Balder The Beautiful, Vol. I.
by Sir James George Frazer
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J.G. FRAZER, D.C.L., LL.D., Litt.D.





In this concluding part of The Golden Bough I have discussed the problem which gives its title to the whole work. If I am right, the Golden Bough over which the King of the Wood, Diana's priest at Aricia, kept watch and ward was no other than a branch of mistletoe growing on an oak within the sacred grove; and as the plucking of the bough was a necessary prelude to the slaughter of the priest, I have been led to institute a parallel between the King of the Wood at Nemi and the Norse god Balder, who was worshipped in a sacred grove beside the beautiful Sogne fiord of Norway and was said to have perished by a stroke of mistletoe, which alone of all things on earth or in heaven could wound him. On the theory here suggested both Balder and the King of the Wood personified in a sense the sacred oak of our Aryan forefathers, and both had deposited their lives or souls for safety in the parasite which sometimes, though rarely, is found growing on an oak and by the very rarity of its appearance excites the wonder and stimulates the devotion of ignorant men. Though I am now less than ever disposed to lay weight on the analogy between the Italian priest and the Norse god, I have allowed it to stand because it furnishes me with a pretext for discussing not only the general question of the external soul in popular superstition, but also the fire-festivals of Europe, since fire played a part both in the myth of Balder and in the ritual of the Arician grove. Thus Balder the Beautiful in my hands is little more than a stalking-horse to carry two heavy pack-loads of facts. And what is true of Balder applies equally to the priest of Nemi himself, the nominal hero of the long tragedy of human folly and suffering which has unrolled itself before the readers of these volumes, and on which the curtain is now about to fall. He, too, for all the quaint garb he wears and the gravity with which he stalks across the stage, is merely a puppet, and it is time to unmask him before laying him up in the box.

To drop metaphor, while nominally investigating a particular problem of ancient mythology, I have really been discussing questions of more general interest which concern the gradual evolution of human thought from savagery to civilization. The enquiry is beset with difficulties of many kinds, for the record of man's mental development is even more imperfect than the record of his physical development, and it is harder to read, not only by reason of the incomparably more subtle and complex nature of the subject, but because the reader's eyes are apt to be dimmed by thick mists of passion and prejudice, which cloud in a far less degree the fields of comparative anatomy and geology. My contribution to the history of the human mind consists of little more than a rough and purely provisional classification of facts gathered almost entirely from printed sources. If there is one general conclusion which seems to emerge from the mass of particulars, I venture to think that it is the essential similarity in the working of the less developed human mind among all races, which corresponds to the essential similarity in their bodily frame revealed by comparative anatomy. But while this general mental similarity may, I believe, be taken as established, we must always be on our guard against tracing to it a multitude of particular resemblances which may be and often are due to simple diffusion, since nothing is more certain than that the various races of men have borrowed from each other many of their arts and crafts, their ideas, customs, and institutions. To sift out the elements of culture which a race has independently evolved and to distinguish them accurately from those which it has derived from other races is a task of extreme difficulty and delicacy, which promises to occupy students of man for a long time to come; indeed so complex are the facts and so imperfect in most cases is the historical record that it may be doubted whether in regard to many of the lower races we shall ever arrive at more than probable conjectures.

Since the last edition of The Golden Bough was published some thirteen years ago, I have seen reason to change my views on several matters discussed in this concluding part of the work, and though I have called attention to these changes in the text, it may be well for the sake of clearness to recapitulate them here.

In the first place, the arguments of Dr. Edward Westermarck have satisfied me that the solar theory of the European fire-festivals, which I accepted from W. Mannhardt, is very slightly, if at all, supported by the evidence and is probably erroneous. The true explanation of the festivals I now believe to be the one advocated by Dr. Westermarck himself, namely that they are purificatory in intention, the fire being designed not, as I formerly held, to reinforce the sun's light and heat by sympathetic magic, but merely to burn or repel the noxious things, whether conceived as material or spiritual, which threaten the life of man, of animals, and of plants. This aspect of the fire-festivals had not wholly escaped me in former editions; I pointed it out explicitly, but, biassed perhaps by the great authority of Mannhardt, I treated it as secondary and subordinate instead of primary and dominant. Out of deference to Mannhardt, for whose work I entertain the highest respect, and because the evidence for the purificatory theory of the fires is perhaps not quite conclusive, I have in this edition repeated and even reinforced the arguments for the solar theory of the festivals, so that the reader may see for himself what can be said on both sides of the question and may draw his own conclusion; but for my part I cannot but think that the arguments for the purificatory theory far outweigh the arguments for the solar theory. Dr. Westermarck based his criticisms largely on his own observations of the Mohammedan fire-festivals of Morocco, which present a remarkable resemblance to those of Christian Europe, though there seems no reason to assume that herein Africa has borrowed from Europe or Europe from Africa. So far as Europe is concerned, the evidence tends strongly to shew that the grand evil which the festivals aimed at combating was witchcraft, and that they were conceived to attain their end by actually burning the witches, whether visible or invisible, in the flames. If that was so, the wide prevalence and the immense popularity of the fire-festivals provides us with a measure for estimating the extent of the hold which the belief in witchcraft had on the European mind before the rise of Christianity or rather of rationalism; for Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant, accepted the old belief and enforced it in the old way by the faggot and the stake. It was not until human reason at last awoke after the long slumber of the Middle Ages that this dreadful obsession gradually passed away like a dark cloud from the intellectual horizon of Europe.

Yet we should deceive ourselves if we imagined that the belief in witchcraft is even now dead in the mass of the people; on the contrary there is ample evidence to show that it only hibernates under the chilling influence of rationalism, and that it would start into active life if that influence were ever seriously relaxed. The truth seems to be that to this day the peasant remains a pagan and savage at heart; his civilization is merely a thin veneer which the hard knocks of life soon abrade, exposing the solid core of paganism and savagery below. The danger created by a bottomless layer of ignorance and superstition under the crust of civilized society is lessened, not only by the natural torpidity and inertia of the bucolic mind, but also by the progressive decrease of the rural as compared with the urban population in modern states; for I believe it will be found that the artisans who congregate in towns are far less retentive of primitive modes of thought than their rustic brethren. In every age cities have been the centres and as it were the lighthouses from which ideas radiate into the surrounding darkness, kindled by the friction of mind with mind in the crowded haunts of men; and it is natural that at these beacons of intellectual light all should partake in some measure of the general illumination. No doubt the mental ferment and unrest of great cities have their dark as well as their bright side; but among the evils to be apprehended from them the chances of a pagan revival need hardly be reckoned.

Another point on which I have changed my mind is the nature of the great Aryan god whom the Romans called Jupiter and the Greeks Zeus. Whereas I formerly argued that he was primarily a personification of the sacred oak and only in the second place a personification of the thundering sky, I now invert the order of his divine functions and believe that he was a sky-god before he came to be associated with the oak. In fact, I revert to the traditional view of Jupiter, recant my heresy, and am gathered like a lost sheep into the fold of mythological orthodoxy. The good shepherd who has brought me back is my friend Mr. W. Warde Fowler. He has removed the stone over which I stumbled in the wilderness by explaining in a simple and natural way how a god of the thundering sky might easily come to be afterwards associated with the oak. The explanation turns on the great frequency with which, as statistics prove, the oak is struck by lightning beyond any other tree of the wood in Europe. To our rude forefathers, who dwelt in the gloomy depths of the primaeval forest, it might well seem that the riven and blackened oaks must indeed be favourites of the sky-god, who so often descended on them from the murky cloud in a flash of lightning and a crash of thunder.

This change of view as to the great Aryan god necessarily affects my interpretation of the King of the Wood, the priest of Diana at Aricia, if I may take that discarded puppet out of the box again for a moment. On my theory the priest represented Jupiter in the flesh, and accordingly, if Jupiter was primarily a sky-god, his priest cannot have been a mere incarnation of the sacred oak, but must, like the deity whose commission he bore, have been invested in the imagination of his worshippers with the power of overcasting the heaven with clouds and eliciting storms of thunder and rain from the celestial vault. The attribution of weather-making powers to kings or priests is very common in primitive society, and is indeed one of the principal levers by which such personages raise themselves to a position of superiority above their fellows. There is therefore no improbability in the supposition that as a representative of Jupiter the priest of Diana enjoyed this reputation, though positive evidence of it appears to be lacking.

Lastly, in the present edition I have shewn some grounds for thinking that the Golden Bough itself, or in common parlance the mistletoe on the oak, was supposed to have dropped from the sky upon the tree in a flash of lightning and therefore to contain within itself the seed of celestial fire, a sort of smouldering thunderbolt. This view of the priest and of the bough which he guarded at the peril of his life has the advantage of accounting for the importance which the sanctuary at Nemi acquired and the treasure which it amassed through the offerings of the faithful; for the shrine would seem to have been to ancient what Loreto has been to modern Italy, a place of pilgrimage, where princes and nobles as well as commoners poured wealth into the coffers of Diana in her green recess among the Alban hills, just as in modern times kings and queens vied with each other in enriching the black Virgin who from her Holy House on the hillside at Loreto looks out on the blue Adriatic and the purple Apennines. Such pious prodigality becomes more intelligible if the greatest of the gods was indeed believed to dwell in human shape with his wife among the woods of Nemi.

