A Book of Folklore/Chapter 3
A friend, a judge in Ceylon, had to sentence a Cingalese to be hung for murder. The man, when sentence had been pronounced, glared at him and said: "It is well, and shortly after I shall be a dog and will bite and tear you." The doctrine of the Hindu as to the spirit of man is that it passes at death into some other body, presumedly that of an animal. And that this was the belief of other Aryan peoples can hardly be doubted. The soul is immortal, imperishable, and it must have a body into which to enter. Till it finds such it hovers about uneasily.
Pythagoras and his followers taught that after death men's souls passed into other bodies, of this or that kind, according to the manner of life they had led. If they had been vicious, they were imprisoned in the bodies of vile brutes, there to do penance for several ages, at the expiration of which they returned again to animate men; but if they lived virtuously, some animal of a nobler kind, or even a human creature, was to be their lot.
What led Pythagoras to this opinion was the persuasion he had that the soul was of an imperishable nature; whence he concluded that it must remove into some other body upon its abandoning this. That he derived his doctrine from the Brahrnins cannot be doubted. It was a revolt against this belief in an eternal revolution of existence that led Buddha to start his scheme of escape from it by making an opening for the soul to free itself, by the destruction of passion, even of all desire, so that the soul might reach Nirvana, and be absorbed into the Godhead whence it had emanated.
A few instances will suffice to show that the transmigration of souls into animals was held in Europe as well as in India.
In Luxembourg lived a gentleman who had a daughter, his only child. An officer of the garrison loved her, but as the father disapproved of the match he sent the girl into a convent, the windows of which were on the town wall. The officer soon discovered where she was and succeeded in opening communication with her, and it was arranged between them that she was to let herself down from her window on the ensuing night at midnight. The officer arranged with the soldier who was to act sentinel that hour to lend his assistance. However, such a hurricane of rain came on that the commandant sent word round that the sentinels were to be changed every hour in place of every two hours. Thus it came to pass that a soldier was keeping guard under the wall who had not been initiated into the secret. At midnight, seeing something white descending, he shouted, "Who goes there?" and receiving no answer, fired and shot the girl. Since then every night a white rabbit is seen running along that portion of the fortification. It is the reincarnation of the girl.
At the beginning of the thirteenth century there lived a knight in the castle of Bierloz whose beautiful daughter was to be married to a young nobleman in the service of Duke Valeran of Luxembourg. The duke decided that the wedding should take place at Logne, where was his court. But when the damsel arrived there he himself fell in love with her, and on some excuse sent the young bridegroom-elect away, also the father, and his own duchess, and took the girl as his mistress, winning her heart by presents of jewellery and splendid clothes. The father died of grief, and the youth soon after fell. One night the girl had vanished and was sought for in vain. A day or two later a servant told his master that her corpse had been found at the entrance of a subterranean passage. The duke hurried to the spot. The body had vanished, but in its place appeared a goat charged with glittering trinkets, that eluded all attempts to catch it. This mysterious goat is still visible. Any one who can catch it by the tail and hold on will be drawn to where are collected the precious articles received by the damsel.
In a good many places it is believed that witches are transformed after death into hares; and a lady wrote to me from the Isle of Man that she could not get her servants to eat hare, because it might be the body of some old woman transformed.
It is not, however, only into quadrupeds that human souls pass. When I was a small boy an old woman in the place, who could neither read nor write, told me a folk-tale that is very similar to one Grimm collected in Germany. A mother died, and the father married again. He had by his first wife a daughter; by the second a son. The brother loved his half-sister dearly, but the wicked stepmother hated her. "Child," said the stepmother one day, "go to the grocer's shop and buy me a pound of candles." She gave her the money, and the little girl went, bought the candles, and started on her return. There was a stile to cross. She put down the candles whilst she got over the stile; up came a dog and ran away with them. She went back to the grocer's and got a second bunch. She came to the stile, set down the candles, and proceeded to climb over; up came the dog and ran off with the candles. She went again to the grocer's and procured a third bunch, and just the same happened. Then she came to her stepmother crying, for she had spent all the money and had lost three bunches of candles.
