Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

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

Part 6 out of 8

Adobe PDF icon
Download Balder The Beautiful, Vol. I. pdf
File size: 1.0 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

foot from the hearth. In some places this end is smeared with honey.

[The ceremony with the straw; the Yule candle.]

Next the mother of the family brings in the bundle of straw which was
left standing outside. All the young children arrange themselves behind
her in a row. She then walks slowly round the hall and the adjoining
rooms, throwing handfuls of straw on the floor and imitating the
cackling of a hen, while all the children follow her peeping with their
lips as if they were chickens cheeping and waddling after the mother
bird. When the floor is well strewn with straw, the father or the eldest
member of the family throws a few walnuts in every corner of the hall,
pronouncing the words: "In the name of God the Father, and the Son, and
the Holy Ghost, Amen!" A large pot, or a small wooden box, filled with
wheat is placed high in the east corner of the hall, and a tall candle
of yellow wax is stuck in the middle of the wheat. Then the father of
the family reverently lights the candle and prays God to bless the
family with health and happiness, the fields with a good harvest, the
beehives with plenty of honey, the cattle and sheep with young, and the
cows with abundant milk and rich cream. After that they all sit down to
supper, squatting on the floor, for the use of chairs and tables is
forbidden on this occasion.

[The roast Pig; the drawing of the water.]

By four o'clock next morning (Christmas Day) the whole village is astir;
indeed most people do not sleep at all that night. It is deemed most
important to keep the Yule log burning brightly all night long. Very
early, too, the pig is laid on the fire to roast, and at the same moment
one of the family goes out into the yard and fires a pistol or gun; and
when the roast pig is removed from the fire the shot is repeated. Hence
for several hours in the early morning of Christmas Day such a popping
and banging of firearms goes on that a stranger might think a stubborn
skirmish was in progress. Just before the sun rises a girl goes and
draws water at the village spring or at the brook. Before she fills her
vessels, she wishes the water a happy Christmas and throws a handful of
wheat into it. The first cupfuls of water she brings home are used to
bake a special Christmas cake (_chesnitsa_), of which all the members
partake at dinner, and portions are kept for absent relatives. A small
silver coin is baked in the cake, and he or she who gets it will be
lucky during the year.

[The Christmas visiter (_polaznik_).]

All the family gathered round the blazing Yule log now anxiously expect
the arrival of the special Christmas visiter, who bears the title of
_polaznik_. He is usually a young boy of a friendly family. No other
person, not even the priest or the mayor of the village, would be
allowed to set foot in the house before the arrival of this important
personage. Therefore he ought to come, and generally does come, very
early in the morning. He carries a woollen glove full of wheat, and when
the door is opened at his knock he throws handfuls of wheat on the
family gathered round the hearth, greeting them with the words, "Christ
is born!" They all answer, "He is born indeed," and the hostess flings a
handful of wheat over the Christmas visiter, who moreover casts some of
his wheat into the corners of the hall as well as upon the people. Then
he walks straight to the hearth, takes a shovel and strikes the burning
log so that a cloud of sparks flies up the chimney, while he says, "May
you have this year so many oxen, so many horses, so many sheep, so many
pigs, so many beehives full of honey, so much good luck, prosperity,
progress, and happiness!" Having uttered these good wishes, he embraces
and kisses his host. Then he turns again to the hearth, and after
crossing himself falls on his knees and kisses the projecting part of
the Yule log. On rising to his feet he places a coin on the log as his
gift. Meanwhile a low wooden chair has been brought in by a woman, and
the visiter is led to it to take his seat. But just as he is about to do
so, the chair is jerked away from under him by a male member of the
family and he measures his length on the floor. By this fall he is
supposed to fix into the ground all the good wishes which he has uttered
that morning. The hostess thereupon wraps him in a thick blanket, and he
sits quietly muffled in it for a few minutes; the thick blanket in which
he is swathed is believed, on the principles of homoeopathic magic, to
ensure that the cows will give thick cream next year. While he sits thus
enriching the milk of the dairy, the lads who are to herd the sheep in
the coming year go to the hearth and kneeling down before it kiss each
other across the projecting end of the Yule log. By this demonstration
of affection they are thought to seal the love of the ewes for their

[The Yule log among the Servians of Slavonia; the Christmas visiter

The ritual of the Yule log is observed in a similar form by the Servians
who inhabit the southern provinces of Austria. Thus in Syrmia, a
district of Slavonia which borders on Servia, the head of the house
sends out one or two young men on Christmas Eve to cut the Yule log in
the nearest forest. On being brought in, the log is not mixed with the
ordinary fuel but placed by itself, generally leaning against a
fruit-tree till the evening shadows begin to fall. When a man carries it
into the kitchen and lays it on the fire, the master of the house throws
corn over him, and the two greet each other solemnly the one saying,
"Christ is born," and the other answering "He is born indeed." Later in
the evening the master of the house pours a glass of wine on the charred
end of the log, whereupon one of the younger men takes the burnt piece
of wood, carries it to the orchard, and sets it up against one of the
fruit-trees. For this service he is rewarded by the master of the house
with a piece of money. On Christmas Day, when the family is assembled at
table, they expect the arrival of the special Christmas visiter (called
_polazenik_), the only person who is allowed to enter the house that
day. When he comes, he goes to the hearth, stirs the fire with the poker
and says, "Christ is born. May the family enjoy all good luck and
happiness in this year! May the cattle increase in number like the
sparks I have struck!" As he says these words, the mistress of the house
pours corn over him and leads him to the parlour, where he takes the
place of honour beside the master of the house. He is treated with
marked attention and respect. The family are at pains to entertain him;
they sing their best songs for his amusement, and after midnight a
numerous band of men and maidens escorts him by torchlight, with songs
and jubilation, to his own house.[672]

[The Yule log among the Servians of Dalmatia, Herzegovina, and
Montenegro; the Yule log in Albania.]

Among the Servians of Dalmatia, Herzegovina, and Montenegro it is
customary on Christmas Eve (_Badnyi Dan_) to fetch a great Yule log
(_badnyak_), which serves as a symbol of family luck. It is generally
cut from an evergreen oak, but sometimes from an olive-tree or a beech.
At nightfall the master of the house himself brings in the log and lays
it on the fire. Then he and all present bare their heads, sprinkle the
log with wine, and make a cross on it. After that the master of the
house says, "Welcome, O log! May God keep you from mishap!" So saying he
strews peas, maize, raisins, and wheat on the log, praying for God's
blessing on all members of the family living and dead, for heaven's
blessing on their undertakings, and for domestic prosperity. In
Montenegro they meet the log with a loaf of bread and a jug of wine,
drink to it, and pour wine on it, whereupon the whole family drinks out
of the same beaker. In Dalmatia and other places, for example in Rizano,
the Yule logs are decked by young women with red silk, flowers, laurel
leaves, ribbons, and even gold wire; and the lights near the doorposts
are kindled when the log is brought into the house. Among the Morlaks,
as soon as the master of the house crosses the threshold with the Yule
log, one of the family must sprinkle corn on him and say, "God bless
you," to which he answers, "The same to you." A piece of the log is kept
till New Year's Day to kindle a light with or it is carried out to the
fields to protect them from hail. It is customary to invite before hand
a Christmas visitor (_polazaynik_) and to admit no one else into the
house on that day. He comes early, carrying in his sleeves a quantity of
corn which he throws into the house, saying, "Christ is born." One of
the household replies, "He is born indeed," and throws corn on the
visiter. Then the newcomer goes up to the hearth, pokes the fire and
strikes the burning log with the poker so hard that sparks fly off in
all directions. At each blow he says, "I wish the family as many cows,
calves, sucking pigs, goats, and sheep, and as many strokes of good
luck, as the sparks that now fly from the log." With these words he
throws some small coins into the ashes.[673] In Albania down to recent
years it was a common custom to burn a Yule log at Christmas, and with
it corn, maize, and beans; moreover, wine and _rakia_ were poured on the
flames, and the ashes of the fire were scattered on the fields to make
them fertile.[674] The Huzuls, a Slavonic people of the Carpathians,
kindle fire by the friction of wood on Christmas Eve (Old Style, the
fifth of January) and keep it burning till Twelfth Night.[675]

[Belief that the Yule log protects against fire and lightning.]

It is remarkable how common the belief appears to have been that the
remains of the Yule-log, if kept throughout the year, had power to
protect the house against fire and especially against lightning.[676] As
the Yule log was frequently of oak,[677] it seems possible that this
belief may be a relic of the old Aryan creed which associated the
oak-tree with the god of thunder.[678] Whether the curative and
fertilizing virtues ascribed to the ashes of the Yule log, which are
supposed to heal cattle as well as men, to enable cows to calve, and to
promote the fruitfulness of the earth,[679] may not be derived from the
same ancient source, is a question which deserves to be considered.

[Public celebrations of the fire-festival at Midwinter; the bonfire on
Christmas Eve at Schweina in Thuringia.]

Thus far we have regarded only the private or domestic celebration of
the fire-festival at midwinter. The public celebration of such rites at
that season of the year appears to have been rare and exceptional in
Central and Northern Europe. However, some instances are on record. Thus
at Schweina, in Thuringia, down to the second half of the nineteenth
century, the young people used to kindle a great bonfire on the Antonius
Mountain every year on Christmas Eve. Neither the civil nor the
ecclesiastical authorities were able to suppress the celebration; nor
could the cold, rain, and snow of the season damp or chill the
enthusiasm of the celebrants. For some time before Christmas the young
men and boys were busy building a foundation for the bonfire on the top
of the mountain, where the oldest church of the village used to stand.
The foundation consisted of a pyramidal structure composed of stones,
turf, and moss. When Christmas Eve came round, a strong pole, with
bundles of brushwood tied to it, was erected on the pyramid. The young
folk also provided themselves with poles to which old brooms or faggots
of shavings were attached. These were to serve as torches. When the
evening grew dark and the church bells rang to service, the troop of
lads ascended the mountain; and soon from the top the glare of the
bonfire lit up the darkness, and the sound of a hymn broke the stillness
of night. In a circle round the great fire lesser fires were kindled;
and last of all the lads ran about swinging their lighted torches, till
these twinkling points of fire, moving down the mountain-side, went out
one by one in the darkness. At midnight the bells rang out from the
church tower, mingled with the blast of horns and the sound of singing.
Feasting and revelry were kept up throughout the night, and in the
morning young and old went to early mass to be edified by hearing of the
light eternal.[680]

[Bonfires on Christmas Eve in Normandy.]

In the Bocage of Normandy the peasants used to repair, often from a
distance of miles, to the churches to hear the midnight mass on
Christmas Eve. They marched in procession by torchlight, chanting
Christmas carols, and the fitful illumination of the woods, the hedges,
and the fields as they moved through the darkness, presented a
succession of picturesque scenes. Mention is also made of bonfires
kindled on the heights; the custom is said to have been observed at
Athis near Conde down to recent years.[681]

[Bonfires on St. Thomas's Day in the Isle of Man; the "Burning of the
Clavie" at Burghead on the last day of December; the old rampart at

In the Isle of Man, "on the twenty-first of December, a day dedicated to
Saint Thomas, the people went to the mountains to catch deer and sheep
for Christmas, and in the evenings always kindled a large fire on the
top of every _fingan_ or cliff. Hence, at the time of casting peats,
every one laid aside a large one, saying, '_Faaid mooar moayney son
oie'l fingan_'; that is, 'a large turf for Fingan Eve.'"[682] At
Burghead, an ancient village on the southern shore of the Moray Firth,
about nine miles from the town of Elgin, a festival of fire called "the
Burning of the Clavie" has been celebrated from time immemorial on
Hogmanay, the last day of December. A tar-barrel is sawn in two, one
half of it is set on the top of a stout pole, and filled with tar and
other combustibles. The half-barrel is fastened to the pole by means of
a long nail, which is made for the purpose and furnished gratuitously by
the village blacksmith. The nail must be knocked in with a stone; the
use of a hammer is forbidden. When the shades of evening have begun to
fall, the Clavie, as it is called, is set on fire by means of a burning
peat, which is always fetched from the same house; it may not be kindled
with a match. As soon as it is in a blaze, it is shouldered by a man,
who proceeds to carry it at a run, flaring and dripping melted tar,
round the old boundaries of the village; the modern part of the town is
not included in the circuit. Close at his heels follows a motley crowd,
cheering and shouting. One bearer relieves another as each wearies of
his burden. The first to shoulder the Clavie, which is esteemed an
honour, is usually a man who has been lately married. Should the bearer
stumble or fall, it is deemed a very ill omen for him and for the
village. In bygone times it was thought necessary that one man should
carry it all round the village; hence the strongest man was chosen for
the purpose. Moreover it was customary to carry the burning Clavie round
every fishing-boat and vessel in the harbour; but this part of the
ceremony was afterwards discontinued. Finally, the blazing tar-barrel is
borne to a small hill called the Doorie, which rises near the northern
end of the promontory. Here the pole is fixed into a socket in a pillar
of freestone, and fresh fuel is heaped upon the flames, which flare up
higher and brighter than ever. Formerly the Clavie was allowed to burn
here the whole night, but now, after blazing for about half an hour, it
is lifted from the socket and thrown down the western slope of the hill.
Then the crowd rushes upon it, demolishes it, and scrambles for the
burning, smoking embers, which they carry home and carefully preserve as
charms to protect them against witchcraft and misfortune.[683] The great
antiquity of Burghead, where this curious and no doubt ancient festival
is still annually observed, appears from the remains of a very
remarkable rampart which formerly encircled the place. It consists of a
mound of earth faced on both sides with a solid wall of stone and
strengthened internally by oak beams and planks, the whole being laid on
a foundation of boulders. The style of the rampart agrees in general
with Caesar's description of the mode in which the Gauls constructed
their walls of earth, stone, and logs,[684] and it resembles the ruins
of Gallic fortifications which have been discovered in France, though it
is said to surpass them in the strength and solidity of its structure.
No similar walls appear to be known in Britain. A great part of this
interesting prehistoric fortress was barbarously destroyed in the early
part of the nineteenth century, much of it being tumbled into the sea
and many of the stones used to build the harbour piers.[685]