These are the principal points on which I have altered my opinion since the last edition of my book was published. The mere admission of such changes may suffice to indicate the doubt and uncertainty which attend enquiries of this nature. The whole fabric of ancient mythology is so foreign to our modern ways of thought, and the evidence concerning it is for the most part so fragmentary, obscure, and conflicting that in our attempts to piece together and interpret it we can hardly hope to reach conclusions that will completely satisfy either ourselves or others. In this as in other branches of study it is the fate of theories to be washed away like children's castles of sand by the rising tide of knowledge, and I am not so presumptuous as to expect or desire for mine an exemption from the common lot. I hold them all very lightly and have used them chiefly as convenient pegs on which to hang my collections of facts. For I believe that, while theories are transitory, a record of facts has a permanent value, and that as a chronicle of ancient customs and beliefs my book may retain its utility when my theories are as obsolete as the customs and beliefs themselves deserve to be.

I cannot dismiss without some natural regret a task which has occupied and amused me at intervals for many years. But the regret is tempered by thankfulness and hope. I am thankful that I have been able to conclude at least one chapter of the work I projected a long time ago. I am hopeful that I may not now be taking a final leave of my indulgent readers, but that, as I am sensible of little abatement in my bodily strength and of none in my ardour for study, they will bear with me yet a while if I should attempt to entertain them with fresh subjects of laughter and tears drawn from the comedy and the tragedy of man's endless quest after happiness and truth.


CAMBRIDGE, 17th October 1913.


PREFACE, Pp. v-xii


Sec. 1. Not to touch the Earth, pp. 1-18.—The priest of Aricia and the Golden Bough, 1 sq.; sacred kings and priests forbidden to touch the ground with their feet, 2-4; certain persons on certain occasions forbidden to touch the ground with their feet, 4-6; sacred persons apparently thought to be charged with a mysterious virtue which will run to waste or explode by contact with the ground, 6 sq.; things as well as persons charged with the mysterious virtue of holiness or taboo and therefore kept from contact with the ground, 7; festival of the wild mango, which is not allowed to touch the earth, 7-11; other sacred objects kept from contact with the ground, 11 sq.; sacred food not allowed to touch the earth, 13 sq.; magical implements and remedies thought to lose their virtue by contact with the ground, 14 sq.; serpents' eggs or snake stones, 15 sq.; medicinal plants, water, etc., not allowed to touch the earth, 17 sq.

Sec. 2. Not to see the Sun, pp. 18-21.—Sacred persons not allowed to see the sun, 18-20; tabooed persons not allowed to see the sun, 20; certain persons forbidden to see fire, 20 sq.; the story of Prince Sunless, 21.


Sec. 1. Seclusion of Girls at Puberty in Africa, pp. 22-32.—Girls at puberty forbidden to touch the ground and see the sun, 22; seclusion of girls at puberty among the Zulus and kindred tribes, 22; among the A-Kamba of British East Africa, 23; among the Baganda of Central Africa, 23 sq.; among the tribes of the Tanganyika plateau, 24 sq.; among the tribes of British Central Africa, 25 sq.; abstinence from salt associated with a rule of chastity in many tribes, 26-28; seclusion of girls at puberty among the tribes about Lake Nyassa and on the Zambesi, 28 sq.; among the Thonga of Delagoa Bay, 29 sq.; among the Caffre tribes of South Africa, 30 sq.; among the Bavili of the Lower Congo, 31 sq.

Sec. 2. Seclusion of Girls at Puberty in New Ireland, New Guinea, and Indonesia, pp. 32-36.—Seclusion of girls at puberty in New Ireland, 32-34; in New Guinea, Borneo, Ceram, and the Caroline Islands, 35 sq.

Sec. 3. Seclusion of Girls at Puberty in the Torres Straits Islands and Northern Australia, pp. 36-41.—Seclusion of girls at puberty in Mabuiag, Torres Straits, 36 sq.; in Northern Australia, 37-39; in the islands of Torres Straits, 39-41.

Sec. 4. Seclusion of Girls at Puberty among the Indians of North America, pp. 41-55.—Seclusion of girls at puberty among the Indians of California, 41-43; among the Indians of Washington State, 43; among the Nootka Indians of Vancouver Island, 43 sq.; among the Haida Indians of the Queen Charlotte Islands, 44 sq.; among the Tlingit Indians of Alaska, 45 sq.; among the Tsetsaut and Bella Coola Indians of British Columbia, 46 sq.; among the Tinneh Indians of British Columbia, 47 sq.; among the Tinneh Indians of Alaska, 48 sq.; among the Thompson Indians of British Columbia, 49-52; among the Lillooet Indians of British Columbia, 52 sq.; among the Shuswap Indians of British Columbia, 53 sq.; among the Delaware and Cheyenne Indians, 54 sq.; among the Esquimaux, 55 sq.

Sec. 5. Seclusion of Girls at Puberty among the Indians of South America, pp. 56-68.—Seclusion of girls at puberty among the Guaranis, Chiriguanos, and Lengua Indians, 56 sq.; among the Yuracares of Bolivia, 57 sq.; among the Indians of the Gran Chaco, 58 sq.; among the Indians of Brazil, 59 sq.; among the Indians of Guiana, 60 sq.; beating the girls and stinging them with ants, 61; stinging young men with ants and wasps as an initiatory rite, 61-63; stinging men and women with ants to improve their character or health or to render them invulnerable, 63 sq.; in such cases the beating or stinging was originally a purification, not a test of courage and endurance, 65 sq.; this explanation confirmed by the beating of girls among the Banivas of the Orinoco to rid them of a demon, 66-68; symptoms of puberty in a girl regarded as wounds inflicted on her by a demon, 68.

Sec. 6. Seclusion of Girls at Puberty in India and Cambodia, pp. 68-70.—Seclusion of girls at puberty among the Hindoos, 68; in Southern India, 68-70; in Cambodia, 70.

Sec. 7. Seclusion of Girls at Puberty in Folk-tales, pp. 70-76.—Danish story of the girl who might not see the sun, 70-72; Tyrolese story of the girl who might not see the sun, 72; modern Greek stories of the maid who might not see the sun, 72 sq.; ancient Greek story of Danae and its parallel in a Kirghiz legend, 73 sq.; impregnation of women by the sun in legends, 74 sq.; traces in marriage customs of the belief that women can be impregnated by the sun, 75; belief in the impregnation of women by the moon, 75 sq.

Sec. 8. Reasons for the Seclusion of Girls at Puberty, pp. 76-100.—The reason for the seclusion of girls at puberty is the dread of menstruous blood, 76; dread and seclusion of menstruous women among the aborigines of Australia, 76-78; in Torres Straits Islands, New Guinea, Galela, and Sumatra, 78 sq.; among the tribes of South Africa, 79 sq.; among the tribes of Central and East Africa, 80-82; among the tribes of West Africa, 82; powerful influence ascribed to menstruous blood in Arab legend, 82 sq.; dread and seclusion of menstruous women among the Jews and in Syria, 83 sq.; in India, 84 sq.; in Annam, 85; among the Indians of Central and South America, 85 sq.; among the Indians of North America, 87-94; among the Creek, Choctaw, Omaha and Cheyenne Indians, 88 sq.; among the Indians of British Columbia, 89 sq.; among the Chippeway Indians, 90 sq.; among the Tinneh or Dene Indians, 91; among the Carrier Indians, 91-94; similar rules of seclusion enjoined on menstruous women in ancient Hindoo, Persian, and Hebrew codes, 94-96; superstitions as to menstruous women in ancient and modern Europe, 96 sq.; the intention of secluding menstruous women is to neutralize the dangerous influences which are thought to emanate from them in that condition, 97; suspension between heaven and earth, 97; the same explanation applies to the similar rules of seclusion observed by divine kings and priests, 97-99; stories of immortality attained by suspension between heaven and earth, 99 sq.


How Balder, the good and beautiful god, was done to death by a stroke of mistletoe, 101 sq.; story of Balder in the older Edda, 102 sq.; story of Balder as told by Saxo Grammaticus, 103; Balder worshipped in Norway, 104; legendary death of Balder resembles the legendary death of Isfendiyar in the epic of Firdusi, 104 sq.; the myth of Balder perhaps acted as a magical ceremony; the two main incidents of the myth, namely the pulling of the mistletoe and the burning of the god, have perhaps their counterpart in popular ritual, 105.


Sec. 1. The Lenten Fires, pp. 106-120.—European custom of kindling bonfires on certain days of the year, dancing round them, leaping over them, and burning effigies in the flames, 106; seasons of the year at which the bonfires are lit, 106 sq.; bonfires on the first Sunday in Lent in the Belgian Ardennes, 107 sq.; in the French department of the Ardennes, 109 sq.; in Franche-Comte, 110 sq.; in Auvergne, 111-113; French custom of carrying lighted torches (brandons) about the orchards and fields to fertilize them on the first Sunday of Lent, 113-115; bonfires on the first Sunday of Lent in Germany and Austria, 115 sq.; "burning the witch," 116; burning discs thrown into the air, 116 sq.; burning wheels rolled down hill, 117 sq.; bonfires on the first Sunday in Lent in Switzerland, 118 sq.; burning discs thrown into the air, 119; connexion of these fires with the custom of "carrying out Death," 119 sq.

