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Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 4, 1893.djvu/16

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8
Annual Address by the President.

custom for mothers, when giving their child the breast for the last time, to put an egg in its hand and sit on the threshold of the outer door with a leg on each side, and this ceremony was usually done on a Sunday, Undoubtedly I think we have here a very nearly perfect formula; but what is its purpose, and what is the penalty for non-observance? Upon both these latter points the example is silent, and before they can be restored we must search among the other fragments of threshold customs and see whether they exist either separately from the formula or with a less perfect example.

The second phase of the analysis, where the formula has disappeared and the purpose and penalty remain, covers nearly the whole range of those floating beliefs and superstitions which occupy so largely the collections of folk-lore. But I will select one example which will be to the point. When the Manx cottager looks for the traces of a foot in the ashes of his firegrate for the purpose of seeing in what direction the toes point, the penalty being that, if they point to the door, a death will occur, if to the fireplace, a birth, there is no trace of the ancient formula. It is true we may find the missing formula in other lands, for instance, among some of the Indian tribes of Bombay. There the formula is elaborate and complete, while the purpose and the penalty are exactly the same as in the Isle of Man. But this hasty travelling to other lands is not, I contend, legitimate in the first place. We must begin by seeing whether there is not some other item of folk-lore, perhaps not now even connected with the house-fire group of customs and superstitions, whose true place is that of the lost formula of this interesting Manx custom. And when once we have taught ourselves the way to restore these lost formulae to their rightful places, I put it to you whether the explanation of the mere waifs and strays of folk-lore will not be attended with some approach to scientific accuracy, and whether we shall not then be in a position to get rid of that shibboleth so dear to the non-