ducks, and having no good
opinion of this beggar's honesty, went unexpectedly to his
cabin, burst suddenly in at the door, and to his horror found
him in the act of hiding under his cloak a severed head; a
bowl of fresh blood stood under the oven, and pieces of a
thigh were cooking over the fire.[79]

[78] Baring-Gould, Werewolves, p. 81.

[79] Baring-Gould, op. cit. chap. xiv.

This occurred only about twenty years ago, and the criminal,
though ruled by an insane appetite, is not known to have been
subject to any mental delusion. But there have been a great
many similar cases, in which the homicidal or cannibal craving
has been accompanied by genuine hallucination. Forms of
insanity in which the afflicted persons imagine themselves to
be brute animals are not perhaps very common, but they are not
unknown. I once knew a poor demented old man who believed
himself to be a horse, and would stand by the hour together
before a manger, nibbling hay, or deluding himself with the
presence of so doing. Many of the cannibals whose cases are
related by Mr. Baring-Gould, in his chapter of horrors,
actually believed themselves to have been transformed into
wolves or other wild animals. Jean Grenier was a boy of
thirteen, partially idiotic, and of strongly marked canine
physiognomy; his jaws were large and projected forward, and
his canine teeth were unnaturally long, so as to protrude
beyond the lower lip. He believed himself to be a werewolf.
One evening, meeting half a dozen young girls, he scared them
out of their wits by telling them that as soon as the sun had
set he would turn into a wolf and eat them for supper. A few
days later, one little girl, having gone out at nightfall to
look after the sheep, was attacked by some creature which in
her terror she mistook for a wolf, but which afterwards proved
to be none other than Jean Grenier. She beat him off with her
sheep-staff, and fled home. As several children had
mysteriously disappeared from the neighbourhood, Grenier was
at once suspected. Being brought before the parliament of
Bordeaux, he stated that two years ago he had met the Devil
one night in the woods and had signed a compact with him and
received from him a wolf-skin. Since then he had roamed about
as a wolf after dark, resuming his human shape by daylight. He
had killed and eaten several children whom he had found alone
in the fields, and on one occasion he had entered a house
while the family were out and taken the baby from its cradle.
A careful investigation proved the truth of these statements,
so far as the cannibalism was concerned. There is no doubt
that the missing children were eaten by Jean Grenier, and
there is no doubt that in his own mind the halfwitted boy was
firmly convinced that he was a wolf. Here the lycanthropy was

In the year 1598, "in a wild and unfrequented spot near Caude,
some countrymen came one day upon the corpse of a boy of
fifteen, horribly mutilated and bespattered with blood. As the
men approached, two wolves, which had been rending the body,
bounded away into the thicket. The men gave chase immediately,
following their bloody tracks till they lost them; when,
suddenly crouching among the bushes, his teeth chattering with
fear, they found a man half naked, with long hair and beard,
and with his hands dyed in blood. His nails were long as
claws, and were clotted with fresh gore and shreds of human

[80] Baring-Gould, op. cit. p. 82.

This man, Jacques Roulet, was a poor, half-witted creature
under the dominion of a cannibal appetite. He was employed in
tearing to pieces the corpse of the boy when these countrymen
came up. Whether there were any wolves in the case, except
what the excited imaginations of the men may have conjured up,
I will not presume to determine; but it is certain that Roulet
supposed himself to be a wolf, and killed and ate several
persons under the influence of the delusion. He was sentenced
to death, but the parliament of Paris reversed the sentence,
and charitably shut him up in a madhouse.

The annals of the Middle Ages furnish many cases similar to
these of Grenier and Roulet. Their share in maintaining the
werewolf superstition is undeniable; but modern science finds
in them nothing that cannot be readily explained. That
stupendous process of breeding, which we call civilization,
has been for long ages strengthening those kindly social
feelings by the possession of which we are chiefly
distinguished from the brutes, leaving our primitive bestial
impulses to die for want of exercise, or checking in every
possible way their further expansion by legislative
enactments. But this process, which is transforming us from
savages into civilized men, is a very slow one; and now and
then there occur cases of what physiologists call atavism, or
reversion to an ancestral type of character. Now and then
persons are born, in civilized countries, whose intellectual
powers are on a level with those of the most degraded
Australian savage, and these we call idiots. And now and then
persons are born possessed of the bestial appetites and
cravings of primitive man, his fiendish cruelty and his liking
for human flesh. Modern physiology knows how to classify and
explain these abnormal cases, but to the unscientific
mediaeval mind they were explicable only on the hypothesis of
a diabolical metamorphosis. And there is nothing strange in
the fact that, in an age when the prevailing habits of thought
rendered the transformation of men into beasts an easily
admissible notion, these monsters of cruelty and depraved
appetite should have been regarded as capable of taking on
bestial forms. Nor is it strange that the hallucination under
which these unfortunate wretches laboured should have taken
such a shape as to account to their feeble intelligence for
the existence of the appetites which they were conscious of
not sharing with their neighbours and contemporaries. If a
myth is a piece of unscientific philosophizing, it must
sometimes be applied to the explanation of obscure
psychological as well as of physical phenomena. Where the
modern calmly taps his forehead and says, "Arrested
development," the terrified ancient made the sign of the cross
and cried, "Werewolf."

We shall be assisted in this explanation by turning aside for
a moment to examine the wild superstitions about
"changelings," which contributed, along with so many others,
to make the lives of our ancestors anxious and miserable.
These superstitions were for the most part attempts to explain
the phenomena of insanity, epilepsy, and other obscure nervous
diseases. A man who has hitherto enjoyed perfect health, and
whose actions have been consistent and rational, suddenly
loses all self-control and seems actuated by a will foreign to
himself. Modern science possesses the key to this phenomenon;
but in former times it was explicable only on the hypothesis
that a demon had entered the body of the lunatic, or else that
the fairies had stolen the real man and substituted for him a
diabolical phantom exactly like him in stature and features.
Hence the numerous legends of changelings, some of which are
very curious. In Irish folk-lore we find the story of one
Rickard, surnamed the Rake, from his worthless character. A
good-natured, idle fellow, he spent all his evenings in
dancing,--an accomplishment in which no one in the village
could rival him. One night, in the midst of a lively reel, he
fell down in a fit. "He's struck with a fairy-dart,"
exclaimed all the friends, and they carried him home and
nursed him; but his face grew so thin and his manner so morose
that by and by all began to suspect that the true Rickard was
gone and a changeling put in his place. Rickard, with all his
accomplishments, was no musician; and so, in order to put the
matter to a crucial test, a bagpipe was left in the room by
the side of his bed. The trick succeeded. One hot summer's
day, when all were supposed to be in the field making hay,
some members of the family secreted in a clothes-press saw the
bedroom door open a little way, and a lean, foxy face, with a
pair of deep-sunken eyes, peer anxiously about the premises.
Having satisfied itself that the coast was clear, the face
withdrew, the door was closed, and presently such ravishing
strains of music were heard as never proceeded from a bagpipe
before or since that day. Soon was heard the rustle of
innumerable fairies, come to dance to the changeling's music.
Then the "fairy-man" of the village, who was keeping watch
with the family, heated a pair of tongs red-hot, and with
deafening shouts all burst at once into the sick-chamber. The
music had ceased and the room was empty, but in at the window
glared a fiendish face, with such fearful looks of hatred,
that for a moment all stood motionless with terror. But when
the fairy-man, recovering himself, advanced with the hot tongs
to pinch its nose, it vanished with an unearthly yell, and
there on the bed was Rickard, safe and sound, and cured of his

