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The Golden Bough by Sir James George Frazer

Part 4 out of 19

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towers successively; but many die before their time is out. The
offices are hereditary in one or (according to others) two royal
families, who enjoy high consideration, have revenues assigned to
them, and are exempt from the necessity of tilling the ground. But
naturally the dignity is not coveted, and when a vacancy occurs, all
eligible men (they must be strong and have children) flee and hide
themselves. Another account, admitting the reluctance of the
hereditary candidates to accept the crown, does not countenance the
report of their hermit-like seclusion in the seven towers. For it
represents the people as prostrating themselves before the mystic
kings whenever they appear in public, it being thought that a
terrible hurricane would burst over the country if this mark of
homage were omitted. Like many other sacred kings, of whom we shall
read in the sequel, the Kings of Fire and Water are not allowed to
die a natural death, for that would lower their reputation.
Accordingly when one of them is seriously ill, the elders hold a
consultation and if they think he cannot recover they stab him to
death. His body is burned and the ashes are piously collected and
publicly honoured for five years. Part of them is given to the
widow, and she keeps them in an urn, which she must carry on her
back when she goes to weep on her husband's grave.

We are told that the Fire King, the more important of the two, whose
supernatural powers have never been questioned, officiates at
marriages, festivals, and sacrifices in honour of the _Yan_ or
spirit. On these occasions a special place is set apart for him; and
the path by which he approaches is spread with white cotton cloths.
A reason for confining the royal dignity to the same family is that
this family is in possession of certain famous talismans which would
lose their virtue or disappear if they passed out of the family.
These talismans are three: the fruit of a creeper called _Cui,_
gathered ages ago at the time of the last deluge, but still fresh
and green; a rattan, also very old but bearing flowers that never
fade; and lastly, a sword containing a _Yan_ or spirit, who guards
it constantly and works miracles with it. The spirit is said to be
that of a slave, whose blood chanced to fall upon the blade while it
was being forged, and who died a voluntary death to expiate his
involuntary offence. By means of the two former talismans the Water
King can raise a flood that would drown the whole earth. If the Fire
King draws the magic sword a few inches from its sheath, the sun is
hidden and men and beasts fall into a profound sleep; were he to
draw it quite out of the scabbard, the world would come to an end.
To this wondrous brand sacrifices of buffaloes, pigs, fowls, and
ducks are offered for rain. It is kept swathed in cotton and silk;
and amongst the annual presents sent by the King of Cambodia were
rich stuffs to wrap the sacred sword.

Contrary to the common usage of the country, which is to bury the
dead, the bodies of both these mystic monarchs are burnt, but their
nails and some of their teeth and bones are religiously preserved as
amulets. It is while the corpse is being consumed on the pyre that
the kinsmen of the deceased magician flee to the forest and hide
themselves, for fear of being elevated to the invidious dignity
which he has just vacated. The people go and search for them, and
the first whose lurking place they discover is made King of Fire or

These, then, are examples of what I have called departmental kings
of nature. But it is a far cry to Italy from the forests of Cambodia
and the sources of the Nile. And though Kings of Rain, Water, and
Fire have been found, we have still to discover a King of the Wood
to match the Arician priest who bore that title. Perhaps we shall
find him nearer home.

IX. The Worship of Trees

1. Tree-spirits

IN THE RELIGIOUS history of the Aryan race in Europe the worship of
trees has played an important part. Nothing could be more natural.
For at the dawn of history Europe was covered with immense primaeval
forests, in which the scattered clearings must have appeared like
islets in an ocean of green. Down to the first century before our
era the Hercynian forest stretched eastward from the Rhine for a
distance at once vast and unknown; Germans whom Caesar questioned
had travelled for two months through it without reaching the end.
Four centuries later it was visited by the Emperor Julian, and the
solitude, the gloom, the silence of the forest appear to have made a
deep impression on his sensitive nature. He declared that he knew
nothing like it in the Roman empire. In our own country the wealds
of Kent, Surrey, and Sussex are remnants of the great forest of
Anderida, which once clothed the whole of the south-eastern portion
of the island. Westward it seems to have stretched till it joined
another forest that extended from Hampshire to Devon. In the reign
of Henry II. the citizens of London still hunted the wild bull and
the boar in the woods of Hampstead. Even under the later
Plantagenets the royal forests were sixty-eight in number. In the
forest of Arden it was said that down to modern times a squirrel
might leap from tree to tree for nearly the whole length of
Warwickshire. The excavation of ancient pile-villages in the valley
of the Po has shown that long before the rise and probably the
foundation of Rome the north of Italy was covered with dense woods
of elms, chestnuts, and especially of oaks. Archaeology is here
confirmed by history; for classical writers contain many references
to Italian forests which have now disappeared. As late as the fourth
century before our era Rome was divided from central Etruria by the
dreaded Ciminian forest, which Livy compares to the woods of
Germany. No merchant, if we may trust the Roman historian, had ever
penetrated its pathless solitudes; and it was deemed a most daring
feat when a Roman general, after sending two scouts to explore its
intricacies, led his army into the forest and, making his way to a
ridge of the wooded mountains, looked down on the rich Etrurian
fields spread out below. In Greece beautiful woods of pine, oak, and
other trees still linger on the slopes of the high Arcadian
mountains, still adorn with their verdure the deep gorge through
which the Ladon hurries to join the sacred Alpheus, and were still,
down to a few years ago, mirrored in the dark blue waters of the
lonely lake of Pheneus; but they are mere fragments of the forests
which clothed great tracts in antiquity, and which at a more remote
epoch may have spanned the Greek peninsula from sea to sea.

From an examination of the Teutonic words for "temple" Grimm has
made it probable that amongst the Germans the oldest sanctuaries
were natural woods. However that may be, tree-worship is well
attested for all the great European families of the Aryan stock.
Amongst the Celts the oak-worship of the Druids is familiar to every
one, and their old word for sanctuary seems to be identical in
origin and meaning with the Latin _nemus,_ a grove or woodland
glade, which still survives in the name of Nemi. Sacred groves were
common among the ancient Germans, and tree-worship is hardly extinct
amongst their descendants at the present day. How serious that
worship was in former times may be gathered from the ferocious
penalty appointed by the old German laws for such as dared to peel
the bark of a standing tree. The culprit's navel was to be cut out
and nailed to the part of the tree which he had peeled, and he was
to be driven round and round the tree till all his guts were wound
about its trunk. The intention of the punishment clearly was to
replace the dead bark by a living substitute taken from the culprit;
it was a life for a life, the life of a man for the life of a tree.
At Upsala, the old religious capital of Sweden, there was a sacred
grove in which every tree was regarded as divine. The heathen Slavs
worshipped trees and groves. The Lithuanians were not converted to
Christianity till towards the close of the fourteenth century, and
amongst them at the date of their conversion the worship of trees
was prominent. Some of them revered remarkable oaks and other great
shady trees, from which they received oracular responses. Some
maintained holy groves about their villages or houses, where even to
break a twig would have been a sin. They thought that he who cut a
bough in such a grove either died suddenly or was crippled in one of
his limbs. Proofs of the prevalence of tree-worship in ancient
Greece and Italy are abundant. In the sanctuary of Aesculapius at
Cos, for example, it was forbidden to cut down the cypress-trees
under a penalty of a thousand drachms. But nowhere, perhaps, in the
ancient world was this antique form of religion better preserved
than in the heart of the great metropolis itself. In the Forum, the
busy centre of Roman life, the sacred fig-tree of Romulus was
worshipped down to the days of the empire, and the withering of its
trunk was enough to spread consternation through the city. Again, on
the slope of the Palatine Hill grew a cornel-tree which was esteemed
one of the most sacred objects in Rome. Whenever the tree appeared
to a passer-by to be drooping, he set up a hue and cry which was
echoed by the people in the street, and soon a crowd might be seen
running helter-skelter from all sides with buckets of water, as if
(says Plutarch) they were hastening to put out a fire.

Among the tribes of the Finnish-Ugrian stock in Europe the heathen
worship was performed for the most part in sacred groves, which were
always enclosed with a fence. Such a grove often consisted merely of
a glade or clearing with a few trees dotted about, upon which in
former times the skins of the sacrificial victims were hung. The
central point of the grove, at least among the tribes of the Volga,
was the sacred tree, beside which everything else sank into
insignificance. Before it the worshippers assembled and the priest
offered his prayers, at its roots the victim was sacrificed, and its
boughs sometimes served as a pulpit. No wood might be hewn and no
branch broken in the grove, and women were generally forbidden to
enter it.

But it is necessary to examine in some detail the notions on which
the worship of trees and plants is based. To the savage the world in
general is animate, and trees and plants are no exception to the
rule. He thinks that they have souls like his own, and he treats
them accordingly. "They say," writes the ancient vegetarian
Porphyry, "that primitive men led an unhappy life, for their
superstition did not stop at animals but extended even to plants.
For why should the slaughter of an ox or a sheep be a greater wrong
than the felling of a fir or an oak, seeing that a soul is implanted
in these trees also?" Similarly, the Hidatsa Indians of North
America believe that every natural object has its spirit, or to
speak more properly, its shade. To these shades some consideration
or respect is due, but not equally to all. For example, the shade of
the cottonwood, the greatest tree in the valley of the Upper
Missouri, is supposed to possess an intelligence which, if properly
approached, may help the Indians in certain undertakings; but the
shades of shrubs and grasses are of little account. When the
Missouri, swollen by a freshet in spring, carries away part of its
banks and sweeps some tall tree into its current, it is said that
the spirit of the tree cries, while the roots still cling to the
land and until the trunk falls with a splash into the stream.
Formerly the Indians considered it wrong to fell one of these
giants, and when large logs were needed they made use only of trees
which had fallen of themselves. Till lately some of the more
credulous old men declared that many of the misfortunes of their
people were caused by this modern disregard for the rights of the
living cottonwood. The Iroquois believed that each species of tree,
shrub, plant, and herb had its own spirit, and to these spirits it
was their custom to return thanks. The Wanika of Eastern Africa
fancy that every tree, and especially every coco-nut tree, has its
spirit; "the destruction of a cocoa-nut tree is regarded as
equivalent to matricide, because that tree gives them life and
nourishment, as a mother does her child." Siamese monks, believing
that there are souls everywhere, and that to destroy anything
whatever is forcibly to dispossess a soul, will not break a branch
of a tree, "as they will not break the arm of an innocent person."
These monks, of course, are Buddhists. But Buddhist animism is not a
philosophical theory. It is simply a common savage dogma
incorporated in the system of an historical religion. To suppose,
with Benfey and others, that the theories of animism and
transmigration current among rude peoples of Asia are derived from
Buddhism, is to reverse the facts.

Sometimes it is only particular sorts of trees that are supposed to
be tenanted by spirits. At Grbalj in Dalmatia it is said that among
great beeches, oaks, and other trees there are some that are endowed
with shades or souls, and whoever fells one of them must die on the
spot, or at least live an invalid for the rest of his days. If a
woodman fears that a tree which he has felled is one of this sort,
he must cut off the head of a live hen on the stump of the tree with
the very same axe with which he cut down the tree. This will protect
him from all harm, even if the tree be one of the animated kind. The
silk-cotton trees, which rear their enormous trunks to a stupendous
height, far out-topping all the other trees of the forest, are
regarded with reverence throughout West Africa, from the Senegal to
the Niger, and are believed to be the abode of a god or spirit.
Among the Ewespeaking peoples of the Slave Coast the indwelling god
of this giant of the forest goes by the name of Huntin. Trees in
which he specially dwells--for it is not every silk-cotton tree that
he thus honours--are surrounded by a girdle of palm-leaves; and
sacrifices of fowls, and occasionally of human beings, are fastened
to the trunk or laid against the foot of the tree. A tree
distinguished by a girdle of palm-leaves may not be cut down or
injured in any way; and even silk-cotton trees which are not
supposed to be animated by Huntin may not be felled unless the
woodman first offers a sacrifice of fowls and palm-oil to purge
himself of the proposed sacrilege. To omit the sacrifice is an
offence which may be punished with death. Among the Kangra mountains
of the Punjaub a girl used to be annually sacrificed to an old
cedar-tree, the families of the village taking it in turn to supply
the victim. The tree was cut down not very many years ago.

