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Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 17, 1906.djvu/148

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136
Back-Footed Beings.

Grimm's dwarfs), that their women "have crooked feet, turned inwards, so as to be hidden when they are seated," and further tells us that he was informed by an Indian that "their knees were turned backwards, like those of ostriches"

A comparison of the Greek bird-spirits with some of these back-footed beings is especially suggestive. The Harpies and Sirens seem originally to have belonged to one vague class of nature-spirits—the spirits in particular of the winds, which bring disease and health, summer and winter, birth and death to mankind.[1] These spirits, being not unnaturally represented as birds, acquired special characteristics. In the Harpies (῞Αρπυιαι, lit. "snatchers") the swooping, snatching nature of birds of prey is emphasised, in the Sirens the seductive enchantments of songbirds is prominent. The people of Northern India have their Harpies in the fairies who attend in the train of Airi, the demon huntsman of India, and (like the vulture of Prometheus) tear out and devour the lives of human beings unfortunate enough to cross Airi's path. These vulture-like fairies have their feet turned backwards.[2] And in the Churels, who entice young men away and keep them until they are old, and whose feet also are turned back,[3] we have an Indian example of the Sirens, who attempted to draw Odysseus and his crew to land with their song.

  1. The bird-spirits on the "Harpy Tomb" would seem to be the spirits of death; they have none of the malignancy of Harpies or Sirens, but bear the souls of the dead gently in their arms. In one case the soul is caressing the spirit with its hand.

    On the Wlirzburg cylix there is a picture of the feast of Phineus—the Harpies are represented as foul pestilential winds that have fouled the feast and are pursued by the sons of Boreas, the clean North winds, winged like the Harpies but of course men. Miss Harrison, Prolegomena, p. 226.

  2. Crooke, Popular Religion and Folk-lore of North-West India, i. 262.
  3. Op. cit. p. 270 —cf. with this passage Miss Harrison's description of the Sirens in Proleg. to the Study of Greek Religion, pp. 197-207, esp. p. 203.