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Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 8, 1897.djvu/309

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Miscellanea. 285

their heads with red paint, hoping thereby to be blessed with children. I have often seen flowers laid before this stone, which was placed in a niche by a spring on the side of a picturesque wooded bank above a temple near Mangalore, the principal town of Canara, on the western coast of India. I understood that offerings and adjurations were especially made to the side of the stone bearing the rude sculpture of a serpent-woman, which recalls the Melusina of mediaeval romance. A vast amount of ancient symbolism is gathered round this form. ^ In early Christian ages, amongst that pre-eminently mystical sect the Gnostics, the serpent- woman typified the world-soul, the third creative power, whence issued matter from which man was formed. That strange bewil- dering system almost certainly reached Egypt and Europe from the East. I could not learn, however, that any popular stories like the Melusina romance-legends are current regarding these snake-woman figures in India to-day.

It may be mentioned that some regard the serpent-stones as relics of that Scythian invasion of which a dim tradition survives, and which at some unrecorded time preceded the advent of the Aryan tribes. Some of the stones bear a snake on one side and on the other a figure in what looks like the ancient Scythic cos- tume of high cap and tunic, such as would befit a cold country, resembling nothing worn by Hindus.

I may add, lastly, one extraordinary bit of folklore belief with respect to the cobra and snake-stones. The Rev. G. Richter, a missionary long resident in Coorg, reports that in that small prin- cipality, situate between Canara and Mysore, it is popularly believed that the cobra lives a thousand years ; at middle life its body begins to shrink and brighten till it shines like silver, and measures three feet or less at the age of six or seven hundred years ; later on it shines like gold, and is only a foot in length ; at last it shrinks to the size of a finger. Then one day it flies up in the air, dies, falls to the ground, and disappears, but presently a serpent-stone appears upon the spot, which is called Naka, and enclosed with stones ; anyone stepping upon it, even unawares, will be attacked by incurable skin-disease, and rot away by degrees. Down further south the natives have a strange notion that a cobra dying turns into a partridge ; and everywhere when spoken of it is termed " the good snake," like " the good people " in Ireland and Scotland, and the Eumenides in antiquity.

M. J. Walhouse.