[81] Kennedy, Fictions of the Irish Celts, p. 90.

Comparing this legend with numerous others relating to
changelings, and stripping off the fantastic garb of
fairy-lore with which popular imagination has invested them,
it seems impossible to doubt that they have arisen from myths
devised for the purpose of explaining the obscure phenomena of
mental disease. If this be so, they afford an excellent
collateral illustration of the belief in werewolves. The same
mental habits which led men to regard the insane or epileptic
person as a changeling, and which allowed them to explain
catalepsy as the temporary departure of a witch's soul from
its body, would enable them to attribute a wolf's nature to
the maniac or idiot with cannibal appetites. And when the
myth-forming process had got thus far, it would not stop short
of assigning to the unfortunate wretch a tangible lupine body;
for all ancient mythology teemed with precedents for such a

It remains for us to sum up,--to tie into a bunch the keys
which have helped us to penetrate into the secret causes of
the werewolf superstition. In a previous paper we saw what a
host of myths, fairy-tales, and superstitious observances have
sprung from attempts to interpret one simple natural
phenomenon,--the descent of fire from the clouds. Here, on the
other hand, we see what a heterogeneous multitude of mythical
elements may combine to build up in course of time a single
enormous superstition, and we see how curiously fact and fancy
have co-operated in keeping the superstition from falling. In
the first place the worship of dead ancestors with wolf totems
originated the notion of the transformation of men into divine
or superhuman wolves; and this notion was confirmed by the
ambiguous explanation of the storm-wind as the rushing of a
troop of dead men's souls or as the howling of wolf-like
monsters. Mediaeval Christianity retained these conceptions,
merely changing the superhuman wolves into evil demons; and
finally the occurrence of cases of Berserker madness and
cannibalism, accompanied by lycanthropic hallucinations, being
interpreted as due to such demoniacal metamorphosis, gave rise
to the werewolf superstition of the Middle Ages. The
etymological proceedings, to which Mr. Cox would incontinently
ascribe the origin of the entire superstition, seemed to me to
have played a very subordinate part in the matter. To suppose
that Jean Grenier imagined himself to be a wolf, because the
Greek word for wolf sounded like the word for light, and thus
gave rise to the story of a light-deity who became a wolf,
seems to me quite inadmissible. Yet as far as such verbal
equivocations may have prevailed, they doubtless helped to
sustain the delusion.

Thus we need no longer regard our werewolf as an inexplicable
creature of undetermined pedigree. But any account of him
would be quite imperfect which should omit all consideration
of the methods by which his change of form was accomplished.
By the ancient Romans the werewolf was commonly called a
"skin-changer" or "turn-coat" (versipellis), and similar
epithets were applied to him in the Middle Ages The mediaeval
theory was that, while the werewolf kept his human form, his
hair grew inwards; when he wished to become a wolf, he simply
turned himself inside out. In many trials on record, the
prisoners were closely interrogated as to how this inversion
might be accomplished; but I am not aware that any one of them
ever gave a satisfactory answer. At the moment of change their
memories seem to have become temporarily befogged. Now and
then a poor wretch had his arms and legs cut off, or was
partially flayed, in order that the ingrowing hair might be
detected.[82] Another theory was, that the possessed person
had merely to put on a wolf's skin, in order to assume
instantly the lupine form and character; and in this may
perhaps be seen a vague reminiscence of the alleged fact that
Berserkers were in the habit of haunting the woods by night,
clothed in the hides of wolves or bears.[83] Such a wolfskin
was kept by the boy Grenier. Roulet, on the other hand,
confessed to using a magic salve or ointment. A fourth method
of becoming a werewolf was to obtain a girdle, usually made of
human skin. Several cases are related in Thorpe's "Northern
Mythology." One hot day in harvest-time some reapers lay down
to sleep in the shade; when one of them, who could not sleep,
saw the man next him arise quietly and gird him with a strap,
whereupon he instantly vanished, and a wolf jumped up from
among the sleepers and ran off across the fields. Another man,
who possessed such a girdle, once went away from home without
remembering to lock it up. His little son climbed up to the
cupboard and got it, and as he proceeded to buckle it around
his waist, he became instantly transformed into a
strange-looking beast. Just then his father came in, and
seizing the girdle restored the child to his natural shape.
The boy said that no sooner had he buckled it on than he was
tormented with a raging hunger.

[82] "En 1541, a Padoue, dit Wier, un homme qui se croyait
change en loup courait la campagne, attaquant et mettant a
mort ceux qu'il rencontrait. Apres bien des difficultes, on
parvint s'emparer de lui. Il dit en confidence a ceux qui
l'arreterent: Je suis vraiment un loup, et si ma peau ne
parait pas etre celle d'un loup, c'est parce qu'elle est
retournee et que les poils sont en dedans.--Pour s'assurer du
fait, on coupa le malheureux aux differentes parties du corps,
on lui emporta les bras et les jambes."--Taine, De
l'Intelligence, Tom. II. p. 203. See the account of Slavonic
werewolves in Ralston, Songs of the Russian People, pp.

[83] Mr. Cox, whose scepticism on obscure points in history
rather surpasses that of Sir G. C. Lewis, dismisses with a
sneer the subject of the Berserker madness, observing that
"the unanimous testimony of the Norse historians is worth as
much and as little as the convictions of Glanvil and Hale on
the reality of witchcraft." I have not the special knowledge
requisite for pronouncing an opinion on this point, but Mr.
Cox's ordinary methods of disposing of such questions are not
such as to make one feel obliged to accept his bare assertion,
unaccompanied by critical arguments. The madness of the
bearsarks may, no doubt, be the same thing us the frenzy of
Herakles; but something more than mere dogmatism is needed to
prove it.

