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The Golden Bough by Sir James George Frazer

Part 18 out of 19

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flames are a feeble imitation. In favour of this view it may be said
that sometimes the torches are carried about the fields for the
express purpose of fertilising them, and with the same intention
live coals from the bonfires are sometimes placed in the fields to
prevent blight. On the eve of Twelfth Day in Normandy men, women,
and children run wildly through the fields and orchards with lighted
torches, which they wave about the branches and dash against the
trunks of the fruit-trees for the sake of burning the moss and
driving away the moles and field-mice. "They believe that the
ceremony fulfills the double object of exorcising the vermin whose
multiplication would be a real calamity, and of imparting fecundity
to the trees, the fields, and even the cattle"; and they imagine
that the more the ceremony is prolonged, the greater will be the
crop of fruit next autumn. In Bohemia they say that the corn will
grow as high as they fling the blazing besoms into the air. Nor are
such notions confined to Europe. In Corea, a few days before the New
Year festival, the eunuchs of the palace swing burning torches,
chanting invocations the while, and this is supposed to ensure
bountiful crops for the next season. The custom of trundling a
burning wheel over the fields, which used to be observed in Poitou
for the express purpose of fertilising them, may be thought to
embody the same idea in a still more graphic form; since in this way
the mock-sun itself, not merely its light and heat represented by
torches, is made actually to pass over the ground which is to
receive its quickening and kindly influence. Once more, the custom
of carrying lighted brands round cattle is plainly equivalent to
driving the animals through the bonfire; and if the bonfire is a
suncharm, the torches must be so also.

3. The Purificatory Theory of the Fire-festivals

THUS far we have considered what may be said for the theory that at
the European fire-festivals the fire is kindled as a charm to ensure
an abundant supply of sunshine for man and beast, for corn and
fruits. It remains to consider what may be said against this theory
and in favour of the view that in these rites fire is employed not
as a creative but as a cleansing agent, which purifies men, animals,
and plants by burning up and consuming the noxious elements, whether
material or spiritual, which menace all living things with disease
and death.

First, then, it is to be observed that the people who practise the
fire-customs appear never to allege the solar theory in explanation
of them, while on the contrary they do frequently and emphatically
put forward the purificatory theory. This is a strong argument in
favour of the purificatory and against the solar theory; for the
popular explanation of a popular custom is never to be rejected
except for grave cause. And in the present case there seems to be no
adequate reason for rejecting it. The conception of fire as a
destructive agent, which can be turned to account for the
consumption of evil things, is so simple and obvious that it could
hardly escape the minds even of the rude peasantry with whom these
festivals originated. On the other hand the conception of fire as an
emanation of the sun, or at all events as linked to it by a bond of
physical sympathy, is far less simple and obvious; and though the
use of fire as a charm to produce sunshine appears to be undeniable,
nevertheless in attempting to explain popular customs we should
never have recourse to a more recondite idea when a simpler one lies
to hand and is supported by the explicit testimony of the people
themselves. Now in the case of the fire-festivals the destructive
aspect of fire is one upon which the people dwell again and again;
and it is highly significant that the great evil against which the
fire is directed appears to be witchcraft. Again and again we are
told that the fires are intended to burn or repel the witches; and
the intention is sometimes graphically expressed by burning an
effigy of a witch in the fire. Hence, when we remember the great
hold which the dread of witchcraft has had on the popular European
mind in all ages, we may suspect that the primary intention of all
these fire-festivals was simply to destroy or at all events get rid
of the witches, who were regarded as the causes of nearly all the
misfortunes and calamities that befall men, their cattle, and their

This suspicion is confirmed when we examine the evils for which the
bonfires and torches were supposed to provide a remedy. Foremost,
perhaps, among these evils we may reckon the diseases of cattle; and
of all the ills that witches are believed to work there is probably
none which is so constantly insisted on as the harm they do to the
herds, particularly by stealing the milk from the cows. Now it is
significant that the need-fire, which may perhaps be regarded as the
parent of the periodic fire-festivals, is kindled above all as a
remedy for a murrain or other disease of cattle; and the
circumstance suggests, what on general grounds seems probable, that
the custom of kindling the need-fire goes back to a time when the
ancestors of the European peoples subsisted chiefly on the products
of their herds, and when agriculture as yet played a subordinate
part in their lives. Witches and wolves are the two great foes still
dreaded by the herdsman in many parts of Europe; and we need not
wonder that he should resort to fire as a powerful means of banning
them both. Among Slavonic peoples it appears that the foes whom the
need-fire is designed to combat are not so much living witches as
vampyres and other evil spirits, and the ceremony aims rather at
repelling these baleful beings than at actually consuming them in
the flames. But for our present purpose these distinctions are
immaterial. The important thing to observe is that among the Slavs
the need-fire, which is probably the original of all the ceremonial
fires now under consideration, is not a sun-charm, but clearly and
unmistakably nothing but a means of protecting man and beast against
the attacks of maleficent creatures, whom the peasant thinks to burn
or scare by the heat of the fire, just as he might burn or scare
wild animals.

Again, the bonfires are often supposed to protect the fields against
hail and the homestead against thunder and lightning. But both hail
and thunderstorms are frequently thought to be caused by witches;
hence the fire which bans the witches necessarily serves at the same
time as a talisman against hail, thunder, and lightning. Further,
brands taken from the bonfires are commonly kept in the houses to
guard them against conflagration; and though this may perhaps be
done on the principle of homoeopathic magic, one fire being thought
to act as a preventive of another, it is also possible that the
intention may be to keep witch-incendiaries at bay. Again, people
leap over the bonfires as a preventive of colic, and look at the
flames steadily in order to preserve their eyes in good health; and
both colic and sore eyes are in Germany, and probably elsewhere, set
down to the machinations of witches. Once more, to leap over the
midsummer fires or to circumambulate them is thought to prevent a
person from feeling pains in his back at reaping; and in Germany
such pains are called "witch-shots" and ascribed to witchcraft.

But if the bonfires and torches of the fire-festivals are to be
regarded primarily as weapons directed against witches and wizards,
it becomes probable that the same explanation applies not only to
the flaming discs which are hurled into the air, but also to the
burning wheels which are rolled down hill on these occasions; discs
and wheels, we may suppose, are alike intended to burn the witches
who hover invisible in the air or haunt unseen the fields, the
orchards, and the vineyards on the hillside. Certainly witches are
constantly thought to ride through the air on broomsticks or other
equally convenient vehicles; and if they do so, how can you get at
them so effectually as by hurling lighted missiles, whether discs,
torches, or besoms, after them as they flit past overhead in the
gloom? The South Slavonian peasant believes that witches ride in the
dark hail-clouds; so he shoots at the clouds to bring down the hags,
while he curses them, saying, "Curse, curse Herodias, thy mother is
a heathen, damned of God and fettered through the Redeemer's blood."
Also he brings out a pot of glowing charcoal on which he has thrown
holy oil, laurel leaves, and wormwood to make a smoke. The fumes are
supposed to ascend to the clouds and stupefy the witches, so that
they tumble down to earth. And in order that they may not fall soft,
but may hurt themselves very much, the yokel hastily brings out a
chair and tilts it bottom up so that the witch in falling may break
her legs on the legs of the chair. Worse than that, he cruelly lays
scythes, bill-hooks, and other formidable weapons edge upwards so as
to cut and mangle the poor wretches when they drop plump upon them
from the clouds.

On this view the fertility supposed to follow the application of
fire in the form of bonfires, torches, discs, rolling wheels, and so
forth, is not conceived as resulting directly from an increase of
solar heat which the fire has magically generated; it is merely an
indirect result obtained by freeing the reproductive powers of
plants and animals from the fatal obstruction of witchcraft. And
what is true of the reproduction of plants and animals may hold good
also of the fertility of the human sexes. The bonfires are supposed
to promote marriage and to procure offspring for childless couples.
This happy effect need not flow directly from any quickening or
fertilising energy in the fire; it may follow indirectly from the
power of the fire to remove those obstacles which the spells of
witches and wizards notoriously present to the union of man and

On the whole, then, the theory of the purificatory virtue of the
ceremonial fires appears more probable and more in accordance with
the evidence than the opposing theory of their connexion with the

LXIV. The Burning of Human Beings in the Fires

1. The Burning of Effigies in the Fires

WE have still to ask, What is the meaning of burning effigies in the
fire at these festivals? After the preceding investigation the
answer to the question seems obvious. As the fires are often alleged
to be kindled for the purpose of burning the witches, and as the
effigy burnt in them is sometimes called "the Witch," we might
naturally be disposed to conclude that all the effigies consumed in
the flames on these occasions represent witches or warlocks, and
that the custom of burning them is merely a substitute for burning
the wicked men and women themselves, since on the principle of
homoeopathic or imitative magic you practically destroy the witch
herself in destroying her effigy. On the whole this explanation of
the burning of straw figures in human shape at the festivals is
perhaps the most probable.

Yet it may be that this explanation does not apply to all the cases,
and that certain of them may admit and even require another
interpretation. For the effigies so burned, as I have already
remarked, can hardly be separated from the effigies of Death which
are burned or otherwise destroyed in spring; and grounds have been
already given for regarding the so-called effigies of Death as
really representatives of the tree-spirit or spirit of vegetation.
Are the other effigies, which are burned in the spring and midsummer
bonfires, susceptible of the same explanation? It would seem so. For
just as the fragments of the so-called Death are stuck in the fields
to make the crops grow, so the charred embers of the figure burned
in the spring bonfires are sometimes laid on the fields in the
belief that they will keep vermin from the crop. Again, the rule
that the last married bride must leap over the fire in which the
straw-man is burned on Shrove Tuesday, is probably intended to make
her fruitful. But, as we have seen, the power of blessing women with
offspring is a special attribute of tree-spirits; it is therefore a
fair presumption that the burning effigy over which the bride must
leap is a representative of the fertilising tree-spirit or spirit of
vegetation. This character of the effigy, as representative of the
spirit of vegetation, is almost unmistakable when the figure is
composed of an unthreshed sheaf of corn or is covered from head to
foot with flowers. Again, it is to be noted that, instead of a
puppet, trees, either living or felled, are sometimes burned both in
the spring and midsummer bonfires. Now, considering the frequency
with which the tree-spirit is represented in human shape, it is
hardly rash to suppose that when sometimes a tree and sometimes an
effigy is burned in these fires, the effigy and the tree are
regarded as equivalent to each other, each being a representative of
the tree-spirit. This, again, is confirmed by observing, first, that
sometimes the effigy which is to be burned is carried about
simultaneously with a May-tree, the former being carried by the
boys, the latter by the girls; and, second, that the effigy is
sometimes tied to a living tree and burned with it. In these cases,
we can scarcely doubt, the tree-spirit is represented, as we have
found it represented before, in duplicate, both by the tree and by
the effigy. That the true character of the effigy as a
representative of the beneficent spirit of vegetation should
sometimes be forgotten, is natural. The custom of burning a
beneficent god is too foreign to later modes of thought to escape
misinterpretation. Naturally enough the people who continued to burn
his image came in time to identify it as the effigy of persons,
whom, on various grounds, they regarded with aversion, such as Judas
Iscariot, Luther, and a witch.

The general reasons for killing a god or his representative have
been examined in a preceding chapter. But when the god happens to be
a deity of vegetation, there are special reasons why he should die
by fire. For light and heat are necessary to vegetable growth; and,
on the principle of sympathetic magic, by subjecting the personal
representative of vegetation to their influence, you secure a supply
of these necessaries for trees and crops. In other words, by burning
the spirit of vegetation in a fire which represents the sun, you
make sure that, for a time at least, vegetation shall have plenty of
sun. It may be objected that, if the intention is simply to secure
enough sunshine for vegetation, this end would be better attained,
on the principles of sympathetic magic, by merely passing the
representative of vegetation through the fire instead of burning
him. In point of fact this is sometimes done. In Russia, as we have
seen, the straw figure of Kupalo is not burned in the midsummer
fire, but merely carried backwards and forwards across it. But, for
the reasons already given, it is necessary that the god should die;
so next day Kupalo is stripped of her ornaments and thrown into a
stream. In this Russian custom the passage of the image through the
fire, if it is not simply a purification, may possibly be a
sun-charm; the killing of the god is a separate act, and the mode of
killing him--by drowning--is probably a rain-charm. But usually
people have not thought it necessary to draw this fine distinction;
for the various reasons already assigned, it is advantageous, they
think, to expose the god of vegetation to a considerable degree of
heat, and it is also advantageous to kill him, and they combine
these advantages in a rough-and-ready way by burning him.