If trees are animate, they are necessarily sensitive and the cutting
of them down becomes a delicate surgical operation, which must be
performed with as tender a regard as possible for the feelings of
the sufferers, who otherwise may turn and rend the careless or
bungling operator. When an oak is being felled "it gives a kind of
shriekes or groanes, that may be heard a mile off, as if it were the
genius of the oake lamenting. E. Wyld, Esq., hath heard it severall
times." The Ojebways "very seldom cut down green or living trees,
from the idea that it puts them to pain, and some of their
medicine-men profess to have heard the wailing of the trees under
the axe." Trees that bleed and utter cries of pain or indignation
when they are hacked or burned occur very often in Chinese books,
even in Standard Histories. Old peasants in some parts of Austria
still believe that forest-trees are animate, and will not allow an
incision to be made in the bark without special cause; they have
heard from their fathers that the tree feels the cut not less than a
wounded man his hurt. In felling a tree they beg its pardon. It is
said that in the Upper Palatinate also old woodmen still secretly
ask a fine, sound tree to forgive them before they cut it down. So
in Jarkino the woodman craves pardon of the tree he fells. Before
the Ilocanes of Luzon cut down trees in the virgin forest or on the
mountains, they recite some verses to the following effect: "Be not
uneasy, my friend, though we fell what we have been ordered to
fell." This they do in order not to draw down on themselves the
hatred of the spirits who live in the trees, and who are apt to
avenge themselves by visiting with grievous sickness such as injure
them wantonly. The Basoga of Central Africa think that, when a tree
is cut down, the angry spirit which inhabits it may cause the death
of the chief and his family. To prevent this disaster they consult a
medicine-man before they fell a tree. If the man of skill gives
leave to proceed, the woodman first offers a fowl and a goat to the
tree; then as soon as he has given the first blow with the axe, he
applies his mouth to the cut and sucks some of the sap. In this way
he forms a brotherhood with the tree, just as two men become
blood-brothers by sucking each other's blood. After that he can cut
down his tree-brother with impunity.

But the spirits of vegetation are not always treated with deference
and respect. If fair words and kind treatment do not move them,
stronger measures are sometimes resorted to. The durian-tree of the
East Indies, whose smooth stem often shoots up to a height of eighty
or ninety feet without sending out a branch, bears a fruit of the
most delicious flavour and the most disgusting stench. The Malays
cultivate the tree for the sake of its fruit, and have been known to
resort to a peculiar ceremony for the purpose of stimulating its
fertility. Near Jugra in Selangor there is a small grove of
durian-trees, and on a specially chosen day the villagers used to
assemble in it. Thereupon one of the local sorcerers would take a
hatchet and deliver several shrewd blows on the trunk of the most
barren of the trees, saying, "Will you now bear fruit or not? If you
do not, I shall fell you." To this the tree replied through the
mouth of another man who had climbed a mangostin-tree hard by (the
durian-tree being unclimbable), "Yes, I will now bear fruit; I beg
of you not to fell me." So in Japan to make trees bear fruit two men
go into an orchard. One of them climbs up a tree and the other
stands at the foot with an axe. The man with the axe asks the tree
whether it will yield a good crop next year and threatens to cut it
down if it does not. To this the man among the branches replies on
behalf of the tree that it will bear abundantly. Odd as this mode of
horticulture may seem to us, it has its exact parallels in Europe.
On Christmas Eve many a South Slavonian and Bulgarian peasant swings
an axe threateningly against a barren fruit-tree, while another man
standing by intercedes for the menaced tree, saying, "Do not cut it
down; it will soon bear fruit." Thrice the axe is swung, and thrice
the impending blow is arrested at the entreaty of the intercessor.
After that the frightened tree will certainly bear fruit next year.

The conception of trees and plants as animated beings naturally
results in treating them as male and female, who can be married to
each other in a real, and not merely a figurative or poetical, sense
of the word. The notion is not purely fanciful, for plants like
animals have their sexes and reproduce their kind by the union of
the male and female elements. But whereas in all the higher animals
the organs of the two sexes are regularly separated between
different individuals, in most plants they exist together in every
individual of the species. This rule, however, is by no means
universal, and in many species the male plant is distinct from the
female. The distinction appears to have been observed by some
savages, for we are told that the Maoris "are acquainted with the
sex of trees, etc., and have distinct names for the male and female
of some trees." The ancients knew the difference between the male
and the female date-palm, and fertilised them artificially by
shaking the pollen of the male tree over the flowers of the female.
The fertilisation took place in spring. Among the heathen of Harran
the month during which the palms were fertilised bore the name of
the Date Month, and at this time they celebrated the marriage
festival of all the gods and goddesses. Different from this true and
fruitful marriage of the palm are the false and barren marriages of
plants which play a part in Hindoo superstition. For example, if a
Hindoo has planted a grove of mangos, neither he nor his wife may
taste of the fruit until he has formally married one of the trees,
as a bridegroom, to a tree of a different sort, commonly a
tamarind-tree, which grows near it in the grove. If there is no
tamarind to act as bride, a jasmine will serve the turn. The
expenses of such a marriage are often considerable, for the more
Brahmans are feasted at it, the greater the glory of the owner of
the grove. A family has been known to sell its golden and silver
trinkets, and to borrow all the money they could in order to marry a
mango-tree to a jasmine with due pomp and ceremony. On Christmas Eve
German peasants used to tie fruit-trees together with straw ropes to
make them bear fruit, saying that the trees were thus married.

In the Moluccas, when the clove-trees are in blossom, they are
treated like pregnant women. No noise may be made near them; no
light or fire may be carried past them at night; no one may approach
them with his hat on, all must uncover in their presence. These
precautions are observed lest the tree should be alarmed and bear no
fruit, or should drop its fruit too soon, like the untimely delivery
of a woman who has been frightened in her pregnancy. So in the East
the growing rice-crop is often treated with the same considerate
regard as a breeding woman. Thus in Amboyna, when the rice is in
bloom, the people say that it is pregnant and fire no guns and make
no other noises near the field, for fear lest, if the rice were thus
disturbed, it would miscarry, and the crop would be all straw and no

Sometimes it is the souls of the dead which are believed to animate
trees. The Dieri tribe of Central Australia regard as very sacred
certain trees which are supposed to be their fathers transformed;
hence they speak with reverence of these trees, and are careful that
they shall not be cut down or burned. If the settlers require them
to hew down the trees, they earnestly protest against it, asserting
that were they to do so they would have no luck, and might be
punished for not protecting their ancestors. Some of the Philippine
Islanders believe that the souls of their ancestors are in certain
trees, which they therefore spare. If they are obliged to fell one
of these trees, they excuse themselves to it by saying that it was
the priest who made them do it. The spirits take up their abode, by
preference, in tall and stately trees with great spreading branches.
When the wind rustles the leaves, the natives fancy it is the voice
of the spirit; and they never pass near one of these trees without
bowing respectfully, and asking pardon of the spirit for disturbing
his repose. Among the Ignorrotes, every village has its sacred tree,
in which the souls of the dead forefathers of the hamlet reside.
Offerings are made to the tree, and any injury done to it is
believed to entail some misfortune on the village. Were the tree cut
down, the village and all its inhabitants would inevitably perish.

In Corea the souls of people who die of the plague or by the
roadside, and of women who expire in childbirth, invariably take up
their abode in trees. To such spirits offerings of cake, wine, and
pork are made on heaps of stones piled under the trees. In China it
has been customary from time immemorial to plant trees on graves in
order thereby to strengthen the soul of the deceased and thus to
save his body from corruption; and as the evergreen cypress and pine
are deemed to be fuller of vitality than other trees, they have been
chosen by preference for this purpose. Hence the trees that grow on
graves are sometimes identified with the souls of the departed.
Among the Miao-Kia, an aboriginal race of Southern and Western
China, a sacred tree stands at the entrance of every village, and
the inhabitants believe that it is tenanted by the soul of their
first ancestor and that it rules their destiny. Sometimes there is a
sacred grove near a village, where the trees are suffered to rot and
die on the spot. Their fallen branches cumber the ground, and no one
may remove them unless he has first asked leave of the spirit of the
tree and offered him a sacrifice. Among the Maraves of Southern
Africa the burial-ground is always regarded as a holy place where
neither a tree may be felled nor a beast killed, because everything
there is supposed to be tenanted by the souls of the dead.

In most, if not all, of these cases the spirit is viewed as
incorporate in the tree; it animates the tree and must suffer and
die with it. But, according to another and probably later opinion,
the tree is not the body, but merely the abode of the tree-spirit,
which can quit it and return to it at pleasure. The inhabitants of
Siaoo, an East Indian island, believe in certain sylvan spirits who
dwell in forests or in great solitary trees. At full moon the spirit
comes forth from his lurking-place and roams about. He has a big
head, very long arms and legs, and a ponderous body. In order to
propitiate the wood-spirits people bring offerings of food, fowls,
goats, and so forth to the places which they are supposed to haunt.
The people of Nias think that, when a tree dies, its liberated
spirit becomes a demon, which can kill a coco-nut palm by merely
lighting on its branches, and can cause the death of all the
children in a house by perching on one of the posts that support it.
Further, they are of opinion that certain trees are at all times
inhabited by roving demons who, if the trees were damaged, would be
set free to go about on errands of mischief. Hence the people
respect these trees, and are careful not to cut them down.

Not a few ceremonies observed at cutting down haunted trees are
based on the belief that the spirits have it in their power to quit
the trees at pleasure or in case of need. Thus when the Pelew
Islanders are felling a tree, they conjure the spirit of the tree to
leave it and settle on another. The wily negro of the Slave Coast,
who wishes to fell an _ashorin_ tree, but knows that he cannot do it
so long as the spirit remains in the tree, places a little palm-oil
on the ground as a bait, and then, when the unsuspecting spirit has
quitted the tree to partake of this dainty, hastens to cut down its
late abode. When the Toboongkoos of Celebes are about to clear a
piece of forest in order to plant rice, they build a tiny house and
furnish it with tiny clothes and some food and gold. Then they call
together all the spirits of the wood, offer them the little house
with its contents, and beseech them to quit the spot. After that
they may safely cut down the wood without fearing to wound
themselves in so doing. Before the Tomori, another tribe of Celebes,
fell a tall tree they lay a quid of betel at its foot, and invite
the spirit who dwells in the tree to change his lodging; moreover,
they set a little ladder against the trunk to enable him to descend
with safety and comfort. The Mandelings of Sumatra endeavour to lay
the blame of all such misdeeds at the door of the Dutch authorities.
Thus when a man is cutting a road through a forest and has to fell a
tall tree which blocks the way, he will not begin to ply his axe
until he has said: "Spirit who lodgest in this tree, take it not ill
that I cut down thy dwelling, for it is done at no wish of mine but
by order of the Controller." And when he wishes to clear a piece of
forest-land for cultivation, it is necessary that he should come to
a satisfactory understanding with the woodland spirits who live
there before he lays low their leafy dwellings. For this purpose he
goes to the middle of the plot of ground, stoops down, and pretends
to pick up a letter. Then unfolding a bit of paper he reads aloud an
imaginary letter from the Dutch Government, in which he is strictly
enjoined to set about clearing the land without delay. Having done
so, he says: "You hear that, spirits. I must begin clearing at once,
or I shall be hanged."

Even when a tree has been felled, sawn into planks, and used to
build a house, it is possible that the woodland spirit may still be
lurking in the timber, and accordingly some people seek to
propitiate him before or after they occupy the new house. Hence,
when a new dwelling is ready the Toradjas of Celebes kill a goat, a
pig, or a buffalo, and smear all the woodwork with its blood. If the
building is a _lobo_ or spirit-house, a fowl or a dog is killed on
the ridge of the roof, and its blood allowed to flow down on both
sides. The ruder Tonapoo in such a case sacrifice a human being on
the roof. This sacrifice on the roof of a _lobo_ or temple serves
the same purpose as the smearing of blood on the woodwork of an
ordinary house. The intention is to propitiate the forest-spirits
who may still be in the timber; they are thus put in good humour and
will do the inmates of the house no harm. For a like reason people
in Celebes and the Moluccas are much afraid of planting a post
upside down at the building of a house; for the forest-spirit, who
might still be in the timber, would very naturally resent the
indignity and visit the inmates with sickness. The Kayans of Borneo
are of opinion that tree-spirits stand very stiffly on the point of
honour and visit men with their displeasure for any injury done to
them. Hence after building a house, whereby they have been forced to
ill-treat many trees, these people observe a period of penance for a
year during which they must abstain from many things, such as the
killing of bears, tiger-cats, and serpents.

