Open main menu

Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 4, 1893.djvu/14

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
Annual Address by the President.

up dead horses or calves by the four legs to the horizontal branch of a tree. It is a sufficiently ghastly sight; and one spring Mr. Baring Gould saw two horses and three calves hanging on a magnificent elm in Westmeston, just under the Ditchling beacon. Here, too, the reason for the custom is that it was thought lucky for the cattle. What, then, is the measurement of this survival? We have it on the authority of Tacitus that the ancient Germanic tribes hung the heads of horses upon trees as offerings to Odin; and after the overthrow of Varus, in A.D. 15, the scene was enlivened by examples of this practice. This is the pagan parallel to the survival. The clear connection between the form of sacrifice, namely, the offering on the tree, in both the ancient and modern practice, obviates the necessity for seeking further; and we are justified in concluding that the peasantry of Norfolk, Sussex, and other parts of England have kept for at least ten centuries the practices which their forefathers religiously held to be necessary to their soul's salvation.

Will anyone say that we have not measured this survival correctly? I think not, and, when one considers the enormous number of survivals that need to undergo this process, the sooner we put the measuring instrument to use the better. We get no nearer the truth by simply calling such customs "survivals"—survivals of what, is the real question; and when this has been answered with reference to the bulk of our folk-lore, then we may begin to discuss the question of origins.

The next principle is that folk-lore cannot by any possibility develop. The doctrine of evolution is so strong upon us that we are apt to apply its leading idea insensibly to almost every branch of human history. But folk-lore, being what it is, namely, the survival of traditional ideas or practices among a people whose principal members have passed beyond the stage of civilisation which those ideas and practices once represented, it is impossible for it to have any development. When the original ideas and practices which