The stepmother said, "Come, lay thy head on my lap that I may comb thy hair." So the little one laid her head in the woman's lap, who proceeded to comb the yellow silken hair. And when she combed, the hair fell over her knees down to the ground. Then the stepmother hated her more for the beauty of her hair, so she said to her, "I cannot part thy hair on my knee, fetch me a billet of wood." So she fetched it. Then said the stepmother, "I cannot part thy hair with a comb, fetch me an axe." So she fetched it.
"Now," said the wicked woman, "lay thy head on the billet whilst I part thy hair." Well, she laid down her little golden head without fear, and, whist! down came the axe and it was off. Then the woman took the heart and liver of the little girl and she stewed them and brought them into the house for supper. The husband tasted them and said that they had a strange flavour. She gave some to the little boy, but he would not eat. She tried to force him, but he refused, and ran out into the garden and took up his little sister, put her in a box, and buried the box under a rose tree; and every day he went to the tree and wept.
One day the rose tree flowered. It was spring, and there among the flowers was a white bird, and it sang sweetly. It flew to a cobbler's shop and perched on a tree hard by, and thus it sang:--
My wicked mother slew me,
My dear father ate me;
My little brother whom I love
Sits below, and I sing above.
"Sing again that beautiful song," asked the shoemaker. "If you will give me first the little red shoes you are making." The cobbler gave the shoes, the bird sang the song, and then flew to a tree in front of a watchmaker's, and sang the same strain.
"Oh, the beautiful song! Sing it again, sweet bird!" asked the watchmaker. "If you will give me that gold watch and chain in your hand." So the jeweller gave the watch and chain. The bird sang the song, and flew away with the shoes in one foot and the chain in the other, to where three millers were picking a millstone. The bird perched on a tree and sang the song, and as a reward for re-singing it had the millstone put round its neck as a collar. After that the bird flew to the house of the stepmother, and rattled the millstone against the eaves. Said the stepmother, "It thunders." Then the little boy ran out to hear the thunder, and down dropped the red shoes at his feet. Next out ran the father, and down fell the chain about his neck. Lastly, out ran the stepmother, and down fell the millstone on her head and she died.
This story must be older than the dispersion of the Aryan race, though, of course, it has undergone modifications. It is found among Greek folktales, also in Scotland as "the milk-white dove," also in Hungary, and in Southern France.
In Faust mad Gretchen in prison sings a snatch of this as a ballad.
I have given the tale at length, because it illustrates so fully what is the point now being insisted on. The bird is the transmigrated little girl. But that is not all. The dog that carries away the bunches of candles is the cruel stepmother who, in life, has transformed herself in this manner.
For as human souls after death go into the bodies of birds or beasts, so can they during life shift their quarters. This is the origin of the numerous tales of werewolves, and witches becoming cats or hares.
Among the Norsemen it was believed that witches could take even the shapes of seals--the only portion of them that they could not change was the eyes, and by them they might be recognised.
The word employed among the Norsemen for such as could change their shape was eigi einhamr, that is, "not of our skin". There were various ways in which they could change their shape. The original was that described in the Ynglinga Saga of Odin. "He could change his appearance. There his body lay as sleeping or dead. But he became a bird or a beast, a fish or a serpent, and at a moment's notice could go into distant lands on his own business or on that of others."
King Harold of Denmark required some information about the procedure in Iceland, and he induced a warlock to assume the shape of a whale and go thither. In the great battle in which Hrolf Krake fell in Denmark, one Bodvar Bjarki assumed the form and force of a bear, and fought furiously, whilst in the tent of the king his body lay as though dead. It was only when taunted because he appeared inactive that he rushed out into the midst of the fight in his human form, and fell.
A secondary stage was that in which one who was eigi einhamr threw over him a skin of a wolf or bear and then became that beast. The swan-maidens had their swan dresses that they laid aside to bathe. Velund stole one and thenceforth she was a woman. In like manner we have in Ireland and Cornwall stories of mermaids who laid aside their fishlike appendages--and these were seized by some onlooking peeping Tom, and he secured the damsel and made her his wife.