2. Beneficent Powers of Tree-Spirits

WHEN a tree comes to be viewed, no longer as the body of the
tree-spirit, but simply as its abode which it can quit at pleasure,
an important advance has been made in religious thought. Animism is
passing into polytheism. In other words, instead of regarding each
tree as a living and conscious being, man now sees in it merely a
lifeless, inert mass, tenanted for a longer or shorter time by a
supernatural being who, as he can pass freely from tree to tree,
thereby enjoys a certain right of possession or lordship over the
trees, and, ceasing to be a tree-soul, becomes a forest god. As soon
as the tree-spirit is thus in a measure disengaged from each
particular tree, he begins to change his shape and assume the body
of a man, in virtue of a general tendency of early thought to clothe
all abstract spiritual beings in concrete human form. Hence in
classical art the sylvan deities are depicted in human shape, their
woodland character being denoted by a branch or some equally obvious
symbol. But this change of shape does not affect the essential
character of the tree-spirit. The powers which he exercised as a
tree-soul incorporate in a tree, he still continues to wield as a
god of trees. This I shall now attempt to prove in detail. I shall
show, first, that trees considered as animate beings are credited
with the power of making the rain to fall, the sun to shine, flocks
and herds to multiply, and women to bring forth easily; and, second,
that the very same powers are attributed to tree-gods conceived as
anthropomorphic beings or as actually incarnate in living men.

First, then, trees or tree-spirits are believed to give rain and
sunshine. When the missionary Jerome of Prague was persuading the
heathen Lithuanians to fell their sacred groves, a multitude of
women besought the Prince of Lithuania to stop him, saying that with
the woods he was destroying the house of god from which they had
been wont to get rain and sunshine. The Mundaris in Assam think that
if a tree in the sacred grove is felled the sylvan gods evince their
displeasure by withholding rain. In order to procure rain the
inhabitants of Monyo, a village in the Sagaing district of Upper
Burma, chose the largest tamarind-tree near the village and named it
the haunt of the spirit (_nat_) who controls the rain. Then they
offered bread, coco-nuts, plantains, and fowls to the guardian
spirit of the village and to the spirit who gives rain, and they
prayed, "O Lord _nat_ have pity on us poor mortals, and stay not the
rain. Inasmuch as our offering is given ungrudgingly, let the rain
fall day and night." Afterwards libations were made in honour of the
spirit of the tamarind-tree; and still later three elderly women,
dressed in fine clothes and wearing necklaces and earrings, sang the
Rain Song.

Again, tree-spirits make the crops to grow. Amongst the Mundaris
every village has its sacred grove, and "the grove deities are held
responsible for the crops, and are especially honoured at all the
great agricultural festivals." The negroes of the Gold Coast are in
the habit of sacrificing at the foot of certain tall trees, and they
think that if one of these were felled all the fruits of the earth
would perish. The Gallas dance in couples round sacred trees,
praying for a good harvest. Every couple consists of a man and
woman, who are linked together by a stick, of which each holds one
end. Under their arms they carry green corn or grass. Swedish
peasants stick a leafy branch in each furrow of their corn-fields,
believing that this will ensure an abundant crop. The same idea
comes out in the German and French custom of the Harvest-May. This
is a large branch or a whole tree, which is decked with ears of
corn, brought home on the last waggon from the harvest-field, and
fastened on the roof of the farmhouse or of the barn, where it
remains for a year. Mannhardt has proved that this branch or tree
embodies the tree-spirit conceived as the spirit of vegetation in
general, whose vivifying and fructifying influence is thus brought
to bear upon the corn in particular. Hence in Swabia the Harvest-May
is fastened amongst the last stalks of corn left standing on the
field; in other places it is planted on the corn-field and the last
sheaf cut is attached to its trunk.

Again, the tree-spirit makes the herds to multiply and blesses women
with offspring. In Northern India the _Emblica officinalis_ is a
sacred tree. On the eleventh of the month Phalgun (February)
libations are poured at the foot of the tree, a red or yellow string
is bound about the trunk, and prayers are offered to it for the
fruitfulness of women, animals, and crops. Again, in Northern India
the coco-nut is esteemed one of the most sacred fruits, and is
called Sriphala, or the fruit of Sri, the goddess of prosperity. It
is the symbol of fertility, and all through Upper India is kept in
shrines and presented by the priests to women who desire to become
mothers. In the town of Qua, near Old Calabar, there used to grow a
palm-tree which ensured conception to any barren woman who ate a nut
from its branches. In Europe the May-tree or May-pole is apparently
supposed to possess similar powers over both women and cattle. Thus
in some parts of Germany on the first of May the peasants set up
May-trees or May-bushes at the doors of stables and byres, one for
each horse and cow; this is thought to make the cows yield much
milk. Of the Irish we are told that "they fancy a green bough of a
tree, fastened on May-day against the house, will produce plenty of
milk that summer."

On the second of July some of the Wends used to set up an oak-tree
in the middle of the village with an iron cock fastened to its top;
then they danced round it, and drove the cattle round it to make
them thrive. The Circassians regard the pear-tree as the protector
of cattle. So they cut down a young pear-tree in the forest, branch
it, and carry it home, where it is adored as a divinity. Almost
every house has one such pear-tree. In autumn, on the day of the
festival, the tree is carried into the house with great ceremony to
the sound of music and amid the joyous cries of all the inmates, who
compliment it on its fortunate arrival. It is covered with candles,
and a cheese is fastened to its top. Round about it they eat, drink,
and sing. Then they bid the tree good-bye and take it back to the
courtyard, where it remains for the rest of the year, set up against
the wall, without receiving any mark of respect.

In the Tuhoe tribe of Maoris "the power of making women fruitful is
ascribed to trees. These trees are associated with the navel-strings
of definite mythical ancestors, as indeed the navel-strings of all
children used to be hung upon them down to quite recent times. A
barren woman had to embrace such a tree with her arms, and she
received a male or a female child according as she embraced the east
or the west side." The common European custom of placing a green
bush on May Day before or on the house of a beloved maiden probably
originated in the belief of the fertilising power of the
tree-spirit. In some parts of Bavaria such bushes are set up also at
the houses of newly-married pairs, and the practice is only omitted
if the wife is near her confinement; for in that case they say that
the husband has "set up a May-bush for himself." Among the South
Slavonians a barren woman, who desires to have a child, places a new
chemise upon a fruitful tree on the eve of St. George's Day. Next
morning before sunrise she examines the garment, and if she finds
that some living creature has crept on it, she hopes that her wish
will be fulfilled within the year. Then she puts on the chemise,
confident that she will be as fruitful as the tree on which the
garment has passed the night. Among the Kara-Kirghiz barren women
roll themselves on the ground under a solitary apple-tree, in order
to obtain offspring. Lastly, the power of granting to women an easy
delivery at child-birth is ascribed to trees both in Sweden and
Africa. In some districts of Sweden there was formerly a _bardträd_
or guardian-tree (lime, ash, or elm) in the neighbourhood of every
farm. No one would pluck a single leaf of the sacred tree, any
injury to which was punished by ill-luck or sickness. Pregnant women
used to clasp the tree in their arms in order to ensure an easy
delivery. In some negro tribes of the Congo region pregnant women
make themselves garments out of the bark of a certain sacred tree,
because they believe that this tree delivers them from the dangers
that attend child-bearing. The story that Leto clasped a palm-tree
and an olive-tree or two laurel-trees, when she was about to give
birth to the divine twins Apollo and Artemis, perhaps points to a
similar Greek belief in the efficacy of certain trees to facilitate

X. Relics of Tree Worship in Modern Europe

FROM THE FOREGOING review of the beneficent qualities commonly
ascribed to tree-spirits, it is easy to understand why customs like
the May-tree or May-pole have prevailed so widely and figured so
prominently in the popular festivals of European peasants. In spring
or early summer or even on Midsummer Day, it was and still is in
many parts of Europe the custom to go out to the woods, cut down a
tree and bring it into the village, where it is set up amid general
rejoicings; or the people cut branches in the woods, and fasten them
on every house. The intention of these customs is to bring home to
the village, and to each house, the blessings which the tree-spirit
has in its power to bestow. Hence the custom in some places of
planting a May-tree before every house, or of carrying the village
May-tree from door to door, that every household may receive its
share of the blessing. Out of the mass of evidence on this subject a
few examples may be selected.

Sir Henry Piers, in his _Description of Westmeath,_ writing in 1682
says: "On May-eve, every family sets up before their door a green
bush, strewed over with yellow flowers, which the meadows yield
plentifully. In countries where timber is plentiful, they erect tall
slender trees, which stand high, and they continue almost the whole
year; so as a stranger would go nigh to imagine that they were all
signs of ale-sellers, and that all houses were ale-houses." In
Northamptonshire a young tree ten or twelve feet high used to be
planted before each house on May Day so as to appear growing;
flowers were thrown over it and strewn about the door. "Among
ancient customs still retained by the Cornish, may be reckoned that
of decking their doors and porches on the first of May with green
boughs of sycamore and hawthorn, and of planting trees, or rather
stumps of trees, before their houses." In the north of England it
was formerly the custom for young people to rise a little after
midnight on the morning of the first of May, and go out with music
and the blowing of horns into the woods, where they broke branches
and adorned them with nosegays and crowns of flowers. This done,
they returned about sunrise and fastened the flower-decked branches
over the doors and windows of their houses. At Abingdon in Berkshire
young people formerly went about in groups on May morning, singing a
carol of which the following are two of the verses:

"We've been rambling all the night,
And sometime of this day;
And now returning back again,
We bring a garland gay.
A garland gay we bring you here;
And at your door we stand;
It is a sprout well budded out,
The work of our Lord's hand."

At the towns of Saffron Walden and Debden in Essex on the first of
May little girls go about in parties from door to door singing a
song almost identical with the above and carrying garlands; a doll
dressed in white is usually placed in the middle of each garland.
Similar customs have been and indeed are still observed in various
parts of England. The garlands are generally in the form of hoops
intersecting each other at right angles. It appears that a hoop
wreathed with rowan and marsh marigold, and bearing suspended within
it two balls, is still carried on May Day by villagers in some parts
of Ireland. The balls, which are sometimes covered with gold and
silver paper, are said to have originally represented the sun and

In some villages of the Vosges Mountains on the first Sunday of May
young girls go in bands from house to house, singing a song in
praise of May, in which mention is made of the "bread and meal that
come in May." If money is given them, they fasten a green bough to
the door; if it is refused, they wish the family many children and
no bread to feed them. In the French department of Mayenne, boys who
bore the name of _Maillotins_ used to go about from farm to farm on
the first of May singing carols, for which they received money or a
drink; they planted a small tree or a branch of a tree. Near Saverne
in Alsace bands of people go about carrying May-trees. Amongst them
is a man dressed in a white shirt with his face blackened; in front
of him is carried a large May-tree, but each member of the band also
carries a smaller one. One of the company bears a huge basket, in
which he collects eggs, bacon, and so forth.

On the Thursday before Whitsunday the Russian villagers "go out into
the woods, sing songs, weave garlands, and cut down a young
birch-tree, which they dress up in woman's clothes, or adorn with
many-coloured shreds and ribbons. After that comes a feast, at the
end of which they take the dressed-up birch-tree, carry it home to
their village with joyful dance and song, and set it up in one of
the houses, where it remains as an honoured guest till Whitsunday.
On the two intervening days they pay visits to the house where their
'guest' is; but on the third day, Whitsunday, they take her to a
stream and fling her into its waters," throwing their garlands after
her. In this Russian custom the dressing of the birch in woman's
clothes shows how clearly the tree is personified; and the throwing
it into a stream is most probably a raincharm.

In some parts of Sweden on the eve of May Day lads go about carrying
each a bunch of fresh birch twigs wholly or partly in leaf. With the
village fiddler at their head, they make the round of the houses
singing May songs; the burden of their songs is a prayer for fine
weather, a plentiful harvest, and worldly and spiritual blessings.
One of them carries a basket in which he collects gifts of eggs and
the like. If they are well received, they stick a leafy twig in the
roof over the cottage door. But in Sweden midsummer is the season
when these ceremonies are chiefly observed. On the Eve of St. John
(the twenty-third of June) the houses are thoroughly cleansed and
garnished with green boughs and flowers. Young fir-trees are raised
at the doorway and elsewhere about the homestead; and very often
small umbrageous arbours are constructed in the garden. In Stockholm
on this day a leaf-market is held at which thousands of May-poles
(_Maj Stanger_), from six inches to twelve feet high, decorated with
leaves, flowers, slips of coloured paper, gilt egg-shells strung on
reeds, and so on, are exposed for sale. Bonfires are lit on the
hills, and the people dance round them and jump over them. But the
chief event of the day is setting up the May-pole. This consists of
a straight and tall sprucepine tree, stripped of its branches. "At
times hoops and at others pieces of wood, placed crosswise, are
attached to it at intervals; whilst at others it is provided with
bows, representing, so to say, a man with his arms akimbo. From top
to bottom not only the 'Maj Stang' (May-pole) itself, but the hoops,
bows, etc., are ornamented with leaves, flowers, slips of various
cloth, gilt egg-shells, etc.; and on the top of it is a large vane,
or it may be a flag." The raising of the May-pole, the decoration of
which is done by the village maidens, is an affair of much ceremony;
the people flock to it from all quarters, and dance round it in a
great ring. Midsummer customs of the same sort used to be observed
in some parts of Germany. Thus in the towns of the Upper Harz
Mountains tall fir-trees, with the bark peeled off their lower
trunks, were set up in open places and decked with flowers and eggs,
which were painted yellow and red. Round these trees the young folk
danced by day and the old folk in the evening. In some parts of
Bohemia also a May-pole or midsummer-tree is erected on St. John's
Eve. The lads fetch a tall fir or pine from the wood and set it up
on a height, where the girls deck it with nosegays, garlands, and
red ribbons. It is afterwards burned.