Sec. 2. The Easter Fires, 120-146.—Custom in Catholic countries of kindling a holy new fire on Easter Saturday, marvellous properties ascribed to the embers of the fire, 121; effigy of Judas burnt in the fire, 121; Easter fires in Bavaria and the Abruzzi, 122; water as well as fire consecrated at Easter in Italy, Bohemia, and Germany, 122-124; new fire at Easter in Carinthia, 124; Thomas Kirchmeyer's account of the consecration of fire and water by the Catholic Church at Easter, 124 sq.; the new fire on Easter Saturday at Florence, 126 sq.; the new fire and the burning of Judas on Easter Saturday in Mexico and South America, 127 sq.; the new fire on Easter Saturday in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem, 128-130; the new fire and the burning of Judas on Easter Saturday in Greece, 130 sq.; the new fire at Candlemas in Armenia, 131; the new fire and the burning of Judas at Easter are probably relics of paganism, 131 sq.; new fire at the summer solstice among the Incas of Peru, 132; new fire among the Indians of Mexico and New Mexico, the Iroquois, and the Esquimaux, 132-134; new fire in Wadai, among the Swahili, and in other parts of Africa, 134-136; new fires among the Todas and Nagas of India, 136; new fire in China and Japan, 137 sq.; new fire in ancient Greece and Rome, 138; new fire at Hallowe'en among the old Celts of Ireland, 139; new fire on the first of September among the Russian peasants, 139; the rite of the new fire probably common to many peoples of the Mediterranean area before the rise of Christianity, 139 sq.; the pagan character of the Easter fire manifest from the superstitions associated with it, such as the belief that the fire fertilizes the fields and protects houses from conflagration and sickness, 140 sq.; the Easter fires in Muensterland, Oldenburg, the Harz Mountains, and the Altmark, 141-143; Easter fires and the burning of Judas or the Easter Man in Bavaria, 143 sq.; Easter fires and "thunder poles" in Baden, 145; Easter fires in Holland and Sweden, 145 sq.; the burning of Judas in Bohemia, 146.

Sec. 3. The Beltane Fires, pp. 146-160.—The Beltane fires on the first of May in the Highlands of Scotland, 146-154; John Ramsay of Ochtertyre, his description of the Beltane fires and cakes and the Beltane carline, 146-149; Beltane fires and cakes in Perthshire, 150-153; Beltane fires in the north-east of Scotland to burn the witches, 153 sq.; Beltane fires and cakes in the Hebrides, 154; Beltane fires and cakes in Wales, 155-157; in the Isle of Man to burn the witches, 157; in Nottinghamshire, 157; in Ireland, 157-159; fires on the Eve of May Day in Sweden, 159; in Austria and Saxony to burn the witches, 159 sq.

Sec. 4. The Midsummer Fires, pp. 160-219.—The great season for fire-festivals in Europe is Midsummer Eve or Midsummer Day, which the church has dedicated to St. John the Baptist, 160 sq.; the bonfires, the torches, and the burning wheels of the festival, 161; Thomas Kirchmeyer's description of the Midsummer festival, 162 sq.; the Midsummer fires in Germany, 163-171; burning wheel rolled down hill at Konz on the Moselle, 163 sq.; Midsummer fires in Bavaria, 164-166; in Swabia, 166 sq.; in Baden, 167-169; in Alsace, Lorraine, the Eifel, the Harz district, and Thuringia, 169; Midsummer fires kindled by the friction of wood, 169 sq.; driving away the witches and demons, 170; Midsummer fires in Silesia, scaring away the witches, 170 sq.; Midsummer fires in Denmark and Norway, keeping off the witches, 171; Midsummer fires in Sweden, 172; Midsummer fires in Switzerland and Austria, 172 sq.; in Bohemia, 173-175; in Moravia, Austrian Silesia, and the district of Cracow, 175; among the Slavs of Russia, 176; in Prussia and Lithuania as a protection against witchcraft, thunder, hail, and cattle disease, 176 sq.; in Masuren the fire is kindled by the revolution of a wheel, 177; Midsummer fires among the Letts of Russia, 177 sq.; among the South Slavs, 178; among the Magyars, 178 sq.; among the Esthonians, 179 sq.; among the Finns and Cheremiss of Russia, 180 sq.; in France, 181-194; Bossuet on the Midsummer festival, 182; the Midsummer fires in Brittany, 183-185; in Normandy, the Brotherhood of the Green Wolf at Jumieges, 185 sq.; Midsummer fires in Picardy, 187 sq.; in Beauce and Perche, 188; the fires a protection against witchcraft, 188; the Midsummer fires in the Ardennes, the Vosges, and the Jura, 188 sq.; in Franche-Comte, 189; in Berry and other parts of Central France, 189 sq.; in Poitou, 190 sq.; in the departments of Vienne and Deux-Sevres and in the provinces of Saintonge and Aunis, 191 sq.; in Southern France, 192 sq.; Midsummer festival of fire and water in Provence, 193 sq.; Midsummer fires in Belgium, 194-196; in England, 196-200; Stow's description of the Midsummer fires in London, 196 sq.; John Aubrey on the Midsummer fires, 197; Midsummer fires in Cumberland, Northumberland, and Yorkshire, 197 sq.; in Herefordshire, Somersetshire, Devonshire, and Cornwall, 199 sq.; in Wales and the Isle of Man, 200 sq.; in Ireland, 201-205; holy wells resorted to on Midsummer Eve in Ireland, 205 sq.; Midsummer fires in Scotland, 206 sq.; Midsummer fires and divination in Spain and the Azores, 208 sq.; Midsummer fires in Corsica and Sardinia, 209; in the Abruzzi, 209 sq.; in Sicily, 210; in Malta, 210 sq.; in Greece and the Greek islands, 211 sq.; in Macedonia and Albania, 212; in South America, 212 sq.; among the Mohammedans of Morocco and Algeria, 213-216; the Midsummer festival in North Africa comprises rites of water as well as fire, 216; similar festival of fire and water at New Year in North Africa, 217 sq.; the duplication of the festival probably due to a conflict between the solar calendar of the Romans and the lunar calendar of the Arabs, 218 sg.; the Midsummer festival in Morocco apparently of Berber origin, 219.

Sec. 5. The Autumn Fires, pp. 220-222.—Festivals of fire in August, 220; "living fire" made by the friction of wood, 220; feast of the Nativity of the Virgin on the eighth of September at Capri and Naples, 220-222.

Sec. 6. The Halloween Fires, pp. 222-246.—While the Midsummer festival implies observation of the solstices, the Celts appear to have divided their year, without regard to the solstices, by the times when they drove their cattle to and from the summer pasture on the first of May and the last of October (Hallowe'en), 222-224; the two great Celtic festivals of Beltane (May Day) and Hallowe'en (the last of October), 224; Hallowe'en seems to have marked the beginning of the Celtic year, 224 sq.; it was a season of divination and a festival of the dead, 225 sq.; fairies and hobgoblins let loose at Hallowe'en, 226-228; divination in Celtic countries at Hallowe'en, 228 sq.; Hallowe'en bonfires in the Highlands of Scotland, 229-232; Hallowe'en fires in Buchan to burn the witches, 232 sq.; processions with torches at Hallowe'en in the Braemar Highlands, 233 sq.; divination at Hallowe'en in the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland, 234-239; Hallowe'en fires in Wales, omens drawn from stones cast into the fires, 239 sq.; divination at Hallowe'en in Wales, 240 sq.; divination at Hallowe'en in Ireland, 241-243; Hallowe'en fires and divination in the Isle of Man, 243 sq.; Hallowe'en fires and divination in Lancashire, 244 sq.; marching with lighted candles to keep off the witches, 245; divination at Hallowe'en in Northumberland, 245; Hallowe'en fires in France, 245 sq.

Sec. 7. The Midwinter Fires, pp. 246-269.—Christmas the continuation of an old heathen festival of the sun, 246; the Yule log the Midwinter counterpart of the Midsummer bonfire, 247; the Yule log in Germany, 247-249; in Switzerland, 249; in Belgium, 249; in France, 249-255; French superstitions as to the Yule log, 250; the Yule log at Marseilles and in Perigord, 250 sq.; in Berry, 251 sq.; in Normandy and Brittany, 252 sq.; in the Ardennes, 253 sq.; in the Vosges, 254; in Franche-Comte, 254 sq.; the Yule log and Yule candle in England, 255-258; the Yule log in the north of England and Yorkshire, 256 sq.; in Lincolnshire, Warwickshire, Shropshire, and Herefordshire, 257 sq.; in Wales, 258; in Servia, 258-262; among the Servians of Slavonia, 262 sq.; among the Servians of Dalmatia, Herzegovina, and Montenegro, 263 sq.; in Albania, 264; belief that the Yule log protects against fire and lightning, 264 sq.; public fire-festivals at Midwinter, 265-269; Christmas bonfire at Schweina in Thuringia, 265 sq.; Christmas bonfires in Normandy, 266; bonfires on St. Thomas's Day in the Isle of Man, 266; the "Burning of the Clavie" at Burghead on the last day of December, 266-268; Christmas procession with burning tar-barrels at Lerwick, 268 sq.