Sometimes the werewolf transformation led to unlucky
accidents. At Caseburg, as a man and his wife were making hay,
the woman threw down her pitchfork and went away, telling her
husband that if a wild beast should come to him during her
absence he must throw his hat at it. Presently a she-wolf
rushed towards him. The man threw his hat at it, but a boy
came up from another part of the field and stabbed the animal
with his pitchfork, whereupon it vanished, and the woman's
dead body lay at his feet.

A parallel legend shows that this woman wished to have the hat
thrown at her, in order that she might be henceforth free from
her liability to become a werewolf. A man was one night
returning with his wife from a merry-making when he felt the
change coming on. Giving his wife the reins, he jumped from
the wagon, telling her to strike with her apron at any animal
which might come to her. In a few moments a wolf ran up to the
side of the vehicle, and, as the woman struck out with her
apron, it bit off a piece and ran away. Presently the man
returned with the piece of apron in his mouth and consoled his
terrified wife with the information that the enchantment had
left him forever.

A terrible case at a village in Auvergne has found its way
into the annals of witchcraft. "A gentleman while hunting was
suddenly attacked by a savage wolf of monstrous size.
Impenetrable by his shot, the beast made a spring upon the
helpless huntsman, who in the struggle luckily, or unluckily
for the unfortunate lady, contrived to cut off one of its
fore-paws. This trophy he placed in his pocket, and made the
best of his way homewards in safety. On the road he met a
friend, to whom he exhibited a bleeding paw, or rather (as it
now appeared) a woman's hand, upon which was a wedding-ring.
His wife's ring was at once recognized by the other. His
suspicions aroused, he immediately went in search of his wife,
who was found sitting by the fire in the kitchen, her arm
hidden beneath her apron, when the husband, seizing her by the
arm, found his terrible suspicions verified. The bleeding
stump was there, evidently just fresh from the wound. She was
given into custody, and in the event was burned at Riom, in
presence of thousands of spectators."[84]

[84] Williams, Superstitions of Witchcraft, p. 179. See a
parallel case of a cat-woman, in Thorpe's Northern Mythology,
II. 26. "Certain witches at Thurso for a long time tormented
an honest fellow under the usual form of cats, till one night
he put them to flight with his broadsword, and cut off the leg
of one less nimble than the rest; taking it up, to his
amazement he found it to be a woman's leg, and next morning he
discovered the old hag its owner with but one leg
left."--Tylor, Primitive Culture, I. 283.

Sometimes a werewolf was cured merely by recognizing him while
in his brute shape. A Swedish legend tells of a cottager who,
on entering the forest one day without recollecting to say his
Patter Noster, got into the power of a Troll, who changed him
into a wolf. For many years his wife mourned him as dead. But
one Christmas eve the old Troll, disguised as a beggarwoman,
came to the house for alms; and being taken in and kindly
treated, told the woman that her husband might very likely
appear to her in wolf-shape. Going at night to the pantry to
lay aside a joint of meat for tomorrow's dinner, she saw a
wolf standing with its paws on the window-sill, looking
wistfully in at her. "Ah, dearest," said she, "if I knew that
thou wert really my husband, I would give thee a bone."
Whereupon the wolf-skin fell off, and her husband stood before
her in the same old clothes which he had on the day that the
Troll got hold of him.

In Denmark it was believed that if a woman were to creep
through a colt's placental membrane stretched between four
sticks, she would for the rest of her life bring forth
children without pain or illness; but all the boys would in
such case be werewolves, and all the girls Maras, or
nightmares. In this grotesque superstition appears that
curious kinship between the werewolf and the wife or maiden of
supernatural race, which serves admirably to illustrate the
nature of both conceptions, and the elucidation of which shall
occupy us throughout the remainder of this paper.

It is, perhaps, needless to state that in the personality of
the nightmare, or Mara, there was nothing equine. The Mara was
a female demon,[85] who would come at night and torment men or
women by crouching on their chests or stomachs and stopping
their respiration. The scene is well enough represented in
Fuseli's picture, though the frenzied-looking horse which
there accompanies the demon has no place in the original
superstition. A Netherlandish story illustrates the character
of the Mara. Two young men were in love with the same damsel.
One of them, being tormented every night by a Mara, sought
advice from his rival, and it was a treacherous counsel that
he got. "Hold a sharp knife with the point towards your
breast, and you'll never see the Mara again," said this false
friend. The lad thanked him, but when he lay down to rest he
thought it as well to be on the safe side, and so held the
knife handle downward. So when the Mara came, instead of
forcing the blade into his breast, she cut herself badly, and
fled howling; and let us hope, though the legend here leaves
us in the dark, that this poor youth, who is said to have been
the comelier of the two, revenged himself on his malicious
rival by marrying the young lady.

[85] "The mare in nightmare means spirit, elf, or nymph;
compare Anglo-Saxon wudurmaere (wood-mare) = echo."--Tylor,
Primitive Culture, Vol. II. p. 173.

But the Mara sometimes appeared in less revolting shape, and
became the mistress or even the wife of some mortal man to
whom she happened to take a fancy. In such cases she would
vanish on being recognized. There is a well-told monkish tale
of a pious knight who, journeying one day through the forest,
found a beautiful lady stripped naked and tied to a tree, her
back all covered with deep gashes streaming with blood, from a
flogging which some bandits had given her. Of course he took
her home to his castle and married her, and for a while they
lived very happily together, and the fame of the lady's beauty
was so great that kings and emperors held tournaments in honor
of her. But this pious knight used to go to mass every Sunday,
and greatly was he scandalized when he found that his wife
would never stay to assist in the Credo, but would always get
up and walk out of church just as the choir struck up. All her
husband's coaxing was of no use; threats and entreaties were
alike powerless even to elicit an explanation of this strange
conduct. At last the good man determined to use force; and so
one Sunday, as the lady got up to go out, according to custom,
he seized her by the arm and sternly commanded her to remain.
Her whole frame was suddenly convulsed, and her dark eyes
gleamed with weird, unearthly brilliancy. The services paused
for a moment, and all eyes were turned toward the knight and
his lady. "In God's name, tell me what thou art," shouted the
knight; and instantly, says the chronicler, "the bodily form
of the lady melted away, and was seen no more; whilst, with a
cry of anguish and of terror, an evil spirit of monstrous form
rose from the ground, clave the chapel roof asunder, and
disappeared in the air."