It would be needless to illustrate at length the custom, which has
prevailed in various parts of Europe, such as England, France, and
Germany, of setting up a village May-tree or May-pole on May Day. A
few examples will suffice. The puritanical writer Phillip Stubbes in
his _Anatomie of Abuses,_ first published at London in 1583, has
described with manifest disgust how they used to bring in the
May-pole in the days of good Queen Bess. His description affords us
a vivid glimpse of merry England in the olden time. "Against May,
Whitsonday, or other time, all the yung men and maides, olde men and
wives, run gadding over night to the woods, groves, hils, and
mountains, where they spend all the night in plesant pastimes; and
in the morning they return, bringing with them birch and branches of
trees, to deck their assemblies withall. And no mervaile, for there
is a great Lord present amongst them, as superintendent and Lord
over their pastimes and sportes, namely, Sathan, prince of hel. But
the chiefest jewel they bring from thence is their May-pole, which
they bring home with great veneration, as thus. They have twentie or
fortie yoke of oxen, every oxe having a sweet nose-gay of flouers
placed on the tip of his hornes, and these oxen drawe home this
May-pole (this stinkyng ydol, rather), which is covered all over
with floures and hearbs, bound round about with strings, from the
top to the bottome, and sometime painted with variable colours, with
two or three hundred men, women and children following it with great
devotion. And thus beeing reared up, with handkercheefs and flags
hovering on the top, they straw the ground rounde about, binde green
boughes about it, set up sommer haules, bowers, and arbors hard by
it. And then fall they to daunce about it, like as the heathen
people did at the dedication of the Idols, whereof this is a perfect
pattern, or rather the thing itself. I have heard it credibly
reported (and that _viva voce_) by men of great gravitie and
reputation, that of fortie, threescore, or a hundred maides going to
the wood over night, there have scaresly the third part of them
returned home againe undefiled."

In Swabia on the first of May a tall fir-tree used to be fetched
into the village, where it was decked with ribbons and set up; then
the people danced round it merrily to music. The tree stood on the
village green the whole year through, until a fresh tree was brought
in next May Day. In Saxony "people were not content with bringing
the summer symbolically (as king or queen) into the village; they
brought the fresh green itself from the woods even into the houses:
that is the May or Whitsuntide trees, which are mentioned in
documents from the thirteenth century onwards. The fetching in of
the May-tree was also a festival. The people went out into the woods
to seek the May (_majum quaerere_), brought young trees, especially
firs and birches, to the village and set them up before the doors of
the houses or of the cattle-stalls or in the rooms. Young fellows
erected such May-trees, as we have already said, before the chambers
of their sweethearts. Besides these household Mays, a great May-tree
or May-pole, which had also been brought in solemn procession to the
village, was set up in the middle of the village or in the
market-place of the town. It had been chosen by the whole community,
who watched over it most carefully. Generally the tree was stripped
of its branches and leaves, nothing but the crown being left, on
which were displayed, in addition to many-coloured ribbons and
cloths, a variety of victuals such as sausages, cakes, and eggs. The
young folk exerted themselves to obtain these prizes. In the greasy
poles which are still to be seen at our fairs we have a relic of
these old May-poles. Not uncommonly there was a race on foot or on
horseback to the May-tree--a Whitsunday pastime which in course of
time has been divested of its goal and survives as a popular custom
to this day in many parts of Germany." At Bordeaux on the first of
May the boys of each street used to erect in it a May-pole, which
they adorned with garlands and a great crown; and every evening
during the whole of the month the young people of both sexes danced
singing about the pole. Down to the present day May-trees decked
with flowers and ribbons are set up on May Day in every village and
hamlet of gay Provence. Under them the young folk make merry and the
old folk rest.

In all these cases, apparently, the custom is or was to bring in a
new May-tree each year. However, in England the village May-pole
seems as a rule, at least in later times, to have been permanent,
not renewed annually. Villages of Upper Bavaria renew their May-pole
once every three, four, or five years. It is a fir-tree fetched from
the forest, and amid all the wreaths, flags, and inscriptions with
which it is bedecked, an essential part is the bunch of dark green
foliage left at the top "as a memento that in it we have to do, not
with a dead pole, but with a living tree from the greenwood." We can
hardly doubt that originally the practice everywhere was to set up a
new May-tree every year. As the object of the custom was to bring in
the fructifying spirit of vegetation, newly awakened in spring, the
end would have been defeated if, instead of a living tree, green and
sappy, an old withered one had been erected year after year or
allowed to stand permanently. When, however, the meaning of the
custom had been forgotten, and the May-tree was regarded simply as a
centre for holiday merry-making, people saw no reason for felling a
fresh tree every year, and preferred to let the same tree stand
permanently, only decking it with fresh flowers on May Day. But even
when the May-pole had thus become a fixture, the need of giving it
the appearance of being a green tree, not a dead pole, was sometimes
felt. Thus at Weverham in Cheshire "are two May-poles, which are
decorated on this day (May Day) with all due attention to the
ancient solemnity; the sides are hung with garlands, and the top
terminated by a birch or other tall slender tree with its leaves on;
the bark being peeled, and the stem spliced to the pole, so as to
give the appearance of one tree from the summit." Thus the renewal
of the May-tree is like the renewal of the Harvest-May; each is
intended to secure a fresh portion of the fertilising spirit of
vegetation, and to preserve it throughout the year. But whereas the
efficacy of the Harvest-May is restricted to promoting the growth of
the crops, that of the May-tree or May-branch extends also, as we
have seen, to women and cattle. Lastly, it is worth noting that the
old May-tree is sometimes burned at the end of the year. Thus in the
district of Prague young people break pieces of the public May-tree
and place them behind the holy pictures in their rooms, where they
remain till next May Day, and are then burned on the hearth. In
Würtemberg the bushes which are set up on the houses on Palm Sunday
are sometimes left there for a year and then burnt.

So much for the tree-spirit conceived as incorporate or immanent in
the tree. We have now to show that the tree-spirit is often
conceived and represented as detached from the tree and clothed in
human form, and even as embodied in living men or women. The
evidence for this anthropomorphic representation of the tree-spirit
is largely to be found in the popular customs of European peasantry.

There is an instructive class of cases in which the tree-spirit is
represented simultaneously in vegetable form and in human form,
which are set side by side as if for the express purpose of
explaining each other. In these cases the human representative of
the tree-spirit is sometimes a doll or puppet, sometimes a living
person, but whether a puppet or a person, it is placed beside a tree
or bough; so that together the person or puppet, and the tree or
bough, form a sort of bilingual inscription, the one being, so to
speak, a translation of the other. Here, therefore, there is no room
left for doubt that the spirit of the tree is actually represented
in human form. Thus in Bohemia, on the fourth Sunday in Lent, young
people throw a puppet called Death into the water; then the girls go
into the wood, cut down a young tree, and fasten to it a puppet
dressed in white clothes to look like a woman; with this tree and
puppet they go from house to house collecting gratuities and singing
songs with the refrain:

"We carry Death out of the village,
We bring Summer into the village."

Here, as we shall see later on, the "Summer" is the spirit of
vegetation returning or reviving in spring. In some parts of our own
country children go about asking for pence with some small
imitations of May-poles, and with a finely-dressed doll which they
call the Lady of the May. In these cases the tree and the puppet are
obviously regarded as equivalent.

At Thann, in Alsace, a girl called the Little May Rose, dressed in
white, carries a small May-tree, which is gay with garlands and
ribbons. Her companions collect gifts from door to door, singing a

"Little May Rose turn round three times,
Let us look at you round and round!
Rose of the May, come to the greenwood away,
We will be merry all.
So we go from the May to the roses."

In the course of the song a wish is expressed that those who give
nothing may lose their fowls by the marten, that their vine may bear
no clusters, their tree no nuts, their field no corn; the produce of
the year is supposed to depend on the gifts offered to these May
singers. Here and in the cases mentioned above, where children go
about with green boughs or garlands on May Day singing and
collecting money, the meaning is that with the spirit of vegetation
they bring plenty and good luck to the house, and they expect to be
paid for the service. In Russian Lithuania, on the first of May,
they used to set up a green tree before the village. Then the rustic
swains chose the prettiest girl, crowned her, swathed her in birch
branches and set her beside the May-tree, where they danced, sang,
and shouted "O May! O May!" In Brie (Isle de France) a May-tree is
erected in the midst of the village; its top is crowned with
flowers; lower down it is twined with leaves and twigs, still lower
with huge green branches. The girls dance round it, and at the same
time a lad wrapt in leaves and called Father May is led about. In
the small towns of the Franken Wald mountains in Northern Bavaria,
on the second of May, a _Walber_ tree is erected before a tavern,
and a man dances round it, enveloped in straw from head to foot in
such a way that the ears of corn unite above his head to form a
crown. He is called the _Walber,_ and used to be led in procession
through the streets, which were adorned with sprigs of birch.

Amongst the Slavs of Carinthia, on St. George's Day (the twentythird
of April), the young people deck with flowers and garlands a tree
which has been felled on the eve of the festival. The tree is then
carried in procession, accompanied with music and joyful
acclamations, the chief figure in the procession being the Green
George, a young fellow clad from head to foot in green birch
branches. At the close of the ceremonies the Green George, that is
an effigy of him, is thrown into the water. It is the aim of the lad
who acts Green George to step out of his leafy envelope and
substitute the effigy so adroitly that no one shall perceive the
change. In many places, however, the lad himself who plays the part
of Green George is ducked in a river or pond, with the express
intention of thus ensuring rain to make the fields and meadows green
in summer. In some places the cattle are crowned and driven from
their stalls to the accompaniment of a song:

"Green George we bring,
Green George we accompany,
May he feed our herds well.
If not, to the water with him."

Here we see that the same powers of making rain and fostering the
cattle, which are ascribed to the tree-spirit regarded as
incorporate in the tree, are also attributed to the tree-spirit
represented by a living man.

Among the gypsies of Transylvania and Roumania the festival of Green
George is the chief celebration of spring. Some of them keep it on
Easter Monday, others on St. George's Day (the twentythird of
April). On the eve of the festival a young willow tree is cut down,
adorned with garlands and leaves, and set up in the ground. Women
with child place one of their garments under the tree, and leave it
there over night; if next morning they find a leaf of the tree lying
on the garment, they know that their delivery will be easy. Sick and
old people go to the tree in the evening, spit on it thrice, and
say, "You will soon die, but let us live." Next morning the gypsies
gather about the willow. The chief figure of the festival is Green
George, a lad who is concealed from top to toe in green leaves and
blossoms. He throws a few handfuls of grass to the beasts of the
tribe, in order that they may have no lack of fodder throughout the
year. Then he takes three iron nails, which have lain for three days
and nights in water, and knocks them into the willow; after which he
pulls them out and flings them into a running stream to propitiate
the water-spirits. Finally, a pretence is made of throwing Green
George into the water, but in fact it is only a puppet made of
branches and leaves which is ducked in the stream. In this version
of the custom the powers of granting an easy delivery to women and
of communicating vital energy to the sick and old are clearly
ascribed to the willow; while Green George, the human double of the
tree, bestows food on the cattle, and further ensures the favour of
the water-spirits by putting them in indirect communication with the

Without citing more examples to the same effect, we may sum up the
results of the preceding pages in the words of Mannhardt: "The
customs quoted suffice to establish with certainty the conclusion
that in these spring processions the spirit of vegetation is often
represented both by the May-tree and in addition by a man dressed in
green leaves or flowers or by a girl similarly adorned. It is the
same spirit which animates the tree and is active in the inferior
plants and which we have recognised in the May-tree and the
Harvest-May. Quite consistently the spirit is also supposed to
manifest his presence in the first flower of spring and reveals
himself both in a girl representing a May-rose, and also, as giver
of harvest, in the person of the _Walber._ The procession with this
representative of the divinity was supposed to produce the same
beneficial effects on the fowls, the fruit-trees, and the crops as
the presence of the deity himself. In other words the mummer was
regarded not as an image but as an actual representative of the
spirit of vegetation; hence the wish expressed by the attendants on
the May-rose and the May-tree that those who refuse them gifts of
eggs, bacon, and so forth, may have no share in the blessings which
it is in the power of the itinerant spirit to bestow. We may
conclude that these begging processions with May-trees or May-boughs
from door to door ('bringing the May or the summer') had everywhere
originally a serious and, so to speak, sacramental significance;
people really believed that the god of growth was present unseen in
the bough; by the procession he was brought to each house to bestow
his blessing. The names May, Father May, May Lady, Queen of the May,
by which the anthropomorphic spirit of vegetation is often denoted,
show that the idea of the spirit of vegetation is blent with a
personification of the season at which his powers are most
strikingly manifested."