Sec. 8. The Need-fire, pp. 269-300.—Need-fire kindled not at fixed periods but on occasions of distress and calamity, 269; the need-fire in the Middle Ages and down to the end of the sixteenth century, 270 sq.; mode of kindling the need-fire by the friction of wood, 271 sq.; the need-fire in Central Germany, particularly about Hildesheim, 272 sq.; the need-fire in the Mark, 273; in Mecklenburg, 274 sq.; in Hanover, 275 sq.; in the Harz Mountains, 276 sq.; in Brunswick, 277 sq.; in Silesia and Bohemia, 278 sq.; in Switzerland, 279 sq.; in Sweden and Norway, 280; among the Slavonic peoples, 281-286; in Russia and Poland, 281 sq.; in Slavonia, 282; in Servia, 282-284; in Bulgaria, 284-286; in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 286; in England, 286-289; in Yorkshire, 286-288; in Northumberland, 288 sq.; in Scotland, 289-297; Martin's account of it in the Highlands, 289; the need-fire in Mull, 289 sq.; in Caithness, 290-292; W. Grant Stewart's account of the need-fire, 292 sq.; Alexander Carmichael's account, 293-295; the need-fire in Aberdeenshire, 296; in Perthshire, 296 sq.; in Ireland, 297; the use of need-fire a relic of the time when all fires were similarly kindled by the friction of wood, 297 sq.; the belief that need-fire cannot kindle if any other fire remains alight in the neighbourhood, 298 sq.; the need-fire among the Iroquois of North America, 299 sq.

Sec. 9. The Sacrifice of an Animal to stay a Cattle-plague, pp. 300-327.—The burnt sacrifice of a calf in England and Wales, 300 sq.; burnt sacrifices of animals in Scotland, 301 sq.; calf burnt in order to break a spell which has been cast on the herd, 302 sq.; mode in which the burning of a bewitched animal is supposed to break the spell, 303-305; in burning the bewitched animal you burn the witch herself, 305; practice of burning cattle and sheep as sacrifices in the Isle of Man, 305-307; by burning a bewitched animal you compel the witch to appear, 307; magic sympathy between the witch and the bewitched animal, 308; similar sympathy between a were-wolf and his or her human shape, wounds inflicted on the animal are felt by the man or woman, 308; were-wolves in Europe, 308-310; in China, 310 sq.; among the Toradjas of Central Celebes, 311-313 sq.; in the Egyptian Sudan, 313 sq.; the were-wolf story in Petronius, 313 sq.; witches like were-wolves can temporarily transform themselves into animals, and wounds inflicted on the transformed animals appear on the persons of the witches, 315 sq.; instances of such transformations and wounds in Scotland, England, Ireland, France, and Germany, 316-321; hence the reason for burning bewitched animals is either to burn the witch herself or at all events to compel her to appear, 321 sq.; the like reason for burning bewitched things, 322 sq.; similarly by burning alive a person whose likeness a witch has assumed you compel the witch to disclose herself, 323; woman burnt alive as a witch in Ireland at the end of the nineteenth century, 323 sq.; bewitched animals sometimes buried alive instead of being burned, 324-326; calves killed and buried to save the rest of the herd, 326 sq.


Sec. 1. On the Fire-festivals in general pp. 328-331.—General resemblance of the fire-festivals to each other, 328 sq.; two explanations of the festivals suggested, one by W. Mannhardt that they are sun-charms, the other by Dr. E. Westermarck that they are purificatory, 329 sq.; the two explanations perhaps not mutually exclusive, 330 sq.

Sec. 2. The Solar Theory of the Fire-festivals, pp. 331-341.—Theory that the fire-festivals are charms to ensure a supply of sunshine, 331; coincidence of two of the festivals with the solstices, 331 sq.; attempt of the Bushmen to warm up the fire of Sirius in midwinter by kindling sticks, 332 sq.; the burning wheels and discs of the fire-festivals may be direct imitations of the sun, 334; the wheel which is sometimes used to kindle the fire by friction may also be an imitation of the sun, 334-336; the influence which the bonfires are supposed to exert on the weather and vegetation may be thought to be due to an increase of solar heat produced by the fires, 336-338; the effect which the bonfires are supposed to have in fertilizing cattle and women may also be attributed to an increase of solar heat produced by the fires, 338 sq.; the carrying of lighted torches about the country at the festivals may be explained as an attempt to diffuse the sun's heat, 339-341.

Sec. 3. The Purificatory Theory of the Fire-festivals, pp. 341-346.—Theory that the fires at the festivals are purificatory, being intended to burn up all harmful things, 341; the purificatory or destructive effect of the fires is often alleged by the people who light them, and there is no reason to reject this explanation, 341 sq.; the great evil against which the fire at the festivals appears to be directed is witchcraft, 342; among the evils for which the fire-festivals are deemed remedies the foremost is cattle-disease, and cattle-disease is often supposed to be an effect of witchcraft, 343 sq.; again, the bonfires are thought to avert hail, thunder, lightning, and various maladies, all of which are attributed to the maleficent arts of witches, 344 sq.; the burning wheels rolled down hill and the burning discs thrown into the air may be intended to burn the invisible witches, 345 sq.; on this view the fertility supposed to follow the use of fire results indirectly from breaking the spells of witches, 346; on the whole the theory of the purificatory or destructive intention of the fire-festivals seems the more probable, 346.

[Transcriber's Note: The brief descriptions often found enclosed in square brackets are "sidenotes", which appeared in the original book in the margins of the paragraph following the "sidenote." Footnotes were originally at the bottoms of the printed pages.]



Sec. 1. Not to touch the Earth

[The priest of Aricia and the Golden Bough]

We have travelled far since we turned our backs on Nemi and set forth in quest of the secret of the Golden Bough. With the present volume we enter on the last stage of our long journey. The reader who has had the patience to follow the enquiry thus far may remember that at the outset two questions were proposed for answer: Why had the priest of Aricia to slay his predecessor? And why, before doing so, had he to pluck the Golden Bough?[1] Of these two questions the first has now been answered. The priest of Aricia, if I am right, was one of those sacred kings or human divinities on whose life the welfare of the community and even the course of nature in general are believed to be intimately dependent. It does not appear that the subjects or worshippers of such a spiritual potentate form to themselves any very clear notion of the exact relationship in which they stand to him; probably their ideas on the point are vague and fluctuating, and we should err if we attempted to define the relationship with logical precision. All that the people know, or rather imagine, is that somehow they themselves, their cattle, and their crops are mysteriously bound up with their divine king, so that according as he is well or ill the community is healthy or sickly, the flocks and herds thrive or languish with disease, and the fields yield an abundant or a scanty harvest. The worst evil which they can conceive of is the natural death of their ruler, whether he succumb to sickness or old age, for in the opinion of his followers such a death would entail the most disastrous consequences on themselves and their possessions; fatal epidemics would sweep away man and beast, the earth would refuse her increase, nay the very frame of nature itself might be dissolved. To guard against these catastrophes it is necessary to put the king to death while he is still in the full bloom of his divine manhood, in order that his sacred life, transmitted in unabated force to his successor, may renew its youth, and thus by successive transmissions through a perpetual line of vigorous incarnations may remain eternally fresh and young, a pledge and security that men and animals shall in like manner renew their youth by a perpetual succession of generations, and that seedtime and harvest, and summer and winter, and rain and sunshine shall never fail. That, if my conjecture is right, was why the priest of Aricia, the King of the Wood at Nemi, had regularly to perish by the sword of his successor.

[What was the Golden Bough?]

But we have still to ask, What was the Golden Bough? and why had each candidate for the Arician priesthood to pluck it before he could slay the priest? These questions I will now try to answer.

[Sacred kings and priests forbidden to touch the ground with their feet.]

It will be well to begin by noticing two of those rules or taboos by which, as we have seen, the life of divine kings or priests is regulated. The first of the rules to which I desire to call the reader's attention is that the divine personage may not touch the ground with his foot. This rule was observed by the supreme pontiff of the Zapotecs in Mexico; he profaned his sanctity if he so much as touched the ground with his foot.[2] Montezuma, emperor of Mexico, never set foot on the ground; he was always carried on the shoulders of noblemen, and if he lighted anywhere they laid rich tapestry for him to walk upon.[3] For the Mikado of Japan to touch the ground with his foot was a shameful degradation; indeed, in the sixteenth century, it was enough to deprive him of his office. Outside his palace he was carried on men's shoulders; within it he walked on exquisitely wrought mats.[4] The king and queen of Tahiti might not touch the ground anywhere but within their hereditary domains; for the ground on which they trod became sacred. In travelling from place to place they were carried on the shoulders of sacred men. They were always accompanied by several pairs of these sanctified attendants; and when it became necessary to change their bearers, the king and queen vaulted on to the shoulders of their new bearers without letting their feet touch the ground.[5] It was an evil omen if the king of Dosuma touched the ground, and he had to perform an expiatory ceremony.[6] Within his palace the king of Persia walked on carpets on which no one else might tread; outside of it he was never seen on foot but only in a chariot or on horseback.[7] In old days the king of Siam never set foot upon the earth, but was carried on a throne of gold from place to place.[8] Formerly neither the kings of Uganda, nor their mothers, nor their queens might walk on foot outside of the spacious enclosures in which they lived. Whenever they went forth they were carried on the shoulders of men of the Buffalo clan, several of whom accompanied any of these royal personages on a journey and took it in turn to bear the burden. The king sat astride the bearer's neck with a leg over each shoulder and his feet tucked under the bearer's arms. When one of these royal carriers grew tired he shot the king on to the shoulders of a second man without allowing the royal feet to touch the ground. In this way they went at a great pace and travelled long distances in a day, when the king was on a journey. The bearers had a special hut in the king's enclosure in order to be at hand the moment they were wanted.[9] Among the Bakuba or rather Bushongo, a nation in the southern region of the Congo, down to a few years ago persons of the royal blood were forbidden to touch the ground; they must sit on a hide, a chair, or the back of a slave, who crouched on hands and feet; their feet rested on the feet of others. When they travelled they were carried on the backs of men; but the king journeyed in a litter supported on shafts.[10] Among the Ibo people about Awka, in Southern Nigeria, the priest of the Earth has to observe many taboos; for example, he may not see a corpse, and if he meets one on the road he must hide his eyes with his wristlet. He must abstain from many foods, such as eggs, birds of all sorts, mutton, dog, bush-buck, and so forth. He may neither wear nor touch a mask, and no masked man may enter his house. If a dog enters his house, it is killed and thrown out. As priest of the Earth he may not sit on the bare ground, nor eat things that have fallen on the ground, nor may earth be thrown at him.[11] According to ancient Brahmanic ritual a king at his inauguration trod on a tiger's skin and a golden plate; he was shod with shoes of boar's skin, and so long as he lived thereafter he might not stand on the earth with his bare feet.[12]