In a Danish legend, the Mara betrays her affinity to the
Nixies, or Swan-maidens. A peasant discovered that his
sweetheart was in the habit of coming to him by night as a
Mara. He kept strict watch until he discovered her creeping
into the room through a small knot-hole in the door. Next day
he made a peg, and after she had come to him, drove in the peg
so that she was unable to escape. They were married and lived
together many years; but one night it happened that the man,
joking with his wife about the way in which he had secured
her, drew the peg from the knot-hole, that she might see how
she had entered his room. As she peeped through, she became
suddenly quite small, passed out, and was never seen again.

The well-known pathological phenomena of nightmare are
sufficient to account for the mediaeval theory of a fiend who
sits upon one's bosom and hinders respiration; but as we
compare these various legends relating to the Mara, we see
that a more recondite explanation is needed to account for all
her peculiarities. Indigestion may interfere with our
breathing, but it does not make beautiful women crawl through
keyholes, nor does it bring wives from the spirit-world. The
Mara belongs to an ancient family, and in passing from the
regions of monkish superstition to those of pure mythology we
find that, like her kinsman the werewolf, she had once seen
better days. Christianity made a demon of the Mara, and
adopted the theory that Satan employed these seductive
creatures as agents for ruining human souls. Such is the
character of the knight's wife, in the monkish legend just
cited. But in the Danish tale the Mara appears as one of that
large family of supernatural wives who are permitted to live
with mortal men under certain conditions, but who are
compelled to flee away when these conditions are broken, as is
always sure to be the case. The eldest and one of the
loveliest of this family is the Hindu nymph Urvasi, whose love
adventures with Pururavas are narrated in the Puranas, and
form the subject of the well-known and exquisite Sanskrit
drama by Kalidasa. Urvasi is allowed to live with Pururavas so
long as she does not see him undressed. But one night her
kinsmen, the Gandharvas, or cloud-demons, vexed at her long
absence from heaven, resolved to get her away from her mortal
companion, They stole a pet lamb which had been tied at the
foot of her couch, whereat she bitterly upbraided her husband.
In rage and mortification, Pururavas sprang up without
throwing on his tunic, and grasping his sword sought the
robber. Then the wicked Gandharvas sent a flash of lightning,
and Urvasi, seeing her naked husband, instantly vanished.

The different versions of this legend, which have been
elaborately analyzed by comparative mythologists, leave no
doubt that Urvasi is one of the dawn-nymphs or bright fleecy
clouds of early morning, which vanish as the splendour of the
sun is unveiled. We saw, in the preceding paper, that the
ancient Aryans regarded the sky as a sea or great lake, and
that the clouds were explained variously as Phaiakian ships
with bird-like beaks sailing over this lake, or as bright
birds of divers shapes and hues. The light fleecy cirrhi were
regarded as mermaids, or as swans, or as maidens with swan's
plumage. In Sanskrit they are called Apsaras, or "those who
move in the water," and the Elves and Maras of Teutonic
mythology have the same significance. Urvasi appears in one
legend as a bird; and a South German prescription for getting
rid of the Mara asserts that if she be wrapped up in the
bedclothes and firmly held, a white dove will forthwith fly
from the room, leaving the bedclothes empty.[86]

[86] See Kuhn, Herabkunft des Feuers, p. 91; Weber, Indische
Studien. I. 197; Wolf, Beitrage zur deutschen Mythologie, II.
233-281 Muller, Chips, II. 114-128.

In the story of Melusina the cloud-maiden appears as a kind of
mermaid, but in other respects the legend resembles that of
Urvasi. Raymond, Count de la Foret, of Poitou, having by an
accident killed his patron and benefactor during a hunting
excursion, fled in terror and despair into the deep recesses
of the forest. All the afternoon and evening he wandered
through the thick dark woods, until at midnight he came upon a
strange scene. All at once "the boughs of the trees became
less interlaced, and the trunks fewer; next moment his horse,
crashing through the shrubs, brought him out on a pleasant
glade, white with rime, and illumined by the new moon; in the
midst bubbled up a limpid fountain, and flowed away over a
pebbly-floor with a soothing murmur. Near the fountain-head
sat three maidens in glimmering white dresses, with long
waving golden hair, and faces of inexpressible beauty."[87]
One of them advanced to meet Raymond, and according to all
mythological precedent, they were betrothed before daybreak.
In due time the fountain-nymph[88] became Countess de la
Foret, but her husband was given to understand that all her
Saturdays would be passed in strictest seclusion, upon which
he must never dare to intrude, under penalty of losing her
forever. For many years all went well, save that the fair
Melusina's children were, without exception, misshapen or
disfigured. But after a while this strange weekly seclusion
got bruited about all over the neighbourhood, and people shook
their heads and looked grave about it. So many gossiping tales
came to the Count's ears, that he began to grow anxious and
suspicious, and at last he determined to know the worst. He
went one Saturday to Melusina's private apartments, and going
through one empty room after another, at last came to a locked
door which opened into a bath; looking through a keyhole,
there he saw the Countess transformed from the waist downwards
into a fish, disporting herself like a mermaid in the water.
Of course he could not keep the secret, but when some time
afterwards they quarrelled, must needs address her as "a vile
serpent, contaminator of his honourable race." So she
disappeared through the window, but ever afterward hovered
about her husband's castle of Lusignan, like a Banshee,
whenever one of its lords was about to die.

[87] Baring-Gould, Curious Myths, II. 207.

[88] The word nymph itself means "cloud-maiden," as is
illustrated by the kinship between the Greek numph and the
Latin nubes.

The well-known story of Undine is similar to that of Melusina,
save that the naiad's desire to obtain a human soul is a
conception foreign to the spirit of the myth, and marks the
degradation which Christianity had inflicted upon the denizens
of fairy-land. In one of Dasent's tales the water-maiden is
replaced by a kind of werewolf. A white bear marries a young
girl, but assumes the human shape at night. She is never to
look upon him in his human shape, but how could a young bride
be expected to obey such an injunction as that? She lights a
candle while he is sleeping, and discovers the handsomest
prince in the world; unluckily she drops tallow on his shirt,
and that tells the story. But she is more fortunate than poor
Raymond, for after a tiresome journey to the "land east of the
sun and west of the moon," and an arduous washing-match with a
parcel of ugly Trolls, she washes out the spots, and ends her
husband's enchantment.[89]

[89] This is substantially identical with the stories of
Beauty and the Beast, Eros and Psyche, Gandharba Sena, etc.