So far we have seen that the tree-spirit or the spirit of vegetation
in general is represented either in vegetable form alone, as by a
tree, bough, or flower; or in vegetable and human form
simultaneously, as by a tree, bough, or flower in combination with a
puppet or a living person. It remains to show that the
representation of him by a tree, bough, or flower is sometimes
entirely dropped, while the representation of him by a living person
remains. In this case the representative character of the person is
generally marked by dressing him or her in leaves or flowers;
sometimes, too, it is indicated by the name he or she bears.

Thus in some parts of Russia on St. George's Day (the twenty-third
of April) a youth is dressed out, like our Jack-in-the-Green, with
leaves and flowers. The Slovenes call him the Green George. Holding
a lighted torch in one hand and a pie in the other, he goes out to
the corn-fields, followed by girls singing appropriate songs. A
circle of brushwood is next lighted, in the middle of which is set
the pie. All who take part in the ceremony then sit down around the
fire and divide the pie among them. In this custom the Green George
dressed in leaves and flowers is plainly identical with the
similarly disguised Green George who is associated with a tree in
the Carinthian, Transylvanian, and Roumanian customs observed on the
same day. Again, we saw that in Russia at Whitsuntide a birch-tree
is dressed in woman's clothes and set up in the house. Clearly
equivalent to this is the custom observed on Whit-Monday by Russian
girls in the district of Pinsk. They choose the prettiest of their
number, envelop her in a mass of foliage taken from the birch-trees
and maples, and carry her about through the village.

In Ruhla as soon as the trees begin to grow green in spring, the
children assemble on a Sunday and go out into the woods, where they
choose one of their playmates to be the Little Leaf Man. They break
branches from the trees and twine them about the child till only his
shoes peep out from the leafy mantle. Holes are made in it for him
to see through, and two of the children lead the Little Leaf Man
that he may not stumble or fall. Singing and dancing they take him
from house to house, asking for gifts of food such as eggs, cream,
sausages, and cakes. Lastly, they sprinkle the Leaf Man with water
and feast on the food they have collected. In the Fricktal,
Switzerland, at Whitsuntide boys go out into a wood and swathe one
of their number in leafy boughs. He is called the Whitsuntide-lout,
and being mounted on horseback with a green branch in his hand he is
led back into the village. At the village-well a halt is called and
the leaf-clad lout is dismounted and ducked in the trough. Thereby
he acquires the right of sprinkling water on everybody, and he
exercises the right specially on girls and street urchins. The
urchins march before him in bands begging him to give them a
Whitsuntide wetting.

In England the best-known example of these leaf-clad mummers is the
Jack-in-the-Green, a chimney-sweeper who walks encased in a
pyramidal framework of wickerwork, which is covered with holly and
ivy, and surmounted by a crown of flowers and ribbons. Thus arrayed
he dances on May Day at the head of a troop of chimney-sweeps, who
collect pence. In Fricktal a similar frame of basketwork is called
the Whitsuntide Basket. As soon as the trees begin to bud, a spot is
chosen in the wood, and here the village lads make the frame with
all secrecy, lest others should forestall them. Leafy branches are
twined round two hoops, one of which rests on the shoulders of the
wearer, the other encircles his claves; holes are made for his eyes
and mouth; and a large nosegay crowns the whole. In this guise he
appears suddenly in the village at the hour of vespers, preceded by
three boys blowing on horns made of willow bark. The great object of
his supporters is to set up the Whitsuntide Basket on the village
well, and to keep it and him there, despite the efforts of the lads
from neighbouring villages, who seek to carry off the Whitsuntide
Basket and set it up on their own well.

In the class of cases of which the foregoing are specimens it is
obvious that the leaf-clad person who is led about is equivalent to
the May-tree, May-bough, or May-doll, which is carried from house to
house by children begging. Both are representatives of the
beneficent spirit of vegetation, whose visit to the house is
recompensed by a present of money or food.

Often the leaf-clad person who represents the spirit of vegetation
is known as the king or the queen; thus, for example, he or she is
called the May King, Whitsuntide King, Queen of May, and so on.
These titles, as Mannhardt observes, imply that the spirit
incorporate in vegetation is a ruler, whose creative power extends
far and wide.

In a village near Salzwedel a May-tree is set up at Whitsuntide and
the boys race to it; he who reaches it first is king; a garland of
flowers is put round his neck and in his hand he carries a May-bush,
with which, as the procession moves along, he sweeps away the dew.
At each house they sing a song, wishing the inmates good luck,
referring to the "black cow in the stall milking white milk, black
hen on the nest laying white eggs," and begging a gift of eggs,
bacon, and so on. At the village of Ellgoth in Silesia a ceremony
called the King's Race is observed at Whitsuntide. A pole with a
cloth tied to it is set up in a meadow, and the young men ride past
it on horseback, each trying to snatch away the cloth as he gallops
by. The one who succeeds in carrying it off and dipping it in the
neighbouring Oder is proclaimed King. Here the pole is clearly a
substitute for a May-tree. In some villages of Brunswick at
Whitsuntide a May King is completely enveloped in a May-bush. In
some parts of Thüringen also they have a May King at Whitsuntide,
but he is dressed up rather differently. A frame of wood is made in
which a man can stand; it is completely covered with birch boughs
and is surmounted by a crown of birch and flowers, in which a bell
is fastened. This frame is placed in the wood and the May King gets
into it. The rest go out and look for him, and when they have found
him they lead him back into the village to the magistrate, the
clergyman, and others, who have to guess who is in the verdurous
frame. If they guess wrong, the May King rings his bell by shaking
his head, and a forfeit of beer or the like must be paid by the
unsuccessful guesser. At Wahrstedt the boys at Whitsuntide choose by
lot a king and a high-steward. The latter is completely concealed in
a May-bush, wears a wooden crown wreathen with flowers, and carries
a wooden sword. The king, on the other hand, is only distinguished
by a nosegay in his cap, and a reed, with a red ribbon tied to it,
in his hand. They beg for eggs from house to house, threatening
that, where none are given, none will be laid by the hens throughout
the year. In this custom the high-steward appears, for some reason,
to have usurped the insignia of the king. At Hildesheim five or six
young fellows go about on the afternoon of Whit-Monday cracking long
whips in measured time and collecting eggs from the houses. The
chief person of the band is the Leaf King, a lad swathed so
completely in birchen twigs that nothing of him can be seen but his
feet. A huge head-dress of birchen twigs adds to his apparent
stature. In his hand he carries a long crook, with which he tries to
catch stray dogs and children. In some parts of Bohemia on
Whit-Monday the young fellows disguise themselves in tall caps of
birch bark adorned with flowers. One of them is dressed as a king
and dragged on a sledge to the village green, and if on the way they
pass a pool the sledge is always overturned into it. Arrived at the
green they gather round the king; the crier jumps on a stone or
climbs up a tree and recites lampoons about each house and its
inmates. Afterwards the disguises of bark are stripped off and they
go about the village in holiday attire, carrying a May-tree and
begging. Cakes, eggs, and corn are sometimes given them. At
Grossvargula, near Langensalza, in the eighteenth century a Grass
King used to be led about in procession at Whitsuntide. He was
encased in a pyramid of poplar branches, the top of which was
adorned with a royal crown of branches and flowers. He rode on
horseback with the leafy pyramid over him, so that its lower end
touched the ground, and an opening was left in it only for his face.
Surrounded by a cavalcade of young fellows, he rode in procession to
the town hall, the parsonage, and so on, where they all got a drink
of beer. Then under the seven lindens of the neighbouring
Sommerberg, the Grass King was stripped of his green casing; the
crown was handed to the Mayor, and the branches were stuck in the
flax fields in order to make the flax grow tall. In this last trait
the fertilising influence ascribed to the representative of the
tree-spirit comes out clearly. In the neighbourhood of Pilsen
(Bohemia) a conical hut of green branches, without any door, is
erected at Whitsuntide in the midst of the village. To this hut
rides a troop of village lads with a king at their head. He wears a
sword at his side and a sugar-loaf hat of rushes on his head. In his
train are a judge, a crier, and a personage called the Frog-flayer
or Hangman. This last is a sort of ragged merryandrew, wearing a
rusty old sword and bestriding a sorry hack. On reaching the hut the
crier dismounts and goes round it looking for a door. Finding none,
he says, "Ah, this is perhaps an enchanted castle; the witches creep
through the leaves and need no door." At last he draws his sword and
hews his way into the hut, where there is a chair, on which he seats
himself and proceeds to criticise in rhyme the girls, farmers, and
farm-servants of the neighbourhood. When this is over, the
Frog-flayer steps forward and, after exhibiting a cage with frogs in
it, sets up a gallows on which he hangs the frogs in a row. In the
neighbourhood of Plas the ceremony differs in some points. The king
and his soldiers are completely clad in bark, adorned with flowers
and ribbons; they all carry swords and ride horses, which are gay
with green branches and flowers. While the village dames and girls
are being criticised at the arbour, a frog is secretly pinched and
poked by the crier till it quacks. Sentence of death is passed on
the frog by the king; the hangman beheads it and flings the bleeding
body among the spectators. Lastly, the king is driven from the hut
and pursued by the soldiers. The pinching and beheading of the frog
are doubtless, as Mannhardt observes, a rain-charm. We have seen
that some Indians of the Orinoco beat frogs for the express purpose
of producing rain, and that killing a frog is a European rain-charm.

Often the spirit of vegetation in spring is represented by a queen
instead of a king. In the neighbourhood of Libchowic (Bohemia), on
the fourth Sunday in Lent, girls dressed in white and wearing the
first spring flowers, as violets and daisies, in their hair, lead
about the village a girl who is called the Queen and is crowned with
flowers. During the procession, which is conducted with great
solemnity, none of the girls may stand still, but must keep whirling
round continually and singing. In every house the Queen announces
the arrival of spring and wishes the inmates good luck and
blessings, for which she receives presents. In German Hungary the
girls choose the prettiest girl to be their Whitsuntide Queen,
fasten a towering wreath on her brow, and carry her singing through
the streets. At every house they stop, sing old ballads, and receive
presents. In the south-east of Ireland on May Day the prettiest girl
used to be chosen Queen of the district for twelve months. She was
crowned with wild flowers; feasting, dancing, and rustic sports
followed, and were closed by a grand procession in the evening.
During her year of office she presided over rural gatherings of
young people at dances and merry-makings. If she married before next
May Day, her authority was at an end, but her successor was not
elected till that day came round. The May Queen is common In France
and familiar in England.

