Folk-Lore/Volume 4/Miscellanea (June)

832118Folk-Lore/Volume 4 — Number 2. (June): Miscellanea



Sorcery: Melting Wax Images of Intended Victims.—A more elaborate form of this widespread practice seems to be found in the Mahábhárata Book IX, "Calya Parva", sect. 41, pp. 161-3 of the English translation, by Chandra Roy, in the course of periodical publication at Calcutta.

An ascetic named Dálvya-vaka, who by his austere penances had acquired great supernatural powers, having given away all his calves to some rishis, to enable them to complete a sacrifice, he went to the king and requested some animals of him. Just then a number of the king's cattle had died, without any apparent cause, and the king told the ascetic that he might have the carcases. Enraged at having been thus insulted before the king's courtiers, the ascetic resolves upon the monarch's destruction, and accepts the carcases.

"Cutting the flesh from off the dead animals, that best of sages, having ignited a (sacrificial) fire on the tirtha of the Saraswati, poured those pieces as libations for the destruction of Dhritárishtra's kingdom. Observant of rigid vows, the great Dálvya-vaka poured Dhritaráshtra's kingdom as a libation on the fire with the aid of those pieces of meat. [The translator explains that 'pouring a kingdom on the fire means pouring libations on the fire, for the purpose of destroying a kingdom.'] Upon the commencement of that fierce sacrifice, according to due rites, the kingdom of Dhritaráshtra began to waste away, even as a large forest begins to disappear when men proceed to cut it down."

The king's counsellors advise him to propitiate the ascetic: so he goes and confesses his fault to him, and Vaka, feeling compassion, freed his kingdom by again pouring libations on the fire, and the king presented Vaka with many animals.


Smelling the Head in Token of Affection.—In the Mahábhárata, Book IX, "Calya Parva", sect. 51, a rishi, having obtained a child by a celestial damsel, "through affection, that foremost of Bráhmanas then smelt the head of his son, and held him in close embrace for some time." So, too, in the Hindú drama of Málati and Madhava, opening of Act iv, Kámandaki smells the heads of the hero and heroine as they return to consciousness. Dr. H. H. Wilson, in a note on this incident (Theatre of the Hindús), compares it with that of the patriarch Isaac smelling his son Jacob (Gen. xxvii, 27) ; but there seems little analogy, I think, since Isaac was blind, and, not being satisfied with the pretended Esau having "the voice of Jacob", endeavoured to ascertain the fact by the sense of smell, after which he exclaimed, "See, the smell of my son is as the smell of the field which the Lord hath blessed." It is well known that the senses are remarkably acute among savage and semi-civilised peoples. American Indians (outside of Fenimore Cooper and Capt. Mayne Reed) have been known to unerringly track an enemy after having smelt his footprints in the ground.

W. A. Clouston.

Naxian Superstitions (extracted from an Article by Mr. Marcopolis in the 'Εστία' for May 17th, 1891).—1. During the first five days of August no woman must wash clothes in the river ; for the wind hears the noise of her beating the clothes, and blows so strongly, that it uproots the trees. 2. It is a sin for three men to stand in the doorway of the house where a dead body lies ; for the angels go in and out, and they are in their way. 3. When a man dies, his soul goes about inside the house for three days ; so you must put a jug of water beside a lighted candle, in order that the soul may find the water when it is thirsty [formerly the custom in Calymnos. — W. R. Paton.] 4. None of the women who follow the bier must turn round and look behind her; for if she do, she will die on the spot, or else one of her relations will die. 5. When anyone dies in your house you must not throw the sweepings out into the street ; for the soul remains three days in the house, and it may be among the sweepings which you throw out [formerly so in Calymnos. — W.R.P.]. 6. All the while that they are boiling the κόλυβα (corn boiled and distributed the day after the funeral) in the pot, the soul is on its way to paradise; therefore a woman must always stand over the pot, holding the "hanging lamp" alight to light the soul on its way. If she does not do this, the soul is tossed about like the κόλυβα boiling in the pot. 7. On the vigil of St. Basil (the last night of the year) the oxen speak ; whoever hears them will die soon [common, I think, in Greece. — W. R. P.]. 8. When you first see the swallow, you must stop and dig where your left foot rests ; you will find a piece of charcoal, which, dissolved in water cures the moonstruck. 9. If you have a young child you must not throw out the sweepings into the street, for the luck (Μοίρα) of the child may be thus lost. (Cp. 5. One of the things which is forbidden in the law of Julis in Ceos relating to funerals is "to carry the sweepings to the tomb" [τα καλλύσματα φέρειν επι το σήμα.— W. R. P.])

Tokens of Death.Joseph. Well, Sir, I do believe in tokens afore death. I do, for I sin em, Sir. The folks in this row says as a crow flyin over the roof is a sign o death. An a dog howlin.

His daughter. Yes, a dog howlin is a token, I believe.