In the majority of these legends, however, the Apsaras, or
cloud-maiden, has a shirt of swan's feathers which plays the
same part as the wolfskin cape or girdle of the werewolf. If
you could get hold of a werewolf's sack and burn it, a
permanent cure was effected. No danger of a relapse, unless
the Devil furnished him with a new wolfskin. So the
swan-maiden kept her human form, as long as she was deprived
of her tunic of feathers. Indo-European folk-lore teems with
stories of swan-maidens forcibly wooed and won by mortals who
had stolen their clothes. A man travelling along the road
passes by a lake where several lovely girls are bathing; their
dresses, made of feathers curiously and daintily woven, lie on
the shore. He approaches the place cautiously and steals one
of these dresses.[90] When the girls have finished their
bathing, they all come and get their dresses and swim away as
swans; but the one whose dress is stolen must needs stay on
shore and marry the thief. It is needless to add that they
live happily together for many years, or that finally the good
man accidentally leaves the cupboard door unlocked, whereupon
his wife gets back her swan-shirt and flies away from him,
never to return. But it is not always a shirt of feathers. In
one German story, a nobleman hunting deer finds a maiden
bathing in a clear pool in the forest. He runs stealthily up
to her and seizes her necklace, at which she loses the power
to flee. They are married, and she bears seven sons at once,
all of whom have gold chains about their necks, and are able
to transform themselves into swans whenever they like. A
Flemish legend tells of three Nixies, or water-sprites, who
came out of the Meuse one autumn evening, and helped the
villagers celebrate the end of the vintage. Such graceful
dancers had never been seen in Flanders, and they could sing
as well as they could dance. As the night was warm, one of
them took off her gloves and gave them to her partner to hold
for her. When the clock struck twelve the other two started
off in hot haste, and then there was a hue and cry for gloves.
The lad would keep them as love-tokens, and so the poor Nixie
had to go home without them; but she must have died on the
way, for next morning the waters of the Meuse were blood-red,
and those damsels never returned.

[90] The feather-dress reappears in the Arabian story of
Hasssn of El-Basrah, who by stealing it secures possession of
the Jinniya. See Lane's Arabian Nights, Vol. III. p. 380.
Ralston, Songs of the Russian People, p. 179.

In the Faro Islands it is believed that seals cast off their
skins every ninth night, assume human forms, and sing and
dance like men and women until daybreak, when they resume
their skins and their seal natures. Of course a man once found
and hid one of these sealskins, and so got a mermaid for a
wife; and of course she recovered the skin and escaped.[91] On
the coasts of Ireland it is supposed to be quite an ordinary
thing for young sea-fairies to get human husbands in this way;
the brazen things even come to shore on purpose, and leave
their red caps lying around for young men to pick up; but it
behooves the husband to keep a strict watch over the red cap,
if he would not see his children left motherless.

[91] Thorpe, Northern Mythology, III. 173; Kennedy, Fictions
of the Irish Celts, p. 123.

This mermaid's cap has contributed its quota to the
superstitions of witchcraft. An Irish story tells how Red
James was aroused from sleep one night by noises in the
kitchen. Going down to the door, he saw a lot of old women
drinking punch around the fireplace, and laughing and joking
with his housekeeper. When the punchbowl was empty, they all
put on red caps, and singing

"By yarrow and rue, And my red cap too,
Hie me over to England,"

they flew up chimney. So Jimmy burst into the room, and seized
the housekeeper's cap, and went along with them. They flew
across the sea to a castle in England, passed through the
keyholes from room to room and into the cellar, where they had
a famous carouse. Unluckily Jimmy, being unused to such good
cheer, got drunk, and forgot to put on his cap when the others
did. So next morning the lord's butler found him dead-drunk on
the cellar floor, surrounded by empty casks. He was sentenced
to be hung without any trial worth speaking of; but as he was
carted to the gallows an old woman cried out, "Ach, Jimmy
alanna! Would you be afther dyin' in a strange land without
your red birredh?" The lord made no objections, and so the red
cap was brought and put on him. Accordingly when Jimmy had got
to the gallows and was making his last speech for the
edification of the spectators, he unexpectedly and somewhat
irrelevantly exclaimed, "By yarrow and rue," etc., and was off
like a rocket, shooting through the blue air en route for old

[92] Kennedy, Fictions of the Irish Celts, p. 168.

In another Irish legend an enchanted ass comes into the
kitchen of a great house every night, and washes the dishes
and scours the tins, so that the servants lead an easy life of
it. After a while in their exuberant gratitude they offer him
any present for which he may feel inclined to ask. He desires
only "an ould coat, to keep the chill off of him these could
nights"; but as soon as he gets into the coat he resumes his
human form and bids them good by, and thenceforth they may
wash their own dishes and scour their own tins, for all him.

But we are diverging from the subject of swan-maidens, and are
in danger of losing ourselves in that labyrinth of popular
fancies which is more intricate than any that Daidalos ever
planned. The significance of all these sealskins and
feather-dresses and mermaid caps and werewolf-girdles may best
be sought in the etymology of words like the German leichnam,
in which the body is described as a garment of flesh for the
soul.[93] In the naive philosophy of primitive thinkers, the
soul, in passing from one visible shape to another, had only
to put on the outward integument of the creature in which it
wished to incarnate itself. With respect to the mode of
metamorphosis, there is little difference between the werewolf
and the swan-maiden; and the similarity is no less striking
between the genesis of the two conceptions. The original
werewolf is the night-wind, regarded now as a manlike deity
and now as a howling lupine fiend; and the original
swan-maiden is the light fleecy cloud, regarded either as a
woman-like goddess or as a bird swimming in the sky sea. The
one conception has been productive of little else but horrors;
the other has given rise to a great variety of fanciful
creations, from the treacherous mermaid and the fiendish
nightmare to the gentle Undine, the charming Nausikaa, and the
stately Muse of classic antiquity.

[93] Baring-Gould, Book of Werewolves, p. 133.

We have seen that the original werewolf, howling in the wintry
blast, is a kind of psychopomp, or leader of departed souls;
he is the wild ancestor of the death-dog, whose voice under
the window of a sick-chamber is even now a sound of ill-omen.
The swan-maiden has also been supposed to summon the dying to
her home in the Phaiakian land. The Valkyries, with their
shirts of swan-plumage, who hovered over Scandinavian
battle-fields to receive the souls of falling heroes, were
identical with the Hindu Apsaras; and the Houris of the
Mussulman belong to the same family. Even for the
angels,--women with large wings, who are seen in popular
pictures bearing mortals on high towards heaven,--we can
hardly claim a different kinship. Melusina, when she leaves
the castle of Lusignan, becomes a Banshee; and it has been a
common superstition among sailors, that the appearance of a
mermaid, with her comb and looking-glass, foretokens
shipwreck, with the loss of all on board.

October, 1870.