[Procession with burning tar-barrels on Christmas Eve (Old Style) at

In Lerwick, the capital of the Shetland Islands, "on Christmas Eve, the
fourth of January,--for the old style is still observed--the children go
_a guizing_, that is to say, they disguising themselves in the most
fantastic and gaudy costumes, parade the streets, and infest the houses
and shops, begging for the wherewithal to carry on their Christmas
amusements. One o'clock on Yule morning having struck, the young men
turn out in large numbers, dressed in the coarsest of garments, and, at
the double-quick march, drag huge tar barrels through the town, shouting
and cheering as they go, or blowing loud blasts with their 'louder
horns.' The tar barrel simply consists of several--say from four to
eight--tubs filled with tar and chips, placed on a platform of wood. It
is dragged by means of a chain, to which scores of jubilant youths
readily yoke themselves. They have recently been described by the worthy
burgh officer of Lerwick as 'fiery chariots, the effect of which is
truly grand and terrific.' In a Christmas morning the dark streets of
Lerwick are generally lighted up by the bright glare, and its atmosphere
blackened by the dense smoke of six or eight tar barrels in succession.
On the appearance of daybreak, at six A.M., the morning revellers put
off their coarse garments--well begrimed by this time--and in their turn
become guizards. They assume every imaginable form of costume--those of
soldiers, sailors, Highlanders, Spanish chevaliers, etc. Thus disguised,
they either go in pairs, as man and wife, or in larger groups, and
proceed to call on their friends, to wish them the compliments of the
season. Formerly, these adolescent guizards used to seat themselves in
crates, and accompanied by fiddlers, were dragged through the

[Persian festival of fire at the winter solstice.]

The Persians used to celebrate a festival of fire called _Sada_ or
_Saza_ at the winter solstice. On the longest night of the year they
kindled bonfires everywhere, and kings and princes tied dry grass to the
feet of birds and animals, set fire to the grass, and then let the birds
and beasts fly or run blazing through the air or over the fields and
mountains, so that the whole air and earth appeared to be on fire.[687]

Sec. 8. _The Need-fire_

[European festivals of fire in seasons of distress and calamity; the

The fire-festivals hitherto described are all celebrated periodically at
certain stated times of the year. But besides these regularly recurring
celebrations the peasants in many parts of Europe have been wont from
time immemorial to resort to a ritual of fire at irregular intervals in
seasons of distress and calamity, above all when their cattle were
attacked by epidemic disease. No account of the popular European
fire-festivals would be complete without some notice of these remarkable
rites, which have all the greater claim on our attention because they
may perhaps be regarded as the source and origin of all the other
fire-festivals; certainly they must date from a very remote antiquity.
The general name by which they are known among the Teutonic peoples is

[The needfire in the Middle Ages; the needfire at Neustadt in 1598.]

The history of the need-fire can be traced back to early Middle Ages;
for in the reign of Pippin, King of Franks, the practice of kindling
need-fires was denounced as a heathen superstition by a synod of
prelates and nobles held under the presidency of Boniface, Archbishop of
Mainz.[689] Not long afterwards the custom was again forbidden, along
with many more relics of expiring paganism, in an "Index of
Superstitions and Heathenish Observances," which has been usually
referred to the year 743 A.D., though some scholars assign it a later
date under the reign of Charlemagne.[690] In Germany the need-fires
would seem to have been popular down to the second half of the
nineteenth century. Thus in the year 1598, when a fatal cattle-plague
was raging at Neustadt, near Marburg, a wise man of the name of Joh.
Koehler induced the authorities of the town to adopt the following
remedy. A new waggon-wheel was taken and twirled round an axle, which
had never been used before, until the friction elicited fire. With this
fire a bonfire was next kindled between the gates of the town, and all
the cattle were driven through the smoke and flames. Moreover, every
householder had to rekindle the fire on his hearth by means of a light
taken from the bonfire. Strange to say, this salutary measure had no
effect whatever in staying the cattle-plague, and seven years later the
sapient Joh. Koehler himself was burnt as a witch. The farmers, whose
pigs and cows had derived no benefit from the need-fire, perhaps
assisted as spectators at the burning, and, while they shook their
heads, agreed among themselves that it served Joh. Koehler perfectly
right.[691] According to a writer who published his book about nine
years afterwards, some of the Germans, especially in the Wassgaw
mountains, confidently believed that a cattle-plague could be stayed by
driving the animals through a need-fire which had been kindled by the
violent friction of a pole on a quantity of dry oak wood; but it was a
necessary condition of success that all fires in the village should
previously be extinguished with water, and any householder who failed to
put out his fire was heavily fined.[692]

[Method kindling the need fire.]

The method of kindling the need-fire is described as follows by a writer
towards the end of the seventeenth century: "When an evil plague has
broken out among the cattle, large and small, and the herds have thereby
suffered great ravages, the peasants resolve to light a need-fire. On a
day appointed there must be no single flame in any house nor on any
hearth. From every house a quantity of straw and water and underwood
must be brought forth; then a strong oaken pole is fixed firmly in the
earth, a hole is bored in it, and a wooden winch, well smeared with
pitch and tar, is inserted in the hole and turned round forcibly till
great heat and then fire is generated. The fire so produced is caught in
fuel and fed with straw, heath, and underwood till it bursts out into a
regular need-fire, which must then be somewhat spread out between walls
or fences, and the cattle and horses driven through it twice or thrice
with sticks and whips. Others set up two posts, each with a hole in it,
and insert a winch, along with old greasy rags, in the holes. Others use
a thick rope, collect nine kinds of wood, and keep them in violent
motion till fire leaps forth. Perhaps there may be other ways of
generating or kindling this fire, but they are all directed simply at
the cure of the cattle. After passing twice or thrice through the fire
the cattle are driven to their stalls or to pasture, and the heap of
wood that had been collected is destroyed, but in some places every
householder must take with him a brand, extinguish it in a washing-tub
or trough, and put it in the manger where the cattle are fed, where it
must lie for some time. The poles that were used to make the need-fire,
together with the wood that was employed as a winch, are sometimes
burned with the rest of the fuel, sometimes carefully preserved after
the cattle have been thrice driven through the flames."[693]

[The mode of kindling the need-fire about Hildesheim.]

Sometimes the need-fire was known as the "wild fire," to distinguish it
no doubt from the tame fire produced by more ordinary methods. The
following is Grimm's account of the mode of kindling it which prevailed
in some parts of Central Germany, particularly about Hildesheim, down
apparently to the first half of the nineteenth century: "In many places
of Lower Saxony, especially among the mountains, the custom prevails of
preparing the so-called 'wild fire' for the purpose of preventing
cattle-plague; and through it first the pigs, then the cows, and last of
all the geese are driven. The proceedings on the occasion are as
follows. The principal farmers and parishioners assemble, and notice is
served to every inhabitant to extinguish entirely all fire in his house,
so that not even a spark remains alight in the whole village. Then young
and old repair to a road in a hollow, usually towards evening, the women
carrying linen, and the men wood and tow. Two oaken poles are driven
into the ground about a foot and a half from each other. Each pole has
in the side facing the other a socket into which a cross-piece as thick
as a man's arm is fitted. The sockets are stuffed with linen, and the
cross-piece is rammed in as tight as possible, while the poles are bound
together at the top by ropes. A rope is wound about the round, smooth
cross-piece, and the free ends of the rope at both sides are gripped by
several persons, who pull the cross-piece to and fro with the utmost
rapidity, till through the friction the linen in the sockets takes fire.
The sparks of the linen are immediately caught in tow or oakum and waved
about in a circle until they burst into a bright glow, when straw is
applied to it, and the flaming straw used to kindle the brushwood which
has been stacked in piles in the hollow way. When this wood has blazed
up and the fire has nearly died out again, the people hasten to the
herds, which have been waiting in the background, and drive them
forcibly, one after the other, through the glow. As soon as all the
beasts are through, the young folk rush wildly at the ashes and cinders,
sprinkling and blackening each other with them; those who have been most
sprinkled and blackened march in triumph behind the cattle into the
village and do not wash themselves for a long time. If after long
rubbing the linen should not catch fire, they guess that there is still
fire somewhere in the village; then a strict search is made from house
to house, any fire that may be found is put out, and the householder is
punished or upbraided. The 'wild fire' must be made by prolonged
friction; it may not be struck with flint and steel. Some villages do
not prepare it yearly as a preventive of cattle-plague, but only kindle
it when the disease has actually broken out."[694] In the Halberstadt
district the ends of the rope which was used to make the cross-piece
revolve in the sockets had to be pulled by two chaste young men.[695]

[The mode of kindling the need-fire in the Mark.]

In the Mark down to the first half of the nineteenth century the
practice was similar. We read that "in many parts of the Mark there
still prevails on certain occasions the custom of kindling a need-fire,
it happens particularly when a farmer has sick pigs. Two posts of dry
wood are planted in the earth amid solemn silence before the sun rises,
and round these posts hempen ropes are pulled to and fro till the wood
kindles; whereupon the fire is fed with dry leaves and twigs and the
sick beasts are driven through it In some places the fire is produced by
the friction of an old cart-wheel."[696]

[The mode of kindling the need-fire in Mecklenburg]

In Mecklenburg the need-fire used to be lighted by the friction of a
rope wound about an oaken pole or by rubbing two boards against each
other. Having been thus elicited, the flame was fed with wood of seven
kinds. The practice was forbidden by Gustavus Adolphus, Duke of
Mecklenburg, in 1682; but the prohibition apparently had little effect,
for down to the end of the eighteenth century the custom was so common
that the inhabitants even of large towns made no scruple of resorting to
it. For example, in the month of July 1792 sickness broke out among the
cattle belonging to the town of Sternberg; some of the beasts died
suddenly, and so the people resolved to drive all the survivors through
a need-fire. On the tenth day of July the magistrates issued a
proclamation announcing that next morning before sunrise a need-fire
would be kindled for the behoof of all the cattle of the town, and
warning all the inhabitants against lighting fires in their kitchens
that evening. So next morning very early, about two o'clock, nearly the
whole population was astir, and having assembled outside one of the
gates of the town they helped to drive the timid cattle, not without
much ado, through three separate need-fires; after which they dispersed
to their homes in the unalterable conviction that they had rescued the
cattle from destruction. But to make assurance doubly sure they deemed
it advisable to administer the rest of the ashes as a bolus to the
animals. However, some people in Mecklenburg used to strew the ashes of
the need-fire on fields for the purpose of protecting the crops against
vermin. As late as June 1868 a traveller in Mecklenburg saw a couple of
peasants sweating away at a rope, which they were pulling backwards and
forwards so as to make a tarry roller revolve with great speed in the
socket of an upright post. Asked what they were about, they vouchsafed
no reply; but an old woman who appeared on the scene from a neighbouring
cottage was more communicative. In the fulness of her heart she confided
to the stranger that her pigs were sick, that the two taciturn bumpkins
were her sons, who were busy extracting a need-fire from the roller, and
that, when they succeeded, the flame would be used to ignite a heap of
rags and brushwood, through which the ailing swine would be driven. She
further explained that the persons who kindle a need-fire should always
be two brothers or at least bear the same Christian name.[697]

[The mode of kindling the need-fire in Hanover.]