[Certain persons on certain occasions forbidden to touch the ground with their feet.]

But besides persons who are permanently sacred or tabooed and are therefore permanently forbidden to touch the ground with their feet, there are others who enjoy the character of sanctity or taboo only on certain occasions, and to whom accordingly the prohibition in question only applies at the definite seasons during which they exhale the odour of sanctity. Thus among the Kayans or Bahaus of Central Borneo, while the priestesses are engaged in the performance of certain rites they may not step on the ground, and boards are laid for them to tread on.[13] At a funeral ceremony observed by night among the Michemis, a Tibetan tribe near the northern frontier of Assam, a priest fantastically bedecked with tiger's teeth, many-coloured plumes, bells, and shells, executed a wild dance for the purpose of exorcising the evil spirits; then all fires were extinguished and a new light was struck by a man suspended by his feet from a beam in the ceiling; "he did not touch the ground," we are told, "in order to indicate that the light came from heaven."[14] Again, newly born infants are strongly tabooed; accordingly in Loango they are not allowed to touch the earth.[15] Among the Iluvans of Malabar the bridegroom on his wedding-day is bathed by seven young men and then carried or walks on planks from the bathing-place to the marriage booth; he may not touch the ground with his feet.[16] With the Dyaks of Landak and Tajan, two districts of Dutch Borneo, it is a custom that for a certain time after marriage neither bride nor bridegroom may tread on the earth.[17] Warriors, again, on the war-path are surrounded, so to say, by an atmosphere of taboo; hence some Indians of North America might not sit on the bare ground the whole time they were out on a warlike expedition.[18] In Laos the hunting of elephants gives rise to many taboos; one of them is that the chief hunter may not touch the earth with his foot. Accordingly, when he alights from his elephant, the others spread a carpet of leaves for him to step upon.[19] German wiseacres recommended that when witches were led to the block or the stake, they should not be allowed to touch the bare earth, and a reason suggested for the rule was that if they touched the earth they might make themselves invisible and so escape. The sagacious author of The Striped-petticoat Philosophy in the eighteenth century ridicules the idea as mere silly talk. He admits, indeed, that the women were conveyed to the place of execution in carts; but he denies that there is any deep significance in the cart, and he is prepared to maintain this view by a chemical analysis of the timber of which the cart was built. To clinch his argument he appeals to plain matter of fact and his own personal experience. Not a single instance, he assures us with apparent satisfaction, can be produced of a witch who escaped the axe or the fire in this fashion. "I have myself," says he, "in my youth seen divers witches burned, some at Arnstadt, some at Ilmenau, some at Schwenda, a noble village between Arnstadt and Ilmenau, and some of them were pardoned and beheaded before being burned. They were laid on the earth in the place of execution and beheaded like any other poor sinner; whereas if they could have escaped by touching the earth, not one of them would have failed to do so."[20]

[Sacred or tabooed persons apparently thought to be charged with a mysterious virtue like a fluid, which will run to waste or explode if it touches the ground.]

Apparently holiness, magical virtue, taboo, or whatever we may call that mysterious quality which is supposed to pervade sacred or tabooed persons, is conceived by the primitive philosopher as a physical substance or fluid, with which the sacred man is charged just as a Leyden jar is charged with electricity; and exactly as the electricity in the jar can be discharged by contact with a good conductor, so the holiness or magical virtue in the man can be discharged and drained away by contact with the earth, which on this theory serves as an excellent conductor for the magical fluid. Hence in order to preserve the charge from running to waste, the sacred or tabooed personage must be carefully prevented from touching the ground; in electrical language he must be insulated, if he is not to be emptied of the precious substance or fluid with which he, as a vial, is filled to the brim. And in many cases apparently the insulation of the tabooed person is recommended as a precaution not merely for his own sake but for the sake of others; for since the virtue of holiness or taboo is, so to say, a powerful explosive which the smallest touch may detonate, it is necessary in the interest of the general safety to keep it within narrow bounds, lest breaking out it should blast, blight, and destroy whatever it comes into contact with.

[Things as well as persons can be charged with the mysterious quality of holiness or taboo; and when so charged they must be kept from contact with the ground.]

But things as well as persons are often charged with the mysterious quality of holiness or taboo; hence it frequently becomes necessary for similar reasons to guard them also from coming into contact with the ground, lest they should in like manner be drained of their valuable properties and be reduced to mere commonplace material objects, empty husks from which the good grain has been eliminated. Thus, for example, the most sacred object of the Arunta tribe in Central Australia is, or rather used to be, a pole about twenty feet high, which is completely smeared with human blood, crowned with an imitation of a human head, and set up on the ground where the final initiatory ceremonies of young men are performed. A young gum-tree is chosen to form the pole, and it must be cut down and transported in such a way that it does not touch the earth till it is erected in its place on the holy ground. Apparently the pole represents some famous ancestor of the olden time.[21]

[Festival of the wild manog tree in British New Guinea.]

Again, at a great dancing festival celebrated by the natives of Bartle Bay, in British New Guinea, a wild mango tree plays a prominent part. The tree must be self-sown, that is, really wild and so young that it has never flowered. It is chosen in the jungle some five or six weeks before the festival, and a circle is cleared round its trunk. From that time the master of the ceremonies and some eight to twenty other men, who have aided him in choosing the tree and in clearing the jungle, become strictly holy or tabooed. They sleep by themselves in a house into which no one else may intrude: they may not wash or drink water, nor even allow it accidentally to touch their bodies: they are forbidden to eat boiled food and the fruit of mango trees: they may drink only the milk of a young coco-nut which has been baked, and they may eat certain fruits and vegetables, such as paw-paws (Carica papaya) and sugar-cane, but only on condition that they have been baked. All refuse of their food is kept in baskets in their sleeping-house and may not be removed from it till the festival is over. At the time when the men begin to observe these rules of abstinence, some six to ten women, members of the same clan as the master of the ceremonies, enter on a like period of mortification, avoiding the company of the other sex, and refraining from water, all boiled food, and the fruit of the mango tree. These fasting men and women are the principal dancers at the festival. The dancing takes place on a special platform in a temporary village which has been erected for the purpose. When the platform is about to be set up, the fasting men rub the stepping posts and then suck their hands for the purpose of extracting the ghost of any dead man that might chance to be in the post and might be injured by the weight of the platform pressing down on him. Having carefully extracted these poor souls, the men carry them away tenderly and set them free in the forest or the long grass.

[The wild mango tree not allowed to touch the ground.]

On the day before the festival one of the fasting men cuts down the chosen mango tree in the jungle with a stone adze, which is never afterwards put to any other use; an iron tool may not be used for the purpose, though iron tools are now common enough in the district. In cutting down the mango they place nets on the ground to catch any leaves or twigs that might fall from the tree as it is being felled and they surround the trunk with new mats to receive the chips which fly out under the adze of the woodman; for the chips may not drop on the earth. Once the tree is down, it is carried to the centre of the temporary village, the greatest care being taken to prevent it from coming into contact with the ground. But when it is brought into the village, the houses are connected with the top of the mango by means of long vines decorated with the streamers. In the afternoon the fasting men and women begin to dance, the men bedizened with gay feathers, armlets, streamers, and anklets, the women flaunting in parti-coloured petticoats and sprigs of croton leaves, which wave from their waistbands as they dance. The dancing stops at sundown, and when the full moon rises over the shoulder of the eastern hill (for the date of the festival seems to be determined with reference to the time of the moon), two chiefs mount the gables of two houses on the eastern side of the square, and, their dusky figures standing sharply out against the moonlight, pray to the evil spirits to go away and not to hurt the people. Next morning pigs are killed by being speared as slowly as possible in order that they may squeal loud and long; for the people believe that the mango trees hear the squealing, and are pleased at the sound, and bear plenty of fruit, whereas if they heard no squeals they would bear no fruit. However, the trees have to content themselves with the squeals; the flesh of the pigs is eaten by the people. This ends the festival.