2. The Burning of Men and Animals in the Fires

IN THE POPULAR customs connected with the fire-festivals of Europe
there are certain features which appear to point to a former
practice of human sacrifice. We have seen reasons for believing that
in Europe living persons have often acted as representatives of the
tree-spirit and corn-spirit and have suffered death as such. There
is no reason, therefore, why they should not have been burned, if
any special advantages were likely to be attained by putting them to
death in that way. The consideration of human suffering is not one
which enters into the calculations of primitive man. Now, in the
fire-festivals which we are discussing, the pretence of burning
people is sometimes carried so far that it seems reasonable to
regard it as a mitigated survival of an older custom of actually
burning them. Thus in Aachen, as we saw, the man clad in peas-straw
acts so cleverly that the children really believe he is being
burned. At Jumičges in Normandy the man clad all in green, who bore
the title of the Green Wolf, was pursued by his comrades, and when
they caught him they feigned to fling him upon the midsummer
bonfire. Similarly at the Beltane fires in Scotland the pretended
victim was seized, and a show made of throwing him into the flames,
and for some time afterwards people affected to speak of him as
dead. Again, in the Hallowe'en bonfires of Northeastern Scotland we
may perhaps detect a similar pretence in the custom observed by a
lad of lying down as close to the fire as possible and allowing the
other lads to leap over him. The titular king at Aix, who reigned
for a year and danced the first dance round the midsummer bonfire,
may perhaps in days of old have discharged the less agreeable duty
of serving as fuel for that fire which in later times he only
kindled. In the following customs Mannhardt is probably right in
recognising traces of an old custom of burning a leaf-clad
representative of the spirit of vegetation. At Wolfeck, in Austria,
on Midsummer Day, a boy completely clad in green fir branches goes
from house to house, accompanied by a noisy crew, collecting wood
for the bonfire. As he gets the wood he sings:

"Forest trees I want,
No sour milk for me,
But beer and wine,
So can the wood-man be jolly and gay."

In some parts of Bavaria, also, the boys who go from house to house
collecting fuel for the midsummer bonfire envelop one of their
number from head to foot in green branches of firs, and lead him by
a rope through the whole village. At Moosheim, in Wurtemberg, the
festival of St. John's Fire usually lasted for fourteen days, ending
on the second Sunday after Midsummer Day. On this last day the
bonfire was left in charge of the children, while the older people
retired to a wood. Here they encased a young fellow in leaves and
twigs, who, thus disguised, went to the fire, scattered it, and trod
it out. All the people present fled at the sight of him.

But it seems possible to go farther than this. Of human sacrifices
offered on these occasions the most unequivocal traces, as we have
seen, are those which, about a hundred years ago, still lingered at
the Beltane fires in the Highlands of Scotland, that is, among a
Celtic people who, situated in a remote corner of Europe and almost
completely isolated from foreign influence, had till then conserved
their old heathenism better perhaps than any other people in the
West of Europe. It is significant, therefore, that human sacrifices
by fire are known, on unquestionable evidence, to have been
systematically practised by the Celts. The earliest description of
these sacrifices has been bequeathed to us by Julius Caesar. As
conqueror of the hitherto independent Celts of Gaul, Caesar had
ample opportunity of observing the national Celtic religion and
manners, while these were still fresh and crisp from the native mint
and had not yet been fused in the melting-pot of Roman civilisation.
With his own notes Caesar appears to have incorporated the
observations of a Greek explorer, by name Posidonius, who travelled
in Gaul about fifty years before Caesar carried the Roman arms to
the English Channel. The Greek geographer Strabo and the historian
Diodorus seem also to have derived their descriptions of the Celtic
sacrifices from the work of Posidonius, but independently of each
other, and of Caesar, for each of the three derivative accounts
contain some details which are not to be found in either of the
others. By combining them, therefore, we can restore the original
account of Posidonius with some probability, and thus obtain a
picture of the sacrifices offered by the Celts of Gaul at the close
of the second century before our era. The following seem to have
been the main outlines of the custom. Condemned criminals were
reserved by the Celts in order to be sacrificed to the gods at a
great festival which took place once in every five years. The more
there were of such victims, the greater was believed to be the
fertility of the land. If there were not enough criminals to furnish
victims, captives taken in war were immolated to supply the
deficiency. When the time came the victims were sacrificed by the
Druids or priests. Some they shot down with arrows, some they
impaled, and some they burned alive in the following manner.
Colossal images of wicker-work or of wood and grass were
constructed; these were filled with live men, cattle, and animals of
other kinds; fire was then applied to the images, and they were
burned with their living contents.

Such were the great festivals held once every five years. But
besides these quinquennial festivals, celebrated on so grand a
scale, and with, apparently, so large an expenditure of human life,
it seems reasonable to suppose that festivals of the same sort, only
on a lesser scale, were held annually, and that from these annual
festivals are lineally descended some at least of the fire-festivals
which, with their traces of human sacrifices, are still celebrated
year by year in many parts of Europe. The gigantic images
constructed of osiers or covered with grass in which the Druids
enclosed their victims remind us of the leafy framework in which the
human representative of the tree-spirit is still so often encased.
Hence, seeing that the fertility of the land was apparently supposed
to depend upon the due performance of these sacrifices, Mannhardt
interpreted the Celtic victims, cased in osiers and grass, as
representatives of the tree-spirit or spirit of vegetation.

These wicker giants of the Druids seem to have had till lately, if
not down to the present time, their representatives at the spring
and midsummer festivals of modern Europe. At Douay, down at least to
the early part of the nineteenth century, a procession took place
annually on the Sunday nearest to the seventh of July. The great
feature of the procession was a colossal figure, some twenty or
thirty feet high, made of osiers, and called "the giant," which was
moved through the streets by means of rollers and ropes worked by
men who were enclosed within the effigy. The figure was armed as a
knight with lance and sword, helmet and shield. Behind him marched
his wife and his three children, all constructed of osiers on the
same principle, but on a smaller scale. At Dunkirk the procession of
the giants took place on Midsummer Day, the twenty-fourth of June.
The festival, which was known as the Follies of Dunkirk, attracted
multitudes of spectators. The giant was a huge figure of
wicker-work, occasionally as much as forty-five feet high, dressed
in a long blue robe with gold stripes, which reached to his feet,
concealing the dozen or more men who made it dance and bob its head
to the spectators. This colossal effigy went by the name of Papa
Reuss, and carried in its pocket a bouncing infant of Brobdingnagian
proportions. The rear was brought up by the daughter of the giant,
constructed, like her sire, of wicker-work, and little, if at all,
inferior to him in size. Most towns and even villages of Brabant and
Flanders have, or used to have, similar wicker giants which were
annually led about to the delight of the populace, who loved these
grotesque figures, spoke of them with patriotic enthusiasm, and
never wearied of gazing at them. At Antwerp the giant was so big
that no gate in the city was large enough to let him go through;
hence he could not visit his brother giants in neighbouring towns,
as the other Belgian giants used to do on solemn occasions.

In England artificial giants seem to have been a standing feature of
the midsummer festival. A writer of the sixteenth century speaks of
"Midsommer pageants in London, where to make the people wonder, are
set forth great and uglie gyants marching as if they were alive, and
armed at all points, but within they are stuffed full of browne
paper and tow, which the shrewd boyes, underpeering, do guilefully
discover, and turne to a greate derision." At Chester the annual
pageant on Midsummer Eve included the effigies of four giants, with
animals, hobby-horses, and other figures. At Coventry it appears
that the giant's wife figured beside the giant. At Burford, in
Oxfordshire, Midsummer Eve used to be celebrated with great jollity
by the carrying of a giant and a dragon up and down the town. The
last survivor of these perambulating English giants lingered at
Salisbury, where an antiquary found him mouldering to decay in the
neglected hall of the Tailors' Company about the year 1844. His
bodily framework was a lath and hoop, like the one which used to be
worn by Jack-in-the-Green on May Day.

In these cases the giants merely figured in the processions. But
sometimes they were burned in the summer bonfires. Thus the people
of the Rue aux Ours in Paris used annually to make a great
wicker-work figure, dressed as a soldier, which they promenaded up
and down the streets for several days, and solemnly burned on the
third of July, the crowd of spectators singing _Salve Regina._ A
personage who bore the title of king presided over the ceremony with
a lighted torch in his hand. The burning fragments of the image were
scattered among the people, who eagerly scrambled for them. The
custom was abolished in 1743. In Brie, Isle de France, a wicker-work
giant, eighteen feet high, was annually burned on Midsummer Eve.

Again, the Druidical custom of burning live animals, enclosed in
wicker-work, has its counterpart at the spring and midsummer
festivals. At Luchon in the Pyrenees on Midsummer Eve "a hollow
column, composed of strong wicker-work, is raised to the height of
about sixty feet in the centre of the principal suburb, and
interlaced with green foliage up to the very top; while the most
beautiful flowers and shrubs procurable are artistically arranged in
groups below, so as to form a sort of background to the scene. The
column is then filled with combustible materials, ready for
ignition. At an appointed hour--about 8 P.M.--a grand procession,
composed of the clergy, followed by young men and maidens in holiday
attire, pour forth from the town chanting hymns, and take up their
position around the column. Meanwhile, bonfires are lit, with
beautiful effect, in the surrounding hills. As many living serpents
as could be collected are now thrown into the column, which is set
on fire at the base by means of torches, armed with which about
fifty boys and men dance around with frantic gestures. The serpents,
to avoid the flames, wriggle their way to the top, whence they are
seen lashing out laterally until finally obliged to drop, their
struggles for life giving rise to enthusiastic delight among the
surrounding spectators. This is a favourite annual ceremony for the
inhabitants of Luchon and its neighbourhood, and local tradition
assigns it to a heathen origin." In the midsummer fires formerly
kindled on the Place de Grčve at Paris it was the custom to burn a
basket, barrel, or sack full of live cats, which was hung from a
tall mast in the midst of the bonfire; sometimes a fox was burned.
The people collected the embers and ashes of the fire and took them
home, believing that they brought good luck. The French kings often
witnessed these spectacles and even lit the bonfire with their own
hands. In 1648 Louis the Fourteenth, crowned with a wreath of roses
and carrying a bunch of roses in his hand, kindled the fire, danced
at it and partook of the banquet afterwards in the town hall. But
this was the last occasion when a monarch presided at the midsummer
bonfire in Paris. At Metz midsummer fires were lighted with great
pomp on the esplanade, and a dozen cats, enclosed in wicker cages,
were burned alive in them, to the amusement of the people. Similarly
at Gap, in the department of the High Alps, cats used to be roasted
over the midsummer bonfire. In Russia a white cock was sometimes
burned in the midsummer bonfire; in Meissen or Thuringia a horse's
head used to be thrown into it. Sometimes animals are burned in the
spring bonfires. In the Vosges cats were burned on Shrove Tuesday;
in Alsace they were thrown into the Easter bonfire. In the
department of the Ardennes cats were flung into the bonfires kindled
on the first Sunday in Lent; sometimes, by a refinement of cruelty,
they were hung over the fire from the end of a pole and roasted
alive. "The cat, which represented the devil, could never suffer
enough." While the creatures were perishing in the flames, the
shepherds guarded their flocks and forced them to leap over the
fire, esteeming this an infallible means of preserving them from
disease and witchcraft. We have seen that squirrels were sometimes
burned in the Easter fire.

Thus it appears that the sacrificial rites of the Celts of ancient
Gaul can be traced in the popular festivals of modern Europe.
Naturally it is in France, or rather in the wider area comprised
within the limits of ancient Gaul, that these rites have left the
clearest traces in the customs of burning giants of wicker-work and
animals enclosed in wicker-work or baskets. These customs, it will
have been remarked, are generally observed at or about midsummer.
From this we may infer that the original rites of which these are
the degenerate successors were solemnised at midsummer. This
inference harmonises with the conclusion suggested by a general
survey of European folk-custom, that the midsummer festival must on
the whole have been the most widely diffused and the most solemn of
all the yearly festivals celebrated by the primitive Aryans in
Europe. At the same time we must bear in mind that among the British
Celts the chief fire-festivals of the year appear certainly to have
been those of Beltane (May Day) and Hallowe'en (the last day of
October); and this suggests a doubt whether the Celts of Gaul also
may not have celebrated their principal rites of fire, including
their burnt sacrifices of men and animals, at the beginning of May
or the beginning of November rather than at Midsummer.