In the summer of 1828 there was much sickness among the pigs and the
cows of Eddesse, a village near Meinersen, in the south of Hanover. When
all ordinary measures to arrest the malady failed, the farmers met in
solemn conclave on the village green and determined that next morning
there should be a need-fire. Thereupon the head man of the village sent
word from house to house that on the following day nobody should kindle
a fire before sunrise, and that everybody should stand by ready to drive
out the cattle. The same afternoon all the necessary preparations were
made for giving effect to the decision of the collective wisdom. A
narrow street was enclosed with planks, and the village carpenter set to
work at the machinery for kindling the fire. He took two posts of oak
wood, bored a hole about three inches deep and broad in each, and set
the two poles up facing each other at a distance of about two feet. Then
he fitted a roller of oak wood into the two holes of the posts, so that
it formed a cross-piece between them. About two o'clock next morning
every householder brought a bundle of straw and brushwood and laid it
down across the street in a prescribed order. The sturdiest swains who
could be found were chosen to make the need-fire. For this purpose a
long hempen rope was wound twice round the oaken roller in the oaken
posts: the pivots were well smeared with pitch and tar: a bundle of tow
and other tinder was laid close at hand, and all was ready. The stalwart
clodhoppers now seized the two ends of the rope and went to work with a
will. Puffs of smoke soon issued from the sockets, but to the
consternation of the bystanders not a spark of fire could be elicited.
Some people openly declared their suspicion that some rascal had not put
out the fire in his house, when suddenly the tinder burst into flame.
The cloud passed away from all faces; the fire was applied to the heaps
of fuel, and when the flames had somewhat died down, the herds were
forcibly driven through the fire, first the pigs, next the cows, and
last of all the horses. The herdsmen then drove the beasts to pasture,
and persons whose faith in the efficacy of the need-fire was
particularly robust carried home brands.[698]

[The mode of kindling the need-fire in the Harz Mountains.]

Again, at a village near Quedlinburg, in the Harz Mountains, it was
resolved to put a herd of sick swine through the need-fire. Hearing of
this intention the Superintendent of Quedlinburg hurried to the spot and
has described for us what he saw. The beadles went from house to house
to see that there was no fire in any house; for it is well known that
should there be common fire burning in a house the need-fire will not
kindle. The men made their rounds very early in the morning to make
quite sure that all lights were out. At two o'clock a night-light was
still burning in the parsonage, and this was of course a hindrance to
the need-fire. The peasants knocked at the window and earnestly
entreated that the night-light might be extinguished. But the parson's
wife refused to put the light out; it still glimmered at the window; and
in the darkness outside the angry rustics vowed that the parson's pigs
should get no benefit of the need-fire. However, as good luck would have
it, just as the morning broke, the night-light went out of itself, and
the hopes of the people revived. From every house bundles of straw, tow,
faggots and so forth were now carried to feed the bonfire. The noise and
the cheerful bustle were such that you might have thought they were all
hurrying to witness a public execution. Outside the village, between two
garden walls, an oaken post had been driven into the ground and a hole
bored through it. In the hole a wooden winch, smeared with tar, was
inserted and made to revolve with such force and rapidity that fire and
smoke in time issued from the socket. The collected fuel was then thrown
upon the fire and soon a great blaze shot up. The pigs were now driven
into the upper end of the street. As soon as they saw the fire, they
turned tail, but the peasants drove them through with shrieks and shouts
and lashes of whips. At the other end of the street there was another
crowd waiting, who chased the swine back through the fire a second time.
Then the other crowd repeated the manoeuvre, and the herd of swine was
driven for the third time through the smoke and flames. That was the end
of the performance. Many pigs were scorched so severely that they gave
up the ghost. The bonfire was broken up, and every householder took home
with him a brand, which he washed in the water-barrel and laid for some
time, as a treasure of great price, in the manger from which the cattle
were fed. But the parson's wife had reason bitterly to repent her folly
in refusing to put out that night-light; for not one of her pigs was
driven through the need-fire, so they died.[699]

[The mode of kindling the need-fire in Brunswick.]

In Brunswick, also, the need-fire is known to have been repeatedly
kindled during the nineteenth century. After driving the pigs through
the fire, which was kindled by the friction of wood, some people took
brands home, dipped them in water, and then gave the water to the pigs
to drink, no doubt for the purpose of inoculating them still more
effectually with the precious virtue of the need-fire. In the villages
of the Droemling district everybody who bore a hand in kindling the "wild
fire" must have the same Christian name; otherwise they laboured in
vain. The fire was produced by the friction of a rope round the beams of
a door; and bread, corn, and old boots contributed their mites to swell
the blaze through which the pigs as usual were driven. In one place,
apparently not far from Wolfenbuettel, the needfire is said to have been
kindled, contrary to custom, by the smith striking a spark from the cold
anvil.[700] At Gandersheim down to about the beginning of the nineteenth
century the need-fire was lit in the common way by causing a cross-bar
to revolve rapidly on its axis between two upright posts. The rope which
produced the revolution of the bar had to be new, but it was if possible
woven from threads taken from a gallows-rope, with which people had been
hanged. While the need-fire was being kindled in this fashion, every
other fire in the town had to be put out; search was made through the
houses, and any fire discovered to be burning was extinguished. If in
spite of every precaution no flame could be elicited by the friction of
the rope, the failure was set down to witchcraft; but if the efforts
were successful, a bonfire was lit with the new fire, and when the
flames had died down, the sick swine were driven thrice through the
glowing embers.[701] On the lower Rhine the need-fire is said to have
been kindled by the friction of oak-wood on fir-wood, all fires in the
village having been previously extinguished. The bonfires so kindled
were composed of wood of nine different sorts; there were three such
bonfires, and the cattle were driven round them with great gravity and

[The mode of kindling the need-fire in Silesia and Bohemia.]

In Silesia, also, need-fires were often employed for the purpose of
curing a murrain or preventing its spread. While all other lights within
the boundaries were extinguished, the new fire was produced by the
friction of nine kinds of wood, and the flame so obtained was used to
kindle heaps of brushwood or straw to which every inhabitant had
contributed. Through these fires the cattle, both sick and sound, were
driven in the confident expectation that thereby the sick would be
healed and the sound saved from sickness.[703] When plague breaks out
among the herds at Dobischwald, in Austrian Silesia, a splinter of wood
is chipped from the threshold of every house, the cattle are driven to a
cross-road, and there a tree, growing at the boundary, is felled by a
pair of twin brothers. The wood of the tree and the splinters from the
thresholds furnish the fuel of a bonfire, which is kindled by the
rubbing of two pieces of wood together. When the bonfire is ablaze, the
horns of the cattle are pared and the parings thrown into the flames,
after which the animals are driven through the fire. This is believed to
guard the herd against the plague.[704] The Germans of Western Bohemia
resort to similar measures for staying a murrain. You set up a post,
bore a hole in it, and insert in the hole a stick, which you have first
of all smeared with pitch and wrapt in inflammable stuffs. Then you wind
a rope round the stick and give the two ends of the rope to two persons
who must either be brothers or have the same baptismal name. They haul
the rope backwards and forwards so as to make the tarred stick revolve
rapidly, till the rope first smokes and then emits sparks. The sparks
are used to kindle a bonfire, through which the cattle are driven in the
usual way. And as usual no other fire may burn in the village while the
need-fire is being kindled; for otherwise the rope could not possibly be
ignited.[705] In Upper Austria sick pigs are reported to have been
driven through a need-fire about the beginning of the nineteenth

[The use the need-fire in Switzerland.]

The need-fire is still in use in some parts of Switzerland, but it seems
to have degenerated into a children's game and to be employed rather for
the dispersal of a mist than for the prevention or cure of
cattle-plague. In some cantons it goes by the name of "mist-healing,"
while in others it is called "butter-churning." On a misty or rainy day
a number of children will shut themselves up in a stable or byre and
proceed to make fire for the purpose of improving the weather. The way
in which they make it is this. A boy places a board against his breast,
takes a peg pointed at both ends, and, setting one end of the peg
against the board on his breast, presses the other end firmly against a
second board, the surface of which has been flaked into a nap. A string
is tied round the peg, and two other boys pull it to and fro, till
through the rapid motion of the point of the peg a hole is burnt in the
flaked board, to which tow or dry moss is then applied as a tinder. In
this way fire and smoke are elicited, and with their appearance the
children fancy that the mist will vanish.[707] We may conjecture that
this method of dispersing a mist, which is now left to children, was
formerly practised in all seriousness by grown men in Switzerland. It is
thus that religious or magical rites dwindle away into the sports of
children. In the canton of the Grisons there is still in common use an
imprecation, "Mist, go away, or I'll heal you," which points to an old
custom of burning up the fog with fire. A longer form of the curse
lingers in the Vallee des Bagnes of the canton Valais. It runs thus:
"Mist, mist, fly, fly, or St. Martin will come with a sheaf of straw to
burn your guts, a great log of wood to smash your brow, and an iron
chain to drag you to hell."[708]

[The mode of kindling the need-fire in Sweden and Norway; the need-fire
as a protection against witchcraft.]

In Sweden the need-fire is called, from the mode of its production,
either _vrid-eld_, "turned fire," or _gnid-eld_, "rubbed fire." Down to
near the end of the eighteenth century the need-fire was kindled, as in
Germany, by the violent rubbing of two pieces of wood against each
other; sometimes nine different kinds of wood were used for the purpose.
The smoke of the fire was deemed salutary; fruit-trees and nets were
fumigated with it, in order that the trees might bear fruit and the nets
catch fish. Cattle were also driven through the smoke.[709] In Sundal, a
narrow Norwegian valley, shut in on both sides by precipitous mountains,
there lived down to the second half of the nineteenth century an old man
who was very superstitious. He set salmon-traps in the river Driva,
which traverses the valley, and he caught many fish both in spring and
autumn. When his fishing went wrong, he kindled _naueld_ ("need-fire")
or _gnideild_ ("rubbed fire," "friction fire") to counteract the
witchcraft, which he believed to be the cause of his bad luck. He set up
two planks near each other, bored a hole in each, inserted a pointed rod
in the holes, and twisted a long cord round the rod. Then he pulled the
cord so as to make the rod revolve rapidly. Thus by reason of the
friction he at last drew fire from the wood. That contented him, for "he
believed that the witchery was thus rendered powerless, and that good
luck in his fishing was now ensured."[710]

[The need-fire among the Slavonic peoples.]

Slavonic peoples hold the need-fire in high esteem. They call it "living
fire," and attribute to it a healing virtue. The ascription of medicinal
power to fire kindled by the friction of wood is said to be especially
characteristic of the Slavs who inhabit the Carpathian Mountains and the
Balkan peninsula. The mode in which they produce the need-fire differs
somewhat in different places. Thus in the Schar mountains of Servia the
task is entrusted to a boy and girl between eleven and fourteen years of
age. They are led into a perfectly dark room, and having stripped
themselves naked kindle the fire by rubbing two rollers of lime wood
against each other, till the friction produces sparks, which are caught
in tinder. The Serbs of Western Macedonia drive two oaken posts into the
ground, bore a round hole in the upper end of each, insert a roller of
lime wood in the holes, and set it revolving rapidly by means of a cord,
which is looped round the roller and worked by a bow. Elsewhere the
roller is put in motion by two men, who hold each one end of the cord
and pull it backwards and forwards forcibly between them. Bulgarian
shepherds sometimes kindle the need-fire by drawing a prism-shaped piece
of lime wood to and fro across the flat surface of a tree-stump in the
forest.[711] But in the neighbourhood of Kuestendil, in Bulgaria, the
need-fire is kindled by the friction of two pieces of oak wood and the
cattle are driven through it.[712]

[The need-fire in Russia and Poland; the need-fire in Slavonia.]

In many districts of Russia, also, "living fire" is made by the friction
of wood on St. John's Day, and the herds are driven through it, and the
people leap over it in the conviction that their health is thereby
assured; when a cattle-plague is raging, the fire is produced by rubbing
two pieces of oak wood against each other, and it is used to kindle the
lamps before the holy pictures and the censers in the churches.[713]
Thus it appears that in Russia the need-fire is kindled for the sake of
the cattle periodically as well as on special emergencies. Similarly in
Poland the peasants are said to kindle fires in the village streets on
St. Rochus's day and to drive the cattle thrice through them in order to
protect the animals against the murrain. The fire is produced by rubbing
a pole of poplar wood on a plank of poplar or fir wood and catching the
sparks in tow. The embers are carried home to be used as remedies in
sickness.[714] As practised in Slavonia, the custom of the need-fire
used to present some interesting features, which are best described in
the words of an eyewitness:--"In the year 1833 I came for the first time
as a young merchant to Slavonia; it was to Gaj that I went, in the
Pozega district. The time was autumn, and it chanced that a
cattle-plague was raging in the neighbourhood, which inflicted much loss
on the people. The peasants believed that the plague was a woman, an
evil spirit (_Kutga_), who was destroying the cattle; so they sought to
banish her. I had then occasion to observe the proceedings in the
villages of Gaj, Kukunjevac, Brezina, and Brekinjska. Towards evening
the whole population of the village was busy laying a ring of brushwood
round the boundaries of the village. All fires were extinguished
throughout the village. Then pairs of men in several places took pieces
of wood, which had been specially prepared for the purpose, and rubbed
them together till they emitted sparks. The sparks were allowed to fall
on tinder and fanned into a flame, with which the dry brushwood was
kindled. Thus the fire burned all round the village. The peasants
persuaded themselves that thereupon _Kuga_ must take her

[The need-fire in Servia.]

