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Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 4, 1893.djvu/17

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9
Annual Address by the President.

folklore critic, that all these things we deal with are " mere superstitions".

Thirdly, when the formula is complete, or nearly so, and the purpose and penalty become generalised. At St. Edmundsbury a white bull, which enjoyed full ease and plenty in the fields, and was never yoked to the plough or employed in any service, was led in procession through the chief streets of the town to the principal gate of the monastery, attended by all the monks singing and a shouting crowd. Knowing what Grimm has collected concerning the worship of the white bull, knowing what is performed in India to this day, there is no doubt that this formula of the white bull at St. Edmundsbury has been preserved in very good condition. The purpose of it was, however, not so satisfactory. It is said to have taken place whenever a married woman wished to have a child; and the penalty is lost in the obvious generalisation that not to perform the ceremony is not to obtain the desired end.

In these cases we have before us examples of the changes in folk-lore, and demonstrably they are changes of decay, not of development. By grouping them and arranging them it may be possible to ascertain and set down the laws of change—for that there are laws I am nearly certain, just as there are laws for word-change. It is these laws which must be discovered before we can go very far forward in our studies. Every item of custom and superstition must be tested by analysis to find out under which power it lives on in survival, and, according to the result in each case, so may we hope to find out something about the story which folk-lore has to tell us of ancient man.

The next principle relates to the causes of the continuation of folk-lore. And herein is one of our greatest problems. A custom, belief, or superstition is continued year after year, when it is barbarous, sometimes indecent, oftentimes disgusting or brutally cruel; a legend, or myth, is related