We have still to ask, What is the meaning of such sacrifices? Why
were men and animals burnt to death at these festivals? If we are
right in interpreting the modern European fire-festivals as attempts
to break the power of witchcraft by burning or banning the witches
and warlocks, it seems to follow that we must explain the human
sacrifices of the Celts in the same manner; that is, we must suppose
that the men whom the Druids burnt in wicker-work images were
condemned to death on the ground that they were witches or wizards,
and that the mode of execution by fire was chosen because burning
alive is deemed the surest mode of getting rid of these noxious and
dangerous beings. The same explanation would apply to the cattle and
wild animals of many kinds which the Celts burned along with the
men. They, too, we may conjecture, were supposed to be either under
the spell of witchcraft or actually to be the witches and wizards,
who had transformed themselves into animals for the purpose of
prosecuting their infernal plots against the welfare of their
fellow-creatures. This conjecture is confirmed by the observation
that the victims most commonly burned in modern bonfires have been
cats, and that cats are precisely the animals into which, with the
possible exception of hares, witches were most usually supposed to
transform themselves. Again, we have seen that serpents and foxes
used sometimes to be burnt in the midsummer fires; and Welsh and
German witches are reported to have assumed the form both of foxes
and serpents. In short, when we remember the great variety of
animals whose forms witches can assume at pleasure, it seems easy on
this hypothesis to account for the variety of living creatures that
have been burnt at festivals both in ancient Gaul and modern Europe;
all these victims, we may surmise, were doomed to the flames, not
because they were animals, but because they were believed to be
witches who had taken the shape of animals for their nefarious
purposes. One advantage of explaining the ancient Celtic sacrifices
in this way is that it introduces, as it were, a harmony and
consistency into the treatment which Europe has meted out to witches
from the earliest times down to about two centuries ago, when the
growing influence of rationalism discredited the belief in
witchcraft and put a stop to the custom of burning witches. Be that
as it may, we can now perhaps understand why the Druids believed
that the more persons they sentenced to death, the greater would be
the fertility of the land. To a modern reader the connexion at first
sight may not be obvious between the activity of the hangman and the
productivity of the earth. But a little reflection may satisfy him
that when the criminals who perish at the stake or on the gallows
are witches, whose delight it is to blight the crops of the farmer
or to lay them low under storms of hail, the execution of these
wretches is really calculated to ensure an abundant harvest by
removing one of the principal causes which paralyse the efforts and
blast the hopes of the husbandman.

The Druidical sacrifices which we are considering were explained in
a different way by W. Mannhardt. He supposed that the men whom the
Druids burned in wicker-work images represented the spirits of
vegetation, and accordingly that the custom of burning them was a
magical ceremony intended to secure the necessary sunshine for the
crops. Similarly, he seems to have inclined to the view that the
animals which used to be burnt in the bonfires represented the
cornspirit, which, as we saw in an earlier part of this work, is
often supposed to assume the shape of an animal. This theory is no
doubt tenable, and the great authority of W. Mannhardt entitles it
to careful consideration. I adopted it in former editions of this
book; but on reconsideration it seems to me on the whole to be less
probable than the theory that the men and animals burnt in the fires
perished in the character of witches. This latter view is strongly
supported by the testimony of the people who celebrate the
fire-festivals, since a popular name for the custom of kindling the
fires is "burning the witches," effigies of witches are sometimes
consumed in the flames, and the fires, their embers, or their ashes
are supposed to furnish protection against witchcraft. On the other
hand there is little to show that the effigies or the animals burnt
in the fires are regarded by the people as representatives of the
vegetation-spirit, and that the bonfires are sun-charms. With regard
to serpents in particular, which used to be burnt in the midsummer
fire at Luchon, I am not aware of any certain evidence that in
Europe snakes have been regarded as embodiments of the tree-spirit
or corn-spirit, though in other parts of the world the conception
appears to be not unknown. Whereas the popular faith in the
transformation of witches into animals is so general and deeply
rooted, and the fear of these uncanny beings is so strong, that it
seems safer to suppose that the cats and other animals which were
burnt in the fire suffered death as embodiments of witches than that
they perished as representatives of vegetation-spirits.

LXV. Balder and the Mistletoe

THE READER may remember that the preceding account of the popular
fire-festivals of Europe was suggested by the myth of the Norse god
Balder, who is said to have been slain by a branch of mistletoe and
burnt in a great fire. We have now to enquire how far the customs
which have been passed in review help to shed light on the myth. In
this enquiry it may be convenient to begin with the mistletoe, the
instrument of Balder's death.

From time immemorial the mistletoe has been the object of
superstitious veneration in Europe. It was worshipped by the Druids,
as we learn from a famous passage of Pliny. After enumerating the
different kinds of mistletoe, he proceeds: "In treating of this
subject, the admiration in which the mistletoe is held throughout
Gaul ought not to pass unnoticed. The Druids, for so they call their
wizards, esteem nothing more sacred than the mistletoe and the tree
on which it grows, provided only that the tree is an oak. But apart
from this they choose oak-woods for their sacred groves and perform
no sacred rites without oak-leaves; so that the very name of Druids
may be regarded as a Greek appellation derived from their worship of
the oak. For they believe that whatever grows on these trees is sent
from heaven, and is a sign that the tree has been chosen by the god
himself. The mistletoe is very rarely to be met with; but when it is
found, they gather it with solemn ceremony. This they do above all
on the sixth day of the moon, from whence they date the beginnings
of their months, of their years, and of their thirty years' cycle,
because by the sixth day the moon has plenty of vigour and has not
run half its course. After due preparations have been made for a
sacrifice and a feast under the tree, they hail it as the universal
healer and bring to the spot two white bulls, whose horns have never
been bound before. A priest clad in a white robe climbs the tree and
with a golden sickle cuts the mistletoe, which is caught in a white
cloth. Then they sacrifice the victims, praying that God may make
his own gift to prosper with those upon whom he has bestowed it.
They believe that a potion prepared from mistletoe will make barren
animals to bring forth, and that the plant is a remedy against all

In another passage Pliny tells us that in medicine the mistletoe
which grows on an oak was esteemed the most efficacious, and that
its efficacy was by some superstitious people supposed to be
increased if the plant was gathered on the first day of the moon
without the use of iron, and if when gathered it was not allowed to
touch the earth; oak-mistletoe thus obtained was deemed a cure for
epilepsy; carried about by women it assisted them to conceive; and
it healed ulcers most effectually, if only the sufferer chewed a
piece of the plant and laid another piece on the sore. Yet, again,
he says that mistletoe was supposed, like vinegar and an egg, to be
an excellent means of extinguishing a fire.

If in these latter passages Pliny refers, as he apparently does, to
the beliefs current among his contemporaries in Italy, it will
follow that the Druids and the Italians were to some extent agreed
as to the valuable properties possessed by mistletoe which grows on
an oak; both of them deemed it an effectual remedy for a number of
ailments, and both of them ascribed to it a quickening virtue, the
Druids believing that a potion prepared from mistletoe would
fertilise barren cattle, and the Italians holding that a piece of
mistletoe carried about by a woman would help her to conceive a
child. Further, both peoples thought that if the plant were to exert
its medicinal properties it must be gathered in a certain way and at
a certain time. It might not be cut with iron, hence the Druids cut
it with gold; and it might not touch the earth, hence the Druids
caught it in a white cloth. In choosing the time for gathering the
plant, both peoples were determined by observation of the moon; only
they differed as to the particular day of the moon, the Italians
preferring the first, and the Druids the sixth.

With these beliefs of the ancient Gauls and Italians as to the
wonderful medicinal properties of mistletoe we may compare the
similar beliefs of the modern Aino of Japan. We read that they,
"like many nations of the Northern origin, hold the mistletoe in
peculiar veneration. They look upon it as a medicine, good in almost
every disease, and it is sometimes taken in food and at others
separately as a decoction. The leaves are used in preference to the
berries, the latter being of too sticky a nature for general
purposes. . . . But many, too, suppose this plant to have the power
of making the gardens bear plentifully. When used for this purpose,
the leaves are cut up into fine pieces, and, after having been
prayed over, are sown with the millet and other seeds, a little also
being eaten with the food. Barren women have also been known to eat
the mistletoe, in order to be made to bear children. That mistletoe
which grows upon the willow is supposed to have the greatest
efficacy. This is because the willow is looked upon by them as being
an especially sacred tree."

Thus the Aino agree with the Druids in regarding mistletoe as a cure
for almost every disease, and they agree with the ancient Italians
that applied to women it helps them to bear children. Again, the
Druidical notion that the mistletoe was an "all-healer" or panacea
may be compared with a notion entertained by the Walos of
Senegambia. These people "have much veneration for a sort of
mistletoe, which they call _tob;_ they carry leaves of it on their
persons when they go to war as a preservative against wounds, just
as if the leaves were real talismans (_gris-gris_)." The French
writer who records this practice adds: "Is it not very curious that
the mistletoe should be in this part of Africa what it was in the
superstitions of the Gauls? This prejudice, common to the two
countries, may have the same origin; blacks and whites will
doubtless have seen, each of them for themselves, something
supernatural in a plant which grows and flourishes without having
roots in the earth. May they not have believed, in fact, that it was
a plant fallen from the sky, a gift of the divinity?"

This suggestion as to the origin of the superstition is strongly
confirmed by the Druidical belief, reported by Pliny, that whatever
grew on an oak was sent from heaven and was a sign that the tree had
been chosen by the god himself. Such a belief explains why the
Druids cut the mistletoe, not with a common knife, but with a golden
sickle, and why, when cut, it was not suffered to touch the earth;
probably they thought that the celestial plant would have been
profaned and its marvellous virtue lost by contact with the ground.
With the ritual observed by the Druids in cutting the mistletoe we
may compare the ritual which in Cambodia is prescribed in a similar
case. They say that when you see an orchid growing as a parasite on
a tamarind tree, you should dress in white, take a new earthenware
pot, then climb the tree at noon, break off the plant, put it in the
pot and let the pot fall to the ground. After that you make in the
pot a decoction which confers the gift of invulnerability. Thus just
as in Africa the leaves of one parasitic plant are supposed to
render the wearer invulnerable, so in Cambodia a decoction made from
another parasitic plant is considered to render the same service to
such as make use of it, whether by drinking or washing. We may
conjecture that in both places the notion of invulnerability is
suggested by the position of the plant, which, occupying a place of
comparative security above the ground, appears to promise to its
fortunate possessor a similar security from some of the ills that
beset the life of man on earth. We have already met with examples of
the store which the primitive mind sets on such vantage grounds.

Whatever may be the origin of these beliefs and practices concerning
the mistletoe, certain it is that some of them have their analogies
in the folk-lore of modern European peasants. For example, it is
laid down as a rule in various parts of Europe that mistletoe may
not be cut in the ordinary way but must be shot or knocked down with
stones from the tree on which it is growing. Thus, in the Swiss
canton of Aargau "all parasitic plants are esteemed in a certain
sense holy by the country folk, but most particularly so the
mistletoe growing on an oak. They ascribe great powers to it, but
shrink from cutting it off in the usual manner. Instead of that they
procure it in the following manner. When the sun is in Sagittarius
and the moon is on the wane, on the first, third, or fourth day
before the new moon, one ought to shoot down with an arrow the
mistletoe of an oak and to catch it with the left hand as it falls.
Such mistletoe is a remedy for every ailment of children." Here
among the Swiss peasants, as among the Druids of old, special virtue
is ascribed to mistletoe which grows on an oak: it may not be cut in
the usual way: it must be caught as it falls to the ground; and it
is esteemed a panacea for all diseases, at least of children. In
Sweden, also, it is a popular superstition that if mistletoe is to
possess its peculiar virtue, it must either be shot down out of the
oak or knocked down with stones. Similarly, "so late as the early
part of the nineteenth century, people in Wales believed that for
the mistletoe to have any power, it must be shot or struck down with
stones off the tree where it grew."