This last account leaves no doubt as to the significance of the
need-fire in the minds of Slavonian peasantry. They regard it simply as
a barrier interposed between their cattle and the evil spirit, which
prowls, like a hungry wolf, round the fold and can, like a wolf, be kept
at bay by fire. The same interpretation of the need-fire comes out,
hardly less clearly, in the account which another writer gives of a
ceremony witnessed by him at the village of Setonje, at the foot of the
Homolje mountains in the great forest of Servia. An epidemic was raging
among the children, and the need-fire was resorted to as a means of
staying the plague. It was produced by an old man and an old woman in
the first of the ways described above; that is, they made it in the dark
by rubbing two sticks of lime wood against each other. Before the
healing virtue of the fire was applied to the inhabitants of the
village, two old women performed the following ceremony. Both bore the
name of Stana, from the verb _stati_, "to remain standing"; for the
ceremony could not be successfully performed by persons of any other
name. One of them carried a copper kettle full of water, the other an
old house-lock with the key. Thus equipped they repaired to a spot
outside of the village, and there the old dame with the kettle asked the
old dame with the lock, "Whither away?" and the other answered her, "I
came to shut the village against ill-luck." With that she locked the
lock and threw it with the key into the kettle of water. Then they
marched thrice round the village, repeating the ceremony of the lock and
key at each round. Meantime all the villagers, arrayed in their best
clothes, were assembled in an open place. All the fires in the houses
had been previously extinguished. Two sturdy yokels now dug a tunnel
through a mound beside an oak tree; the tunnel was just high enough to
let a man creep through it on all fours. Two fires, lit by the
need-fire, were now laid, one at each end of the tunnel; and the old
woman with the kettle took her stand at the entrance of the tunnel,
while the one with the lock posted herself at the exit. Facing the
latter stood another woman with a great pot of milk before her, and on
the other side was set a pot full of melted swine's fat. All was now
ready. The villagers thereupon crawled through the tunnel on hands and
knees, one behind the other. Each, as he emerged from the tunnel,
received a spoonful of milk from the woman and looked at his face
reflected in the pot of melted swine's fat. Then another woman made a
cross with a piece of charcoal on his back. When all the inhabitants had
thus crept through the tunnel and been doctored at the other end, each
took some glowing embers home with him in a pot wherewith to rekindle
the fire on the domestic hearth. Lastly they put some of the charcoal in
a vessel of water and drank the mixture in order to be thereby magically
protected against the epidemic.[716]

It would be superfluous to point out in detail how admirably these
measures are calculated to arrest the ravages of disease; but for the
sake of those, if there are any, to whom the medicinal effect of
crawling through a hole on hands and knees is not at once apparent, I
shall merely say that the procedure in question is one of the most
powerful specifics which the wit of man has devised for maladies of all
sorts. Ample evidence of its application will be adduced in a later part
of this work.[717]

[The need-fire in Bulgaria.]

In Bulgaria the herds suffer much from the raids of certain
blood-sucking vampyres called _Ustrels_. An _Ustrel_ is the spirit of a
Christian child who was born on a Saturday and died unfortunately before
he could be baptized. On the ninth day after burial he grubs his way out
of the grave and attacks the cattle at once, sucking their blood all
night and returning at peep of dawn to the grave to rest from his
labours. In ten days or so the copious draughts of blood which he has
swallowed have so fortified his constitution that he can undertake
longer journeys; so when he falls in with great herds of cattle or
flocks of sheep he returns no more to the grave for rest and refreshment
at night, but takes up his quarters during the day either between the
horns of a sturdy calf or ram or between the hind legs of a milch-cow.
Beasts whose blood he has sucked die the same night. In any herd that he
may fasten on he begins with the fattest animal and works his way down
steadily through the leaner kine till not one single beast is left
alive. The carcases of the victims swell up, and when the hide is
stripped off you can always perceive the livid patch of flesh where the
monster sucked the blood of the poor creature. In a single night he may,
by working hard, kill five cows; but he seldom exceeds that number. He
can change his shape and weight very easily; for example, when he is
sitting by day between the horns of a ram, the animal scarcely feels his
weight, but at night he will sometimes throw himself on an ox or a cow
so heavily that the animal cannot stir, and lows so pitifully that it
would make your heart bleed to hear. People who were born on a Saturday
can see these monsters, and they have described them accurately, so that
there can be no doubt whatever about their existence. It is, therefore,
a matter of great importance to the peasant to protect his flocks and
herds against the ravages of such dangerous vampyres. The way in which
he does so is this. On a Saturday morning before sunrise the village
drummer gives the signal to put out every fire in the village; even
smoking is forbidden. Next all the domestic animals, with the exception
of fowls, geese, and ducks, are driven out into the open. In front of
the flocks and herds march two men, whose names during the ceremony may
not be mentioned in the village. They go into the wood, pick two dry
branches, and having stript themselves of their clothes they rub the two
branches together very hard till they catch fire; then with the fire so
obtained they kindle two bonfires, one on each side of a cross-road
which is known to be frequented by wolves. After that the herd is driven
between the two fires. Coals from the bonfires are then taken back to
the village and used to rekindle the fires on the domestic hearths. For
several days no one may go near the charred and blackened remains of the
bonfires at the cross-road. The reason is that the vampyre is lying
there, having dropped from his seat between the cow's horns when the
animals were driven between the two fires. So if any one were to pass by
the spot during these days, the monster would be sure to call him by
name and to follow him to the village; whereas if he is left alone, a
wolf will come at midnight and strangle him, and in a few days the
herdsmen can see the ground soaked with his slimy blood. So that is the
end of the vampyre.[718] In this Bulgarian custom, as in the Slavonian
custom described above, the conception of the need-fire as a barrier set
up between the cattle and a dangerous spirit is clearly worked out. The
spirit rides the cow till he comes to the narrow pass between the two
fires, but the heat there is too much for him; he drops in a faint from
the saddle, or rather from the horns, and the now riderless animal
escapes safe and sound beyond the smoke and flame, leaving her
persecutor prostrate on the ground on the further side of the blessed

[The need-fire in Bosnia and Herzegovina.]

In Bosnia and Herzegovina there are some local differences in the mode
of kindling the need-fire, or "living fire," as it is called. Thus at
Jablanica both the uprights and the roller or cross-piece, which by its
revolution kindles the fire, are made of cornel-tree wood; whereas at
Dolac, near Sarajevo, the uprights and the cross-piece or roller are all
made of lime wood. In Gacko, contrary to the usual custom, the fire is
made by striking a piece of iron on an anvil, till sparks are given out,
which are caught in tinder. The "living fire" thus produced is employed
for purposes of healing. In particular, if any one suffers from wounds
or sores, ashes of the need-fire are sprinkled on the ailing part. In
Gacko it is also believed that if a pregnant woman witnesses a
conflagration, her child will either be born with a red eruption on its
skin or will contract the malady sooner or later afterwards. The only
remedy consists in ashes of the need-fire, which are mixed with water
and given to the child to drink.[719]

[The need-fire in England; the need-fire in Yorkshire.]

In England the earliest notice of the need-fire seems to be contained in
the Chronicle of Lanercost for the year 1268. The annalist tells with
pious horror how, when an epidemic was raging in that year among the
cattle, "certain beastly men, monks in garb but not in mind, taught the
idiots of their country to make fire by the friction of wood and to set
up an image of Priapus, whereby they thought to succour the
animals."[720] The use of the need-fire is particularly attested for the
counties of Yorkshire and Northumberland. Thus in Yorkshire down to the
middle of the eighteenth century "the favourite remedy of the country
people, not only in the way of cure, but of prevention, was an odd one;
it was to smoke the cattle almost to suffocation, by kindling straw,
litter, and other combustible matter about them. The effects of this
mode of cure are not stated, but the most singular part of it was that
by which it was reported to have been discovered. An angel (says the
legend), descended into Yorkshire, and there set a large tree on fire;
the strange appearance of which or else the savour of the smoke, incited
the cattle around (some of which were infected) to draw near the
miracle, when they all either received an immediate cure or an absolute
prevention of the disorder. It is not affirmed that the angel staid to
speak to anybody, but only that he left a _written_ direction for the
neighbouring people to catch this supernatural fire, and to communicate
it from one to another with all possible speed throughout the country;
and in case it should be extinguished and utterly lost, that then new
fire, of equal virtue, might be obtained, not by any common method, but
by rubbing two pieces of wood together till they ignited. Upon what
foundation this story stood, is not exactly known, but it put the
farmers actually into a hurry of communicating flame and smoke from one
house to another with wonderful speed, making it run like wildfire over
the country."[721] Again, we read that "the father of the writer, who
died in 1843, in his seventy-ninth year, had a perfect remembrance of a
great number of persons, belonging to the upper and middle classes of
his native parish of Bowes, assembling on the banks of the river Greta
to work for need-fire. A disease among cattle, called the murrain, then
prevailed to a very great extent through that district of Yorkshire. The
cattle were made to pass through the smoke raised by this miraculous
fire, and their cure was looked upon as certain, and to neglect doing so
was looked upon as wicked. This fire was produced by the violent and
continued friction of two dry pieces of wood until such time as it was
thereby obtained. 'To work as though one was working for need-fire' is a
common proverb in the North of England."[722] At Ingleton, a small town
nestling picturesquely at the foot of the high hill of Ingleborough in
western Yorkshire, "within the last thirty years or so it was a common
practice to kindle the so-called 'Need-fire' by rubbing two pieces of
wood briskly together, and setting ablaze a large heap of sticks and
brushwood, which were dispersed, and cattle then driven through the
smoking brands. This was thought to act as a charm against the spread or
developement of the various ailments to which cattle are liable, and the
farmers seem to have had great faith in it."[723] Writing about the
middle of the nineteenth century, Kemble tells us that the will-fire or
need-fire had been used in Devonshire for the purpose of staying a
murrain within the memory of man.[724]

[The need-fire in Northumberland.]

So in Northumberland, down to the first half of the nineteenth century,
"when a contagious disease enters among cattle, the fires are
extinguished in the adjacent villages. Two pieces of dried wood are then
rubbed together until fire be produced; with this a quantity of straw is
kindled, juniper is thrown into the flame, and the cattle are repeatedly
driven through the smoke. Part of the forced fire is sent to the
neighbours, who again forward it to others, and, as great expedition is
used, the fires may be seen blazing over a great extent of country in a
very short space of time."[725] "It is strange," says the antiquary
William Henderson, writing about 1866, "to find the custom of lighting
'need-fires' on the occasion of epidemics among cattle still lingering
among us, but so it is. The vicar of Stamfordham writes thus respecting
it: 'When the murrain broke out among the cattle about eighteen years
ago, this fire was produced by rubbing two pieces of dry wood together,
and was carried from place to place all through this district, as a
charm against cattle taking the disease. Bonfires were kindled with it,
and the cattle driven into the smoke, where they were left for some
time. Many farmers hereabouts, I am informed, had the need-fire.'"[726]

[Martin's account of the need-fire in the Highlands of Scotland.]

In the earliest systematic account of the western islands of Scotland we
read that "the inhabitants here did also make use of a fire called
_Tin-egin, i.e._ a forced fire, or fire of necessity, which they used as
an antidote against the plague or murrain in cattle; and it was
performed thus: all the fires in the parish were extinguished, and then
eighty-one married men, being thought the necessary number for effecting
this design, took two great planks of wood, and nine of them were
employed by turns, who by their repeated efforts rubbed one of the
planks against the other until the heat thereof produced fire; and from
this forced fire each family is supplied with new fire, which is no
sooner kindled than a pot full of water is quickly set on it, and
afterwards sprinkled upon the people infected with the plague, or upon
the cattle that have the murrain. And this they all say they find
successful by experience: it was practised in the main land, opposite to
the south of Skie, within these thirty years."[727]

[The need-fire in the island of Mull; sacrifice of a heifer.]

In the island of Mull, one of the largest of the Hebrides, the need-fire
was kindled as late as 1767. "In consequence of a disease among the
black cattle the people agreed to perform an incantation, though they
esteemed it a wicked thing. They carried to the top of Carnmoor a wheel
and nine spindles of oakwood. They extinguished every fire in every
house within sight of the hill; the wheel was then turned from east to
west over the nine spindles long enough to produce fire by friction. If
the fire were not produced before noon, the incantation lost its effect.
They failed for several days running. They attributed this failure to
the obstinacy of one householder, who would not let his fires be put out
for what he considered so wrong a purpose. However, by bribing his
servants they contrived to have them extinguished and on that morning
raised their fire. They then sacrificed a heifer, cutting in pieces and
burning, while yet alive, the diseased part. They then lighted their own
hearths from the pile and ended by feasting on the remains. Words of
incantation were repeated by an old man from Morven, who came over as
master of the ceremonies, and who continued speaking all the time the
fire was being raised. This man was living a beggar at Bellochroy. Asked
to repeat the spell, he said, the sin of repeating it once had brought
him to beggary, and that he dared not say those words again. The whole
country believed him accursed."[728] From this account we see that in
Mull the kindling of the need-fire as a remedy for cattle disease was
accompanied by the sacrifice of one of the diseased animals; and though
the two customs are for the most part mentioned separately by our
authorities, we may surmise that they were often, perhaps usually,
practised together for the purpose of checking the ravages of sickness
in the herds.[729]

[The need-fire in Caithness.]