Again the spirit of vegetation is sometimes represented by a king
and queen, a lord and lady, or a bridegroom and bride. Here again
the parallelism holds between the anthropomorphic and the vegetable
representation of the tree-spirit, for we have seen above that trees
are sometimes married to each other. At Halford in South
Warwickshire the children go from house to house on May Day, walking
two and two in procession and headed by a King and Queen. Two boys
carry a May-pole some six or seven feet high, which is covered with
flowers and greenery. Fastened to it near the top are two cross-bars
at right angles to each other. These are also decked with flowers,
and from the ends of the bars hang hoops similarly adorned. At the
houses the children sing May songs and receive money, which is used
to provide tea for them at the schoolhouse in the afternoon. In a
Bohemian village near Königgrätz on Whit-Monday the children play
the king's game, at which a king and queen march about under a
canopy, the queen wearing a garland, and the youngest girl carrying
two wreaths on a plate behind them. They are attended by boys and
girls called groomsmen and bridesmaids, and they go from house to
house collecting gifts. A regular feature in the popular celebration
of Whitsuntide in Silesia used to be, and to some extent still is,
the contest for the kingship. This contest took various forms, but
the mark or goal was generally the May-tree or May-pole. Sometimes
the youth who succeeded in climbing the smooth pole and bringing
down the prize was proclaimed the Whitsuntide King and his
sweetheart the Whitsuntide Bride. Afterwards the king, carrying the
May-bush, repaired with the rest of the company to the alehouse,
where a dance and a feast ended the merry-making. Often the young
farmers and labourers raced on horseback to the May-pole, which was
adorned with flowers, ribbons, and a crown. He who first reached the
pole was the Whitsuntide King, and the rest had to obey his orders
for that day. The worst rider became the clown. At the May-tree all
dismounted and hoisted the king on their shoulders. He nimbly
swarmed up the pole and brought down the May-bush and the crown,
which had been fastened to the top. Meanwhile the clown hurried to
the alehouse and proceeded to bolt thirty rolls of bread and to swig
four quart bottles of brandy with the utmost possible despatch. He
was followed by the king, who bore the May-bush and crown at the
head of the company. If on their arrival the clown had already
disposed of the rolls and the brandy, and greeted the king with a
speech and a glass of beer, his score was paid by the king;
otherwise he had to settle it himself. After church time the stately
procession wound through the village. At the head of it rode the
king, decked with flowers and carrying the May-bush. Next came the
clown with his clothes turned inside out, a great flaxen beard on
his chain, and the Whitsuntide crown on his head. Two riders
disguised as guards followed. The procession drew up before every
farmyard; the two guards dismounted, shut the clown into the house,
and claimed a contribution from the housewife to buy soap with which
to wash the clown's beard. Custom allowed them to carry off any
victuals which were not under lock and key. Last of all they came to
the house in which the king's sweetheart lived. She was greeted as
Whitsuntide Queen and received suitable presents--to wit, a
many-coloured sash, a cloth, and an apron. The king got as a prize,
a vest, a neck-cloth, and so forth, and had the right of setting up
the May-bush or Whitsuntide-tree before his master's yard, where it
remained as an honourable token till the same day next year. Finally
the procession took its way to the tavern, where the king and queen
opened the dance. Sometimes the Whitsuntide King and Queen succeeded
to office in a different way. A man of straw, as large as life and
crowned with a red cap, was conveyed in a cart, between two men
armed and disguised as guards, to a place where a mock court was
waiting to try him. A great crowd followed the cart. After a formal
trial the straw man was condemned to death and fastened to a stake
on the execution ground. The young men with bandaged eyes tried to
stab him with a spear. He who succeeded became king and his
sweetheart queen. The straw man was known as the Goliath.

In a parish of Denmark it used to be the custom at Whitsuntide to
dress up a little girl as the Whitsun-bride and a little boy as her
groom. She was decked in all the finery of a grown-up bride, and
wore a crown of the freshest flowers of spring on her head. Her
groom was as gay as flowers, ribbons, and knots could make him. The
other children adorned themselves as best they could with the yellow
flowers of the trollius and caltha. Then they went in great state
from farmhouse to farmhouse, two little girls walking at the head of
the procession as bridesmaids, and six or eight outriders galloping
ahead on hobby-horses to announce their coming. Contributions of
eggs, butter, loaves, cream, coffee, sugar, and tallow-candles were
received and conveyed away in baskets. When they had made the round
of the farms, some of the farmers' wives helped to arrange the
wedding feast, and the children danced merrily in clogs on the
stamped clay floor till the sun rose and the birds began to sing.
All this is now a thing of the past. Only the old folks still
remember the little Whitsun-bride and her mimic pomp.

We have seen that in Sweden the ceremonies associated elsewhere with
May Day or Whitsuntide commonly take place at Midsummer. Accordingly
we find that in some parts of the Swedish province of Blekinge they
still choose a Midsummer's Bride, to whom the "church coronet" is
occasionally lent. The girl selects for herself a Bridegroom, and a
collection is made for the pair, who for the time being are looked
on as man and wife. The other youths also choose each his bride. A
similar ceremony seems to be still kept up in Norway.

In the neighbourhood of Briançon (Dauphiné) on May Day the lads wrap
up in green leaves a young fellow whose sweetheart has deserted him
or married another. He lies down on the ground and feigns to be
asleep. Then a girl who likes him, and would marry him, comes and
wakes him, and raising him up offers him her arm and a flag. So they
go to the alehouse, where the pair lead off the dancing. But they
must marry within the year, or they are treated as old bachelor and
old maid, and are debarred the company of the young folks. The lad
is called the Bridegroom of the month of May. In the alehouse he
puts off his garment of leaves, out of which, mixed with flowers,
his partner in the dance makes a nosegay, and wears it at her breast
next day, when he leads her again to the alehouse. Like this is a
Russian custom observed in the district of Nerechta on the Thursday
before Whitsunday. The girls go out into a birch-wood, wind a girdle
or band round a stately birch, twist its lower branches into a
wreath, and kiss each other in pairs through the wreath. The girls
who kiss through the wreath call each other gossips. Then one of the
girls steps forward, and mimicking a drunken man, flings herself on
the ground, rolls on the grass, and feigns to fall fast asleep.
Another girl wakens the pretended sleeper and kisses him; then the
whole bevy trips singing through the wood to twine garlands, which
they throw into the water. In the fate of the garlands floating on
the stream they read their own. Here the part of the sleeper was
probably at one time played by a lad. In these French and Russian
customs we have a forsaken bridegroom, in the following a forsaken
bride. On Shrove Tuesday the Slovenes of Oberkrain drag a straw
puppet with joyous cries up and down the village; then they throw it
into the water or burn it, and from the height of the flames they
judge of the abundance of the next harvest. The noisy crew is
followed by a female masker, who drags a great board by a string and
gives out that she is a forsaken bride.

Viewed in the light of what has gone before, the awakening of the
forsaken sleeper in these ceremonies probably represents the revival
of vegetation in spring. But it is not easy to assign their
respective parts to the forsaken bridegroom and to the girl who
wakes him from his slumber. Is the sleeper the leafless forest or
the bare earth of winter? Is the girl who awakens him the fresh
verdure or the genial sunshine of spring? It is hardly possible, on
the evidence before us, to answer these questions.

In the Highlands of Scotland the revival of vegetation in spring
used to be graphically represented on St. Bride's Day, the first of
February. Thus in the Hebrides "the mistress and servants of each
family take a sheaf of oats, and dress it up in women's apparel, put
it in a large basket and lay a wooden club by it, and this they call
Briid's bed; and then the mistress and servants cry three times,
'Briid is come, Briid is welcome.' This they do just before going to
bed, and when they rise in the morning they look among the ashes,
expecting to see the impression of Briid's club there; which if they
do, they reckon it a true presage of a good crop and prosperous
year, and the contrary they take as an ill omen." The same custom is
described by another witness thus: "Upon the night before Candlemas
it is usual to make a bed with corn and hay, over which some
blankets are laid, in a part of the house, near the door. When it is
ready, a person goes out and repeats three times, . . . 'Bridget,
Bridget, come in; thy bed is ready.' One or more candles are left
burning near it all night." Similarly in the Isle of Man "on the eve
of the first of February, a festival was formerly kept, called, in
the Manks language, _Laa'l Breeshey,_ in honour of the Irish lady
who went over to the Isle of Man to receive the veil from St.
Maughold. The custom was to gather a bundle of green rushes, and
standing with them in the hand on the threshold of the door, to
invite the holy Saint Bridget to come and lodge with them that
night. In the Manks language, the invitation ran thus: _'Brede,
Brede, tar gys my thie tar dyn thie ayms noght Foshil jee yn dorrys
da Brede, as lhig da Brede e heet staigh.'_ In English: 'Bridget,
Bridget, come to my house, come to my house to-night. Open the door
for Bridget, and let Bridget come in.' After these words were
repeated, the rushes were strewn on the floor by way of a carpet or
bed for St. Bridget. A custom very similar to this was also observed
in some of the Out-Isles of the ancient Kingdom of Man." In these
Manx and Highland ceremonies it is obvious that St. Bride, or St.
Bridget, is an old heathen goddess of fertility, disguised in a
threadbare Christian cloak. Probably she is no other than Brigit,
the Celtic goddess of fire and apparently of the crops.

Often the marriage of the spirit of vegetation in spring, though not
directly represented, is implied by naming the human representative
of the spirit, "the Bride," and dressing her in wedding attire. Thus
in some villages of Altmark at Whitsuntide, while the boys go about
carrying a May-tree or leading a boy enveloped in leaves and
flowers, the girls lead about the May Bride, a girl dressed as a
bride with a great nosegay in her hair. They go from house to house,
the May Bride singing a song in which she asks for a present and
tells the inmates of each house that if they give her something they
will themselves have something the whole year through; but if they
give her nothing they will themselves have nothing. In some parts of
Westphalia two girls lead a flower-crowned girl called the
Whitsuntide Bride from door to door, singing a song in which they
ask for eggs.

XI. The Influence of the Sexes on Vegetation

FROM THE PRECEDING examination of the spring and summer festivals of
Europe we may infer that our rude forefathers personified the powers
of vegetation as male and female, and attempted, on the principle of
homoeopathic or imitative magic, to quicken the growth of trees and
plants by representing the marriage of the sylvan deities in the
persons of a King and Queen of May, a Whitsun Bridegroom and Bride,
and so forth. Such representations were accordingly no mere symbolic
or allegorical dramas, pastoral plays designed to amuse or instruct
a rustic audience. They were charms intended to make the woods to
grow green, the fresh grass to sprout, the corn to shoot, and the
flowers to blow. And it was natural to suppose that the more closely
the mock marriage of the leaf-clad or flower-decked mummers aped the
real marriage of the woodland sprites, the more effective would be
the charm. Accordingly we may assume with a high degree of
probability that the profligacy which notoriously attended these
ceremonies was at one time not an accidental excess but an essential
part of the rites, and that in the opinion of those who performed
them the marriage of trees and plants could not be fertile without
the real union of the human sexes. At the present day it might
perhaps be vain to look in civilised Europe for customs of this sort
observed for the explicit purpose of promoting the growth of
vegetation. But ruder races in other parts of the world have
consciously employed the intercourse of the sexes as a means to
ensure the fruitfulness of the earth; and some rites which are
still, or were till lately, kept up in Europe can be reasonably
explained only as stunted relics of a similar practice. The
following facts will make this plain.

For four days before they committed the seed to the earth the
Pipiles of Central America kept apart from their wives "in order
that on the night before planting they might indulge their passions
to the fullest extent; certain persons are even said to have been
appointed to perform the sexual act at the very moment when the
first seeds were deposited in the ground." The use of their wives at
that time was indeed enjoined upon the people by the priests as a
religious duty, in default of which it was not lawful to sow the
seed. The only possible explanation of this custom seems to be that
the Indians confused the process by which human beings reproduce
their kind with the process by which plants discharge the same
function, and fancied that by resorting to the former they were
simultaneously forwarding the latter. In some parts of Java, at the
season when the bloom will soon be on the rice, the husbandman and
his wife visit their fields by night and there engage in sexual
intercourse for the purpose of promoting the growth of the crop. In
the Leti, Sarmata, and some other groups of islands which lie
between the western end of New Guinea and the northern part of
Australia, the heathen population regard the sun as the male
principle by whom the earth or female prínciple is fertilised. They
call him Upu-lera or Mr. Sun, and represent him under the form of a
lamp made of coco-nut leaves, which may be seen hanging everywhere
in their houses and in the sacred fig-tree. Under the tree lies a
large flat stone, which serves as a sacrificial table. On it the
heads of slain foes were and are still placed in some of the
islands. Once a year, at the beginning of the rainy season, Mr. Sun
comes down into the holy fig-tree to fertilise the earth, and to
facilitate his descent a ladder with seven rungs is considerately
placed at his disposal. It is set up under the tree and is adorned
with carved figures of the birds whose shrill clarion heralds the
approach of the sun in the east. On this occasion pigs and dogs are
sacrificed in profusion; men and women alike indulge in a
saturnalia; and the mystic union of the sun and the earth is
dramatically represented in public, amid song and dance, by the real
union of the sexes under the tree. The object of the festival, we
are told, is to procure rain, plenty of food and drink, abundance of
cattle and children and riches from Grandfather Sun. They pray that
he may make every she-goat to cast two or three young, the people to
multiply, the dead pigs to be replaced by living pigs, the empty
rice-baskets to be filled, and so on. And to induce him to grant
their requests they offer him pork and rice and liquor, and invite
him to fall to. In the Babar Islands a special flag is hoisted at
this festival as a symbol of the creative energy of the sun; it is
of white cotton, about nine feet high, and consists of the figure of
a man in an appropriate attitude. It would be unjust to treat these
orgies as a mere outburst of unbridled passion; no doubt they are
deliberately and solemnly organised as essential to the fertility of
the earth and the welfare of man.