WHEN Maitland blasphemously asserted that God was but "a Bogie
of the nursery," he unwittingly made a remark as suggestive in
point of philology as it was crude and repulsive in its
atheism. When examined with the lenses of linguistic science,
the "Bogie" or "Bug-a-boo" or "Bugbear" of nursery lore turns
out to be identical, not only with the fairy "Puck," whom
Shakespeare has immortalized, but also with the Slavonic "Bog"
and the "Baga" of the Cuneiform Inscriptions, both of which
are names for the Supreme Being. If we proceed further, and
inquire after the ancestral form of these epithets,--so
strangely incongruous in their significations,--we shall find
it in the Old Aryan "Bhaga," which reappears unchanged in the
Sanskrit of the Vedas, and has left a memento of itself in the
surname of the Phrygian Zeus "Bagaios." It seems originally
to have denoted either the unclouded sun or the sky of noonday
illumined by the solar rays. In Sayana's commentary on the
Rig-Veda, Bhaga is enumerated among the seven (or eight) sons
of Aditi, the boundless Orient; and he is elsewhere described
as the lord of life, the giver of bread, and the bringer of

[94] Muir's Sanskrit Texts, Vol. IV. p. 12; Muller, Rig-Veda
Sanhita, Vol. I. pp. 230-251; Fick, Woerterbuch der
Indogermanischen Grundsprache, p. 124, s v. Bhaga.

Thus the same name which, to the Vedic poet, to the Persian of
the time of Xerxes, and to the modern Russian, suggests the
supreme majesty of deity, is in English associated with an
ugly and ludicrous fiend, closely akin to that grotesque
Northern Devil of whom Southey was unable to think without
laughing. Such is the irony of fate toward a deposed deity.
The German name for idol--Abgott, that is, "ex-god," or
"dethroned god"--sums up in a single etymology the history of
the havoc wrought by monotheism among the ancient symbols of
deity. In the hospitable Pantheon of the Greeks and Romans a
niche was always in readiness for every new divinity who could
produce respectable credentials; but the triumph of monotheism
converted the stately mansion into a Pandemonium peopled with
fiends. To the monotheist an "ex-god" was simply a devilish
deceiver of mankind whom the true God had succeeded in
vanquishing; and thus the word demon, which to the ancient
meant a divine or semi-divine being, came to be applied to
fiends exclusively. Thus the Teutonic races, who preserved the
name of their highest divinity, Odin,--originally, Guodan,--by
which to designate the God of the Christian,[95] were unable
to regard the Bog of ancient tradition as anything but an
"ex-god," or vanquished demon.

[95] In the North American Review, October, 1869, p. 354, I
have collected a number of facts which seem to me to prove
beyond question that the name God is derived from Guodan, the
original form of Odin, the supreme deity of our Pagan
forefathers. The case is exactly parallel to that of the
French Dieu, which is descended from the Deus of the pagan

The most striking illustration of this process is to be found
in the word devil itself: To a reader unfamiliar with the
endless tricks which language delights in playing, it may seem
shocking to be told that the Gypsies use the word devil as the
name of God.[96] This, however, is not because these people
have made the archfiend an object of worship, but because the
Gypsy language, descending directly from the Sanskrit, has
retained in its primitive exalted sense a word which the
English language has received only in its debased and
perverted sense. The Teutonic words devil, teufel, diuval,
djofull, djevful, may all be traced back to the Zend dev,[97]
a name in which is implicitly contained the record of the
oldest monotheistic revolution known to history. The influence
of the so-called Zoroastrian reform upon the long-subsequent
development of Christianity will receive further notice in the
course of this paper; for the present it is enough to know
that it furnished for all Christendom the name by which it
designates the author of evil. To the Parsee follower of
Zarathustra the name of the Devil has very nearly the same
signification as to the Christian; yet, as Grimm has shown, it
is nothing else than a corruption of deva, the Sanskrit name
for God. When Zarathustra overthrew the primeval Aryan
nature-worship in Bactria, this name met the same evil fate
which in early Christian times overtook the word demon, and
from a symbol of reverence became henceforth a symbol of
detestation.[98] But throughout the rest of the Aryan world it
achieved a nobler career, producing the Greek theos, the
Lithuanian diewas, the Latin deus, and hence the modern French
Dieu, all meaning God.

[96] See Pott, Die Zigeuner, II. 311; Kuhn, Beitrage, I. 147.
Yet in the worship of dewel by the Gypsies is to be found the
element of diabolism invariably present in barbaric worship.
"Dewel, the great god in heaven (dewa, deus), is rather feared
than loved by these weather-beaten outcasts, for he harms them
on their wanderings with his thunder and lightning, his snow
and rain, and his stars interfere with their dark doings.
Therefore they curse him foully when misfortune falls on them;
and when a child dies, they say that Dewel has eaten it."
Tylor, Primitive Culture, Vol. II. p. 248.

[97] See Grimm, Deutsche Mythologie, 939.

[98] The Buddhistic as well as the Zarathustrian reformation
degraded the Vedic gods into demons. "In Buddhism we find
these ancient devas, Indra and the rest, carried about at
shows, as servants of Buddha, as goblins, or fabulous heroes."
Max Muller, Chips, I. 25. This is like the Christian change of
Odin into an ogre, and of Thor into the Devil.

If we trace back this remarkable word to its primitive source
in that once lost but now partially recovered mother-tongue
from which all our Aryan languages are descended, we find a
root div or dyu, meaning "to shine." From the first-mentioned
form comes deva, with its numerous progeny of good and evil
appellatives; from the latter is derived the name of Dyaus,
with its brethren, Zeus and Jupiter. In Sanskrit dyu, as a
noun, means "sky" and "day"; and there are many passages in
the Rig-Veda where the character of the god Dyaus, as the
personification of the sky or the brightness of the ethereal
heavens, is unmistakably apparent. This key unlocks for us one
of the secrets of Greek mythology. So long as there was for
Zeus no better etymology than that which assigned it to the
root zen, "to live,"[99] there was little hope of
understanding the nature of Zeus. But when we learn that Zeus
is identical with Dyaus, the bright sky, we are enabled to
understand Horace's expression, "sub Jove frigido," and the
prayer of the Athenians, "Rain, rain, dear Zeus, on the land
of the Athenians, and on the fields."[100] Such expressions as
these were retained by the Greeks and Romans long after they
had forgotten that their supreme deity was once the sky. Yet
even the Brahman, from whose mind the physical significance of
the god's name never wholly disappeared, could speak of him as
Father Dyaus, the great Pitri, or ancestor of gods and men;
and in this reverential name Dyaus pitar may be seen the exact
equivalent of the Roman's Jupiter, or Jove the Father. The
same root can be followed into Old German, where Zio is the
god of day; and into Anglo-Saxon, where Tiwsdaeg, or the day
of Zeus, is the ancestral form of Tuesday.