In the county of Caithness, forming the extreme northeast corner of the
mainland of Scotland, the practice of the need-fire survived down at
least to about 1788. We read that "in those days, when the stock of any
considerable farmer was seized with the murrain, he would send for one
of the charm-doctors to superintend the raising of a _need-fire_. It was
done by friction, thus; upon any small island, where the stream of a
river or burn ran on each side, a circular booth was erected, of stone
and turf, as it could be had, in which a semicircular or highland couple
of birch, or other hard wood, was set; and, in short, a roof closed on
it. A straight pole was set up in the centre of this building, the upper
end fixed by a wooden pin to the top of the couple, and the lower end in
an oblong _trink_ in the earth or floor; and lastly, another pole was
set across horizontally, having both ends tapered, one end of which was
supported in a hole in the side of the perpendicular pole, and the other
in a similar hole in the couple leg. The horizontal stick was called the
auger, having four short arms or levers fixed in its centre, to work it
by; the building having been thus finished, as many men as could be
collected in the vicinity, (being divested of all kinds of metal in
their clothes, etc.), would set to work with the said auger, two after
two, constantly turning it round by the arms or levers, and others
occasionally driving wedges of wood or stone behind the lower end of the
upright pole, so as to press it the more on the end of the auger: by
this constant friction and pressure, the ends of the auger would take
fire, from which a fire would be instantly kindled, and thus the
_needfire_ would be accomplished. The fire in the farmer's house, etc.,
was immediately quenched with water, a fire kindled from this needfire,
both in the farm-houses and offices, and the cattle brought to feel the
smoke of this new and sacred fire, which preserved them from the

[The need-fire in Caithness.]

The last recorded case of the need-fire in Caithness happened in 1809 or
1810. At Houstry, Dunbeath, a crofter named David Gunn had made for
himself a kail-yard and in doing so had wilfully encroached on one of
those prehistoric ruins called _brochs_, which the people of the
neighbourhood believed to be a fairy habitation. Soon afterwards a
murrain broke out among the cattle of the district and carried off many
beasts. So the wise men put their heads together and resolved to light a
_teine-eigin_ or need-fire as the best way of stopping the plague. They
cut a branch from a tree in a neighbouring wood, stripped it of bark,
and carried it to a small island in the Houstry Burn. Every fire in the
district having been quenched, new fire was made by the friction of wood
in the island, and from this sacred flame all the hearths of the houses
were lit afresh. One of the sticks used in making the fire was preserved
down to about the end of the nineteenth century; apparently the mode of
operation was the one known as the fire-drill: a pointed stick was
twirled in a hole made in another stick till fire was elicited by the

[Another account of the need-fire in the Highlands.]

Another account of the use of need-fire in the Highlands of Scotland
runs as follows: "When, by the neglect of the prescribed safeguards
[against witchcraft], the seeds of iniquity have taken root, and a
person's means are decaying in consequence, the only alternative, in
this case, is to resort to that grand remedy, the _Tein Econuch_, or
'Forlorn Fire,' which seldom fails of being productive of the best
effects. The cure for witchcraft, called _Tein Econuch_, is wrought in
the following manner:--A consultation being held by the unhappy sufferer
and his friends as to the most advisable measures of effecting a cure,
if this process is adopted, notice is privately communicated to all
those householders who reside within the nearest of two running streams,
to extinguish their lights and fires on some appointed morning. On its
being ascertained that this notice has been duly observed, a
spinning-wheel, or some other convenient instrument, calculated to
produce fire by friction, is set to work with the most furious
earnestness by the unfortunate sufferer, and all who wish well to his
cause. Relieving each other by turns, they drive on with such
persevering diligence, that at length the spindle of the wheel, ignited
by excessive friction, emits 'forlorn fire' in abundance, which, by the
application of tow, or some other combustible material, is widely
extended over the whole neighbourhood. Communicating the fire to the
tow, the tow communicates it to a candle, the candle to a fir-torch, the
torch to a cartful of peats, which the master of the ceremonies, with
pious ejaculations for the success of the experiment, distributes to
messengers, who will proceed with portions of it to the different houses
within the said two running streams, to kindle the different fires. By
the influence of this operation, the machinations and spells of
witchcraft are rendered null and void."[732]

[Alexander Carmichael's account of the need-fire in the Highlands of
Scotland during the nineteenth century.]

In various parts of the Highlands of Scotland the needfire was still
kindled during the first half of the nineteenth century, as we learn
from the following account:--

"_Tein-eigin_, neid-fire, need-fire, forced fire, fire produced by the
friction of wood or iron against wood.

"The fire of purification was kindled from the neid-fire, while the
domestic fire on the hearth was re-kindled from the purification fire on
the knoll. Among other names, the purification fire was called _Teine
Bheuil_, fire of Beul, and _Teine mor Bheuil_, great fire of Beul. The
fire of Beul was divided into two fires between which people and cattle
rushed australly for purposes of purification. The ordeal was trying, as
may be inferred from phrases still current. _Is teodha so na teine
teodha Bheuil_, 'Hotter is this than the hot fire of Beul.' Replying to
his grandchild, an old man in Lewis said ... 'Mary! sonnie, it were
worse for me to do that for thee than to go between the two great fires
of Beul.'

"The neid-fire was resorted to in imminent or actual calamity upon the
first day of the quarter, and to ensure success in great or important

[The needfire in Arran.]

"The writer conversed with several persons who saw the neid-fire made,
and who joined in the ceremony. As mentioned elsewhere, a woman in Arran
said that her father, and the other men of the townland, made the
neid-fire on the knoll on _La buidhe Bealltain_--Yellow Day of Beltane.
They fed the fire from _cuaile mor conaidh caoin_--great bundles of
sacred faggots brought to the knoll on Beltane Eve. When the sacred fire
became kindled, the people rushed home and brought their herds and drove
them through and round the fire of purification, to sain them from the
_bana bhuitseach mhor Nic Creafain Mac Creafain_--the great arch witch
Mac Crauford, now Crawford. That was in the second decade of this

[The need-fire in North Uist.]

"John Macphail, Middlequarter, North Uist, said that the last occasion
on which the neid-fire was made in North Uist was _bliadhna an
t-sneachda bhuidhe_--the year of the yellow snow--1829 (?). The snow lay
so deep and remained so long on the ground, that it became yellow. Some
suggest that the snow was originally yellow, as snow is occasionally
red. This extraordinary continuance of snow caused much want and
suffering throughout the Isles. The people of North Uist extinguished
their own fires and generated a purification fire at Sail Dharaich,
Sollas. The fire was produced from an oak log by rapidly boring with an
auger. This was accomplished by the exertions of _naoi naoinear ciad
ginealach mac_--the nine nines of first-begotten sons. From the
neid-fire produced on the knoll the people of the parish obtained fire
for their dwellings. Many cults and ceremonies were observed on the
occasion, cults and ceremonies in which Pagan and Christian beliefs
intermingled. _Sail Dharaich_, Oak Log, obtained its name from the log
of oak for the neid-fire being there. A fragment of this log riddled
with auger holes marks a grave in _Cladh Sgealoir_, the burying-ground
of _Sgealoir_, in the neighbourhood.

[The need-fire in Reay, Sutherland.]

"Mr. Alexander Mackay, Edinburgh, a native of Reay, Sutherland,
says:--'My father was the skipper of a fishing crew. Before beginning
operations for the season, the crew of the boat met at night in our
house to settle accounts for the past, and to plan operations for the
new season. My mother and the rest of us were sent to bed. I lay in the
kitchen, and was listening and watching, though they thought I was
asleep. After the men had settled their past affairs and future plans,
they put out the fire on the hearth, not a spark being allowed to live.
They then rubbed two pieces of wood one against another so rapidly as to
produce fire, the men joining in one after the other, and working with
the utmost energy and never allowing the friction to relax. From this
friction-fire they rekindled the fire on the hearth, from which all the
men present carried away a kindling to their own homes. Whether their
success was due to their skill, their industry, their perseverance, or
to the neid-fire, I do not know, but I know that they were much the most
successful crew in the place. They met on Saturday, and went to church
on Sunday like the good men and the good Christians they were--a little
of their Pagan faith mingling with their Christian belief. I have reason
to believe that other crews in the place as well as my father's crew
practised the neid-fire.'

"A man at Helmsdale, Sutherland, saw the _tein-eigin_ made in his

"The neid-fire was made in North Uist about the year 1829, in Arran
about 1820, in Helmsdale about 1818, in Reay about 1830."[733]

[The Beltane fire a precaution against witchcraft.]

From the foregoing account we learn that in Arran the annual Beltane
fire was regularly made by the friction of wood, and that it was used to
protect men and cattle against a great witch. When we remember that
Beltane Eve or the Eve of May Day (Walpurgis Night) is the great
witching time of the year throughout Europe, we may surmise that
wherever bonfires have been ceremonially kindled on that day it has been
done simply as a precaution against witchcraft; indeed this motive is
expressly alleged not only in Scotland, but in Wales, the Isle of Man,
and many parts of Central Europe.[734] It deserves, further, to be
noticed that in North Uist the wood used to kindle the need-fire was
oak, and that the nine times nine men by whose exertions the flame was
elicited were all first-born sons. Apparently the first-born son of a
family was thought to be endowed with more magical virtue than his
younger brothers. Similarly in the Punjaub "the supernatural power
ascribed to the first born is not due to his being unlucky, but the idea
underlying the belief seems to be that being the first product of the
parents, he inherits the spiritual powers (or magnetism) in a high
degree. The success of such persons in stopping rain and hail and in
stupefying snakes is proverbial. It is believed that a first child born
with feet forward can cure backache by kicking the patient in the back,
on a crossing."[735]

[The need-fire in Aberdeenshire.]

In the north-east of Aberdeenshire and the neighbourhood, when the
cattle-disease known as the "quarter-ill" broke out, "the 'muckle wheel'
was set in motion and turned till fire was produced. From this virgin
flame fires were kindled in the byres. At the same time, if neighbours
requested the favour, live coals were given them to kindle fires for the
purification of their homesteads and turning off the disease. Fumigating
the byres with juniper was a method adopted to ward off disease. Such a
fire was called 'needfyre.' The kindling of it came under the censure of
the Presbytery at times."[736]

[The need-fire in Perthshire.]

In Perthshire the need-fire was kindled as a remedy for cattle-disease
as late as 1826. "A wealthy old farmer, having lost several of his
cattle by some disease very prevalent at present, and being able to
account for it in no way so rationally as by witchcraft, had recourse to
the following remedy, recommended to him by a weird sister in his
neighbourhood, as an effectual protection from the attacks of the foul
fiend. A few stones were piled together in the barnyard, and woodcoals
having been laid thereon, the fuel was ignited by _will-fire_, that is
fire obtained by friction; the neighbours having been called in to
witness the solemnity, the cattle were made to pass through the flames,
in the order of their dignity and age, commencing with the horses and
ending with the swine. The ceremony having been duly and decorously gone
through, a neighbouring farmer observed to the enlightened owner of the
herd, that he, along with his family, ought to have followed the example
of the cattle, and the sacrifice to Baal would have been complete."[737]

[The need-fire in Ireland.]

In County Leitrim, Ireland, in order to prevent fever from spreading,
"all the fires on the townland, and the two adjoining (one on each
side), would be put out. Then the men of the three townlands would come
to one house, and get two large blocks of wood. One would be set in the
ground, and the other one, fitted with two handles, placed on the top of
it. The men would then draw the upper block backwards and forwards over
the lower until fire was produced by friction, and from this the fires
would be lighted again. This would prevent the fever from

[The use of the need-fire a relic of a time when all fires were kindled
by the friction of wood.]

Thus it appears that in many parts of Europe it has been customary to
kindle fire by the friction of wood for the purpose of curing or
preventing the spread of disease, particularly among cattle. The mode of
striking a light by rubbing two dry sticks against each other is the one
to which all over the world savages have most commonly resorted for the
sake of providing themselves with fire;[739] and we can scarcely doubt
that the practice of kindling the need-fire in this primitive fashion is
merely a survival from the time when our savage forefathers lit all
their fires in that way. Nothing is so conservative of old customs as
religious or magical ritual, which invests these relics of the past with
an atmosphere of mysterious virtue and sanctity. To the educated mind it
seems obvious that a fire which a man kindles with the sweat of his brow
by laboriously rubbing one stick against each other can possess neither
more nor less virtue than one which he has struck in a moment by the
friction of a lucifer match; but to the ignorant and superstitious this
truth is far from apparent, and accordingly they take infinite pains to
do in a roundabout way what they might have done directly with the
greatest ease, and what, even when it is done, is of no use whatever for
the purpose in hand. A vast proportion of the labour which mankind has
expended throughout the ages has been no better spent; it has been like
the stone of Sisyphus eternally rolled up hill only to revolve eternally
down again, or like the water poured for ever by the Danaids into broken
pitchers which it could never fill.

[The belief that the need-fire cannot kindle if any other fire remains
alight in the neighbourhood.]