In the Volsunga Saga is a story of how King Volsung, who had married his daughter Signy to King Siggeir of Gothland, went on invitation to his son-in-law, along with his ten sons, and was treacherously waylaid and killed, with all his retinue except his sons. These were set in the stocks in a wood and left there to perish. The first night a huge grey she-wolf came, attacked, tore and devoured one of the youths. Next night she came again and killed a second, and so on till only one was left, Sigmund. His sister Signy sent a trusty servant with a pot of honey, and instructions to smear with it the face of her one surviving brother, and to put some into his mouth. At night the she-wolf came, and snuffling the honey licked Sigmund's face and thrust her tongue into his mouth. Thereupon he clenched his teeth on her tongue and a desperate struggle ensued. The brute drove its feet against the stocks and broke them, but Sigmund tore out her tongue by the roots. And that wolf was the mother of King Siggeir, who had assumed the vulpine form by her magic arts, and now perished miserably.
Many years ago, in fact in 1865, I published a Book of Werewolves that has long been out of print. In it I collected all the stories I could find of transformation into wolves, and I have come across others since. In fact it is apparently a universal belief that certain persons have the faculty of assuming a bestial form at pleasure.
Herodotus says: "It seems that the Neuri are sorcerers, if one may believe the Scythians and the Greeks established in Scythia; for each Neurian changes himself, once in the year, into the form of a wolf, and he continues in that form for several days, after which he resumes his former state."
Ovid tells the story, in his Metamorphoses, of Lycaon, King of Arcadia, who, entertaining Jupiter one day, set before him a hash of human flesh to prove his omniscience, whereupon the god transformed him into a wolf.
Pliny related that on the festival of Jupiter, Lycaeus, one of the family of Antaeus, was selected by lot, and conducted to the brink of the Arcadian lake. He then hung his clothes on a tree and plunged into the water, whereupon he was transformed into a wolf. Nine years after, if he had not tasted human flesh, he was at liberty to swim back and resume his former shape, which had in the meantime become aged, as though he had worn it for nine years.
The following story is from Petronius:--
My master had gone to Capua to sell some old clothes. I seized the opportunity, and persuaded our guest to bear me company about five miles out of town; for he was a soldier, and as bold as death. We set out about cock-crow, and the moon shone bright as day, when coming among some monuments, my man began to converse with the stars, whilst I jogged along singing and counting them. Presently I looked back after him, and saw him strip and lay his clothes by the side of the road. My heart was in my mouth in an instant; I stood like a corpse; when, in a crack, he was turned into a wolf. Don't think I'm joking: I would not tell you a lie for the finest fortune in the world.
But to continue: After he was turned into a wolf, he set up a howl and made straight for the woods. At first I did not know whether I was on my head or my heels; but at last going to take up his clothes, I found them turned into stone. The sweat streamed from me, and I never expected to get over it. Melissa began to wonder why I walked so late. "Had you come a little sooner," she said, "you might at least have lent us a hand, for a wolf broke into the farm and has butchered all our cattle; but though he got off, it was no laughing matter for him, for a servant of ours ran him through with a pike." Hearing this, I could not close an eye; but as soon as it was daylight I ran home like a pedlar that has been eased of his pack. Coming to the place where the clothes had been turned into stone, I saw nothing but a pool of blood; and when I got home, I found my soldier lying in bed, like an ox in a stall, and a surgeon dressing his neck. I saw at once that he was a fellow who could change his skin, and never after could I eat bread with him--no, not if you would have killed me.
Bodin tells some transformation stories, and professes that he had them on good authority. He says that the Royal Procurator--General Bourdin had assured him that he had shot a wolf, and that the arrow had stuck in the beast's thigh. A few hours after, the arrow was extracted from the thigh of a man lying wounded in bed. At Vernon, about the year 1566, the witches and warlocks gathered in great multitudes under the shape of cats. Four or five men were attacked in a lone place by a number of these beasts. The men stood their ground with pertinacity, succeeded in slaying one puss, and in wounding many others. Next day a number of wounded women were found in the town, and they gave the judge an accurate account of all the circumstances connected with their wounding.