[99] Zeus--Dia--Zhna--di on ............ Plato Kratylos, p.
396, A., with Stallbaum's note. See also Proklos, Comm. ad
Timaeum, II. p. 226, Schneider; and compare Pseudo-Aristotle,
De Mundo, p. 401, a, 15, who adopts the etymology. See also
Diogenes Laertius, VII. 147.

[100] Marcus Aurelius, v. 7; Hom. Iliad, xii. 25, cf.
Petronius Arbiter, Sat. xliv.

Thus we again reach the same results which were obtained from
the examination of the name Bhaga. These various names for the
supreme Aryan god, which without the help afforded by the
Vedas could never have been interpreted, are seen to have been
originally applied to the sun-illumined firmament. Countless
other examples, when similarly analyzed, show that the
earliest Aryan conception of a Divine Power, nourishing man
and sustaining the universe, was suggested by the light of the
mighty Sun; who, as modern science has shown, is the
originator of all life and motion upon the globe, and whom the
ancients delighted to believe the source, not only of "the
golden light,"[101] but of everything that is bright,
joy-giving, and pure. Nevertheless, in accepting this
conclusion as well established by linguistic science, we must
be on our guard against an error into which writers on
mythology are very liable to fall. Neither sky nor sun nor
light of day, neither Zeus nor Apollo, neither Dyaus nor
Indra, was ever worshipped by the ancient Aryan in anything
like a monotheistic sense. To interpret Zeus or Jupiter as
originally the supreme Aryan god, and to regard classic
paganism as one of the degraded remnants of a primeval
monotheism, is to sin against the canons of a sound inductive
philosophy. Philology itself teaches us that this could not
have been so. Father Dyaus was originally the bright sky and
nothing more. Although his name became generalized, in the
classic languages, into deus, or God, it is quite certain that
in early days, before the Aryan separation, it had acquired no
such exalted significance. It was only in Greece and Rome--or,
we may say, among the still united Italo-Hellenic tribes--that
Jupiter-Zeus attained a pre-eminence over all other deities.
The people of Iran quite rejected him, the Teutons preferred
Thor and Odin, and in India he was superseded, first by Indra,
afterwards by Brahma and Vishnu. We need not, therefore, look
for a single supreme divinity among the old Aryans; nor may we
expect to find any sense, active or dormant, of monotheism in
the primitive intelligence of uncivilized men.[102] The whole
fabric of comparative mythology, as at present constituted,
and as described above, in the first of these papers, rests
upon the postulate that the earliest religion was pure

[101] "Il Sol, dell aurea luce eterno forte." Tasso,
Gerusalemme, XV. 47; ef. Dante, Paradiso, X. 28.

[102] The Aryans were, however, doubtless better off than the
tribes of North America. "In no Indian language could the
early missionaries find a word to express the idea of God.
Manitou and Oki meant anything endowed with supernatural
powers, from a snake-skin or a greasy Indian conjurer up to
Manabozho and Jouskeha. The priests were forced to use a
circumlocution,--`the great chief of men,' or 'he who lives in
the sky.' " Parkman, Jesuits in North America, p. lxxix. "The
Algonquins used no oaths, for their language supplied none;
doubtless because their mythology had no beings sufficiently
distinct to swear by." Ibid, p. 31.

In the unsystematic nature-worship of the old Aryans the gods
are presented to us only as vague powers, with their nature
and attributes dimly defined, and their relations to each
other fluctuating and often contradictory. There is no
theogony, no regular subordination of one deity to another.
The same pair of divinities appear now as father and daughter,
now as brother and sister, now as husband and wife; and again
they quite lose their personality, and are represented as mere
natural phenomena. As Muller observes, "The poets of the Veda
indulged freely in theogonic speculations without being
frightened by any contradictions. They knew of Indra as the
greatest of gods, they knew of Agni as the god of gods, they
knew of Varuna as the ruler of all; but they were by no means
startled at the idea that their Indra had a mother, or that
their Agni [Latin ignis] was born like a babe from the
friction of two fire-sticks, or that Varuna and his brother
Mitra were nursed in the lap of Aditi."[103] Thus we have seen
Bhaga, the daylight, represented as the offspring, of Aditi,
the boundless Orient; but he had several brothers, and among
them were Mitra, the sun, Varuna, the overarching firmament,
and Vivasvat, the vivifying sun. Manifestly we have here but
so many different names for what is at bottom one and the same
conception. The common element which, in Dyaus and Varuna, in
Bhaga and Indra, was made an object of worship, is the
brightness, warmth, and life of day, as contrasted with the
darkness, cold, and seeming death of the night-time. And this
common element was personified in as many different ways as
the unrestrained fancy of the ancient worshipper saw fit to

[103] Muller, Rig-Veda-Sanhita, I. 230.

[104] Compare the remarks of Breal, Hercule et Cacus, p. 13.

Thus we begin to see why a few simple objects, like the sun,
the sky, the dawn, and the night, should be represented in
mythology by such a host of gods, goddesses, and heroes. For
at one time the Sun is represented as the conqueror of hydras
and dragons who hide away from men the golden treasures of
light and warmth, and at another time he is represented as a
weary voyager traversing the sky-sea amid many perils, with
the steadfast purpose of returning to his western home and his
twilight bride; hence the different conceptions of Herakles,
Bellerophon, and Odysseus. Now he is represented as the son of
the Dawn, and again, with equal propriety, as the son of the
Night, and the fickle lover of the Dawn; hence we have, on the
one hand, stories of a virgin mother who dies in giving birth
to a hero, and, on the other hand, stories of a beautiful
maiden who is forsaken and perhaps cruelly slain by her
treacherous lover. Indeed, the Sun's adventures with so many
dawn-maidens have given him quite a bad character, and the
legends are numerous in which he appears as the prototype of
Don Juan. Yet again his separation from the bride of his youth
is described as due to no fault of his own, but to a
resistless decree of fate, which hurries him away as Aineias
was compelled to abandon Dido. Or, according to a third and
equally plausible notion, he is a hero of ascetic virtues, and
the dawn-maiden is a wicked enchantress, daughter of the
sensual Aphrodite, who vainly endeavours to seduce him. In the
story of Odysseus these various conceptions are blended
together. When enticed by artful women,[105] he yields for a
while to the temptation; but by and by his longing to see
Penelope takes him homeward, albeit with a record which
Penelope might not altogether have liked. Again, though the
Sun, "always roaming with a hungry heart," has seen many
cities and customs of strange men, he is nevertheless confined
to a single path,--a circumstance which seems to have
occasioned much speculation in the primeval mind. Garcilaso de
la Vega relates of a certain Peruvian Inca, who seems to have
been an "infidel" with reference to the orthodox mythology of
his day, that he thought the Sun was not such a mighty god
after all; for if he were, he would wander about the heavens
at random instead of going forever, like a horse in a
treadmill, along the same course. The American Indians
explained this circumstance by myths which told how the Sun
was once caught and tied with a chain which would only let him
swing a little way to one side or the other. The ancient Aryan
developed the nobler myth of the labours of Herakles,
performed in obedience to the bidding of Eurystheus. Again,
the Sun must needs destroy its parents, the Night and the
Dawn; and accordingly his parents, forewarned by prophecy,
expose him in infancy, or order him to be put to death; but
his tragic destiny never fails to be accomplished to the
letter. And again the Sun, who engages in quarrels not his
own, is sometimes represented as retiring moodily from the
sight of men, like Achilleus and Meleagros: he is short-lived
and ill-fated, born to do much good and to be repaid with
ingratitude; his life depends on the duration of a burning
brand, and when that is extinguished he must die.