Joseph. But I sin em, Sir. When I was a lad, me an me two brothers was down be the hedge, when, "Hullo!" says I, "tharr's a white rabbit!" An we chased un as furr as the hedge, an then a was clear gone—not a track of him nowhurr! An up we went to the house, an first thing we saw was mother at the gate a cryin an sayin, as how father had been taken that very hinstant. Me an my brother, we seed it, an thot we'd got a prize; an 'twas but a token o death, Sir. An tharr was some lads in a arrchard—a happle-orchard (sic)—an says they, "Let's have a bit o them apples!" So up tha climbs, an tharr tha was, a settin in the tree, on the branches like, Sir, when—"Lor bless us", says one, "tharr's a tame rabbit, a white 'n!"—an the rabbit run right under the tree. An 'twas a token of thurr master's death, an die a did. I have a heerd tell by men as I knows, an they sin it themselves, that a Christmas eve, at a certain hour, all the cattle an beasts, be they what you will, 'll kneel down wharr tha be. No, Sir, I haven't sin em meself, but I knows them as have.—[Taken down from the lips of Joseph Pearce, a blind man, who lives at Droitwich in Worcestershire.]


How to Locate a Drowned Body.The Suffolk Times and Mirror of Friday, November 4, 1892, under the head of "A Norfolk Superstition", gives the following account:—"Last week (writes our Thetford correspondent) information was received at Thetford that a middle-aged woman had been missing from Brandon since October nth, and had been seen at Thetford. Her friends naturally became alarmed about her, and had serious fears as to her safety, and, as they could hear nothing about her, they asked that the river between Thetford and Brandon might be dragged. Instead of this, recourse was had to a very curious procedure, in which, it appears, some people really believe. On Tuesday afternoon the Navigation Superintendent got a boat and rowed down the river accompanied by a policeman, who was mildly and slowly beating a big drum. It was stated that, if they came to any part of the river in which there might be a dead body, a difference in the sound of the drum would be distinctly noticed. The experiment, however, was a failure, and, later on, it was reported that a person answering to the description of the missing woman was at Elvedon. This proved to be correct, and she was ultimately taken home, to the great relief of her friends." I fancy this belief is uncommon in Norfolk—at least, I have never met with it in this part of the county. I should be glad if any other member can give me any information respecting it.

Blythburgh House, South Town, Great Yarmouth.

W. B. Gerish


The Overflowing of Magic Wells (Folk-Lore, IV, i, 66).—The legends told by Dr. Rhys about the origin of certain lakes in Wales and Ireland remind me of the story in Campbell’s Tales of the West Highlands, of the origin of Loch Ness. This tale, unfortunately, does not explain why the well overflowed.

"Where Loch Ness now is, there was long ago a fine glen. A woman went one day to the well to fetch water, and she found the spring flowing so fast that she got frightened, and left her pitcher, and ran for her life; she never stopped till she got to the top of a high hill: and when there, she turned about and saw the glen filled with water. Not a house or a field was to be seen! 'Aha!' said she, 'tha Loch ann a nis' (Ha Loch an a neesh)—'There is a lake in it now'—and so the lake was called Loch Ness (neesh)." (Campbell, Tales, II, xxxiv, 147.)

At p. 145 Campbell speaks of a witches’ well in Islay, and of holy healing wells, such as that on an island in Loch Maree, and the one in the Black Isle of Cromarty. Other magic and sacred Scottish wells are mentioned by Sir F. G. Dalyell in his Darker Superstitions of Scotland, and by Mr. W. G. Black in Folk-Medicine.

Margaret Stuart.

Immuring Alive.—Mr. S. Baring-Gould, in his volume on Strange Survivals, has brought together a very curious and interesting collection of details and observances relative to Folk-lore and Anthropology. In his chapter on Foundations he recounts several instances of the immurement of living persons, always women, in the walls of new buildings to ensure their stability. This belief, involving the idea of sacrifice, prevails in the Eastern as well as in the Western world, and it may be perhaps worth while to relate some instances within my own experience.

Nearly in the centre of the Indian peninsula, but far southward in the Madras Presidency, two great mountain ranges, the Pulneys and the Arnemallies, joining at the centre, run east and west. It is the watershed of the peninsula, for the Ambrawutty river, issuing from the great gorge where the Pulney and Arnemally ranges unite, and fed by torrents from the slopes of both, flows to the Bay of Bengal, and another stream, descending from the mountains a few miles to the west, runs to the Malabar coast and the Indian Ocean. Once, in pursuit of game I penetrated far up the gorge of the Ambrawutty river It was a wild jungle country, overgrown with a thick thorn-jungle of mimosa-bushes, close-grown, painful and difficult to thread. Far up in the valley where it began to narrow, and the great mountain-slopes on either side to approach, I saw in the centre a rocky hill, rising solitary 400 or 500 feet above the jungle, and showing some indications of building's on the top. The people with me said it was an old hill-fort of the Polygar days before Clive, where the robber chief took refuge alike from the wrath of native rajah and, later, from European invaders. With difficulty I made way through the jungle to the foot of the hill: the briar-rose growth that guarded the approach to the enchanted castle of the Sleeping Princess was slight and trivial compared to the thorns of that forest. The hill stood quite solitary, rising steeply all round to the summit: for two-thirds of the ascent covered with scrub jungle and masses of rock, then rising in a cone of sheer bare rock, precipitous all round, except at one point where a narrow cleft or rift ran down, by which it was possible to climb with difficulty. Using hands and feet, by this I climbed and reached the top, where I found a small area with a rough wall running round the rim, and heaps of large stones piled long ago, especially where the rift came out on the top, evidently to roll down on any assailants, but now overgrown with bushes and rank herbage. There were also some ruined buildings, a miniature tank to retain water, and a small temple, long since deserted and mostly fallen. The almost perpendicular rocky sides of the peak seemed to render the low wall encircling the summit unnecessary; indeed, it was but about four feet high, built of loose lumps of rock, without mortar, and had crumbled and toppled over at three or four points. Close, however, above the rift of access, it rose to a height of eight or ten feet, and a kind of rounded buttress projected from it, built more compactly with mortar. On this a good-sized banyan-tree had taken root and split and displaced the masonry, showing that the buttress was hollow within. The natives with me then said that it had long been a tradition that when the fort was constructed a living girl had been built into the wall to render the Droog impregnable. In looking into the fissure caused by the roots it could be seen that the buttress contained a hollow large enough to hold a small human being, and I have no doubt that it once did, but had no time or means to pull down and open out the death-chamber and ascertain whether it contained any vestiges.