The curious notion that the need-fire cannot kindle if any other fire
remains alight in the neighbourhood seems to imply that fire is
conceived as a unity which is broken up into fractions and consequently
weakened in exact proportion to the number of places where it burns;
hence in order to obtain it at full strength you must light it only at a
single point, for then the flame will burst out with a concentrated
energy derived from the tributary fires which burned on all the
extinguished hearths of the country. So in a modern city if all the gas
were turned off simultaneously at all the burners but one, the flame
would no doubt blaze at that one burner with a fierceness such as no
single burner could shew when all are burning at the same time. The
analogy may help us to understand the process of reasoning which leads
the peasantry to insist on the extinction of all common fires when the
need-fire is about to be kindled. Perhaps, too, it may partly explain
that ceremonial extinction of all old fires on other occasions which is
often required by custom as a preliminary to the lighting of a new and
sacred fire.[740] We have seen that in the Highlands of Scotland all
common fires were extinguished on the Eve of May-day as a preparation
for kindling the Beltane bonfire by friction next morning;[741] and no
doubt the reason for the extinction was the same as in the case of the
need-fire. Indeed we may assume with a fair degree of probability that
the need-fire was the parent of the periodic fire-festivals; at first
invoked only at irregular intervals to cure certain evils as they
occurred, the powerful virtue of fire was afterwards employed at regular
intervals to prevent the occurrence of the same evils as well as to
remedy such as had actually arisen.

[The needfire among the Iroquois of North America.]

The need-fire of Europe has its parallel in a ceremony which used to be
observed by the Iroquois Indians of North America. "Formerly when an
epidemic prevailed among the Iroquois despite the efforts to stay it, it
was customary for the principal shaman to order the fires in every cabin
to be extinguished and the ashes and cinders to be carefully removed;
for it was believed that the pestilence was sent as a punishment for
neglecting to rekindle 'new fire,' or because of the manner in which the
fire then in use had been kindled. So, after all the fires were out, two
suitable logs of slippery elm (_Ulmus fulva_) were provided for the new
fire. One of the logs was from six to eight inches in diameter and from
eight to ten feet long; the other was from ten to twelve inches in
diameter and about ten feet long. About midway across the larger log a
cuneiform notch or cut about six inches deep was made, and in the
wedge-shaped notch punk was placed. The other log was drawn rapidly to
and fro in the cut by four strong men chosen for the purpose until the
punk was ignited by the friction thus produced. Before and during the
progress of the work of igniting the fire the shaman votively sprinkled
_tcar-hu'-en-we_, 'real tobacco,' three several times into the cuneiform
notch and offered earnest prayers to the Fire-god, beseeching him 'to
aid, to bless, and to redeem the people from their calamities.' The
ignited punk was used to light a large bonfire, and then the head of
every family was required to take home 'new fire' to rekindle a fire in
his or her fire-place."[742]

Sec. 9. _The Sacrifice of an Animal to stay a Cattle-Plague_

[The burnt sacrifice of a calf in England and Wales; burnt sacrifice a
pig in Scotland.]

Sometimes apparently in England as well as in Scotland the kindling of a
need-fire was accompanied by the sacrifice of a calf. Thus in
Northamptonshire, at some time during the first half of the nineteenth
century, "Miss C---- and her cousin walking saw a fire in a field and a
crowd round it. They said, 'What is the matter?' 'Killing a calf.' 'What
for?' 'To stop the murrain.' They went away as quickly as possible. On
speaking to the clergyman he made enquiries. The people did not like to
talk of the affair, but it appeared that when there is a disease among
the cows or the calves are born sickly, they sacrifice (i.e. kill and
burn) one 'for good luck.'"[743] It is not here said that the fire was a
need-fire, of which indeed the two horrified ladies had probably never
heard; but the analogy of the parallel custom in Mull[744] renders it
probable that in Northamptonshire also the fire was kindled by the
friction of wood, and that the calf or some part of it was burnt in the
fire. Certainly the practice of burning a single animal alive in order
to save all the others would seem to have been not uncommon in England
down to the nineteenth century. Thus a farmer in Cornwall about the year
1800, having lost many cattle by disease, and tried many remedies in
vain, consulted with some of his neighbours and laying their heads
together "they recalled to their recollections a tale, which tradition
had handed down from remote antiquity, that the calamity would not cease
until he had actually burned alive the finest calf which he had upon his
farm; but that, when this sacrifice was made, the murrain would afflict
his cattle no more." Accordingly, on a day appointed they met, lighted a
large fire, placed the best calf in it, and standing round the blazing
pile drove the animal with pitchforks back into the flames whenever it
attempted to escape. Thus the victim was burned alive to save the rest
of the cattle.[745] "There can be no doubt but that a belief prevailed
until a very recent period, amongst the small farmers in the districts
remote from towns in Cornwall, that a living sacrifice appeased the
wrath of God. This sacrifice must be by fire; and I have heard it argued
that the Bible gave them warranty for this belief.... While correcting
these sheets I am informed of two recent instances of this superstition.
One of them was the sacrifice of a calf by a farmer near Portreath, for
the purpose of removing a disease which had long followed his horses and
his cows. The other was the burning of a living lamb, to save, as the
farmer said, 'his flocks from spells which had been cast on 'em.'"[746]
In a recent account of the fire-festivals of Wales we read that "I have
also heard my grandfather and father say that in times gone by the
people would throw a calf in the fire when there was any disease among
the herds. The same would be done with a sheep if there was anything the
matter with a flock. I can remember myself seeing cattle being driven
between two fires to 'stop the disease spreading.' When in later times
it was not considered humane to drive the cattle between the fires, the
herdsmen were accustomed to force the animals over the wood ashes to
protect them against various ailments."[747] Writing about 1866, the
antiquary W. Henderson says that a live ox was burned near Haltwhistle
in Northumberland "only twenty years ago" to stop a murrain.[748] "About
the year 1850 disease broke out among the cattle of a small farm in the
parish of Resoliss, Black Isle, Ross-shire. The farmer prevailed on his
wife to undertake a journey to a wise woman of renown in Banffshire to
ask a charm against the effects of the 'ill eye.' The long journey of
upwards of fifty miles was performed by the good wife, and the charm was
got. One chief thing ordered was to burn to death a pig, and sprinkle
the ashes over the byre and other farm buildings. This order was carried
out, except that the pig was killed before it was burned. A more
terrible sacrifice was made at times. One of the diseased animals was
rubbed over with tar, driven forth, set on fire, and allowed to run till
it fell down and died."[749] "Living animals have been burnt alive in
sacrifice within memory to avert the loss of other stock. The burial of
three puppies 'brandise-wise' in a field is supposed to rid it of weeds.
Throughout the rural districts of Devon witchcraft is an article of
current faith, and the toad is thrown into the flames as an emissary of
the evil one."[750]

[The calf is burnt in order to break a spell which has been cast on the

But why, we may ask, should the burning alive of a calf or a sheep be
supposed to save the rest of the herd or the flock from the murrain?
According to one writer, as we have seen, the burnt sacrifice was
thought to appease the wrath of God.[751] The idea of appeasing the
wrath of a ferocious deity by burning an animal alive is probably no
more than a theological gloss put on an old heathen rite; it would
hardly occur to the simple mind of an English bumpkin, who, though he
may be stupid, is not naturally cruel and does not conceive of a
divinity who takes delight in the contemplation of suffering. To his
thinking God has little or nothing to do with the murrain, but witches,
ill-wishers, and fairies have a great deal to do with it. The English
farmer who burned one of his lambs alive said that he did it "to save
his flocks from spells which had been cast on them"; and the Scotch
farmer who was bidden to burn a pig alive for a similar purpose, but who
had the humanity to kill the animal first, believed that this was a
remedy for the "evil eye" which had been cast upon his beasts. Again, we
read that "a farmer, who possessed broad acres, and who was in many
respects a sensible man, was greatly annoyed to find that his cattle
became diseased in the spring. Nothing could satisfy him but that they
were bewitched, and he was resolved to find out the person who had cast
the evil eye on his oxen. According to an anciently-prescribed rule, the
farmer took one of his bullocks and bled it to death, catching all the
blood on bundles of straw. The bloody straw was then piled into a heap,
and set on fire. Burning with a vast quantity of smoke, the farmer
expected to see the witch, either in reality or in shadow, amidst the
smoke."[752] Such reasons express the real beliefs of the peasants.
"Cattle, like human beings, were exposed to the influences of the evil
eye, of forespeaking, and of the casting of evil. Witches and warlocks
did the work of evil among their neighbours' cattle if their anger had
been aroused in any way. The fairies often wrought injury amongst
cattle. Every animal that died suddenly was killed by the dart of the
fairies, or, in the language of the people, was 'shot-a-dead.' Flint
arrows and spear-heads went by the name of 'faery dairts....' When an
animal died suddenly the canny woman of the district was sent for to
search for the 'faery dairt,' and in due course she found one, to the
great satisfaction of the owner of the dead animal."[753]

[Mode in which the burning of a bewitched animal is supposed to break
the spell.]

But how, we must still ask, can burning an animal alive break the spell
that has been cast upon its fellows by a witch or a warlock? Some light
is thrown on the question by the following account of measures which
rustic wiseacres in Suffolk are said to have adopted as a remedy for
witchcraft. "A woman I knew forty-three years had been employed by my
predecessor to take care of his poultry. At the time I came to make her
acquaintance she was a bedridden toothless crone, with chin and nose all
but meeting. She did not discourage in her neighbours the idea that she
knew more than people ought to know, and had more power than others had.
Many years before I knew her it happened one spring that the ducks,
which were a part of her charge, failed to lay eggs.... She at once took
it for granted that the ducks had been bewitched. This misbelief
involved very shocking consequences, for it necessitated the idea that
so diabolical an act could only be combated by diabolical cruelty. And
the most diabolical act of cruelty she could imagine was that of baking
alive in a hot oven one of the ducks. And that was what she did. The
sequence of thought in her mind was that the spell that had been laid on
the ducks was that of preternaturally wicked wilfulness; that this spell
could only be broken through intensity of suffering, in this case death
by burning; that the intensity of suffering would break the spell in the
one roasted to death; and that the spell broken in one would be
altogether broken, that is, in all the ducks.... Shocking, however, as
was this method of exorcising the ducks, there was nothing in it
original. Just about a hundred years before, everyone in the town and
neighbourhood of Ipswich had heard, and many had believed, that a witch
had been burnt to death in her own house at Ipswich by the process of
burning alive one of the sheep she had bewitched. It was curious, but it
was as convincing as curious, that the hands and feet of this witch were
the only parts of her that had not been incinerated. This, however, was
satisfactorily explained by the fact that the four feet of the sheep, by
which it had been suspended over the fire, had not been destroyed in the
flames that had consumed its body."[754] According to a slightly
different account of the same tragic incident, the last of the "Ipswitch
witches," one Grace Pett, "laid her hand heavily on a farmer's sheep,
who, in order to punish her, fastened one of the sheep in the ground and
burnt it, except the feet, which were under the earth. The next morning
Grace Pett was found burnt to a cinder, except her feet. Her fate is
recorded in the _Philosophical Transactions_ as a case of spontaneous

[In burning the bewitched animal you burn the witch herself.]

This last anecdote is instructive, if perhaps not strictly authentic. It
shows that in burning alive one of a bewitched flock or herd what you
really do is to burn the witch, who is either actually incarnate in the
animal or perhaps more probably stands in a relation of sympathy with it
so close as almost to amount to identity. Hence if you burn the creature
to ashes, you utterly destroy the witch and thereby save the whole of
the rest of the flock or herd from her abominable machinations; whereas
if you only partially burn the animal, allowing some parts of it to
escape the flames, the witch is only half-baked, and her power for
mischief may be hardly, if at all, impaired by the grilling. We can now
see that in such matters half-measures are useless. To kill the animal
first and burn it afterwards is a weak compromise, dictated no doubt by
a well-meant but utterly mistaken kindness; it is like shutting the
stable-door when the steed is stolen, for obviously by leaving the
animal's, and therefore the witch's, body nearly intact at the moment of
death, it allows her soul to escape and return safe and sound to her own
human body, which all the time is probably lying quietly at home in bed.
And the same train of reasoning that justifies the burning alive of
bewitched animals justifies and indeed requires the burning alive of the
witches themselves; it is really the only way of destroying them, body
and soul, and therefore of thoroughly extirpating the whole infernal

[Practice of burning cattle and sheep as sacrifices in the Isle of Man.]