Again, in respect of the healing virtues of mistletoe the opinion of
modern peasants, and even of the learned, has to some extent agreed
with that of the ancients. The Druids appear to have called the
plant, or perhaps the oak on which it grew, the "all-healer"; and
"all-healer" is said to be still a name of the mistletoe in the
modern Celtic speech of Brittany, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland. On
St. John's morning (Midsummer morning) peasants of Piedmont and
Lombardy go out to search the oak-leaves for the "oil of St. John,"
which is supposed to heal all wounds made with cutting instruments.
Originally, perhaps, the "oil of St. John" was simply the mistletoe,
or a decoction made from it. For in Holstein the mistletoe,
especially oak-mistletoe, is still regarded as a panacea for green
wounds and as a sure charm to secure success in hunting; and at
Lacaune, in the south of France, the old Druidical belief in the
mistletoe as an antidote to all poisons still survives among the
peasantry; they apply the plant to the stomach of the sufferer or
give him a decoction of it to drink. Again, the ancient belief that
mistletoe is a cure for epilepsy has survived in modern times not
only among the ignorant but among the learned. Thus in Sweden
persons afflicted with the falling sickness think they can ward off
attacks of the malady by carrying about with them a knife which has
a handle of oak mistletoe; and in Germany for a similar purpose
pieces of mistletoe used to be hung round the necks of children. In
the French province of Bourbonnais a popular remedy for epilepsy is
a decoction of mistletoe which has been gathered on an oak on St.
John's Day and boiled with rye-flour. So at Bottesford in
Lincolnshire a decoction of mistletoe is supposed to be a palliative
for this terrible disease. Indeed mistletoe was recommended as a
remedy for the falling sickness by high medical authorities in
England and Holland down to the eighteenth century.

However, the opinion of the medical profession as to the curative
virtues of mistletoe has undergone a radical alteration. Whereas the
Druids thought that mistletoe cured everything, modern doctors
appear to think that it cures nothing. If they are right, we must
conclude that the ancient and widespread faith in the medicinal
virtue of mistletoe is a pure superstition based on nothing better
than the fanciful inferences which ignorance has drawn from the
parasitic nature of the plant, its position high up on the branch of
a tree seeming to protect it from the dangers to which plants and
animals are subject on the surface of the ground. From this point of
view we can perhaps understand why mistletoe has so long and so
persistently been prescribed as a cure for the falling sickness. As
mistletoe cannot fall to the ground because it is rooted on the
branch of a tree high above the earth, it seems to follow as a
necessary consequence that an epileptic patient cannot possibly fall
down in a fit so long as he carries a piece of mistletoe in his
pocket or a decoction of mistletoe in his stomach. Such a train of
reasoning would probably be regarded even now as cogent by a large
portion of the human species.

Again the ancient Italian opinion that mistletoe extinguishes fire
appears to be shared by Swedish peasants, who hang up bunches of
oak-mistletoe on the ceilings of their rooms as a protection against
harm in general and conflagration in particular. A hint as to the
way in which mistletoe comes to be possessed of this property is
furnished by the epithet "thunder-bosom," which people of the Aargau
canton in Switzerland apply to the plant. For a thunder-besom is a
shaggy, bushy excrescence on branches of trees, which is popularly
believed to be produced by a flash of lightning; hence in Bohemia a
thunder-besom burnt in the fire protects the house against being
struck by a thunder-bolt. Being itself a product of lightning it
naturally serves, on homoeopathic principles, as a protection
against lightning, in fact as a kind of lightning-conductor. Hence
the fire which mistletoe in Sweden is designed especially to avert
from houses may be fire kindled by lightning; though no doubt the
plant is equally effective against conflagration in general.

Again, mistletoe acts as a master-key as well as a
lightning-conductor; for it is said to open all locks. But perhaps
the most precious of all the virtues of mistletoe is that it affords
efficient protection against sorcery and witchcraft. That, no doubt,
is the reason why in Austria a twig of mistletoe is laid on the
threshold as a preventive of nightmare; and it may be the reason why
in the north of England they say that if you wish your dairy to
thrive you should give your bunch of mistletoe to the first cow that
calves after New Year's Day, for it is well known that nothing is so
fatal to milk and butter as witchcraft. Similarly in Wales, for the
sake of ensuring good luck to the dairy, people used to give a
branch of mistletoe to the first cow that gave birth to a calf after
the first hour of the New Year; and in rural districts of Wales,
where mistletoe abounded, there was always a profusion of it in the
farmhouses. When mistletoe was scarce, Welsh farmers used to say,
"No mistletoe, no luck"; but if there was a fine crop of mistletoe,
they expected a fine crop of corn. In Sweden mistletoe is diligently
sought after on St. John's Eve, the people "believing it to be, in a
high degree, possessed of mystic qualities; and that if a sprig of
it be attached to the ceiling of the dwelling-house, the horse's
stall, or the cow's crib, the Troll will then be powerless to injure
either man or beast."

With regard to the time when the mistletoe should be gathered
opinions have varied. The Druids gathered it above all on the sixth
day of the moon, the ancient Italians apparently on the first day of
the moon. In modern times some have preferred the full moon of March
and others the waning moon of winter when the sun is in Sagittarius.
But the favourite time would seem to be Midsummer Eve or Midsummer
Day. We have seen that both in France and Sweden special virtues are
ascribed to mistletoe gathered at Midsummer. The rule in Sweden is
that "mistletoe must be cut on the night of Midsummer Eve when sun
and moon stand in the sign of their might." Again, in Wales it was
believed that a sprig of mistletoe gathered on St. John's Eve
(Midsummer Eve), or at any time before the berries appeared, would
induce dreams of omen, both good and bad, if it were placed under
the pillow of the sleeper. Thus mistletoe is one of the many plants
whose magical or medicinal virtues are believed to culminate with
the culmination of the sun on the longest day of the year. Hence it
seems reasonable to conjecture that in the eyes of the Druids, also,
who revered the plant so highly, the sacred mistletoe may have
acquired a double portion of its mystic qualities at the solstice in
June, and that accordingly they may have regularly cut it with
solemn ceremony on Midsummer Eve.

Be that as it may, certain it is that the mistletoe, the instrument
of Balder's death, has been regularly gathered for the sake of its
mystic qualities on Midsummer Eve in Scandinavia, Balder's home. The
plant is found commonly growing on pear-trees, oaks, and other trees
in thick damp woods throughout the more temperate parts of Sweden.
Thus one of the two main incidents of Balder's myth is reproduced in
the great midsummer festival of Scandinavia. But the other main
incident of the myth, the burning of Balder's body on a pyre, has
also its counterpart in the bonfires which still blaze, or blazed
till lately, in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden on Midsummer Eve. It
does not appear, indeed, that any effigy is burned in these
bonfires; but the burning of an effigy is a feature which might
easily drop out after its meaning was forgotten. And the name of
Balder's balefires (_Balder's Balar_), by which these midsummer
fires were formerly known in Sweden, puts their connexion with
Balder beyond the reach of doubt, and makes it probable that in
former times either a living representative or an effigy of Balder
was annually burned in them. Midsummer was the season sacred to
Balder, and the Swedish poet Tegner, in placing the burning of
Balder at midsummer, may very well have followed an old tradition
that the summer solstice was the time when the good god came to his
untimely end.

Thus it has been shown that the leading incidents of the Balder myth
have their counterparts in those fire-festivals of our European
peasantry which undoubtedly date from a time long prior to the
introduction of Christianity. The pretence of throwing the victim
chosen by lot into the Beltane fire, and the similar treatment of
the man, the future Green Wolf, at the midsummer bonfire in
Normandy, may naturally be interpreted as traces of an older custom
of actually burning human beings on these occasions; and the green
dress of the Green Wolf, coupled with the leafy envelope of the
young fellow who trod out the midsummer fire at Moosheim, seems to
hint that the persons who perished at these festivals did so in the
character of tree-spirits or deities of vegetation. From all this we
may reasonably infer that in the Balder myth on the one hand, and
the fire-festivals and custom of gathering mistletoe on the other
hand, we have, as it were, the two broken and dissevered halves of
an original whole. In other words, we may assume with some degree of
probability that the myth of Balder's death was not merely a myth,
that is, a description of physical phenomena in imagery borrowed
from human life, but that it was at the same time the story which
people told to explain why they annually burned a human
representative of the god and cut the mistletoe with solemn
ceremony. If I am right, the story of Balder's tragic end formed, so
to say, the text of the sacred drama which was acted year by year as
a magical rite to cause the sun to shine, trees to grow, crops to
thrive, and to guard man and beast from the baleful arts of fairies
and trolls, of witches and warlocks. The tale belonged, in short, to
that class of nature myths which are meant to be supplemented by
ritual; here, as so often, myth stood to magic in the relation of
theory to practice.

But if the victims--the human Balders--who died by fire, whether in
spring or at midsummer, were put to death as living embodiments of
tree-spirits or deities of vegetation, it would seem that Balder
himself must have been a tree-spirit or deity of vegetation. It
becomes desirable, therefore, to determine, if we can, the
particular kind of tree or trees, of which a personal representative
was burned at the fire-festivals. For we may be quite sure that it
was not as a representative of vegetation in general that the victim
suffered death. The idea of vegetation in general is too abstract to
be primitive. Most probably the victim at first represented a
particular kind of sacred tree. But of all European trees none has
such claims as the oak to be considered as pre-eminently the sacred
tree of the Aryans. We have seen that its worship is attested for
all the great branches of the Aryan stock in Europe; hence we may
certainly conclude that the tree was venerated by the Aryans in
common before the dispersion, and that their primitive home must
have lain in a land which was clothed with forests of oak.

Now, considering the primitive character and remarkable similarity
of the fire-festivals observed by all the branches of the Aryan race
in Europe, we may infer that these festivals form part of the common
stock of religious observances which the various peoples carried
with them in their wanderings from their old home. But, if I am
right, an essential feature of those primitive fire-festivals was
the burning of a man who represented the tree-spirit. In view, then,
of the place occupied by the oak in the religion of the Aryans, the
presumption is that the tree so represented at the fire-festivals
must originally have been the oak. So far as the Celts and
Lithuanians are concerned, this conclusion will perhaps hardly be
contested. But both for them and for the Germans it is confirmed by
a remarkable piece of religious conservatism. The most primitive
method known to man of producing fire is by rubbing two pieces of
wood against each other till they ignite; and we have seen that this
method is still used in Europe for kindling sacred fires such as the
need-fire, and that most probably it was formerly resorted to at all
the fire-festivals under discussion. Now it is sometimes required
that the need-fire, or other sacred fire, should be made by the
friction of a particular kind of wood; and when the kind of wood is
prescribed, whether among Celts, Germans, or Slavs, that wood
appears to be generally the oak. But if the sacred fire was
regularly kindled by the friction of oak-wood, we may infer that
originally the fire was also fed with the same material. In point of
fact, it appears that the perpetual fire of Vesta at Rome was fed
with oak-wood, and that oak-wood was the fuel consumed in the
perpetual fire which burned under the sacred oak at the great
Lithuanian sanctuary of Romove. Further, that oak-wood was formerly
the fuel burned in the midsummer fires may perhaps be inferred from
the custom, said to be still observed by peasants in many mountain
districts of Germany, of making up the cottage fire on Midsummer Day
with a heavy block of oak-wood. The block is so arranged that it
smoulders slowly and is not finally reduced to charcoal till the
expiry of a year. Then upon next Midsummer Day the charred embers of
the old log are removed to make room for the new one, and are mixed
with the seed-corn or scattered about the garden. This is believed
to guard the food cooked on the hearth from witchcraft, to preserve
the luck of the house, to promote the growth of the crops, and to
keep them from blight and vermin. Thus the custom is almost exactly
parallel to that of the Yule-log, which in parts of Germany, France,
England, Serbia, and other Slavonic lands was commonly of oak-wood.
The general conclusion is, that at those periodic or occasional
ceremonies the ancient Aryans both kindled and fed the fire with the
sacred oak-wood.

But if at these solemn rites the fire was regularly made of oakwood,
it follows that any man who was burned in it as a personification of
the tree-spirit could have represented no tree but the oak. The
sacred oak was thus burned in duplicate; the wood of the tree was
consumed in the fire, and along with it was consumed a living man as
a personification of the oak-spirit. The conclusion thus drawn for
the European Aryans in general is confirmed in its special
application to the Scandinavians by the relation in which amongst
them the mistletoe appears to have stood to the burning of the
victim in the midsummer fire. We have seen that among Scandinavians
it has been customary to gather the mistletoe at midsummer. But so
far as appears on the face of this custom, there is nothing to
connect it with the midsummer fires in which human victims or
effigies of them were burned. Even if the fire, as seems probable,
was originally always made with oak-wood, why should it have been
necessary to pull the mistletoe? The last link between the midsummer
customs of gathering the mistletoe and lighting the bonfires is
supplied by Balder's myth, which can hardly be disjoined from the
customs in question. The myth suggests that a vital connexion may
once have been believed to subsist between the mistletoe and the
human representative of the oak who was burned in the fire.
According to the myth, Balder could be killed by nothing in heaven
or earth except the mistletoe; and so long as the mistletoe remained
on the oak, he was not only immortal but invulnerable. Now, if we
suppose that Balder was the oak, the origin of the myth becomes
intelligible. The mistletoe was viewed as the seat of life of the
oak, and so long as it was uninjured nothing could kill or even
wound the oak. The conception of the mistletoe as the seat of life
of the oak would naturally be suggested to primitive people by the
observation that while the oak is deciduous, the mistletoe which
grows on it is evergreen. In winter the sight of its fresh foliage
among the bare branches must have been hailed by the worshippers of
the tree as a sign that the divine life which had ceased to animate
the branches yet survived in the mistletoe, as the heart of a
sleeper still beats when his body is motionless. Hence when the god
had to be killed--when the sacred tree had to be burnt--it was
necessary to begin by breaking off the mistletoe. For so long as the
mistletoe remained intact, the oak (so people might think) was
invulnerable; all the blows of their knives and axes would glance
harmless from its surface. But once tear from the oak its sacred
heart--the mistletoe--and the tree nodded to its fall. And when in
later times the spirit of the oak came to be represented by a living
man, it was logically necessary to suppose that, like the tree he
personated, he could neither be killed nor wounded so long as the
mistletoe remained uninjured. The pulling of the mistletoe was thus
at once the signal and the cause of his death.