Another instance of girl-sacrifice is recorded in a curious chronicle named The Wars of the Rajahs, written in the Telugu language, translated by the late C. P. Brown. The story contains graphic details of an incident very characteristic of Hindu life and thought, and probably not unfrequent in village history in the little-known past centuries. The passage runs thus.—"While Bucca Rayalu ruled Vijayanagar, his chief servant, in the year Krodhi (A.D.. 1364), built a tank near Bucca Raya Samudram, in the present district of Bellary, North Madras. After some time this tank became so full of water that the two sluices did not suffice to let it off, and the embankment was crumbling under the flood. While the villagers beheld this, a goddess possessed a woman, and she exclaimed, 'I am Ganga Bhavāni; if you will feed me with a human sacrifice I will stop here, if not I will not stop! ' While the villagers and the elders took counsel about making the sacrifice, Ganga Devi possessed a girl, not yet grown up, named Mūsalãmma. She was the seventh and youngest daughter-in-law of Bāsi Reddi. The goddess said to her, ' Become thou the sacrifice! 'She accordingly was prepared to become a sacrifice: she adorned herself as a bride with red and yellow paint, wearing a pure vest, and holding a lime in her hand. She set out in a procession from her home, and came up on the embankment. She adored the feet of her father-in-law, Bāsi Reddi, and did homage to the townsfolk. She said: 'I have received the commands of Ganga Bhavāni; I am going to become a sacrifice!' Thirty feet from the sluice there was now a gap, between which and the bank a chasm had opened. She went and stood in the chasm, and they poured in earth and stones upon her, so the bank stood firm. The following day this Mūsalãmma, who had thus become a sacrifice, possessed the females of the village. She said, 'Make a stone image of me, place it under a tree, and worship it!' Accordingly they erected it and worship her, but there is no chapel. Besides, if people who passed near cried out 'Mūsalãmma!' she used to reply 'Hoh!' But one evening, as men went for grass and called to her in the usual manner, on her answering, they replied, 'Though thou art dead, thou art still proud.' From that time she never answers, but is still worshipped." I have never been in the Bellary district, but have ascertained that the tank, though much silted up and nearly useless, still exists, and that a mound on the bank is popularly associated with a remembrance of sacrifice.

One other variant of sacrificial burials may be noticed. In the Coimbatore district of Madras, where prehistoric remains, circles of stones, kistvaens, etc., are especially numerous, I found in several spots on the western border large flat stones laid on the ground, which were found to cover huge jars, usually five feet high by four in girth, wide-mouthed, and tapering to a point, of thick red earthenware. These were buried in the ground, with no circle around or cairn above, but only a great flat stone laid over the mouth, by which in time they had become cracked or crushed in: it was rare to find one perfect. The jars were mostly filled with earth that had filtered in, and at their bottom there were some small bones much broken. The natives in Coimbatore had no traditions or beliefs regarding them, except vaguely that they denoted burials; but the Rev. Henry Baker, of the Travancore Mission, informed me that the same kind of jars occur in the Travancore low country, and are there called Mănchǎra, "earth-jars", generally covered with heavy slabs, and containing pieces of bone and iron. There, however, the natives say they contain the remains of sacrificed virgins, and that all the petty Rajahs in times past used to sacrifice virgins on their boundaries to protect them, and confirm treaties with neighbouring chiefs. The girls were buried in these jars on the boundaries, but whether buried alive or killed previously—as Mr. Baker, from the pieces of iron found with the bones, conjectured might have been the case—there was no tradition to show. Analogies, however, would indicate that the burial of only living victims would make the charm firm and good. These jars, too, have been often found in the adjacent province of Malabar.[1]

  1. An instance of living entombment in pots is mentioned in Mr. Bent's Journeys in Mashonaland. There, in Altoko's country, the birth of twins is held unnatural, and the "unfortunate infants are put into one of their big pots, with a stone on the top, and left to their fate" (p. 277).