Nynauld, who wrote a book on Lycanthropy in 1618, relates how that in a village in Switzerland, near Lucerne, a peasant was attacked by a wolf whilst he was hewing timber; he defended himself, and smote off a foreleg of the beast. The moment that the blood began to flow the wolf's form changed, and he recognised a woman without her arm. She was burnt alive. Any number of stories might be instanced to show how widely spread this superstition is, but these must suffice. In the British Isles, whence wolves have long ago been expelled, it is only hares and cats that represent transformed witches.
There is, however, the old English romance of William and the Werewolf, but this professes to be a translation from the French. Gervase of Tilbury, however, says in his Otia Imperalia: "We have often seen in England, at changes of the moon, men transformed into wolves, which sort of human beings the French call gerulfos, but the English call them wer--wlf; wer in English signifies man, and wif a wolf."
In Devonshire transformed witches range the moors in the shape of black dogs, and I know a story of two such creatures appearing in an inn and nightly drinking the cider, till the publican shot a silver button over their heads, when they were instantly transformed into two ill-favoured old hags.
We now come to another form of transformation--a change of sex. I had an old carpenter many years ago who had been with my father before me, and he once told me that he knew a man in Cornwall who had married, and became a father of a family; then he changed his sex, married, and bore a second family. Ovid tells the story of Iphis, a daughter of Ligdus and Telethusa of Crete. When Telethusa was pregnant her husband bade her destroy the child when born if it proved to be a girl, because his poverty was so great that he could not afford to rear a daughter. Telethusa was distressed, and the goddess Isis appeared to her in a dream and bade her preserve the child. Telethusa brought forth a daughter, which was given to a nurse and passed for a boy under the name of Iphis. Ligdus continued ignorant of the deceit, and when Iphis was full grown her father resolved to give her in marriage to lanthe, the beautiful daughter of Telestes. A day to celebrate the nuptials was fixed, and mother and daughter were in consternation; but prayed to Isis, by whose advice the life of Iphis had been preserved. The goddess waas favourable, and changed the sex of Iphis, and, on the morrow, the nuptials were consummated with the greatest rejoicings.
A better-known story is that of Tiresias, the Theban prophet, who as a boy was suddenly changed into a girl. Seven years after he again changed his sex, to his great satisfaction. Whilst he was a woman he had been married, and he was married again after he became a man.
Among the Icelanders it was believed that certain men became women every seventh day. That which caused the burning of the worthy Njall, his wife, and sons, in their house was the taunt of a certain Skarpedin, who threw a pair of breeches at one Flossi and bade him wear them, as he changed sex every ninth day. In the Gullathing laws is one condemning to outlawry any man who charged another with change of sex, or with having given birth to a child. When Thorvald the Wide--Travelled went round Iceland with a German missionary bishop named Frederick, preaching the Gospel, the smooth face and long petticoats of the prelate gave rise to bitter jests. A local poet sang a strain purporting that the bishop had become the mother of nine children of whom Thorvald was the father; and the Icelander was so furious that he hewed down the scald with his battleaxe.
We have seen now how that from the idea or belief in metempsychosis possessed by the whole Aryan race, we have a series of superstitions relative to change after death into another animal form, and also changes, mainly voluntary and temporary, during life.
But there is still another class to which reference must now be made, and that is where the transformation is involuntary, the consequence of a spell being cast on an individual requiring him or her to become a beast or a monster with no escape except under conditions difficult of execution or of obtaining. To this category belong a number of so-called fairy tales, that actually are folk-tales. And these do not all pertain to Aryan peoples, for wherever magical arts are believed to be all-powerful, there one of its greatest achievements is the casting of a spell so as to alter completely the appearance of the person on whom it is cast, so that this individual becomes an animal. One need only recall the story in the Arabian Nights of the Calenders and the three noble ladies of Bagdad, in which the wicked Sisters are transformed into bitches that have to be thrashed every day.