The same means which are thus adopted to stimulate the growth of the
crops are naturally employed to ensure the fruitfulness of trees. In
some parts of Amboyna, when the state of the clove plantation
indicates that the crop is likely to be scanty, the men go naked to
the plantations by night, and there seek to fertilise the trees
precisely as they would impregnate women, while at the same time
they call out for "More cloves!" This is supposed to make the trees
bear fruit more abundantly.

The Baganda of Central Africa believe so strongly in the intimate
relation between the intercourse of the sexes and the fertility of
the ground that among them a barren wife is generally sent away,
because she is supposed to prevent her husband's garden from bearing
fruit. On the contrary, a couple who have given proof of
extraordinary fertility by becoming the parents of twins are
believed by the Baganda to be endowed with a corresponding power of
increasing the fruitfulness of the plantain-trees, which furnish
them with their staple food. Some little time after the birth of the
twins a ceremony is performed, the object of which clearly is to
transmit the reproductive virtue of the parents to the plantains.
The mother lies down on her back in the thick grass near the house
and places a flower of the plantain between her legs; then her
husband comes and knocks the flower away with his genital member.
Further, the parents go through the country performing dances in the
gardens of favoured friends, apparently for the purpose of causing
the plantain-trees to bear fruit more abundantly.

In various parts of Europe customs have prevailed both at spring and
harvest which are clearly based on the same crude notion that the
relation of the human sexes to each other can be so used as to
quicken the growth of plants. For example, in the Ukraine on St.
George's Day (the twenty-third of April) the priest in his robes,
attended by his acolytes, goes out to the fields of the village,
where the crops are beginning to show green above the ground, and
blesses them. After that the young married people lie down in
couples on the sown fields and roll several times over on them, in
the belief that this will promote the growth of the crops. In some
parts of Russia the priest himself is rolled by women over the
sprouting crop, and that without regard to the mud and holes which
he may encounter in his beneficent progress. If the shepherd resists
or remonstrates, his flock murmurs, "Little Father, you do not
really wish us well, you do not wish us to have corn, although you
do wish to live on our corn." In some parts of Germany at harvest
the men and women, who have reaped the corn, roll together on the
field. This again is probably a mitigation of an older and ruder
custom designed to impart fertility to the fields by methods like
those resorted to by the Pipiles of Central America long ago and by
the cultivators of rice in Java at the present time.

To the student who cares to track the devious course of the human
mind in its gropings after truth, it is of some interest to observe
that the same theoretical belief in the sympathetic influence of the
sexes on vegetation, which has led some peoples to indulge their
passions as a means of fertilising the earth, has led others to seek
the same end by directly opposite means. From the moment that they
sowed the maize till the time that they reaped it, the Indians of
Nicaragua lived chastely, keeping apart from their wives and
sleeping in a separate place. They ate no salt, and drank neither
cocoa nor _chicha,_ the fermented liquor made from maize; in short
the season was for them, as the Spanish historian observes, a time
of abstinence. To this day some of the Indian tribes of Central
America practise continence for the purpose of thereby promoting the
growth of the crops. Thus we are told that before sowing the maize
the Kekchi Indians sleep apart from their wives, and eat no flesh
for five days, while among the Lanquineros and Cajaboneros the
period of abstinence from these carnal pleasures extends to thirteen
days. So amongst some of the Germans of Transylvania it is a rule
that no man may sleep with his wife during the whole of the time
that he is engaged in sowing his fields. The same rule is observed
at Kalotaszeg in Hungary; the people think that if the custom were
not observed the corn would be mildewed. Similarly a Central
Australian headman of the Kaitish tribe strictly abstains from
marital relations with his wife all the time that he is performing
magical ceremonies to make the grass grow; for he believes that a
breach of this rule would prevent the grass seed from sprouting
properly. In some of the Melanesian islands, when the yam vines are
being trained, the men sleep near the gardens and never approach
their wives; should they enter the garden after breaking this rule
of continence the fruits of the garden would be spoilt.

If we ask why it is that similar beliefs should logically lead,
among different peoples, to such opposite modes of conduct as strict
chastity and more or less open debauchery, the reason, as it
presents itself to the primitive mind, is perhaps not very far to
seek. If rude man identifies himself, in a manner, with nature; if
he fails to distinguish the impulses and processes in himself from
the methods which nature adopts to ensure the reproduction of plants
and animals, he may leap to one of two conclusions. Either he may
infer that by yielding to his appetites he will thereby assist in
the multiplication of plants and animals; or he may imagine that the
vigour which he refuses to expend in reproducing his own kind, will
form as it were a store of energy whereby other creatures, whether
vegetable or animal, will somehow benefit in propagating their
species. Thus from the same crude philosophy, the same primitive
notions of nature and life, the savage may derive by different
channels a rule either of profligacy or of asceticism.

To readers bred in religion which is saturated with the ascetic
idealism of the East, the explanation which I have given of the rule
of continence observed under certain circumstances by rude or savage
peoples may seem far-fetched and improbable. They may think that
moral purity, which is so intimately associated in their minds with
the observance of such a rule, furnishes a sufficient explanation of
it; they may hold with Milton that chastity in itself is a noble
virtue, and that the restraint which it imposes on one of the
strongest impulses of our animal nature marks out those who can
submit to it as men raised above the common herd, and therefore
worthy to receive the seal of the divine approbation. However
natural this mode of thought may seem to us, it is utterly foreign
and indeed incomprehensible to the savage. If he resists on occasion
the sexual instinct, it is from no high idealism, no ethereal
aspiration after moral purity, but for the sake of some ulterior yet
perfectly definite and concrete object, to gain which he is prepared
to sacrifice the immediate gratification of his senses. That this is
or may be so, the examples I have cited are amply sufficient to
prove. They show that where the instinct of self-preservation, which
manifests itself chiefly in the search for food, conflicts or
appears to conflict with the instinct which conduces to the
propagation of the species, the former instinct, as the primary and
more fundamental, is capable of overmastering the latter. In short,
the savage is willing to restrain his sexual propensity for the sake
of food. Another object for the sake of which he consents to
exercise the same self-restraint is victory in war. Not only the
warrior in the field but his friends at home will often bridle their
sensual appetites from a belief that by so doing they will the more
easily overcome their enemies. The fallacy of such a belief, like
the belief that the chastity of the sower conduces to the growth of
the seed, is plain enough to us; yet perhaps the self-restraint
which these and the like beliefs, vain and false as they are, have
imposed on mankind, has not been without its utility in bracing and
strengthening the breed. For strength of character in the race as in
the individual consists mainly in the power of sacrificing the
present to the future, of disregarding the immediate temptations of
ephemeral pleasure for more distant and lasting sources of
satisfaction. The more the power is exercised the higher and
stronger becomes the character; till the height of heroism is
reached in men who renounce the pleasures of life and even life
itself for the sake of keeping or winning for others, perhaps in
distant ages, the blessings of freedom and truth.

XII. The Sacred Marriage

1. Diana as a Goddess of Fertility

WE have seen that according to a widespread belief, which is not
without a foundation in fact, plants reproduce their kinds through
the sexual union of male and female elements, and that on the
principle of homoeopathic or imitative magic this reproduction is
supposed to be stimulated by the real or mock marriage of men and
women, who masquerade for the time being as spirits of vegetation.
Such magical dramas have played a great part in the popular
festivals of Europe, and based as they are on a very crude
conception of natural law, it is clear that they must have been
handed down from a remote antiquity. We shall hardly, therefore, err
in assuming that they date from a time when the forefathers of the
civilised nations of Europe were still barbarians, herding their
cattle and cultivating patches of corn in the clearings of the vast
forests, which then covered the greater part of the continent, from
the Mediterranean to the Arctic Ocean. But if these old spells and
enchantments for the growth of leaves and blossoms, of grass and
flowers and fruit, have lingered down to our own time in the shape
of pastoral plays and popular merry-makings, is it not reasonable to
suppose that they survived in less attenuated forms some two
thousand years ago among the civilised peoples of antiquity? Or, to
put it otherwise, is it not likely that in certain festivals of the
ancients we may be able to detect the equivalents of our May Day,
Whitsuntide, and Midsummer celebrations, with this difference, that
in those days the ceremonies had not yet dwindled into mere shows
and pageants, but were still religious or magical rites, in which
the actors consciously supported the high parts of gods and
goddesses? Now in the first chapter of this book we found reason to
believe that the priest who bore the title of King of the Wood at
Nemi had for his mate the goddess of the grove, Diana herself. May
not he and she, as King and Queen of the Wood, have been serious
counterparts of the merry mummers who play the King and Queen of
May, the Whitsuntide Bridegroom and Bride in modern Europe? and may
not their union have been yearly celebrated in a _theogamy_ or
divine marriage? Such dramatic weddings of gods and goddesses, as we
shall see presently, were carried out as solemn religious rites in
many parts of the ancient world; hence there is no intrinsic
improbability in the supposition that the sacred grove at Nemi may
have been the scene of an annual ceremony of this sort. Direct
evidence that it was so there is none, but analogy pleads in favour
of the view, as I shall now endeavour to show.

Diana was essentially a goddess of the woodlands, as Ceres was a
goddess of the corn and Bacchus a god of the vine. Her sanctuaries
were commonly in groves, indeed every grove was sacred to her, and
she is often associated with the forest god Silvanus in dedications.
But whatever her origin may have been, Diana was not always a mere
goddess of trees. Like her Greek sister Artemis, she appears to have
developed into a personification of the teeming life of nature, both
animal and vegetable. As mistress of the greenwood she would
naturally be thought to own the beasts, whether wild or tame, that
ranged through it, lurking for their prey in its gloomy depths,
munching the fresh leaves and shoots among the boughs, or cropping
the herbage in the open glades and dells. Thus she might come to be
the patron goddess both of hunters and herdsmen, just as Silvanus
was the god not only of woods, but of cattle. Similarly in Finland
the wild beasts of the forest were regarded as the herds of the
woodland god Tapio and of his stately and beautiful wife. No man
might slay one of these animals without the gracious permission of
their divine owners. Hence the hunter prayed to the sylvan deities,
and vowed rich offerings to them if they would drive the game across
his path. And cattle also seem to have enjoyed the protection of
those spirits of the woods, both when they were in their stalls and
while they strayed in the forest. Before the Gayos of Sumatra hunt
deer, wild goats, or wild pigs with hounds in the woods, they deem
it necessary to obtain the leave of the unseen Lord of the forest.
This is done according to a prescribed form by a man who has special
skill in woodcraft. He lays down a quid of betel before a stake
which is cut in a particular way to represent the Lord of the Wood,
and having done so he prays to the spirit to signify his consent or
refusal. In his treatise on hunting, Arrian tells us that the Celts
used to offer an annual sacrifice to Artemis on her birthday,
purchasing the sacrificial victim with the fines which they had paid
into her treasury for every fox, hare, and roe that they had killed
in the course of the year. The custom clearly implied that the wild
beasts belonged to the goddess, and that she must be compensated for
their slaughter.

But Diana was not merely a patroness of wild beasts, a mistress of
woods and hills, of lonely glades and sounding rivers; conceived as
the moon, and especially, it would seem, as the yellow harvest moon,
she filled the farmer's grange with goodly fruits, and heard the
prayers of women in travail. In her sacred grove at Nemi, as we have
seen, she was especially worshipped as a goddess of childbirth, who
bestowed offspring on men and women. Thus Diana, like the Greek
Artemis, with whom she was constantly identified, may be described
as a goddess of nature in general and of fertility in particular. We
need not wonder, therefore, that in her sanctuary on the Aventine
she was represented by an image copied from the many-breasted idol
of the Ephesian Artemis, with all its crowded emblems of exuberant
fecundity. Hence too we can understand why an ancient Roman law,
attributed to King Tullus Hostilius, prescribed that, when incest
had been committed, an expiatory sacrifice should be offered by the
pontiffs in the grove of Diana. For we know that the crime of incest
is commonly supposed to cause a dearth; hence it would be meet that
atonement for the offence should be made to the goddess of

Now on the principle that the goddess of fertility must herself be
fertile, it behoved Diana to have a male partner. Her mate, if the
testimony of Servius may be trusted, was that Virbius who had his
representative, or perhaps rather his embodiment, in the King of the
Wood at Nemi. The aim of their union would be to promote the
fruitfulness of the earth, of animals, and of mankind; and it might
naturally be thought that this object would be more surely attained
if the sacred nuptials were celebrated every year, the parts of the
divine bride and bridegroom being played either by their images or
by living persons. No ancient writer mentions that this was done in
the grove at Nemi; but our knowledge of the Arician ritual is so
scanty that the want of information on this head can hardly count as
a fatal objection to the theory. That theory, in the absence of
direct evidence, must necessarily be based on the analogy of similar
customs practised elsewhere. Some modern examples of such customs,
more or less degenerate, were described in the last chapter. Here we
shall consider their ancient counterparts.