On this view the invulnerable Balder is neither more nor less than a
personification of a mistletoe-bearing oak. The interpretation is
confirmed by what seems to have been an ancient Italian belief, that
the mistletoe can be destroyed neither by fire nor water; for if the
parasite is thus deemed indestructible, it might easily be supposed
to communicate its own indestructibility to the tree on which it
grows, so long as the two remain in conjunction. Or, to put the same
idea in mythical form, we might tell how the kindly god of the oak
had his life securely deposited in the imperishable mistletoe which
grew among the branches; how accordingly so long as the mistletoe
kept its place there, the deity himself remained invulnerable; and
how at last a cunning foe, let into the secret of the god's
invulnerability, tore the mistletoe from the oak, thereby killing
the oak-god and afterwards burning his body in a fire which could
have made no impression on him so long as the incombustible parasite
retained its seat among the boughs.

But since the idea of a being whose life is thus, in a sense,
outside himself, must be strange to many readers, and has, indeed,
not yet been recognised in its full bearing on primitive
superstition, it will be worth while to illustrate it by examples
drawn both from story and custom. The result will be to show that,
in assuming this idea as the explanation of Balder's relation to the
mistletoe, I assume a principle which is deeply engraved on the mind
of primitive man.

LXVI. The External Soul in Folk-Tales

IN A FORMER part of this work we saw that, in the opinion of
primitive people, the soul may temporarily absent itself from the
body without causing death. Such temporary absences of the soul are
often believed to involve considerable risk, since the wandering
soul is liable to a variety of mishaps at the hands of enemies, and
so forth. But there is another aspect to this power of disengaging
the soul from the body. If only the safety of the soul can be
ensured during its absence, there is no reason why the soul should
not continue absent for an indefinite time; indeed a man may, on a
pure calculation of personal safety, desire that his soul should
never return to his body. Unable to conceive of life abstractly as a
"permanent possibility of sensation" or a "continuous adjustment of
internal arrangements to external relations," the savage thinks of
it as a concrete material thing of a definite bulk, capable of being
seen and handled, kept in a box or jar, and liable to be bruised,
fractured, or smashed in pieces. It is not needful that the life, so
conceived, should be in the man; it may be absent from his body and
still continue to animate him by virtue of a sort of sympathy or
action at a distance. So long as this object which he calls his life
or soul remains unharmed, the man is well; if it is injured, he
suffers; if it is destroyed, he dies. Or, to put it otherwise, when
a man is ill or dies, the fact is explained by saying that the
material object called his life or soul, whether it be in his body
or out of it, has either sustained injury or been destroyed. But
there may be circumstances in which, if the life or soul remains in
the man, it stands a greater chance of sustaining injury than if it
were stowed away in some safe and secret place. Accordingly, in such
circumstances, primitive man takes his soul out of his body and
deposits it for security in some snug spot, intending to replace it
in his body when the danger is past. Or if he should discover some
place of absolute security, he may be content to leave his soul
there permanently. The advantage of this is that, so long as the
soul remains unharmed in the place where he has deposited it, the
man himself is immortal; nothing can kill his body, since his life
is not in it.

Evidence of this primitive belief is furnished by a class of
folk-tales of which the Norse story of "The giant who had no heart
in his body" is perhaps the best-known example. Stories of this kind
are widely diffused over the world, and from their number and the
variety of incident and of details in which the leading idea is
embodied, we may infer that the conception of an external soul is
one which has had a powerful hold on the minds of men at an early
stage of history. For folk-tales are a faithful reflection of the
world as it appeared to the primitive mind; and we may be sure that
any idea which commonly occurs in them, however absurd it may seem
to us, must once have been an ordinary article of belief. This
assurance, so far as it concerns the supposed power of disengaging
the soul from the body for a longer or shorter time, is amply
corroborated by a comparison of the folk-tales in question with the
actual beliefs and practices of savages. To this we shall return
after some specimens of the tales have been given. The specimens
will be selected with a view of illustrating both the characteristic
features and the wide diffusion of this class of tales.

In the first place, the story of the external soul is told, in
various forms, by all Aryan peoples from Hindoostan to the Hebrides.
A very common form of it is this: A warlock, giant, or other
fairyland being is invulnerable and immortal because he keeps his
soul hidden far away in some secret place; but a fair princess, whom
he holds enthralled in his enchanted castle, wiles his secret from
him and reveals it to the hero, who seeks out the warlock's soul,
heart, life, or death (as it is variously called), and by destroying
it, simultaneously kills the warlock. Thus a Hindoo story tells how
a magician called Punchkin held a queen captive for twelve years,
and would fain marry her, but she would not have him. At last the
queen's son came to rescue her, and the two plotted together to kill
Punchkin. So the queen spoke the magician fair, and pretended that
she had at last made up her mind to marry him. "And do tell me," she
said, "are you quite immortal? Can death never touch you? And are
you too great an enchanter ever to feel human suffering?" "It is
true," he said, "that I am not as others. Far, far away, hundreds of
thousands of miles from this, there lies a desolate country covered
with thick jungle. In the midst of the jungle grows a circle of palm
trees, and in the centre of the circle stand six chattees full of
water, piled one above another: below the sixth chattee is a small
cage, which contains a little green parrot;--on the life of the
parrot depends my life;--and if the parrot is killed I must die. It
is, however," he added, "impossible that the parrot should sustain
any injury, both on account of the inaccessibility of the country,
and because, by my appointment, many thousand genii surround the
palm trees, and kill all who approach the place." But the queen's
young son overcame all difficulties, and got possession of the
parrot. He brought it to the door of the magician's palace, and
began playing with it. Punchkin, the magician, saw him, and, coming
out, tried to persuade the boy to give him the parrot. "Give me my
parrot!" cried Punchkin. Then the boy took hold of the parrot and
tore off one of his wings; and as he did so the magician's right arm
fell off. Punchkin then stretched out his left arm, crying, "Give me
my parrot!" The prince pulled off the parrot's second wing, and the
magician's left arm tumbled off. "Give me my parrot!" cried he, and
fell on his knees. The prince pulled off the parrot's right leg, the
magician's right leg fell off; the prince pulled off the parrot's
left leg, down fell the magician's left. Nothing remained of him
except the trunk and the head; but still he rolled his eyes, and
cried, "Give me my parrot!" "Take your parrot, then," cried the boy;
and with that he wrung the bird's neck, and threw it at the
magician; and, as he did so, Punchkin's head twisted round, and,
with a fearful groan, he died! In another Hindoo tale an ogre is
asked by his daughter, "Papa, where do you keep your soul?" "Sixteen
miles away from this place," he said, "is a tree. Round the tree are
tigers, and bears, and scorpions, and snakes; on the top of the tree
is a very great fat snake; on his head is a little cage; in the cage
is a bird; and my soul is in that bird." The end of the ogre is like
that of the magician in the previous tale. As the bird's wings and
legs are torn off, the ogre's arms and legs drop off; and when its
neck is wrung he falls down dead. In a Bengalee story it is said
that all the ogres dwell in Ceylon, and that all their lives are in
a single lemon. A boy cuts the lemon in pieces, and all the ogres

In a Siamese or Cambodian story, probably derived from India, we are
told that Thossakan or Ravana, the King of Ceylon, was able by magic
art to take his soul out of his body and leave it in a box at home,
while he went to the wars. Thus he was invulnerable in battle. When
he was about to give battle to Rama, he deposited his soul with a
hermit called Fire-eye, who was to keep it safe for him. So in the
fight Rama was astounded to see that his arrows struck the king
without wounding him. But one of Rama's allies, knowing the secret
of the king's invulnerability, transformed himself by magic into the
likeness of the king, and going to the hermit asked back his soul.
On receiving it he soared up into the air and flew to Rama,
brandishing the box and squeezing it so hard that all the breath
left the King of Ceylon's body, and he died. In a Bengalee story a
prince going into a far country planted with his own hands a tree in
the courtyard of his father's palace, and said to his parents, "This
tree is my life. When you see the tree green and fresh, then know
that it is well with me; when you see the tree fade in some parts,
then know that I am in an ill case; and when you see the whole tree
fade, then know that I am dead and gone." In another Indian tale a
prince, setting forth on his travels, left behind him a barley
plant, with instructions that it should be carefully tended and
watched; for if it flourished, he would be alive and well, but if it
drooped, then some mischance was about to happen to him. And so it
fell out. For the prince was beheaded, and as his head rolled off,
the barley plant snapped in two and the ear of barley fell to the

In Greek tales, ancient and modern, the idea of an external soul is
not uncommon. When Meleager was seven days old, the Fates appeared
to his mother and told her that Meleager would die when the brand
which was blazing on the hearth had burnt down. So his mother
snatched the brand from the fire and kept it in a box. But in
after-years, being enraged at her son for slaying her brothers, she
burnt the brand in the fire and Meleager expired in agonies, as if
flames were preying on his vitals. Again, Nisus King of Megara had a
purple or golden hair on the middle of his head, and it was fated
that whenever the hair was pulled out the king should die. When
Megara was besieged by the Cretans, the king's daughter Scylla fell
in love with Minos, their king, and pulled out the fatal hair from
her father's head. So he died. In a modern Greek folk-tale a man's
strength lies in three golden hairs on his head. When his mother
pulls them out, he grows weak and timid and is slain by his enemies.
In another modern Greek story the life of an enchanter is bound up
with three doves which are in the belly of a wild boar. When the
first dove is killed, the magician grows sick; when the second is
killed, he grows very sick; and when the third is killed, he dies.
In another Greek story of the same sort an ogre's strength is in
three singing birds which are in a wild boar. The hero kills two of
the birds, and then coming to the ogre's house finds him lying on
the ground in great pain. He shows the third bird to the ogre, who
begs that the hero will either let it fly away or give it to him to
eat. But the hero wrings the bird's neck, and the ogre dies on the

In a modern Roman version of "Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp," the
magician tells the princess, whom he holds captive in a floating
rock in mid-ocean, that he will never die. The princess reports this
to the prince her husband, who has come to rescue her. The prince
replies, "It is impossible but that there should be some one thing
or other that is fatal to him; ask him what that one fatal thing
is." So the princess asked the magician, and he told her that in the
wood was a hydra with seven heads; in the middle head of the hydra
was a leveret, in the head of the leveret was a bird, in the bird's
head was a precious stone, and if this stone were put under his
pillow he would die. The prince procured the stone, and the princess
laid it under the magician's pillow. No sooner did the enchanter lay
his head on the pillow than he gave three terrible yells, turned
himself round and round three times, and died.