But take such a tale as the Frog Prince. This is one of the most ancient and widely spread of folk--tales. It is found in the Sanskrit Pantschatandra (Benfey 1#92), in Campbell's Tales of the Western Highlands (No. xxxii), in Grimm's Kindermürchen, No I; in Chamber's Popular Rhymes of Scotland p.52 in Halliwell's English Popular Rhymes and Fireside Stories, p. 43; and in numerous other collections. J. Leyden in his Complaynt of Scotland gives it. He says, "According to the popular tale a lady is sent by her stepmother to draw water from the well of the world's end. She arrives at the well after encountering many dangers, but soon perceives that her adventures have not reached a conclusion. A frog emerges from the well, and, before it suffers her to draw water, obliges her to betroth herself to the monster, under the penalty of being torn to pieces. The lady returns safe; but at midnight the frog lover appears at the door and demands entrance according to promise, to the great consternation of the lady and her nurse.
Open the door, my hinny, my heart;
Open the door, mine ain wee thing
And mind the wods that you and I spak
Down in the meadow at the well-spring
The frog is admitted and addresses her:--
Take me up on your knee, my dearie,
Take me up on your knee, my dearie,
And mind the wods that you and I spak
At the cauld well sae weary
Here the story is told in its dryest and least poetical form. The prince had been bewitched into the form of a frog and could not recover his original shape till a girl had promised to be his wife, taken him into her chamber, and finally, in the English version of the tale, had cut off his head.
So in the Countess D'Aulnoy's story of The White Cat, the damsel has to cut off the cat's head before it can be transformed into a prince. In Beauty and the Beast we have much the same theme.
Professor Max Muller tried to establish that the story of the Frog Prince rose out of a misconception of the name of the sun in Sanskrit. But it has too many analogies for us to explain it thus. In the Story of Seven Ravens the seven brothers of a damsel are bewitched into these forms till they obtain release through their sister. In an old Danish ballad a youth is transformed into a raven by a cruel stepmother, till his sister releases him by giving her child, that he may pick out its eyes and drink its heart's blood before he can recover human form.
I was shown a cavern in the Vorarlberg where I was told that a hideous monster like a gigantic toad had lived. It was a nobleman's son bewitched, and he could only be released by a girl kissing him on the lips. Several went to the cave, but were so repelled by his unsightliness that they fled. One, however, did remain and kiss him, whereupon he recovered his human form and married her.
In the saga of Hrolf Kraki is an account of King Hring of the Uplands in Norway, who had a son named Bjorn by his wife. The queen died, and Hring took a beautiful Finn girl as his second wife. The king was often away on piratical expeditions, and whilst he was absent Bjorn and his stepmother had constant quarrels. Björn had been brought up with a well-to-do farmer's daughter named Bera, and they loved one another dearly. One day, after a sharp contest, the queen struck Björn on the face with a wolf-skin glove and said that he should become a rabid bear, and devour his father's flocks.
After that Björn disappeared, and none knew what had become of him; and men sought but found him not. We must relate how that the king's sheep were slaughtered, half a score at a time, and it was all the work of a grey bear, both huge and grizzly.
One evening it chanced that the Caries daughter saw this savage bear coming towards her, looking tenderly at her, and she recognised the eyes of Björn, the king's son, so she made but a slight attempt to escape; then the beast retreated, but she followed it, till she came to a cave. Now when she entered the cave there stood before her a man, who greeted Bera, the Cane's daughter, and she recognised him, for he was Björn, Hring's son. Overjoyed were they to meet. So they were together in the cave awhile, for she would not part from him when she had the chance of being with him; but he said that this was not proper that she should be there with him, for by day he was a beast and by night a man. Hring returned from his harrying, and was told how this Björn, his son, had vanished, and also how that a monstrous beast was up the country, and was destroying his flocks. The queen urged the king to have the bear slain.