2. The Marriage of the Gods

AT BABYLON the imposing sanctuary of Bel rose like a pyramid above
the city in a series of eight towers or stories, planted one on the
top of the other. On the highest tower, reached by an ascent which
wound about all the rest, there stood a spacious temple, and in the
temple a great bed, magnificently draped and cushioned, with a
golden table beside it. In the temple no image was to be seen, and
no human being passed the night there, save a single woman, whom,
according to the Chaldean priests, the god chose from among all the
women of Babylon. They said that the deity himself came into the
temple at night and slept in the great bed; and the woman, as a
consort of the god, might have no intercourse with mortal man.

At Thebes in Egypt a woman slept in the temple of Ammon as the
consort of the god, and, like the human wife of Bel at Babylon, she
was said to have no commerce with a man. In Egyptian texts she is
often mentioned as "the divine consort," and usually she was no less
a personage than the Queen of Egypt herself. For, according to the
Egyptians, their monarchs were actually begotten by the god Ammon,
who assumed for the time being the form of the reigning king, and in
that disguise had intercourse with the queen. The divine procreation
is carved and painted in great detail on the walls of two of the
oldest temples in Egypt, those of Deir el Bahari and Luxor; and the
inscriptions attached to the paintings leave no doubt as to the
meaning of the scenes.

At Athens the god of the vine, Dionysus, was annually married to the
Queen, and it appears that the consummation of the divine union, as
well as the espousals, was enacted at the ceremony; but whether the
part of the god was played by a man or an image we do not know. We
learn from Aristotle that the ceremony took place in the old
official residence of the King, known as the Cattle-stall, which
stood near the Prytaneum or Town-hall on the north-eastern slope of
the Acropolis. The object of the marriage can hardly have been any
other than that of ensuring the fertility of the vines and other
fruit-trees of which Dionysus was the god. Thus both in form and in
meaning the ceremony would answer to the nuptials of the King and
Queen of May.

In the great mysteries solemnised at Eleusis in the month of
September the union of the sky-god Zeus with the corn-goddess
Demeter appears to have been represented by the union of the
hierophant with the priestess of Demeter, who acted the parts of god
and goddess. But their intercourse was only dramatic or symbolical,
for the hierophant had temporarily deprived himself of his virility
by an application of hemlock. The torches having been extinguished,
the pair descended into a murky place, while the throng of
worshippers awaited in anxious suspense the result of the mystic
congress, on which they believed their own salvation to depend.
After a time the hierophant reappeared, and in a blaze of light
silently exhibited to the assembly a reaped ear of corn, the fruit
of the divine marriage. Then in a loud voice he proclaimed, "Queen
Brimo has brought forth a sacred boy Brimos," by which he meant,
"The Mighty One has brought forth the Mighty." The corn-mother in
fact had given birth to her child, the corn, and her travail-pangs
were enacted in the sacred drama. This revelation of the reaped corn
appears to have been the crowning act of the mysteries. Thus through
the glamour shed round these rites by the poetry and philosophy of
later ages there still looms, like a distant landscape through a
sunlit haze, a simple rustic festival designed to cover the wide
Eleusinian plain with a plenteous harvest by wedding the goddess of
the corn to the sky-god, who fertilised the bare earth with genial
showers. Every few years the people of Plataea, in Boeotia, held a
festival called the Little Daedala, at which they felled an oak-tree
in an ancient oak forest. Out of the tree they carved an image, and
having dressed it as a bride, they set it on a bullock-cart with a
bridesmaid beside it. The image seems then to have been drawn to the
bank of the river Asopus and back to the town, attended by a piping
and dancing crowd. Every sixty years the festival of the Great
Daedala was celebrated by all the people of Boeotia; and at it all
the images, fourteen in number, which had accumulated at the lesser
festivals, were dragged on wains in procession to the river Asopus
and then to the top of Mount Cithaeron, where they were burnt on a
great pyre. The story told to explain the festivals suggests that
they celebrated the marriage of Zeus to Hera, represented by the
oaken image in bridal array. In Sweden every year a life-size image
of Frey, the god of fertility, both animal and vegetable, was drawn
about the country in a waggon attended by a beautiful girl who was
called the god's wife. She acted also as his priestess in his great
temple at Upsala. Wherever the waggon came with the image of the god
and his blooming young bride, the people crowded to meet them and
offered sacrifices for a fruitful year.

Thus the custom of marrying gods either to images or to human beings
was widespread among the nations of antiquity. The ideas on which
such a custom is based are too crude to allow us to doubt that the
civilised Babylonians, Egyptians, and Greeks inherited it from their
barbarous or savage forefathers. This presumption is strengthened
when we find rites of a similar kind in vogue among the lower races.
Thus, for example, we are told that once upon a time the Wotyaks of
the Malmyz district in Russia were distressed by a series of bad
harvests. They did not know what to do, but at last concluded that
their powerful but mischievious god Keremet must be angry at being
unmarried. So a deputation of elders visited the Wotyaks of Cura and
came to an understanding with them on the subject. Then they
returned home, laid in a large stock of brandy, and having made
ready a gaily decked waggon and horses, they drove in procession
with bells ringing, as they do when they are fetching home a bride,
to the sacred grove at Cura. There they ate and drank merrily all
night, and next morning they cut a square piece of turf in the grove
and took it home with them. After that, though it fared well with
the people of Malmyz, it fared ill with the people of Cura; for in
Malmyz the bread was good, but in Cura it was bad. Hence the men of
Cura who had consented to the marriage were blamed and roughly
handled by their indignant fellow-villagers. "What they meant by
this marriage ceremony," says the writer who reports it, "it is not
easy to imagine. Perhaps, as Bechterew thinks, they meant to marry
Keremet to the kindly and fruitful Mukylcin, the Earth-wife, in
order that she might influence him for good." When wells are dug in
Bengal, a wooden image of a god is made and married to the goddess
of water.

Often the bride destined for the god is not a log or a cloud, but a
living woman of flesh and blood. The Indians of a village in Peru
have been known to marry a beautiful girl, about fourteen years of
age, to a stone shaped like a human being, which they regarded as a
god (_huaca_). All the villagers took part in the marriage ceremony,
which lasted three days, and was attended with much revelry. The
girl thereafter remained a virgin and sacrificed to the idol for the
people. They showed her the utmost reverence and deemed her divine.
Every year about the middle of March, when the season for fishing
with the dragnet began, the Algonquins and Hurons married their nets
to two young girls, aged six or seven. At the wedding feast the net
was placed between the two maidens, and was exhorted to take courage
and catch many fish. The reason for choosing the brides so young was
to make sure that they were virgins. The origin of the custom is
said to have been this. One year, when the fishing season came
round, the Algonquins cast their nets as usual, but took nothing.
Surprised at their want of success, they did not know what to make
of it, till the soul or genius (_oki_) of the net appeared to them
in the likeness of a tall well-built man, who said to them in a
great passion, "I have lost my wife and I cannot find one who has
known no other man but me; that is why you do not succeed, and why
you never will succeed till you give me satisfaction on this head."
So the Algonquins held a council and resolved to appease the spirit
of the net by marrying him to two such very young girls that he
could have no ground of complaint on that score for the future. They
did so, and the fishing turned out all that could be wished. The
thing got wind among their neighbours the Hurons, and they adopted
the custom. A share of the catch was always given to the families of
the two girls who acted as brides of the net for the year.

The Oraons of Bengal worship the Earth as a goddess, and annually
celebrate her marriage with the Sun-god Dharme¯ at the time when the
_sa¯l_ tree is in blossom. The ceremony is as follows. All bathe,
then the men repair to the sacred grove (_sarna_), while the women
assemble at the house of the village priest. After sacrificing some
fowls to the Sun-god and the demon of the grove, the men eat and
drink. "The priest is then carried back to the village on the
shoulders of a strong man. Near the village the women meet the men
and wash their feet. With beating of drums and singing, dancing, and
jumping, all proceed to the priest's house, which has been decorated
with leaves and flowers. Then the usual form of marriage is
performed between the priest and his wife, symbolising the supposed
union between Sun and Earth. After the ceremony all eat and drink
and make merry; they dance and sing obscene songs, and finally
indulge in the vilest orgies. The object is to move the mother earth
to become fruitful." Thus the Sacred Marriage of the Sun and Earth,
personated by the priest and his wife, is celebrated as a charm to
ensure the fertility of the ground; and for the same purpose, on the
principle of homoeopathic magic, the people indulge in licentious

It deserves to be remarked that the supernatural being to whom women
are married is often a god or spirit of water. Thus Mukasa, the god
of the Victoria Nyanza lake, who was propitiated by the Baganda
every time they undertook a long voyage, had virgins provided for
him to serve as his wives. Like the Vestals they were bound to
chastity, but unlike the Vestals they seem to have been often
unfaithful. The custom lasted until Mwanga was converted to
Christianity. The Akikuyu of British East Africa worship the snake
of a certain river, and at intervals of several years they marry the
snake-god to women, but especially to young girls. For this purpose
huts are built by order of the medicine-men, who there consummate
the sacred marriage with the credulous female devotees. If the girls
do not repair to the huts of their own accord in sufficient numbers,
they are seized and dragged thither to the embraces of the deity.
The offspring of these mystic unions appears to be fathered on God
(_ngai_); certainly there are children among the Akikuyu who pass
for children of God. It is said that once, when the inhabitants of
Cayeli in Buru--an East Indian island--were threatened with
destruction by a swarm of crocodiles, they ascribed the misfortune
to a passion which the prince of the crocodiles had conceived for a
certain girl. Accordingly, they compelled the damsel's father to
dress her in bridal array and deliver her over to the clutches of
her crocodile lover.

A usage of the same sort is reported to have prevailed in the
Maldive Islands before the conversion of the inhabitants to Islam.
The famous Arab traveller Ibn Batutah has described the custom and
the manner in which it came to an end. He was assured by several
trustworthy natives, whose names he gives, that when the people of
the islands were idolaters there appeared to them every month an
evil spirit among the jinn, who came from across the sea in the
likeness of a ship full of burning lamps. The wont of the
inhabitants, as soon as they perceived him, was to take a young
virgin, and, having adorned her, to lead her to a heathen temple
that stood on the shore, with a window looking out to sea. There
they left the damsel for the night, and when they came back in the
morning they found her a maid no more, and dead. Every month they
drew lots, and he upon whom the lot fell gave up his daughter to the
jinnee of the sea. The last of the maidens thus offered to the demon
was rescued by a pious Berber, who by reciting the Koran succeeded
in driving the jinnee back into the sea.

Ibn Batutah's narrative of the demon lover and his mortal brides
closely resembles a well-known type of folk-tale, of which versions
have been found from Japan and Annam in the East to Senegambia,
Scandinavia, and Scotland in the West. The story varies in details
from people to people, but as commonly told it runs thus. A certain
country is infested by a many-headed serpent, dragon, or other
monster, which would destroy the whole people if a human victim,
generally a virgin, were not delivered up to him periodically. Many
victims have perished, and at last it has fallen to the lot of the
king's own daughter to be sacrificed. She is exposed to the monster,
but the hero of the tale, generally a young man of humble birth,
interposes in her behalf, slays the monster, and receives the hand
of the princess as his reward. In many of the tales the monster, who
is sometimes described as a serpent, inhabits the water of a sea, a
lake, or a fountain. In other versions he is a serpent or dragon who
takes possession of the springs of water, and only allows the water
to flow or the people to make use of it on condition of receiving a
human victim.

It would probably be a mistake to dismiss all these tales as pure
inventions of the story-teller. Rather we may suppose that they
reflect a real custom of sacrificing girls or women to be the wives
of waterspirits, who are very often conceived as great serpents or

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