[105] It should be borne in mind, however, that one of the
women who tempt Odysseus is not a dawn-maiden, but a goddess
of darkness; Kalypso answers to Venus-Ursula in the myth of
Tannhauser. Kirke, on the other hand, seems to be a
dawn-maiden, like Medeia, whom she resembles. In her the
wisdom of the dawn-goddess Athene, the loftiest of Greek
divinities, becomes degraded into the art of an enchantress.
She reappears, in the Arabian Nights, as the wicked Queen
Labe, whose sorcery none of her lovers can baffle, save Beder,
king of Persia.

The myth of the great Theban hero, Oidipous, well illustrates
the multiplicity of conceptions which clustered about the
daily career of the solar orb. His father, Laios, had been
warned by the Delphic oracle that he was in danger of death
from his own son. The newly born Oidipous was therefore
exposed on the hillside, but, like Romulus and Remus, and all
infants similarly situated in legend, was duly rescued. He was
taken to Corinth, where he grew up to manhood. Journeying once
to Thebes, he got into a quarrel with an old man whom he met
on the road, and slew him, who was none other than his father,
Laios. Reaching Thebes, he found the city harassed by the
Sphinx, who afflicted the land with drought until she should
receive an answer to her riddles. Oidipous destroyed the
monster by solving her dark sayings, and as a reward received
the kingdom, with his own mother, Iokaste, as his bride. Then
the Erinyes hastened the discovery of these dark deeds;
Iokaste died in her bridal chamber; and Oidipous, having
blinded himself, fled to the grove of the Eumenides, near
Athens, where, amid flashing lightning and peals of thunder,
he died.

Oidipous is the Sun. Like all the solar heroes, from Herakles
and Perseus to Sigurd and William Tell, he performs his
marvellous deeds at the behest of others. His father, Laios,
is none other than the Vedic Dasyu, the night-demon who is
sure to be destroyed by his solar offspring In the evening,
Oidipous is united to the Dawn, the mother who had borne him
at daybreak; and here the original story doubtless ended. In
the Vedic hymns we find Indra, the Sun, born of Dahana
(Daphne), the Dawn, whom he afterwards, in the evening
twilight, marries. To the Indian mind the story was here
complete; but the Greeks had forgotten and outgrown the
primitive signification of the myth. To them Oidipous and
Iokaste were human, or at least anthropomorphic beings; and a
marriage between them was a fearful crime which called for
bitter expiation. Thus the latter part of the story arose in
the effort to satisfy a moral feeling As the name of Laios
denotes the dark night, so, like Iole, Oinone, and Iamos, the
word Iokaste signifies the delicate violet tints of the
morning and evening clouds. Oidipous was exposed, like Paris
upon Ida (a Vedic word meaning "the earth"), because the
sunlight in the morning lies upon the hillside.[106] He is
borne on to the destruction of his father and the incestuous
marriage with his mother by an irresistible Moira, or Fate;
the sun cannot but slay the darkness and hasten to the couch
of the violet twilight.[107] The Sphinx is the storm-demon who
sits on the cloud-rock and imprisons the rain; she is the same
as Medusa, Ahi, or Echidna, and Chimaira, and is akin to the
throttling snakes of darkness which the jealous Here sent to
destroy Herakles in his cradle. The idea was not derived from
Egypt, but the Greeks, on finding Egyptian figures resembling
their conception of the Sphinx, called them by the same name.
The omniscient Sun comprehends the sense of her dark
mutterings, and destroys her, as Indra slays Vritra, bringing
down rain upon the parched earth. The Erinyes, who bring to
light the crimes of Oidipous, have been explained, in a
previous paper, as the personification of daylight, which
reveals the evil deeds done under the cover of night. The
grove of the Erinyes, like the garden of the Hyperboreans,
represents "the fairy network of clouds, which are the first
to receive and the last to lose the light of the sun in the
morning and in the evening; hence, although Oidipous dies in a
thunder-storm, yet the Eumenides are kind to him, and his last
hour is one of deep peace and tranquillity."[108] To the last
remains with him his daughter Antigone, "she who is born
opposite," the pale light which springs up opposite to the
setting sun.

[106] The Persian Cyrus is an historical personage; but the
story of his perils in infancy belongs to solar mythology as
much as the stories of the magic sleep of Charlemagne and
Barbarossa. His grandfather, Astyages, is purely a mythical
creation, his name being identical with that of the
night-demon, Azidahaka, who appears in the Shah-Nameh as the
biting serpent Zohak. See Cox, Mythology of the Aryan Nations,
II. 358.

[107] In mediaeval legend this resistless Moira is transformed
into the curse which prevents the Wandering Jew from resting
until the day of judgment.

[108] Cox, Manual of Mythology, p. 134.

These examples show that a story-root may be as prolific of
heterogeneous offspring as a word-root. Just as we find the
root spak, "to look," begetting words so various as sceptic,
bishop, speculate, conspicsuous, species, and spice, we must
expect to find a simple representation of the diurnal course
of the sun, like those lyrically given in the Veda, branching
off into stories as diversified as those of Oidipous,
Herakles, Odysseus, and Siegfried. In fact, the types upon
which stories are constructed are wonderfully few. Some clever
playwright--I believe it was Scribe--has said that there are
only seven possible dramatic situations; that is, all the
plays in the world may be classed with some one of seven
archetypal dramas.[109] If this be true, the astonishing
complexity of mythology taken in the concrete, as compared

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