In the Isle of Man the practice of burning cattle alive in order to stop
a murrain seems to have persisted down to a time within living memory.
On this subject I will quote the evidence collected by Sir John Rhys: "A
respectable farmer from Andreas told me that he was driving with his
wife to the neighbouring parish of Jurby some years ago, and that on the
way they beheld the carcase of a cow or an ox burning in a field, with a
woman engaged in stirring the fire. On reaching the village to which
they were going, they found that the burning beast belonged to a farmer
whom they knew. They were further told it was no wonder that the said
farmer had one of his cattle burnt, as several of them had recently
died. Whether this was a case of sacrifice or not I cannot say. But let
me give you another instance: a man whom I have already mentioned, saw
at a farm nearer the centre of the island a live calf being burnt. The
owner bears an English name, but his family has long been settled in
Man. The farmer's explanation to my informant was that the calf was
burnt to secure luck for the rest of the herd, some of which were
threatening to die. My informant thought there was absolutely nothing
the matter with them, except that they had too little to eat. Be that as
it may, the one calf was sacrificed as a burnt-offering to secure luck
for the rest of the cattle. Let me here also quote Mr. Moore's note in
his _Manx Surnames_, p. 184, on the place name _Cabbal yn Oural Losht_,
or the Chapel of the Burnt Sacrifice. 'This name,' he says, 'records a
circumstance which took place in the nineteenth century, but which, it
is to be hoped, was never customary in the Isle of Man. A farmer, who
had lost a number of his sheep and cattle by murrain, burned a calf as a
propitiatory offering to the Deity on this spot, where a chapel was
afterwards built. Hence the name.' Particulars, I may say, of time,
place, and person could be easily added to Mr. Moore's statement,
excepting, perhaps as to the deity in question; on that point I have
never been informed, but Mr. Moore is probably right in the use of the
capital _d_, as the sacrificer is, according to all accounts, a highly
devout Christian. One more instance: an octogenarian woman, born in the
parish of Bride, and now living at Kirk Andreas, saw, when she was a
'lump of a girl' of ten or fifteen years of age, a live sheep being
burnt in a field in the parish of Andreas, on May-day, whereby she meant
the first of May reckoned according to the Old Style. She asserts very
decidedly that it was _son oural_, 'as a sacrifice,' as she put it, and
'for an object to the public': those were her words when she expressed
herself in English. Further, she made the statement that it was a custom
to burn a sheep on old May-day for a sacrifice. I was fully alive to the
interest of this evidence, and cross-examined her so far as her age
allows of it, and I find that she adheres to her statement with all

[By burning a bewitched animal you compel the witch to appear.]

But Manxmen burn beasts when they are dead as well as when they are
alive; and their reasons for burning the dead animals may help us to
understand their reasons for burning the living animals. On this subject
I will again quote Sir John Rhys: "When a beast dies on a farm, of
course it dies, according to the old-fashioned view of things, as I
understand it, from the influence of the evil eye or the interposition
of a witch. So if you want to know to whom you are indebted for the loss
of the beast, you have simply to burn its carcase in the open air and
watch who comes first to the spot or who first passes by; that is the
criminal to be charged with the death of the animal, and he cannot help
coming there--such is the effect of the fire. A Michael woman, who is
now about thirty, related to me how she watched while the carcase of a
bewitched colt was burning, how she saw the witch coming, and how she
remembers her shrivelled face, with nose and chin in close proximity.
According to another native of Michael, a well-informed middle-aged man,
the animal in question was oftenest a calf, and it was wont to be burnt
whole, skin and all. The object, according to him, is invariably to
bring the bewitcher on the spot, and he always comes; but I am not clear
what happens to him when he appears. My informant added, however, that
it was believed that, unless the bewitcher got possession of the heart
of the burning beast, he lost all his power of bewitching."[757]

[Magic sympathy between the witch and the bewitched animal.]

These statements shew that in the Isle of Man the sympathetic relation
between the witch and his or her animal victim is believed to be so
close that by burning the animal you compel the witch to appear. The
original idea may have been that, by virtue of a magic sympathy which
binds the two together, whatever harm you do to the animal is felt by
the witch as if it were done to herself. That notion would fully explain
why Manx people used also to burn bewitched animals alive; in doing so
they probably imagined that they were simultaneously burning the witch
who had cast the spell on their cattle.

[Parallel belief in magic sympathy between the animal shape of a
were-wolf and his or her ordinary human shape: by wounding the wolf you
simultaneously wound the man or woman.]

This explanation of the reason for burning a bewitched animal, dead or
alive, is confirmed by the parallel belief concerning were-wolves. It is
commonly supposed that certain men and women can transform themselves by
magic art into wolves or other animals, but that any wound inflicted on
such a transformed beast (a were-wolf or other were-animal) is
simultaneously inflicted on the human body of the witch or warlock who
had transformed herself or himself into the creature. This belief is
widely diffused; it meets us in Europe, Asia, and Africa. For example,
Olaus Magnus tells us that in Livonia, not many years before he wrote, a
noble lady had a dispute with her slave on the subject of were-wolves,
she doubting whether there were any such things, and he maintaining that
there were. To convince her he retired to a room, from which he soon
appeared in the form of a wolf. Being chased by the dogs into the forest
and brought to bay, the wolf defended himself fiercely, but lost an eye
in the struggle. Next day the slave returned to his mistress in human
form but with only one eye.[758] Again, it happened in the year 1588
that a gentleman in a village among the mountains of Auvergne, looking
out of the window one evening, saw a friend of his going out to hunt. He
begged him to bring him back some of his bag, and his friend said that
he would. Well, he had not gone very far before he met a huge wolf. He
fired and missed it, and the animal attacked him furiously, but he stood
on his guard and with an adroit stroke of his hunting knife he cut off
the right fore-paw of the brute, which thereupon fled away and he saw it
no more. He returned to his friend, and drawing from his pouch the
severed paw of the wolf he found to his horror that it was turned into a
woman's hand with a golden ring on one of the fingers. His friend
recognized the ring as that of his own wife and went to find her. She
was sitting by the fire with her right arm under her apron. As she
refused to draw it out, her husband confronted her with the hand and the
ring on it. She at once confessed the truth, that it was she in the form
of a were-wolf whom the hunter had wounded. Her confession was confirmed
by applying the severed hand to the stump of her arm, for the two fitted
exactly. The angry husband delivered up his wicked wife to justice; she
was tried and burnt as a witch.[759] It is said that a were-wolf,
scouring the streets of Padua, was caught, and when they cut off his
four paws he at once turned into a man, but with both his hands and feet
amputated.[760] Again, in a farm of the French district of Beauce, there
was once a herdsman who never slept at home. These nocturnal absences
naturally attracted attention and set people talking. At the same time,
by a curious coincidence, a wolf used to prowl round the farm every
night and to excite the dogs in the farmyard to fury by thrusting his
snout derisively through the cat's hole in the great gate. The farmer
had his suspicions and he determined to watch. One night, when the
herdsman went out as usual, his master followed him quietly till he came
to a hut, where with his own eyes he saw the man put on a broad belt and
at once turn into a wolf, which scoured away over the fields. The farmer
smiled a sickly sort of smile and went back to the farm. There he took a
stout stick and sat down at the cat's hole to wait. He had not long to
wait. The dogs barked like mad, a wolf's snout shewed through the hole,
down came the stick, out gushed the blood, and a voice was heard to say
without the gate, "A good job too. I had still three years to run." Next
day the herdsman appeared as usual, but he had a scar on his brow, and
he never went out again at night.[761]

[Werewolves in China.]

In China also the faith in similar transformation is reflected in the
following tale. A certain man in Sung-yang went into the mountains to
gather fuel. Night fell and he was pursued by two tigers, but scrambled
up a tree out of their reach. Then said the one tiger to the other
tiger, "If we can find Chu-Tu-shi, we are sure to catch this man up the
tree." So off went one of them to find Chu-Tu-shi, while the other kept
watch at the foot of the tree. Soon after that another tiger, leaner and
longer than the other two, appeared on the scene and made a grab at the
man's coat. But fortunately the moon was shining, the man saw the paw,
and with a stroke of his axe cut off one of its claws. The tigers roared
and fled, one after the other, so the man climbed down the tree and went
home. When he told his tale in the village, suspicion naturally fell on
the said Chu-Tu-shi; next day some men went to see him in his house.
They were told that they could not see him; for he had been out the
night before and had hurt his hand, and he was now ill in bed. So they
put two and two together and reported him to the police. The police
arrived, surrounded the house, and set fire to it; but Chu-Tu-shi rose
from his bed, turned into a tiger, charged right through the police, and
escaped, and to this day nobody ever knew where he went to.[762]

[Werewolves among the Toradjas of Central Celebes.]

The Toradjas of Central Celebes stand in very great fear of werewolves,
that is of men and women, who have the power of transforming their
spirits into animals such as cats, crocodiles, wild pigs, apes, deer,
and buffaloes, which roam about battening on human flesh, and especially
on human livers, while the men and women in their own proper human form
are sleeping quietly in their beds at home. Among them a man is either
born a were-wolf or becomes one by infection; for mere contact with a
were-wolf, or even with anything that has been touched by his spittle,
is quite enough to turn the most innocent person into a were-wolf; nay
even to lean your head against anything against which a were-wolf has
leaned his head suffices to do it. The penalty for being a were-wolf is
death; but the sentence is never passed until the accused has had a fair
trial and his guilt has been clearly demonstrated by an ordeal, which
consists in dipping the middle finger into boiling resin. If the finger
is not burnt, the man is no were-wolf; but if it is burnt, a werewolf he
most assuredly is, so they take him away to a quiet spot and hack him to
bits. In cutting him up the executioners are naturally very careful not
to be bespattered with his blood, for if that were to happen they would
of course be turned into were-wolves themselves. Further, they place his
severed head beside his hinder-quarters to prevent his soul from coming
to life again and pursuing his depredations. So great is the horror of
were-wolves among the Toradjas, and so great is their fear of
contracting the deadly taint by infection, that many persons have
assured a missionary that they would not spare their own child if they
knew him to be a were-wolf.[763] Now these people, whose faith in
were-wolves is not a mere dying or dead superstition but a living,
dreadful conviction, tell stories of were-wolves which conform to the
type which we are examining. They say that once upon a time a were-wolf
came in human shape under the house of a neighbour, while his real body
lay asleep as usual at home, and calling out softly to the man's wife
made an assignation with her to meet him in the tobacco-field next day.
But the husband was lying awake and he heard it all, but he said nothing
to anybody. Next day chanced to be a busy one in the village, for a roof
had to be put on a new house and all the men were lending a hand with
the work, and among them to be sure was the were-wolf himself, I mean to
say his own human self; there he was up on the roof working away as hard
as anybody. But the woman went out to the tobacco-field, and behind went
unseen her husband, slinking through the underwood. When they were come
to the field, he saw the were-wolf make up to his wife, so out he rushed
and struck at him with a stick. Quick as thought, the were-wolf turned
himself into a leaf, but the man was as nimble, for he caught up the
leaf, thrust it into the joint of bamboo, in which he kept his tobacco,
and bunged it up tight. Then he walked back with his wife to the
village, carrying the bamboo with the werewolf in it. When they came to
the village, the human body of the were-wolf was still on the roof,
working away with the rest. The man put the bamboo in a fire. At that
the human were-wolf looked down from the roof and said, "Don't do that."
The man drew the bamboo from the fire, but a moment afterwards he put it
in the fire again, and again the human were-wolf on the roof looked down
and cried, "Don't do that." But this time the man kept the bamboo in the
fire, and when it blazed up, down fell the human were-wolf from the roof
as dead as a stone.[764] Again, the following story went round among the
Toradjas not so very many years ago. The thing happened at Soemara, on
the Gulf of Tomori. It was evening and some men sat chatting with a
certain Hadji Mohammad. When it had grown dark, one of the men went out
of the house for something or other. A little while afterwards one of
the company thought he saw a stag's antlers standing out sharp and clear
against the bright evening sky. So Hadji Mohammad raised his gun and
fired. A minute or two afterwards back comes the man who had gone out,
and says he to Hadji Mohammad, "You shot at me and hit me. You must pay
me a fine." They searched him but found no wound on him anywhere. Then
they knew that he was a were-wolf who had turned himself into a stag and
had healed the bullet-wound by licking it. However, the bullet had found
its billet, for two days afterwards he was a dead man.[765]

[Were-wolves in the Egyptian Sudan.]

In Sennar, a province of the Egyptian Sudan, the Hammeg and Fungi enjoy
the reputation of being powerful magicians who can turn themselves into
hyaenas and in that guise scour the country at night, howling and
gorging themselves. But by day they are men again. It is very dangerous
to shoot at such human hyaenas by night. On the Jebel Bela mountain a
soldier once shot at a hyaena and hit it, but it dragged itself off,
bleeding, in the darkness and escaped. Next morning he followed up the
trail of blood and it led him straight to the hut of a man who was
everywhere known for a wizard. Nothing of the hyaena was to be seen, but
the man himself was laid up in the house with a fresh wound and died
soon afterwards. And the soldier did not long survive him.[766]

[The were-wolf story in Petronius.]