Stories of the same sort are current among Slavonic peoples. Thus a
Russian story tells how a warlock called Koshchei the Deathless
carried off a princess and kept her prisoner in his golden castle.
However, a prince made up to her one day as she was walking alone
and disconsolate in the castle garden, and cheered by the prospect
of escaping with him she went to the warlock and coaxed him with
false and flattering words, saying, "My dearest friend, tell me, I
pray you, will you never die?" "Certainly not," says he. "Well,"
says she, "and where is your death? is it in your dwelling?" "To be
sure it is," says he, "it is in the broom under the threshold."
Thereupon the princess seized the broom and threw it on the fire,
but although the broom burned, the deathless Koshchei remained
alive; indeed not so much as a hair of him was singed. Balked in her
first attempt, the artful hussy pouted and said, "You do not love me
true, for you have not told me where your death is; yet I am not
angry, but love you with all my heart." With these fawning words she
besought the warlock to tell her truly where his death was. So he
laughed and said, "Why do you wish to know? Well then, out of love I
will tell you where it lies. In a certain field there stand three
green oaks, and under the roots of the largest oak is a worm, and if
ever this worm is found and crushed, that instant I shall die." When
the princess heard these words, she went straight to her lover and
told him all; and he searched till he found the oaks and dug up the
worm and crushed it. Then he hurried to the warlock's castle, but
only to learn from the princess that the warlock was still alive.
Then she fell to wheedling and coaxing Koshchei once more, and this
time, overcome by her wiles, he opened his heart to her and told her
the truth. "My death," said he, "is far from here and hard to find,
on the wide ocean. In that sea is an island, and on the island there
grows a green oak, and beneath the oak is an iron chest, and in the
chest is a small basket, and in the basket is a hare, and in the
hare is a duck, and in the duck is an egg; and he who finds the egg
and breaks it, kills me at the same time." The prince naturally
procured the fateful egg and with it in his hands he confronted the
deathless warlock. The monster would have killed him, but the prince
began to squeeze the egg. At that the warlock shrieked with pain,
and turning to the false princess, who stood by smirking and
smiling, "Was it not out of love for you," said he, "that I told you
where my death was? And is this the return you make to me?" With
that he grabbed at his sword, which hung from a peg on the wall; but
before he could reach it, the prince had crushed the egg, and sure
enough the deathless warlock found his death at the same moment. "In
one of the descriptions of Koshchei's death, he is said to be killed
by a blow on the forehead inflicted by the mysterious egg--that last
link in the magic chain by which his life is darkly bound. In
another version of the same story, but told of a snake, the fatal
blow is struck by a small stone found in the yolk of an egg, which
is inside a duck, which is inside a hare, which is inside a stone,
which is on an island."

Amongst peoples of the Teutonic stock stories of the external soul
are not wanting. In a tale told by the Saxons of Transylvania it is
said that a young man shot at a witch again and again. The bullets
went clean through her but did her no harm, and she only laughed and
mocked at him. "Silly earthworm," she cried, "shoot as much as you
like. It does me no harm. For know that my life resides not in me
but far, far away. In a mountain is a pond, on the pond swims a
duck, in the duck is an egg, in the egg burns a light, that light is
my life. If you could put out that light, my life would be at an
end. But that can never, never be." However, the young man got hold
of the egg, smashed it, and put out the light, and with it the
witch's life went out also. In a German story a cannibal called Body
without Soul or Soulless keeps his soul in a box, which stands on a
rock in the middle of the Red Sea. A soldier gets possession of the
box and goes with it to Soulless, who begs the soldier to give him
back his soul. But the soldier opens the box, takes out the soul,
and flings it backward over his head. At the same moment the
cannibal drops dead to the ground.

In another German story and old warlock lives with a damsel all
alone in the midst of a vast and gloomy wood. She fears that being
old he may die and leave her alone in the forest. But he reassures
her. "Dear child," he said, "I cannot die, and I have no heart in my
breast." But she importuned him to tell her where his heart was. So
he said, "Far, far from here in an unknown and lonesome land stands
a great church. The church is well secured with iron doors, and
round about it flows a broad deep moat. In the church flies a bird
and in the bird is my heart. So long as the bird lives, I live. It
cannot die of itself, and no one can catch it; therefore I cannot
die, and you need have no anxiety." However the young man, whose
bride the damsel was to have been before the warlock spirited her
away, contrived to reach the church and catch the bird. He brought
it to the damsel, who stowed him and it away under the warlock's
bed. Soon the old warlock came home. He was ailing, and said so. The
girl wept and said, "Alas, daddy is dying; he has a heart in his
breast after all." "Child," replied the warlock, "hold your tongue.
I _can't_ die. It will soon pass over." At that the young man under
the bed gave the bird a gentle squeeze; and as he did so, the old
warlock felt very unwell and sat down. Then the young man gripped
the bird tighter, and the warlock fell senseless from his chair.
"Now squeeze him dead," cried the damsel. Her lover obeyed, and when
the bird was dead, the old warlock also lay dead on the floor.

In the Norse tale of "the giant who had no heart in his body," the
giant tells the captive princess, "Far, far away in a lake lies an
island, on that island stands a church, in that church is a well, in
that well swims a duck, in that duck there is an egg, and in that
egg there lies my heart." The hero of the tale, with the help of
some animals to whom he had been kind, obtains the egg and squeezes
it, at which the giant screams piteously and begs for his life. But
the hero breaks the egg in pieces and the giant at once bursts. In
another Norse story a hill-ogre tells the captive princess that she
will never be able to return home unless she finds the grain of sand
which lies under the ninth tongue of the ninth head of a certain
dragon; but if that grain of sand were to come over the rock in
which the ogres live, they would all burst "and the rock itself
would become a gilded palace, and the lake green meadows." The hero
finds the grain of sand and takes it to the top of the high rock in
which the ogres live. So all the ogres burst and the rest falls out
as one of the ogres had foretold.

In a Celtic tale, recorded in the West Highlands of Scotland, a
giant is questioned by a captive queen as to where he keeps his
soul. At last, after deceiving her several times, he confides to her
the fatal secret: "There is a great flagstone under the threshold.
There is a wether under the flag. There is a duck in the wether's
belly, and an egg in the belly of the duck, and it is in the egg
that my soul is." On the morrow when the giant was gone, the queen
contrived to get possession of the egg and crushed it in her hands,
and at that very moment the giant, who was coming home in the dusk,
fell down dead. In another Celtic tale, a sea beast has carried off
a king's daughter, and an old smith declares that there is no way of
killing the beast but one. "In the island that is in the midst of
the loch is Eillid Chaisfhion--the white-footed hind, of the
slenderest legs, and the swiftest step, and though she should be
caught, there would spring a hoodie out of her, and though the
hoodie should be caught, there would spring a trout out of her, but
there is an egg in the mouth of the trout, and the soul of the beast
is in the egg, and if the egg breaks, the beast is dead." As usual
the egg is broken and the beast dies.

In an Irish story we read how a giant kept a beautiful damsel a
prisoner in his castle on the top of a hill, which was white with
the bones of the champions who had tried in vain to rescue the fair
captive. At last the hero, after hewing and slashing at the giant
all to no purpose, discovered that the only way to kill him was to
rub a mole on the giant's right breast with a certain egg, which was
in a duck, which was in a chest, which lay locked and bound at the
bottom of the sea. With the help of some obliging animals, the hero
made himself master of the precious egg and slew the giant by merely
striking it against the mole on his right breast. Similarly in a
Breton story there figures a giant whom neither fire nor water nor
steel can harm. He tells his seventh wife, whom he has just married
after murdering all her predecessors, "I am immortal, and no one can
hurt me unless he crushes on my breast an egg, which is in a pigeon,
which is in the belly of a hare; this hare is in the belly of a
wolf, and this wolf is in the belly of my brother, who dwells a
thousand leagues from here. So I am quite easy on that score." A
soldier contrived to obtain the egg and crush it on the breast of
the giant, who immediately expired. In another Breton tale the life
of a giant resides in an old box-tree which grows in his castle
garden; and to kill him it is necessary to sever the tap-root of the
tree at a single blow of an axe without injuring any of the lesser
roots. This task the hero, as usual, successfully accomplishes, and
at the same moment the giant drops dead.

The notion of an external soul has now been traced in folk-tales
told by Aryan peoples from India to Ireland. We have still to show
that the same idea occurs commonly in the popular stories of peoples
who do not belong to the Aryan stock. In the ancient Egyptian tale
of "The Two Brothers," which was written down in the reign of
Rameses II., about 1300 B.C., we read how one of the brothers
enchanted his heart and placed it in the flower of an acacia tree,
and how, when the flower was cut at the instigation of his wife, he
immediately fell down dead, but revived when his brother found the
lost heart in the berry of the acacia and threw it into a cup of
fresh water.

In the story of Seyf el-Mulook in the _Arabian Nights_ the jinnee
tells the captive daughter of the King of India, "When I was born,
the astrologers declared that the destruction of my soul would be
effected by the hand of one of the sons of the human kings. I
therefore took my soul, and put it into the crop of a sparrow, and I
imprisoned the sparrow in a little box, and put this into another
small box, and this I put within seven other small boxes, and I put
these within seven chests, and the chests I put into a coffer of
marble within the verge of this circumambient ocean; for this part
is remote from the countries of mankind, and none of mankind can
gain access to it." But Seyf el-Mulook got possession of the sparrow
and strangled it, and the jinnee fell upon the ground a heap of
black ashes. In a Kabyle story an ogre declares that his fate is far
away in an egg, which is in a pigeon, which is in a camel, which is
in the sea. The hero procures the egg and crushes it between his
hands, and the ogre dies. In a Magyar folk-tale, an old witch
detains a young prince called Ambrose in the bowels of the earth. At
last she confided to him that she kept a wild boar in a silken
meadow, and if it were killed, they would find a hare inside, and
inside the hare a pigeon, and inside the pigeon a small box, and
inside the box one black and one shining beetle: the shining beetle
held her life, and the black one held her power; if these two
beetles died, then her life would come to an end also. When the old
hag went out, Ambrose killed the wild boar, and took out the hare;
from the hare he took the pigeon, from the pigeon the box, and from
the box the two beetles; he killed the black beetle, but kept the
shining one alive. So the witch's power left her immediately, and
when she came home, she had to take to her bed. Having learned from
her how to escape from his prison to the upper air, Ambrose killed
the shining beetle, and the old hag's spirit left her at once. In a
Kalmuck tale we read how a certain khan challenged a wise man to
show his skill by stealing a precious stone on which the khan's life
depended. The sage contrived to purloin the talisman while the khan
and his guards slept; but not content with this he gave a further
proof of his dexterity by bonneting the slumbering potentate with a
bladder. This was too much for the khan. Next morning he informed
the sage that he could overlook everything else, but that the
indignity of being bonneted with a bladder was more than he could
bear; and he ordered his facetious friend to instant execution.
Pained at this exhibition of royal ingratitude, the sage dashed to
the ground the talisman which he still held in his hand; and at the
same instant blood flowed from the nostrils of the khan, and he gave
up the ghost.

In a Tartar poem two heroes named Ak Molot and Bulat engage in
mortal combat. Ak Molot pierces his foe through and through with an
arrow, grapples with him, and dashes him to the ground, but all in
vain, Bulat could not die. At last when the combat has lasted three
years, a friend of Ak Molot sees a golden casket hanging by a white
thread from the sky, and bethinks him that perhaps this casket
contains Bulat's soul. So he shot through the white thread with an
arrow, and down fell the casket. He opened it, and in the casket sat
ten white birds, and one of the birds was Bulat's soul. Bulat wept
when he saw that his soul was found in the casket. But one after the
other the birds were killed, and then Ak Molot easily slew his foe.
In another Tartar poem, two brothers going to fight two other
brothers take out their souls and hide them in the form of a white
herb with six stalks in a deep pit. But one of their foes sees them
doing so and digs up their souls, which he puts into a golden ram's
horn, and then sticks the ram's horn in his quiver. The two warriors
whose souls have thus been stolen know that they have no chance of
victory, and accordingly make peace with their enemies. In another
Tartar poem a terrible demon sets all the gods and heroes at
defiance. At last a valiant youth fights the demon, binds him hand
and foot, and slices him with his sword. But still the demon is not
slain. So the youth asked him, "Tell me, where is your soul hidden?
For if your soul had been hidden in your body, you must have been
dead long ago." The demon replied, "On the saddle of my horse is a
bag. In the bag is a serpent with twelve heads. In the serpent is my
soul. When you have killed the serpent, you have killed me also." So
the youth took the saddle-bag from the horse and killed the
twelve-headed serpent, whereupon the demon expired. In another
Tartar poem a hero called Kök Chan deposits with a maiden a golden
ring, in which is half his strength. Afterwards when Kök Chan is
wrestling long with a hero and cannot kill him, a woman drops into
his mouth the ring which contains half his strength. Thus inspired
with fresh force he slays his enemy.