[Final disposition of the wild mango tree.]

Next day the mango is taken down from the platform, wrapt in new mats, and carried by the fasting men to their sleeping house, where it is hung from the roof. But after an interval, it may be of many months, the tree is brought forth again. As to the reason for its reappearance in public opinions are divided; but some say that the tree itself orders the master of the ceremonies to bring it forth, appearing to him in his dreams and saying, "Let me smell the smoking fat of pigs. So will your pigs be healthy and your crops will grow." Be that as it may, out it comes, conducted by the fasting men in their dancing costume; and with it come in the solemn procession all the pots, spoons, cups and so forth used by the fasting men during their period of holiness or taboo, also all the refuse of their food which has been collected for months, and all the fallen leaves and chips of the mango in their bundles of mats. These holy relics are carried in front and the mango tree itself brings up the rear of the procession. While these sacred objects are being handed out of the house, the men who are present rush up, wipe off the hallowed dust which has accumulated on them, and smear it over their own bodies, no doubt in order to steep themselves in their blessed influence. Thus the tree is carried as before to the centre of the temporary village, care being again taken not to let it touch the ground. Then one of the fasting men takes from a basket a number of young green mangoes, cuts them in pieces, and places them with his own hands in the mouths of his fellows, the other fasting men, who chew the pieces small and turning round spit the morsels in the direction of the setting sun, in order that "the sun should carry the mango bits over the whole country and everyone should know." A portion of the mango tree is then broken off and in the evening it is burnt along with the bundles of leaves, chips, and refuse of food, which have been stored up. What remains of the tree is taken to the house of the master of the ceremonies and hung over the fire-place; it will be brought out again at intervals and burned bit by bit, till all is consumed, whereupon a new mango will be cut down and treated in like manner. The ashes of the holy fire on each occasion are gathered by the people and preserved in the house of the master of the ceremonies.[22]

[The ceremony apparently intended to fertilize the mango trees.]

The meaning of these ceremonies is not explained by the authorities who describe them; but we may conjecture that they are intended to fertilize the mango trees and cause them to bear a good crop of fruit. The central feature of the whole ritual is a wild mango tree, so young that it has never flowered: the men who cut it down, carry it into the village, and dance at the festival, are forbidden to eat mangoes: pigs are killed in order that their dying squeals may move the mango trees to bear fruit: at the end of the ceremonies pieces of young green mangoes are solemnly placed in the mouths of the fasting men and are by them spurted out towards the setting sun in order that the luminary may carry the fragments to every part of the country; and finally when after a longer or shorter interval the tree is wholly consumed, its place is supplied by another. All these circumstances are explained simply and naturally by the supposition that the young mango tree is taken as a representative of mangoes generally, that the dances are intended to quicken it, and that it is preserved, like a May-pole of old in England, as a sort of general fund of vegetable life, till the fund being exhausted by the destruction of the tree it is renewed by the importation of a fresh young tree from the forest. We can therefore understand why, as a storehouse of vital energy, the tree should be carefully kept from contact with the ground, lest the pent-up and concentrated energy should escape and dribbling away into the earth be dissipated to no purpose.

[Sacred objects of various sorts not allowed to touch the ground.]

To take other instances of what we may call the conservation of energy in magic or religion by insulating sacred bodies from the ground, the natives of New Britain have a secret society called the Duk-duk, the members of which masquerade in petticoats of leaves and tall headdresses of wickerwork shaped like candle extinguishers, which descend to the shoulders of the wearers, completely concealing their faces. Thus disguised they dance about to the awe and terror, real or assumed, of the women and uninitiated, who take, or pretend to take, them for spirits. When lads are being initiated into the secrets of this august society, the adepts cut down some very large and heavy bamboos, one for each lad, and the novices carry them, carefully wrapt up in leaves, to the sacred ground, where they arrive very tired and weary, for they may not let the bamboos touch the ground nor the sun shine on them. Outside the fence of the enclosure every lad deposits his bamboo on a couple of forked sticks and covers it up with nut leaves.[23] Among the Carrier Indians of North-Western America, who burned their dead, the ashes of a chief used to be placed in a box and set on the top of a pole beside his hut: the box was never allowed to touch the ground.[24] In the Omaha tribe of North American Indians the sacred clam shell of the Elk clan was wrapt up from sight in a mat, placed on a stand, and never suffered to come in contact with the earth.[25] The Cherokees and kindred Indian tribes of the United States used to have certain sacred boxes or arks, which they regularly took with them to war. Such a holy ark consisted of a square wooden box, which contained "certain consecrated vessels made by beloved superannuated women, and of such various antiquated forms, as would have puzzled Adam to have given significant names to each." The leader of a war party and his attendant bore the ark by turns, but they never set it on the ground nor would they themselves sit on the bare earth while they were carrying it against the enemy. Where stones were plentiful they rested the ark on them; but where no stones were to be found, they deposited it on short logs. "The Indian ark is deemed so sacred and dangerous to be touched, either by their own sanctified warriors, or the spoiling enemy, that they durst not touch it upon any account. It is not to be meddled with by any, except the war chieftain and his waiter, under the penalty of incurring great evil. Nor would the most inveterate enemy touch it in the woods, for the very same reason." After their return home they used to hang the ark on the leader's red-painted war pole.[26] At Sipi, near Simla, in Northern India, an annual fair is held, at which men purchase wives. A square box with a domed top figures prominently at the fair. It is fixed on two poles to be carried on men's shoulders, and long heavily-plaited petticoats hang from it nearly to the ground. Three sides of the box are adorned with the head and shoulders of a female figure and the fourth side with a black yak's tail. Four men bear the poles, each carrying an axe in his right hand. They dance round, with a swinging rhythmical step, to the music of drums and a pipe. The dance goes on for hours and is thought to avert ill-luck from the fair. It is said that the box is brought to Simla from a place sixty miles off by relays of men, who may not stop nor set the box on the ground the whole way.[27] In Scotland, when water was carried from sacred wells to sick people, the water-vessel might not touch the earth.[28] In some parts of Aberdeenshire the last bunch of standing corn, which is commonly viewed as very sacred, being the last refuge of the corn-spirit retreating before the reapers, is not suffered to touch the ground; the master or "gueedman" sits down and receives each handful of corn as it is cut on his lap.[29]

[Sacred food not allowed to touch the earth.]

Again, sacred food may not under certain circumstances be brought into contact with the earth. Some of the aborigines of Victoria used to regard the fat of the emu as sacred, believing that it had once been the fat of the black man. In taking it from the bird or giving it to another they handled it reverently. Any one who threw away the fat or flesh of the emu was held accursed. "The late Mr. Thomas observed on one occasion, at Nerre-nerre-Warreen, a remarkable exhibition of the effects of this superstition. An aboriginal child—one attending the school—having eaten some part of the flesh of an emu, threw away the skin. The skin fell to the ground, and this being observed by his parents, they showed by their gestures every token of horror. They looked upon their child as one utterly lost. His desecration of the bird was regarded as a sin for which there was no atonement."[30] The Roumanians of Transylvania believe that "every fresh-baked loaf of wheaten bread is sacred, and should a piece inadvertently fall to the ground, it is hastily picked up, carefully wiped and kissed, and if soiled, thrown into the fire—partly as an offering to the dead, and partly because it were a heavy sin to throw away or tread upon any particle of it."[31] At certain festivals in south-eastern Borneo the food which is consumed in the common house may not touch the ground; hence, a little before the festivals take place, foot-bridges made of thin poles are constructed from the private dwellings to the common house.[32] When Hall was living with the Esquimaux and grew tired of eating walrus, one of the women brought the head and neck of a reindeer for him to eat. This venison had to be completely wrapt up before it was brought into the house, and once in the house it could only be placed on the platform which served as a bed. "To have placed it on the floor or on the platform behind the fire-lamp, among the walrus, musk-ox, and polar-bear meat which occupy a goodly portion of both of these places, would have horrified the whole town, as, according to the actual belief of the Innuits, not another walrus could be secured this year, and there would ever be trouble in catching any more."[33] But in this case the real scruple appears to have been felt not so much at placing the venison on the ground as at bringing it into contact with walrus meat.[34]

[Magical implements and remedies thought to lose their virtue by contact with the ground.]

Sometimes magical implements and remedies are supposed to lose their virtue by contact with the ground, the volatile essence with which they are impregnated being no doubt drained off into the earth. Thus in the Boulia district of Queensland the magical bone, which the native sorcerer points at his victim as a means of killing him, is never by any chance allowed to touch the earth.[35] The wives of rajahs in Macassar, a district of southern Celebes, pride themselves on their luxuriant tresses and are at great pains to oil and preserve them. Should the hair begin to grow thin, the lady resorts to many devices to stay the ravages of time; among other things she applies to her locks a fat extracted from crocodiles and venomous snakes. The unguent is believed to be very efficacious, but during its application the woman's feet may not come into contact with the ground, or all the benefit of the nostrum would be lost.[36] Some people in antiquity believed that a woman in hard labour would be delivered if a spear, which had been wrenched from a man's body without touching the ground, were thrown over the house where the sufferer lay. Again, according to certain ancient writers, arrows which had been extracted from a body without coming into contact with the earth and laid under sleepers, acted as a love-charm.[37] Among the peasantry of the north-east of Scotland the prehistoric weapons called celts went by the name of "thunderbolts" and were coveted as the sure bringers of success, always provided that they were not allowed to fall to the ground.[38]

[Serpents eggs or Snake Stones.]