But the classical example of these stories is an old Roman tale told by
Petronius. It is put in the mouth of one Niceros. Late at night he left
the town to visit a friend of his, a widow, who lived at a farm five
miles down the road. He was accompanied by a soldier, who lodged in the
same house, a man of Herculean build. When they set out it was near
dawn, but the moon shone as bright as day. Passing through the outskirts
of the town, they came amongst the tombs, which lined the highroad for
some distance. There the soldier made an excuse for retiring behind a
monument, and Niceros sat down to wait for him, humming a tune and
counting the tombstones to pass the time. In a little he looked round
for his companion, and saw a sight which froze him with horror. The
soldier had stripped off his clothes to the last rag and laid them at
the side of the highway. Then he performed a certain ceremony over them,
and immediately was changed into a wolf, and ran howling into the
forest. When Niceros had recovered himself a little, he went to pick up
the clothes, but found that they were turned to stone. More dead than
alive, he drew his sword, and, striking at every shadow cast by the
tombstones on the moonlit road, he tottered to his friend's house. He
entered it like a ghost, to the surprise of the widow, who wondered to
see him abroad so late. "If you had only been here a little ago," said
she, "you might have been of some use. For a wolf came tearing into the
yard, scaring the cattle and bleeding them like a butcher. But he did
not get off so easily, for the servant speared him in the neck." After
hearing these words, Niceros felt that he could not close an eye, so he
hurried away home again. It was now broad daylight, but when he came to
the place where the clothes had been turned to stone, he found only a
pool of blood. He reached home, and there lay the soldier in bed like an
ox in the shambles, and the doctor was bandaging his neck. "Then I
knew," said Niceros, "that the man was a were-wolf, and never again
could I break bread with him, no, not if you had killed me for it."[767]

[Witches like were-wolves can temporarily transform themselves into

These stories may help us to understand the custom of burning a
bewitched animal, which has been observed in our own country down to
recent times, if indeed it is even now extinct. For a close parallel may
be traced in some respects between witches and were-wolves. Like
were-wolves, witches are commonly supposed to be able to transform
themselves temporarily into animals for the purpose of playing their
mischievous pranks;[768] and like were-wolves they can in their animal
disguise be compelled to unmask themselves to any one who succeeds in
drawing their blood. In either case the animal-skin is conceived as a
cloak thrown round the wicked enchanter; and if you can only pierce the
skin, whether by the stab of a knife or the shot of a gun, you so rend
the disguise that the man or woman inside of it stands revealed in his
or her true colours. Strictly speaking, the stab should be given on the
brow or between the eyes in the case both of a witch and of a
were-wolf;[769] and it is vain to shoot at a were-wolf unless you have
had the bullet blessed in a chapel of St. Hubert or happen to be
carrying about you, without knowing it, a four-leaved clover; otherwise
the bullet will merely rebound from the were-wolf like water from a
duck's back.[770] However, in Armenia they say that the were-wolf, who
in that country is usually a woman, can be killed neither by shot nor by
steel; the only way of delivering the unhappy woman from her bondage is
to get hold of her wolf's skin and burn it; for that naturally prevents
her from turning into a wolf again. But it is not easy to find the skin,
for she is cunning enough to hide it by day.[771] So with witches, it is
not only useless but even dangerous to shoot at one of them when she has
turned herself into a hare; if you do, the gun may burst in your hand or
the shot come back and kill you. The only way to make quite sure of
hitting a witch-animal is to put a silver sixpence or a silver button in
your gun.[772] For example, it happened one evening that a native of the
island of Tiree was going home with a new gun, when he saw a black sheep
running towards him across the plain of Reef. Something about the
creature excited his suspicion, so he put a silver sixpence in his gun
and fired at it. Instantly the black sheep became a woman with a drugget
coat wrapt round her head. The man knew her quite well, for she was a
witch who had often persecuted him before in the shape of a cat.[773]

[Wounds inflicted on an animal into which a witch has transformed
herself are inflicted on the witch herself.]

Again, the wounds inflicted on a witch-hare or a witch-cat are to be
seen on the witch herself, just as the wounds inflicted on a were-wolf
are to be seen on the man himself when he has doffed the wolfs skin. To
take a few instances out of a multitude, a young man in the island of
Lismore was out shooting. When he was near Balnagown loch, he started a
hare and fired at it. The animal gave an unearthly scream, and then for
the first time it occurred to him that there were no real hares in
Lismore. He threw away his gun in terror and fled home; and next day he
heard that a notorious witch was laid up with a broken leg. A man need
be no conjuror to guess how she came by that broken leg.[774] Again, at
Thurso certain witches used to turn themselves into cats and in that
shape to torment an honest man. One night he lost patience, whipped out
his broadsword, and put them to flight. As they were scurrying away he
struck at them and cut off a leg of one of the cats. To his astonishment
it was a woman's leg, and next morning he found one of the witches short
of the corresponding limb.[775] Glanvil tells a story of "an old woman
in Cambridge-shire, whose astral spirit, coming into a man's house (as
he was sitting alone at the fire) in the shape of an huge cat, and
setting her self before the fire, not far from him, he stole a stroke at
the back of it with a fire-fork, and seemed to break the back of it, but
it scambled from him, and vanisht he knew not how. But such an old
woman, a reputed witch, was found dead in her bed that very night, with
her back broken, as I have heard some years ago credibly reported."[776]
In Yorkshire during the latter half of the nineteenth century a parish
clergyman was told a circumstantial story of an old witch named Nanny,
who was hunted in the form of a hare for several miles over the
Westerdale moors and kept well away from the dogs, till a black one
joined the pack and succeeded in taking a bit out of one of the hare's
legs. That was the end of the chase, and immediately afterwards the
sportsmen found old Nanny laid up in bed with a sore leg. On examining
the wounded limb they discovered that the hurt was precisely in that
part of it which in the hare had been bitten by the black dog and, what
was still more significant, the wound had all the appearance of having
been inflicted by a dog's teeth. So they put two and two together.[777]
The same sort of thing is often reported in Lincolnshire. "One night,"
said a servant from Kirton Lindsey, "my father and brother saw a cat in
front of them. Father knew it was a witch, and took a stone and hammered
it. Next day the witch had her face all tied up, and shortly afterwards
died." Again, a Bardney bumpkin told how a witch in his neighbourhood
could take all sorts of shapes. One night a man shot a hare, and when he
went to the witch's house he found her plastering a wound just where he
had shot the hare.[778] So in County Leitrim, in Ireland, they say that
a hare pursued by dogs fled to a house near at hand, but just as it was
bolting in at the door one of the dogs came up with it and nipped a
piece out of its leg. The hunters entered the house and found no hare
there but only an old woman, and her side was bleeding; so they knew
what to think of her.[779]

[Wounded witches in the Vosges.]

Again, in the Vosges Mountains a great big hare used to come out every
evening to take the air at the foot of the Mont des Fourches. All the
sportsmen of the neighbourhood tried their hands on that hare for a
month, but not one of them could hit it. At last one marksman, more
knowing than the rest, loaded his gun with some pellets of a consecrated
wafer in addition to the usual pellets of lead. That did the trick. If
puss was not killed outright, she was badly hurt, and limped away
uttering shrieks and curses in a human voice. Later it transpired that
she was no other than the witch of a neighbouring village who had the
power of putting on the shape of any animal she pleased.[780] Again, a
hunter of Travexin, in the Vosges, fired at a hare and almost shot away
one of its hind legs. Nevertheless the creature contrived to escape into
a cottage through the open door. Immediately a child's cries were heard
to proceed from the cottage, and the hunter could distinguish these
words, "Daddy, daddy, come quick! Poor mammy has her leg broken."[781]

[Wounded witches in Swabia.]

In Swabia the witches are liable to accidents of the same sort when they
go about their business in the form of animals. For example, there was a
soldier who was betrothed to a young woman and used to visit her every
evening when he was off duty. But one evening the girl told him that he
must not come to the house on Friday nights, because it was never
convenient to her to see him then. This roused his suspicion, and the
very next Friday night he set out to go to his sweetheart's house. On
the way a white cat ran up to him in the street and dogged his steps,
and when the animal would not make off he drew his sword and slashed off
one of its paws. On that the cat bolted. The soldier walked on, but when
he came to his sweetheart's house he found her in bed, and when he asked
her what was the matter, she gave a very confused reply. Noticing stains
of blood on the bed, he drew down the coverlet and saw that the girl was
weltering in her gore, for one of her feet was lopped off. "So that's
what's the matter with you, you witch!" said he, and turned on his heel
and left her, and within three days she was dead.[782] Again, a farmer
in the neighbourhood of Wiesensteig frequently found in his stable a
horse over and above the four horses he actually owned. He did not know
what to make of it and mentioned the matter to the smith. The smith said
quietly, "The next time you see a fifth horse in the stable, just you
send for me." Well, it was not long before the strange horse was there
again, and the farmer at once sent for the smith. He came bringing four
horse-shoes with him, and said, "I'm sure the nag has no shoes; I'll
shoe her for you." No sooner said than done. However, the smith
overreached himself; for next day when his friend the farmer paid him a
visit he found the smith's own wife prancing about with horse-shoes
nailed on her hands and feet. But it was the last time she ever appeared
in the shape of a horse.[783]

[The miller's wife and the two grey cats.]

Once more, in Silesia they tell of a miller's apprentice, a sturdy and
industrious young fellow, who set out on his travels. One day he came to
a mill, and the miller told him that he wanted an apprentice but did not
care to engage one, because hitherto all his apprentices had run away in
the night, and when he came down in the morning the mill was at a stand.
However, he liked the looks of the young chap and took him into his pay.
But what the new apprentice heard about the mill and his predecessors
was not encouraging; so the first night when it was his duty to watch in
the mill he took care to provide himself with an axe and a prayer-book,
and while he kept one eye on the whirring, humming wheels he kept the
other on the good book, which he read by the flickering light of a
candle set on a table. So the hours at first passed quietly with nothing
to disturb him but the monotonous drone and click of the machinery. But
on the stroke of twelve, as he was still reading with the axe lying on
the table within reach, the door opened and in came two grey cats
mewing, an old one and a young one. They sat down opposite him, but it
was easy to see that they did not like his wakefulness and the
prayer-book and the axe. Suddenly the old cat reached out a paw and made
a grab at the axe, but the young chap was too quick for her and held it
fast. Then the young cat tried to do the same for the prayer-book, but
the apprentice gripped it tight. Thus balked, the two cats set up such a
squalling that the young fellow could hardly say his prayers. Just
before one o'clock the younger cat sprang on the table and fetched a
blow with her right paw at the candle to put it out. But the apprentice
struck at her with his axe and sliced the paw off, whereupon the two
cats vanished with a frightful screech. The apprentice wrapped the paw
up in paper to shew it to his master. Very glad the miller was next
morning when he came down and found the mill going and the young chap at
his post. The apprentice told him what had happened in the night and
gave him the parcel containing the cat's paw. But when the miller opened
it, what was the astonishment of the two to find in it no cat's paw but
a woman's hand! At breakfast the miller's young wife did not as usual
take her place at the table. She was ill in bed, and the doctor had to
be called in to bind up her right arm, because in hewing wood, so they
said, she had made a slip and cut off her own right hand. But the
apprentice packed up his traps and turned his back on that mill before
the sun had set.[784]

[The analogy of were-wolves confirms the view that the reason for
burning bewitched animals is either to burn the witch or to compel her
to appear.]

It would no doubt be easy to multiply instances, all equally well
attested and authentic, of the transformation of witches into animals
and of the damage which the women themselves have sustained through
injuries inflicted on the animals.[785] But the foregoing evidence may
suffice to establish the complete parallelism between witches and
were-wolves in these respects. The analogy appears to confirm the view
that the reason for burning a bewitched animal alive is a belief that
the witch herself is in the animal, and that by burning it you either
destroy the witch completely or at least unmask her and compel her to
reassume her proper human shape, in which she is naturally far less
potent for mischief than when she is careering about the country in the
likeness of a cat, a hare, a horse, or what not. This principle is still
indeed clearly recognized by people in Oldenburg, though, as might be
expected, they do not now carry out the principle to its logical
conclusion by burning the bewitched animal or person alive; instead they
resort to a feeble and, it must be added, perfectly futile subterfuge
dictated by a mistaken humanity or a fear of the police. "When anything
living is bewitched in a house, for example, children or animals, they
burn or boil the nobler inwards of animals, especially the hearts, but
also the lungs or the liver. If animals have died, they take the inwards
of one of them or of an animal of the same kind slaughtered for the
purpose; but if that is not possible they take the inwards of a cock, by
preference a black one. The heart, lung, or liver is stuck all over with
needles, or marked with a cross cut, or placed on the fire in a tightly
closed vessel, strict silence being observed and doors and windows well
shut. When the heart boils or is reduced to ashes, the witch must
appear, for during the boiling she feels the burning pain. She either
begs to be released or seeks to borrow something, for example, salt or a
coal of fire, or she takes the lid off the pot, or tries to induce the
person whose spell is on her to speak. They say, too, that a woman comes
with a spinning-wheel. If it is a sheep that has died, you proceed in
the same way with a tripe from its stomach and prick it with needles
while it is on the boil. Instead of boiling it, some people nail the
heart to the highest rafter of the house, or lay it on the edge of the
hearth, in order that it may dry up, no doubt because the same thing
happens to the witch. We may conjecture that other sympathetic means of
destruction are employed against witchcraft. The following is expressly
reported: the heart of a calf that has died is stuck all over with
needles, enclosed in a bag, and thrown into flowing water before

[There is the same reason for burning bewitched things; similarly by
burning alive a person whose form a witch has assumed, you compel the

Facebook Google Reddit Twitter Pinterest