In a Mongolian story the hero Joro gets the better of his enemy the
lama Tschoridong in the following way. The lama, who is an
enchanter, sends out his soul in the form of a wasp to sting Joro's
eyes. But Joro catches the wasp in his hand, and by alternately
shutting and opening his hand he causes the lama alternately to lose
and recover consciousness. In a Tartar poem two youths cut open the
body of an old witch and tear out her bowels, but all to no purpose,
she still lives. On being asked where her soul is, she answers that
it is in the middle of her shoe-sole in the form of a seven-headed
speckled snake. So one of the youths slices her shoe-sole with his
sword, takes out the speckled snake, and cuts off its seven heads.
Then the witch dies. Another Tartar poem describes how the hero
Kartaga grappled with the Swan-woman. Long they wrestled. Moons
waxed and waned and still they wrestled; years came and went, and
still the struggle went on. But the piebald horse and the black
horse knew that the Swan-woman's soul was not in her. Under the
black earth flow nine seas; where the seas meet and form one, the
sea comes to the surface of the earth. At the mouth of the nine seas
rises a rock of copper; it rises to the surface of the ground, it
rises up between heaven and earth, this rock of copper. At the foot
of the copper rock is a black chest, in the black chest is a golden
casket, and in the golden casket is the soul of the Swan-woman.
Seven little birds are the soul of the Swan-woman; if the birds are
killed the Swan-woman will die straightway. So the horses ran to the
foot of the copper rock, opened the black chest, and brought back
the golden casket. Then the piebald horse turned himself into a
bald-headed man, opened the golden casket, and cut off the heads of
the seven birds. So the Swan-woman died. In another Tartar poem the
hero, pursuing his sister who has driven away his cattle, is warned
to desist from the pursuit because his sister has carried away his
soul in a golden sword and a golden arrow, and if he pursues her she
will kill him by throwing the golden sword or shooting the golden
arrow at him.

A Malay poem relates how once upon a time in the city of Indrapoora
there was a certain merchant who was rich and prosperous, but he had
no children. One day as he walked with his wife by the river they
found a baby girl, fair as an angel. So they adopted the child and
called her Bidasari. The merchant caused a golden fish to be made,
and into this fish he transferred the soul of his adopted daughter.
Then he put the golden fish in a golden box full of water, and hid
it in a pond in the midst of his garden. In time the girl grew to be
a lovely woman. Now the King of Indrapoora had a fair young queen,
who lived in fear that the king might take to himself a second wife.
So, hearing of the charms of Bidasari, the queen resolved to put her
out of the way. She lured the girl to the palace and tortured her
cruelly; but Bidasari could not die, because her soul was not in
her. At last she could stand the torture no longer and said to the
queen, "If you wish me to die, you must bring the box which is in
the pond in my father's garden." So the box was brought and opened,
and there was the golden fish in the water. The girl said, "My soul
is in that fish. In the morning you must take the fish out of the
water, and in the evening you must put it back into the water. Do
not let the fish lie about, but bind it round your neck. If you do
this, I shall soon die." So the queen took the fish out of the box
and fastened it round her neck; and no sooner had she done so than
Bidasari fell into a swoon. But in the evening, when the fish was
put back into the water, Bidasari came to herself again. Seeing that
she thus had the girl in her power, the queen sent her home to her
adopted parents. To save her from further persecution her parents
resolved to remove their daughter from the city. So in a lonely and
desolate spot they built a house and brought Bidasari thither. There
she dwelt alone, undergoing vicissitudes that corresponded with the
vicissitudes of the golden fish in which was her soul. All day long,
while the fish was out of the water, she remained unconscious; but
in the evening, when the fish was put into the water, she revived.
One day the king was out hunting, and coming to the house where
Bidasari lay unconscious, was smitten with her beauty. He tried to
waken her, but in vain. Next day, towards evening, he repeated his
visit, but still found her unconscious. However, when darkness fell,
she came to herself and told the king the secret of her life. So the
king returned to the palace, took the fish from the queen, and put
it in water. Immediately Bidasari revived, and the king took her to

Another story of an external soul comes from Nias, an island to the
west of Sumatra. Once on a time a chief was captured by his enemies,
who tried to put him to death but failed. Water would not drown him
nor fire burn him nor steel pierce him. At last his wife revealed
the secret. On his head he had a hair as hard as a copper wire; and
with this wire his life was bound up. So the hair was plucked out,
and with it his spirit fled.

A West African story from Southern Nigeria relates how a king kept
his soul in a little brown bird, which perched on a tall tree beside
the gate of the palace. The king's life was so bound up with that of
the bird that whoever should kill the bird would simultaneously kill
the king and succeed to the kingdom. The secret was betrayed by the
queen to her lover, who shot the bird with an arrow and thereby slew
the king and ascended the vacant throne. A tale told by the Ba-Ronga
of South Africa sets forth how the lives of a whole family were
contained in one cat. When a girl of the family, named Titishan,
married a husband, she begged her parents to let her take the
precious cat with her to her new home. But they refused, saying,
"You know that our life is attached to it"; and they offered to give
her an antelope or even an elephant instead of it. But nothing would
satisfy her but the cat. So at last she carried it off with her and
shut it up in a place where nobody saw it; even her husband knew
nothing about it. One day, when she went to work in the fields, the
cat escaped from its place of concealment, entered the hut, put on
the warlike trappings of the husband, and danced and sang. Some
children, attracted by the noise, discovered the cat at its antics,
and when they expressed their astonishment, the animal only capered
the more and insulted them besides. So they went to the owner and
said, "There is somebody dancing in your house, and he insulted us."
"Hold your tongues," said he, "I'll soon put a stop to your lies."
So he went and hid behind the door and peeped in, and there sure
enough was the cat prancing about and singing. He fired at it, and
the animal dropped down dead. At the same moment his wife fell to
the ground in the field where she was at work; said she, "I have
been killed at home." But she had strength enough left to ask her
husband to go with her to her parents' village, taking with him the
dead cat wrapt up in a mat. All her relatives assembled, and
bitterly they reproached her for having insisted on taking the
animal with her to her husband's village. As soon as the mat was
unrolled and they saw the dead cat, they all fell down lifeless one
after the other. So the Clan of the Cat was destroyed; and the
bereaved husband closed the gate of the village with a branch, and
returned home, and told his friends how in killing the cat he had
killed the whole clan, because their lives depended on the life of
the cat.

Ideas of the same sort meet us in stories told by the North American
Indians. Thus the Navajoes tell of a certain mythical being called
"the Maiden that becomes a Bear," who learned the art of turning
herself into a bear from the prairie wolf. She was a great warrior
and quite invulnerable; for when she went to war she took out her
vital organs and hid them, so that no one could kill her; and when
the battle was over she put the organs back in their places again.
The Kwakiutl Indians of British Columbia tell of an ogress, who
could not be killed because her life was in a hemlock branch. A
brave boy met her in the woods, smashed her head with a stone,
scattered her brains, broke her bones, and threw them into the
water. Then, thinking he had disposed of the ogress, he went into
her house. There he saw a woman rooted to the floor, who warned him,
saying, "Now do not stay long. I know that you have tried to kill
the ogress. It is the fourth time that somebody has tried to kill
her. She never dies; she has nearly come to life. There in that
covered hemlock branch is her life. Go there, and as soon as you see
her enter, shoot her life. Then she will be dead." Hardly had she
finished speaking when sure enough in came the ogress, singing as
she walked. But the boy shot at her life, and she fell dead to the

LXVII. The External Soul in Folk-Custom

1. The External Soul in Inanimate Things

THUS the idea that the soul may be deposited for a longer or shorter
time in some place of security outside the body, or at all events in
the hair, is found in the popular tales of many races. It remains to
show that the idea is not a mere figment devised to adorn a tale,
but is a real article of primitive faith, which has given rise to a
corresponding set of customs.

We have seen that in the tales the hero, as a preparation for
battle, sometimes removes his soul from his body, in order that his
body may be invulnerable and immortal in the combat. With a like
intention the savage removes his soul from his body on various
occasions of real or imaginary peril. Thus among the people of
Minahassa in Celebes, when a family moves into a new house, a priest
collects the souls of the whole family in a bag, and afterwards
restores them to their owners, because the moment of entering a new
house is supposed to be fraught with supernatural danger. In
Southern Celebes, when a woman is brought to bed, the messenger who
fetches the doctor or the midwife always carries with him something
made of iron, such as a chopping-knife, which he delivers to the
doctor. The doctor must keep the thing in his house till the
confinement is over, when he gives it back, receiving a fixed sum of
money for doing so. The chopping-knife, or whatever it is,
represents the woman's soul, which at this critical time is believed
to be safer out of her body than in it. Hence the doctor must take
great care of the object; for were it lost, the woman's soul would
assuredly, they think, be lost with it.

Among the Dyaks of Pinoeh, a district of South-eastern Borneo, when
a child is born, a medicine-man is sent for, who conjures the soul
of the infant into half a coco-nut, which he thereupon covers with a
cloth and places on a square platter or charger suspended by cords
from the roof. This ceremony he repeats at every new moon for a
year. The intention of the ceremony is not explained by the writer
who describes it, but we may conjecture that it is to place the soul
of the child in a safer place than its own frail little body. This
conjecture is confirmed by the reason assigned for a similar custom
observed elsewhere in the Indian Archipelago. In the Kei Islands,
when there is a newly-born child in a house, an empty coco-nut,
split and spliced together again, may sometimes be seen hanging
beside a rough wooden image of an ancestor. The soul of the infant
is believed to be temporarily deposited in the coco-nut in order
that it may be safe from the attacks of evil spirits; but when the
child grows bigger and stronger, the soul will take up its permanent
abode in its own body. Similarly among the Esquimaux of Alaska, when
a child is sick, the medicine-man will sometimes extract its soul
from its body and place it for safe-keeping in an amulet, which for
further security he deposits in his own medicine-bag. It seems
probable that many amulets have been similarly regarded as
soul-boxes, that is, as safes in which the souls of the owners are
kept for greater security. An old Mang'anje woman in the West Shire
district of British Central Africa used to wear round her neck an
ivory ornament, hollow, and about three inches long, which she
called her life or soul. Naturally, she would not part with it; a
planter tried to buy it of her, but in vain. When Mr. James
Macdonald was one day sitting in the house of a Hlubi chief,
awaiting the appearance of that great man, who was busy decorating
his person, a native pointed to a pair of magnificent ox-horns, and
said, "Ntame has his soul in these horns." The horns were those of
an animal which had been sacrificed, and they were held sacred. A
magician had fastened them to the roof to protect the house and its
inmates from the thunder-bolt. "The idea," adds Mr. Macdonald, "is
in no way foreign to South African thought. A man's soul there may
dwell in the roof of his house, in a tree, by a spring of water, or
on some mountain scaur." Among the natives of the Gazelle Peninsula
in New Britain there is a secret society which goes by the name of
Ingniet or Ingiet. On his entrance into it every man receives a
stone in the shape either of a human being or of an animal, and
henceforth his soul is believed to be knit up in a manner with the
stone. If it breaks, it is an evil omen for him; they say that the
thunder has struck the stone and that he who owns it will soon die.
If nevertheless the man survives the breaking of his soul-stone,
they say that it was not a proper soul-stone and he gets a new one
instead. The emperor Romanus Lecapenus was once informed by an
astronomer that the life of Simeon, prince of Bulgaria, was bound up
with a certain column in Constantinople, so that if the capital of
the column were removed, Simeon would immediately die. The emperor
took the hint and removed the capital, and at the same hour, as the
emperor learned by enquiry, Simeon died of heart disease in

Again, we have seen that in folk-tales a man's soul or strength is
sometimes represented as bound up with his hair, and that when his
hair is cut off he dies or grows weak. So the natives of Amboyna
used to think that their strength was in their hair and would desert
them if it were shorn. A criminal under torture in a Dutch Court of
that island persisted in denying his guilt till his hair was cut
off, when he immediately confessed. One man, who was tried for
murder, endured without flinching the utmost ingenuity of his
torturers till he saw the surgeon standing with a pair of shears. On
asking what this was for, and being told that it was to cut his
hair, he begged they would not do it, and made a clean breast. In
subsequent cases, when torture failed to wring a confession from a
prisoner, the Dutch authorities made a practice of cutting off his

Here in Europe it used to be thought that the maleficent powers of
witches and wizards resided in their hair, and that nothing could
make any impression on the miscreants so long as they kept their
hair on. Hence in France it was customary to shave the whole bodies
of persons charged with sorcery before handing them over to the
torturer. Millaeus witnessed the torture of some persons at
Toulouse, from whom no confession could be wrung until they were
stripped and completely shaven, when they readily acknowledged the
truth of the charge. A woman also, who apparently led a pious life,
was put to the torture on suspicion of witchcraft, and bore her
agonies with incredible constancy, until complete depilation drove
her to admit her guilt. The noted inquisitor Sprenger contented
himself with shaving the head of the suspected witch or wizard; but
his more thoroughgoing colleague Cumanus shaved the whole bodies of
forty-seven women before committing them all to the flames. He had
high authority for this rigorous scrutiny, since Satan himself, in a
sermon preached from the pulpit of North Berwick church, comforted
his many servants by assuring them that no harm could befall them
"sa lang as their hair wes on, and sould newir latt ane teir fall
fra thair ene." Similarly in Bastar, a province of India, "if a man
is adjudged guilty of witchcraft, he is beaten by the crowd, his
hair is shaved, the hair being supposed to constitute his power of
mischief, his front teeth are knocked out, in order, it is said, to
prevent him from muttering incantations. . . . Women suspected of
sorcery have to undergo the same ordeal; if found guilty, the same
punishment is awarded, and after being shaved, their hair is
attached to a tree in some public place." So among the Bhils of
India, when a woman was convicted of witchcraft and had been
subjected to various forms of persuasion, such as hanging head
downwards from a tree and having pepper put into her eyes, a lock of
hair was cut from her head and buried in the ground, "that the last
link between her and her former powers of mischief might be broken."
In like manner among the Aztecs of Mexico, when wizards and witches
"had done their evil deeds, and the time came to put an end to their
detestable life, some one laid hold of them and cropped the hair on
the crown of their heads, which took from them all their power of
sorcery and enchantment, and then it was that by death they put an
end to their odious existence."