In ancient Gaul certain glass or paste beads attained great celebrity as amulets under the name of serpents' eggs; it was believed that serpents, coiling together in a wriggling, writhing mass, generated them from their slaver and shot them into the air from their hissing jaws. If a man was bold and dexterous enough to catch one of these eggs in his cloak before it touched the ground, he rode off on horseback with it at full speed, pursued by the whole pack of serpents, till he was saved by the interposition of a river, which the snakes could not pass. The proof of the egg being genuine was that if it were thrown into a stream it would float up against the current, even though it were hooped in gold. The Druids held these beads in high esteem; according to them, the precious objects could only be obtained on a certain day of the moon, and the peculiar virtue that resided in them was to secure success in law suits and free access to kings. Pliny knew of a Gaulish knight who was executed by the emperor Claudius for wearing one of these amulets.[39] Under the name of Snake Stones (glain neidr) or Adder Stones the beads are still known in those parts of our own country where the Celtic population has lingered, with its immemorial superstitions, down to the present or recent times; and the old story of the origin of the beads from the slaver of serpents was believed by the modern peasantry of Cornwall, Wales, and Scotland as by the Druids of ancient Gaul. In Cornwall the time when the serpents united to fashion the beads was commonly said to be at or about Midsummer Eve; in Wales it was usually thought to be spring, especially the Eve of May Day, and even within recent years persons in the Principality have affirmed that they witnessed the great vernal congress of the snakes and saw the magic stone in the midst of the froth. The Welsh peasants believe the beads to possess medicinal virtues of many sorts and to be particularly efficacious for all maladies of the eyes. In Wales and Ireland the beads sometimes went by the name of the Magician's or Druid's Glass (Gleini na Droedh and Glaine nan Druidhe). Specimens of them may be seen in museums; some have been found in British barrows. They are of glass of various colours, green, blue, pink, red, brown, and so forth, some plain and some ribbed. Some are streaked with brilliant hues. The beads are perforated, and in the Highlands of Scotland the hole is explained by saying that when the bead has just been conflated by the serpents jointly, one of the reptiles sticks his tail through the still viscous glass. An Englishman who visited Scotland in 1699 found many of these beads in use throughout the country. They were hung from children's necks to protect them from whooping cough and other ailments. Snake Stones were, moreover, a charm to ensure prosperity in general and to repel evil spirits. When one of these priceless treasures was not on active service, the owner kept it in an iron box to guard it against fairies, who, as is well known, cannot abide iron.[40]

[Medicinal plants, water, are not allowed to touch the earth.]

Pliny mentions several medicinal plants, which, if they were to retain their healing virtue, ought not to be allowed to touch the earth.[41] The curious medical treatise of Marcellus, a native of Bordeaux in the fourth century of our era, abounds with prescriptions of this sort; and we can well believe the writer when he assures us that he borrowed many of his quaint remedies from the lips of common folk and peasants rather than from the books of the learned.[42] Thus he tells us that certain white stones found in the stomachs of young swallows assuage the most persistent headache, always provided that their virtue be not impaired by contact with the ground.[43] Another of his cures for the same malady is a wreath of fleabane placed on the head, but it must not touch the earth.[44] On the same condition a decoction of the root of elecampane in wine kills worms; a fern, found growing on a tree, relieves the stomach-ache; and the pastern-bone of a hare is an infallible remedy for colic, provided, first, it be found in the dung of a wolf, second, that it docs not touch the ground, and, third, that it is not touched by a woman.[45] Another cure for colic is effected by certain hocus-pocus with a scrap of wool from the forehead of a first-born lamb, if only the lamb, instead of being allowed to fall to the ground, has been caught by hand as it dropped from its dam.[46] In Andjra, a district of Morocco, the people attribute many magical virtues to rain-water which has fallen on the twenty-seventh day of April, Old Style; accordingly they collect it and use it for a variety of purposes. Mixed with tar and sprinkled on the door-posts it prevents snakes and scorpions from entering the house: sprinkled on heaps of threshed corn it protects them from the evil eye: mixed with an egg, henna, and seeds of cress it is an invaluable medicine for sick cows: poured over a plate, on which a passage of the Koran has been written, it strengthens the memory of schoolboys who drink it; and if you mix it with cowdung and red earth and paint rings with the mixture round the trunks of your fig-trees at sunset on Midsummer Day, you may depend on it that the trees will bear an excellent crop and will not shed their fruit untimely on the ground. But in order to preserve these remarkable properties it is absolutely essential that the water should on no account be allowed to touch the ground; some say too that it should not be exposed to the sun nor breathed upon by anybody.[47] Again, the Moors ascribe great magical efficacy to what they call "the sultan of the oleander," which is a stalk of oleander with a cluster of four pairs of leaves springing from it. They think that the magical virtue is greatest if the stalk has been cut immediately before midsummer. But when the plant is brought into the house, the branches may not touch the ground, lest they should lose their marvellous qualities.[48] In the olden days, before a Lithuanian or Prussian farmer went forth to plough for the first time in spring, he called in a wizard to perform a certain ceremony for the good of the crops. The sage seized a mug of beer with his teeth, quaffed the liquor, and then tossed the mug over his head. This signified that the corn in that year should grow taller than a man. But the mug might not fall to the ground; it had to be caught by somebody stationed at the wizard's back, for if it fell to the ground the consequence naturally would be that the corn also would be laid low on the earth.[49]

Sec. 2. Not to see the Sun

[Sacred persons not allowed to see the sun.]

The second rule to be here noted is that the sun may not shine upon the divine person. This rule was observed both by the Mikado and by the pontiff of the Zapotecs. The latter "was looked upon as a god whom the earth was not worthy to hold, nor the sun to shine upon."[50] The Japanese would not allow that the Mikado should expose his sacred person to the open air, and the sun was not thought worthy to shine on his head.[51] The Indians of Granada, in South America, "kept those who were to be rulers or commanders, whether men or women, locked up for several years when they were children, some of them seven years, and this so close that they were not to see the sun, for if they should happen to see it they forfeited their lordship, eating certain sorts of food appointed; and those who were their keepers at certain times went into their retreat or prison and scourged them severely."[52] Thus, for example, the heir to the throne of Bogota, who was not the son but the sister's son of the king, had to undergo a rigorous training from his infancy: he lived in complete retirement in a temple, where he might not see the sun nor eat salt nor converse with a woman: he was surrounded by guards who observed his conduct and noted all his actions: if he broke a single one of the rules laid down for him, he was deemed infamous and forfeited all his rights to the throne.[53] So, too, the heir to the kingdom of Sogamoso, before succeeding to the crown, had to fast for seven years in the temple, being shut up in the dark and not allowed to see the sun or light.[54] The prince who was to become Inca of Peru had to fast for a month without seeing light.[55] On the day when a Brahman student of the Veda took a bath, to signify that the time of his studentship was at an end, he entered a cow-shed before sunrise, hung over the door a skin with the hair inside, and sat there; on that day the sun should not shine upon him.[56]

[Tabooed persons not allowed to see the sun; certain persons forbidden to see fire.]

Again, women after childbirth and their offspring are more or less tabooed all the world over; hence in Corea the rays of the sun are rigidly excluded from both mother and child for a period of twenty-one or a hundred days, according to their rank, after the birth has taken place.[57] Among some of the tribes on the north-west coast of New Guinea a woman may not leave the house for months after childbirth. When she does go out, she must cover her head with a hood or mat; for if the sun were to shine upon her, it is thought that one of her male relations would die.[58] Again, mourners are everywhere taboo; accordingly in mourning the Ainos of Japan wear peculiar caps in order that the sun may not shine upon their heads.[59] During a solemn fast of three days the Indians of Costa Rica eat no salt, speak as little as possible, light no fires, and stay strictly indoors, or if they go out during the day they carefully cover themselves from the light of the sun, believing that exposure to the sun's rays would turn them black.[60] On Yule Night it has been customary in parts of Sweden from time immemorial to go on pilgrimage, whereby people learn many secret things and know what is to happen in the coming year. As a preparation for this pilgrimage, "some secrete themselves for three days previously in a dark cellar, so as to be shut out altogether from the light of heaven. Others retire at an early hour of the preceding morning to some out-of-the-way place, such as a hay-loft, where they bury themselves in the hay, that they may neither see nor hear any living creature; and here they remain, in silence and fasting, until after sundown; whilst there are those who think it sufficient if they rigidly abstain from food on the day before commencing their wanderings. During this period of probation a man ought not to see fire, but should this have happened, he must strike a light with flint and steel, whereby the evil that would otherwise have ensued will be obviated."[61] During the sixteen days that a Pima Indian is undergoing purification for killing an Apache he may not see a blazing fire.[62]

[The story of Prince Sunless.]

