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Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 17, 1906.djvu/145

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133
Back-Footed Beings.

The suggestion that I have to make is that the inversion of the knee-joints is not a degradation of the human form, but either, like the goat's legs of Pan and the Satyrs and of the mediæval devil,[1] a relic of a theriomorphic conception of supernatural beings, or, like the wings of angels and of fairies, the formal expression of qualities inherent in some animal but denied to mankind. In other words, I would connect these "back-footed" beings with the ornithomorphic spirits so frequently found in mythology. In some cases the deformity seems to point to an originally bird-like form, but in most of the instances it would appear to be an alternative for wings as a means of signifying the presence of birdlike qualities.

Birds, as we see from the myths of many races, were credited by early man with being able to vanish at will,[2] to know the future, to reach heaven and penetrate to hell—powers claimed by sorcerers and attributed to semi-divine beings. And accordingly the assumption of a bird-form is the favourite form of voluntary metamorphosis in folk-tales. Noteworthy examples are Maui, the New Zealand Hercules, who becomes a pigeon in order to go down to Hades;[3] the hero of a Magyar tale, "Snakeskin,"[4] who also transforms himself into a pigeon. In The Eagle People, a tale of a tribe of Indians in British Columbia,[5] a man becomes an eagle by putting on an eagle skin, and goes fishing with his eagle wife.

  1. In a mediaeval Irish legend the Devil appears to St. Moling clad in gorgeous robes and tells the Saint that he cannot pray because his knees are reversed. Stokes, Gaedelica, 2nd ed., pp. 180-1, cited by M. Gaidoz.
  2. In a Kashmiri Tale (Folk-tales of Kashmir, Rev. J. H. Knowles, p. 327) a jogi gives a boy wings and so renders him invisible, the wings fall off and he is immediately discovered.
  3. Maori Legends, Miss Clark, p. 36.
  4. Tales of the Magyars, Messrs. Jones and Kropf, p. 286.
  5. J.A.I, xxxiv. 54.