One night as Bera and Björn were together, he said to her:
"Methinks tomorrow will be the day of my death, for they will hunt me down. But for myself I care not; it is little pleasure to live with this spell upon me, and my only comfort is that we are together; and now our union must be broken." He spoke to her of many other things, till the bear's form stole over him, and he went forth a bear. She followed him, and saw a great body of hunters come ovei the mountain ridges, and had a number of dogs with them. The bear rushed away from the cavern, but the dogs and the king's men came upon him, and there ensued a desperate struggle. They made a ring round him--he ranged about in it, but saw no means of escape. So he turned to where the king stood, and seized a man who stood next him, and rent him asunder. Then was the bear so exhausted that he cast himself down flat, and at once the men rushed in upon him and slew him.
The king now went home, and Bera was in his company. The queen now made a great feast, and had the bear's flesh roasted for the banquet. The queen came to Bera with a dish, quite unexpectedly, and on it was bear's flesh, and she bade Bera eat it. She would not do so. "Here is a marvel," said the queen; "you reject the offer which a queen herself deigns to make to you." So she bit before her, and the queen looked into her mouth; she saw that one little grain of the bite had gone down, but Bera spat out all the rest from her mouth, and said she would take no more though she were tortured and killed.
There are two points in this story deserving of notice. The one is recognition through the eyes, because it is through the eyes that the immortal soul looks out. The other is the effort made by the queen to get Bera to eat of the flesh, precisely as in the story of the Rose Tree the wicked stepmother endeavours to force the boy to eat the flesh of his sister.
In the story of Lycaon also lycanthropy was associated with cannibalism; and these tales seem to point back to a period when there was a revolt against such practice. Probably among the prehistoric natives conquered by the Aryans, cannibalism had been in vogue. St. Jerome, speaking of the Attacotti in Britain, says that they were cannibals, and when a youth he had seen them. At a low stage of development of civilisation, cannibalism was a recognised means whereby men acquired vigour, for by eating at least the heart or brain of a valiant enemy they thought that they assimilated to themselves his rare and valuable qualities. At a far later period Hrolf Kraki, finding a poor frightened boy who was bullied and beaten by the warriors in the king's hail, gave him to drink the blood of a brave warrior he had killed, and thenceforth this timorous youth became a mighty champion. In the story of Kulhweh in the old Welsh Mabinogion there is an account of how Gwyn "killed Nwython, took out his heart, and forced Kyledr to eat his father's heart; thereupon Kyledr became wild and left the abodes of men."
Even among the medieval moss-troopers of the Scottish and Northumbrian border, there are instances both in history and tradition of their having eaten the flesh and drunk the blood of their enemies, and a certain Lord Soulis was boiled alive, and the murderers afterwards drank the broth made out of him.
It is therefore not by any means improbable that the stories of forcing human flesh on those reluctant to eat it may carry us back to an early period when cannibalism was not done away with, but when the conscience had begun to revolt against the practice.
And who were these people who were cannibals? In the story of Bjorn and Bera the wicked stepmother was a Finn, and consequently not an Aryan. We are not told that the corresponding ill-disposed woman in the story of the Rose Tree was of a strange race, but we are informed that the yellow hair of the little girl especially roused her dislike. And if she belonged to the dark--haired people who occupied the land before the Celts arrived, this is explicable.
That same people appear in household tales as giants. Not that they were actually such, but they acquired the reputation of being of extraordinary size because of the megalithic monuments they set up--giant's quoits, giant's needles, giant's tables and the like. In the nursery tales they are credited with drinking blood and grinding men's bones to make their bread. The descendants of this race are still with us, and are not always on a level of intelligence with the fair-haired Englishmen who live hard by. That this primitive people believed in the transmigration of souls is not probable. Everything points to that doctrine having been the special property of the Aryans.
The Attacotti that Jerome saw, and who are mentioned by other writers as peculiarly ferocious men, were probably the lingering remains of the pre-Aryan inhabitants of the land; and the nursery tales about their devouring little children, and grinding men's bones to make their bread, are reminiscences of these fierce cannibal dolmen-builders.