Acarnanian peasants tell of a handsome prince called Sunless, who would die if he saw the sun. So he lived in an underground palace on the site of the ancient Oeniadae, but at night he came forth and crossed the river to visit a famous enchantress who dwelt in a castle on the further bank. She was loth to part with him every night long before the sun was up, and as he turned a deaf ear to all her entreaties to linger, she hit upon the device of cutting the throats of all the cocks in the neighbourhood. So the prince, whose ear had learned to expect the shrill clarion of the birds as the signal of the growing light, tarried too long, and hardly had he reached the ford when the sun rose over the Aetolian mountains, and its fatal beams fell on him before he could regain his dark abode.[63]


[1] The Magic Art and the Evolution of Kings, i. 44.

[2] H.H. Bancroft, Native Races of the Pacific States (London, 1875-1876), ii. 142; Brasseur de Bourbourg, Histoire des Nations civilisees du Mexique et de l'Amerique-Centrale (Paris, 1857-1859), iii. 29.

[3] Manuscrit Ramirez, Histoire de l'origine des Indiens, publie par D. Charnay (Paris, 1903), p. 108; J. de Acosta, The Natural and Moral History of the Indies, bk. vii. chap. 22, vol. ii. p. 505 of E. Grimston's translation, edited by (Sir) Clements R. Markham (Hakluyt Society, London, 1880).

[4] Memorials of the Empire of Japon in the XVI. and XVII. Centuries, edited by T. Rundall (Hakluyt Society, London, 1850), pp. 14, 141; B. Varenius, Descriptio regni Japoniae et Siam (Cambridge, 1673), p. 11; Caron, "Account of Japan," in John Pinkerton's Voyages and Travels (London, 1808-1814), vii. 613; Kaempfer, "History of Japan," in id. vii. 716.

[5] W. Ellis, Polynesian Researches, Second Edition (London, 1832-1836), iii. 102 sq.; Captain James Wilson, Missionary Voyage to the Southern Pacific Ocean (London, 1799), p. 329.

[6] A. Bastian, Der Mensch in der Geschichte (Leipsic, 1860), iii. 81.

[7] Athenaeus, xii. 8, p. 514 c.

[8] The Voiages and Travels of John Struys (London, 1684), p. 30.

[9] Rev. J. Roscoe, "Further Notes on the Manners and Customs of the Baganda," Journal of the Anthropological Institute, xxxii. (1902) pp. 62, 67; id., The Baganda (London, 1911), pp. 154 sq. Compare L. Decle, Three Years in Savage Africa (London, 1898), p. 445 note: "Before horses had been introduced into Uganda the king and his mother never walked, but always went about perched astride the shoulders of a slave—a most ludicrous sight. In this way they often travelled hundreds of miles." The use both of horses and of chariots by royal personages may often have been intended to prevent their sacred feet from touching the ground.

[10] E. Torday et T.A. Joyce, Les Bushongo (Brussels, 1910), p. 61.

[11] Northcote W. Thomas, Anthropological Report on the Ibo-speaking Peoples of Nigeria (London, 1913), i. 57 sq.

[12] Satapatha Brahmana, translated by Julius Eggeling, Part iii. (Oxford, 1894) pp. 81, 91, 92, 102, 128 sq. (Sacred Books of the East, vol. xli.).

[13] A.W. Nieuwenhuis, Quer durch Borneo (Leyden, 1904-1907), i. 172.

[14] Letter of Missionary Krick, in Annales de la Propagation de la Foi, xxvi. (1854) pp. 86-88.

[15] Pechuel-Loesche, "Indiscretes aus Loango," Zeitschrift fuer Ethnologie, x. (1878) pp. 29 sq.

[16] Edgar Thurston, Ethnographic Notes in Southern India (Madras, 1906), p. 70.

[17] M.C. Schadee, "Het familieleven en familierecht der Dajaks van Landak en Tajan," Bijdragen tot de Taal-Land en Volkenkunde van Nederlandsch-Indie, lxiii. (1910) p. 433.

[18] James Adair, History of the American Indians (London, 1775), p. 382; Narrative of the Captivity and Adventures of John Tanner (London, 1830), p. 123. As to the taboos to which warriors are subject see Taboo and the Perils of the Soul, pp. 157 sqq.

[19] Etienne Aymonier, Notes sur le Laos (Saigon, 1885), p. 26.

[20] Die gestritgelte Rockenphilosophie*[5] (Chemnitz, 1759), pp. 586 sqq.

[21] Baldwin Spencer and F.J. Gillen, Native Tribes of Central Australia (London, 1899), pp. 364, 370 sqq., 629; id., Across Australia (London, 1912), ii. 280, 285 sq.

[22] C.G. Seligmann, M.D., The Melanesians of British New Guinea (Cambridge, 1910), pp. 589-599.

[23] George Brown, D.D., Melanesians and Polynesians (London, 1910), pp. 60 sq., 64. As to the Duk-duk society, see below, vol. ii. pp. 246 sq.

[24] John Keast Lord, The Naturalist in Vancouver Island and British Columbia (London, 1866), ii. 237.

[25] Edwin James, Account of an Expedition from Pittsburgh to the Rocky Mountains (London, 1823), ii. 47; Rev. J. Owen Dorsey, "Omaha Sociology," Third Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology (Washington, 1884), p. 226.

[26] James Adair, History of the American Indians (London, 1775), pp. 161-163.

[27] (Sir) Henry Babington Smith, in Folk-lore, v. (1894) p. 340.

[28] Miss C.F. Gordon Cumming, In the Hebrides (London, 1883), p. 211.

[29] W. Gregor, "Quelques coutumes du Nord-est du Comte d'Aberdeen," Revue des Traditions populaires, iii. (1888) p. 485 B. Compare Spirits of the Corn and of the Wild, i. 158 sq.

[30] R. Brough Smyth, Aborigines of Victoria (Melbourne and London, 1878), i. 450.

[31] E. Gerard, The Land beyond the Forest (Edinburgh and London, 1888), ii. 7.

[32] F. Grabowsky, "Der Distrikt Dusson Timor in Suedost-Borneo und seine Bewohner," Das Ausland, 1884, No. 24, p. 470.

[33] Narrative of the Second Arctic Expedition made by Charles F. Hall, edited by Prof. J.E. Nourse (Washington, 1879), pp. 110 sq.

[34] See Taboo and Perils of the Soul, pp. 207 sqq.

[35] Walter E. Roth, Ethnological Studies among the North-West-Central Queensland Aborigines (Brisbane and London, 1897), p. 156, Sec. 265. The custom of killing a man by pointing a bone or stick at him, while the sorcerer utters appropriate curses, is common among the tribes of Central Australia; but amongst them there seems to be no objection to place the bone or stick on the ground; on the contrary, an Arunta wizard inserts the bone or stick in the ground while he invokes death and destruction on his enemy. See Baldwin Spencer and F.J. Gillen, Native Tribes of Central Australia (London, 1899), pp. 534 sqq.; id., Northern Tribes of Central Australia (London, 1904), pp. 455 sqq.

[36] Hugh Low, Sarawak (London, 1848), pp. 145 sq.

[37] Pliny, Naturalis Historia xxviii. 33 sq.

[38] Rev. Walter Gregor, Notes on the Folk-lore of the North-East of Scotland (London, 1881), p. 184. As to the superstitions attaching to stone arrowheads and axeheads (celts), commonly known as "thunderbolts," in the British Islands, see W.W. Skeat, "Snakestones and Stone Thunderbolts," Folklore, xxiii. (1912) pp. 60 sqq.; and as to such superstitions in general, see Chr. Blinkenberg, The Thunderweapon in Religion and Folklore (Cambridge, 1911).

[39] Pliny, Naturalis Historia, xxix. 52-54.

[40] W. Borlase, Antiquities, Historical and Monumental, of the County of Cornwall (London, 1769), pp. 142 sq.; J. Brand, Popular Antiquities of Great Britain (London, 1882-1883), i. 322; J.G. Dalyell, Darker Superstitions of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1834), pp. 140 sq.; Daniel Wilson, The Archaeology and Prehistoric Annals of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1851), pp. 303 sqq.; Lieut.-Col. Forbes Leslie, The Early Races of Scotland and their Monuments (Edinburgh, 1866), i. 75 sqq.; J.G. Campbell, Witchcraft and Second Sight in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland (Glasgow, 1902), pp. 84-88; Marie Trevelyan, Folk-lore and Folk-stories of Wales (London, 1909), pp. 170 sq.; J.C. Davies, Folk-lore of West and Mid-Wales (Aberystwyth, 1911), p. 76. Compare W.W. Skeat, "Snakestones and Stone Thunderbolts," Folk-lore, xxiii. (1912) pp. 45 sqq. The superstition is described as follows by Edward Lhwyd in a letter quoted by W. Borlase (op. cit. p. 142): "In most parts of Wales, and throughout all Scotland, and in Cornwall, we find it a common opinion of the vulgar, that about Midsummer-Eve (though in the time they do not all agree) it is usual for snakes to meet in companies; and that, by joining heads together, and hissing, a kind of bubble is formed, which the rest, by continual hissing, blow on till it passes quite through the body, and then it immediately hardens, and resembles a glass-ring, which whoever finds (as some old women and children are persuaded) shall prosper in all his undertakings. The rings thus generated, are called Gleineu Nadroeth; in English, Snake-stones. They are small glass amulets, commonly about half as wide as our finger-rings, but much thicker, of a green colour usually, though sometimes blue, and waved with red and white."

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