2. The External Soul in Plants

FURTHER it has been shown that in folk-tales the life of a person is
sometimes so bound up with the life of a plant that the withering of
the plant will immediately follow or be followed by the death of the
person. Among the M'Bengas in Western Africa, about the Gaboon, when
two children are born on the same day, the people plant two trees of
the same kind and dance round them. The life of each of the children
is believed to be bound up with the life of one of the trees; and if
the tree dies or is thrown down, they are sure that the child will
soon die. In the Cameroons, also, the life of a person is believed
to be sympathetically bound up with that of a tree. The chief of Old
Town in Calabar kept his soul in a sacred grove near a spring of
water. When some Europeans, in frolic or ignorance, cut down part of
the grove, the spirit was most indignant and threatened the
perpetrators of the deed, according to the king, with all manner of

Some of the Papuans unite the life of a new-born babe
sympathetically with that of a tree by driving a pebble into the
bark of the tree. This is supposed to give them complete mastery
over the child's life; if the tree is cut down, the child will die.
After a birth the Maoris used to bury the navel-string in a sacred
place and plant a young sapling over it. As the tree grew, it was a
_tohu oranga_ or sign of life for the child; if it flourished, the
child would prosper; if it withered and died, the parents augured
the worst for the little one. In some parts of Fiji the navel-string
of a male infant is planted together with a coco-nut or the slip of
a breadfruit-tree, and the child's life is supposed to be intimately
connected with that of the tree. Amongst the Dyaks of Landak and
Tajan, districts of Dutch Borneo, it is customary to plant a
fruit-tree for a baby, and henceforth in the popular belief the fate
of the child is bound up with that of the tree. If the tree shoots
up rapidly, it will go well with the child; but if the tree is
dwarfed or shrivelled, nothing but misfortune can be expected for
its human counterpart.

It is said that there are still families in Russia, Germany,
England, France, and Italy who are accustomed to plant a tree at the
birth of a child. The tree, it is hoped, will grow with the child,
and it is tended with special care. The custom is still pretty
general in the canton of Aargau in Switzerland; an apple-tree is
planted for a boy and a pear-tree for a girl, and the people think
that the child will flourish or dwindle with the tree. In
Mecklenburg the afterbirth is thrown out at the foot of a young
tree, and the child is then believed to grow with the tree. Near the
Castle of Dalhousie, not far from Edinburgh, there grows an
oak-tree, called the Edgewell Tree, which is popularly believed to
be linked to the fate of the family by a mysterious tie; for they
say that when one of the family dies, or is about to die, a branch
falls from the Edgewell Tree. Thus, on seeing a great bough drop
from the tree on a quiet, still day in July 1874, an old forester
exclaimed, "The laird's deid noo!" and soon after news came that Fox
Maule, eleventh Earl of Dalhousie, was dead.

In England children are sometimes passed through a cleft ash-tree as
a cure for rupture or rickets, and thenceforward a sympathetic
connexion is supposed to exist between them and the tree. An
ash-tree which had been used for this purpose grew at the edge of
Shirley Heath, on the road from Hockly House to Birmingham. "Thomas
Chillingworth, son of the owner of an adjoining farm, now about
thirty-four, was, when an infant of a year old, passed through a
similar tree, now perfectly sound, which he preserves with so much
care that he will not suffer a single branch to be touched, for it
is believed the life of the patient depends on the life of the tree,
and the moment that is cut down, be the patient ever so distant, the
rupture returns, and a mortification ensues, and terminates in
death, as was the case in a man driving a waggon on the very road in
question." "It is not uncommon, however," adds the writer, "for
persons to survive for a time the felling of the tree." The ordinary
mode of effecting the cure is to split a young ash-sapling
longitudinally for a few feet and pass the child, naked, either
three times or three times three through the fissure at sunrise. In
the West of England it is said that the passage should be "against
the sun." As soon as the ceremony has been performed, the tree is
bound tightly up and the fissure plastered over with mud or clay.
The belief is that just as the cleft in the tree closes up, so the
rupture in the child's body will be healed; but that if the rift in
the tree remains open, the rupture in the child will remain too, and
if the tree were to die, the death of the child would surely follow.

A similar cure for various diseases, but especially for rupture and
rickets, has been commonly practised in other parts of Europe, as
Germany, France, Denmark, and Sweden; but in these countries the
tree employed for the purpose is usually not an ash but an oak;
sometimes a willow-tree is allowed or even prescribed instead. In
Mecklenburg, as in England, the sympathetic relation thus
established between the tree and the child is believed to be so
close that if the tree is cut down the child will die.

3. The External Soul in Animals

BUT in practice, as in folk-tales, it is not merely with inanimate
objects and plants that a person is occasionally believed to be
united by a bond of physical sympathy. The same bond, it is
supposed, may exist between a man and an animal, so that the welfare
of the one depends on the welfare of the other, and when the animal
dies the man dies also. The analogy between the custom and the tales
is all the closer because in both of them the power of thus removing
the soul from the body and stowing it away in an animal is often a
special privilege of wizards and witches. Thus the Yakuts of Siberia
believe that every shaman or wizard keeps his soul, or one of his
souls, incarnate in an animal which is carefully concealed from all
the world. "Nobody can find my external soul," said one famous
wizard, "it lies hidden far away in the stony mountains of
Edzhigansk." Only once a year, when the last snows melt and the
earth turns black, do these external souls of wizards appear in the
shape of animals among the dwellings of men. They wander everywhere,
yet none but wizards can see them. The strong ones sweep roaring and
noisily along, the weak steal about quietly and furtively. Often
they fight, and then the wizard whose external soul is beaten, falls
ill or dies. The weakest and most cowardly wizards are they whose
souls are incarnate in the shape of dogs, for the dog gives his
human double no peace, but gnaws his heart and tears his body. The
most powerful wizards are they whose external souls have the shape
of stallions, elks, black bears, eagles, or boars. Again, the
Samoyeds of the Turukhinsk region hold that every shaman has a
familiar spirit in the shape of a boar, which he leads about by a
magic belt. On the death of the boar the shaman himself dies; and
stories are told of battles between wizards, who send their spirits
to fight before they encounter each other in person. The Malays
believe that "the soul of a person may pass into another person or
into an animal, or rather that such a mysterious relation can arise
between the two that the fate of the one is wholly dependent on that
of the other."

Among the Melanesians of Mota, one of the New Hebrides islands, the
conception of an external soul is carried out in the practice of
daily life. In the Mota language the word _tamaniu_ signifies
"something animate or inanimate which a man has come to believe to
have an existence intimately connected with his own. . . . It was
not every one in Mota who had his _tamaniu;_ only some men fancied
that they had this relation to a lizard, a snake, or it might be a
stone; sometimes the thing was sought for and found by drinking the
infusion of certain leaves and heaping together the dregs; then
whatever living thing was first seen in or upon the heap was the
_tamaniu._ It was watched but not fed or worshipped; the natives
believed that it came at call, and that the life of the man was
bound up with the life of his _tamaniu,_ if a living thing, or with
its safety; should it die, or if not living get broken or be lost,
the man would die. Hence in case of sickness they would send to see
if the _tamaniu_ was safe and well."

The theory of an external soul deposited in an animal appears to be
very prevalent in West Africa, particularly in Nigeria, the
Cameroons, and the Gaboon. Among the Fans of the Gaboon every wizard
is believed at initiation to unite his life with that of some
particular wild animal by a rite of blood-brotherhood; he draws
blood from the ear of the animal and from his own arm, and
inoculates the animal with his own blood, and himself with the blood
of the beast. Henceforth such an intimate union is established
between the two that the death of the one entails the death of the
other. The alliance is thought to bring to the wizard or sorcerer a
great accession of power, which he can turn to his advantage in
various ways. In the first place, like the warlock in the fairy
tales who has deposited his life outside of himself in some safe
place, the Fan wizard now deems himself invulnerable. Moreover, the
animal with which he has exchanged blood has become his familiar,
and will obey any orders he may choose to give it; so he makes use
of it to injure and kill his enemies. For that reason the creature
with whom he establishes the relation of blood-brotherhood is never
a tame or domestic animal, but always a ferocious and dangerous wild
beast, such as a leopard, a black serpent, a crocodile, a
hippopotamus, a wild boar, or a vulture. Of all these creatures the
leopard is by far the commonest familiar of Fan wizards, and next to
it comes the black serpent; the vulture is the rarest. Witches as
well as wizards have their familiars; but the animals with which the
lives of women are thus bound up generally differ from those to
which men commit their external souls. A witch never has a panther
for her familiar, but often a venomous species of serpent, sometimes
a horned viper, sometimes a black serpent, sometimes a green one
that lives in banana-trees; or it may be a vulture, an owl, or other
bird of night. In every case the beast or bird with which the witch
or wizard has contracted this mystic alliance is an individual,
never a species; and when the individual animal dies the alliance is
naturally at an end, since the death of the animal is supposed to
entail the death of the man.

Similar beliefs are held by the natives of the Cross River valley
within the provinces of the Cameroons. Groups of people, generally
the inhabitants of a village, have chosen various animals, with
which they believe themselves to stand on a footing of intimate
friendship or relationship. Amongst such animals are hippopotamuses,
elephants, leopards, crocodiles, gorillas, fish, and serpents, all
of them creatures which are either very strong or can easily hide
themselves in the water or a thicket. This power of concealing
themselves is said to be an indispensable condition of the choice of
animal familiars, since the animal friend or helper is expected to
injure his owner's enemy by stealth; for example, if he is a
hippopotamus, he will bob up suddenly out of the water and capsize
the enemy's canoe. Between the animals and their human friends or
kinsfolk such a sympathetic relation is supposed to exist that the
moment the animal dies the man dies also, and similarly the instant
the man perishes so does the beast. From this it follows that the
animal kinsfolk may never be shot at or molested for fear of
injuring or killing the persons whose lives are knit up with the
lives of the brutes. This does not, however, prevent the people of a
village, who have elephants for their animal friends, from hunting
elephants. For they do not respect the whole species but merely
certain individuals of it, which stand in an intimate relation to
certain individual men and women; and they imagine that they can
always distinguish these brother elephants from the common herd of
elephants which are mere elephants and nothing more. The recognition
indeed is said to be mutual. When a hunter, who has an elephant for
his friend, meets a human elephant, as we may call it, the noble
animal lifts up a paw and holds it before his face, as much as to
say, "Don't shoot." Were the hunter so inhuman as to fire on and
wound such an elephant, the person whose life was bound up with the
elephant would fall ill.

The Balong of the Cameroons think that every man has several souls,
of which one is in his body and another in an animal, such as an
elephant, a wild pig, a leopard, and so forth. When a man comes
home, feeling ill, and says, "I shall soon die," and dies
accordingly, the people aver that one of his souls has been killed
in a wild pig or a leopard and that the death of the external soul
has caused the death of the soul in his body. A similar belief in
the external souls of living people is entertained by the Ibos, an
important tribe of the Niger delta. They think that a man's spirit
can quit his body for a time during life and take up its abode in an
animal. A man who wishes to acquire this power procures a certain
drug from a wise man and mixes it with his food. After that his soul
goes out and enters into an animal. If it should happen that the
animal is killed while the man's soul is lodged in it, the man dies;
and if the animal be wounded, the man's body will presently be

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