Open main menu

Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 8, 1897.djvu/93

This page has been validated.

it gradually acquired a different meaning? I have no proper books of reference on the subject at hand, but I find in the Rev. J. G. Wood's account of the Mandan Indians,[1] which is probably taken from Catlin, that the buffalo-dance was a sacred exercise performed to bring the bison, commonly known as buffalo, within reach, when hunters failed to find game. Among the Mandans every man had a buffalo mask, i.e. the skin of the head, with the horns attached to it, and to the head was usually added a strip of skin, some four or five inches wide, extending along the whole length of the animal, and including the tail. When the wearer put on his mask, the strip of skin hung down his back, and the tail dragged on the ground behind him. Thus accoutred the dancers moved in a circle imitating the actions of the buffalo ; and the dance went on without cessation till the longed-for animals were discovered, and all fear of death from hunger was over for the time being.

No doubt other instances of procuring game by prefiguring its appearance might easily be found. The idea that to imitate or to speak of a thing, or event, causes it to appear, or to happen, is very common. The prejudice against direct mention of the Devil springs, in a great degree, from the feeling that he will become visible after his name has been uttered. It is also a widely accepted belief that to allude to one's good fortune in escaping sorrow or vexation of any kind brings the trouble to pass. A merely verbal representation of the evil suffices to cause its arrival.

Has anyone ever attempted to trace back the hobby-horse of the horn-dance and other similar festivals to pre-Christian days? At Padstow, in Cornwall, the hobby-horse, after being taken round the town during the Maytide fête, was submerged in the sea,[2] which suggests that the sacrifice of horses, or their mimic representatives, to water was once practised in Britain. This idea is further confirmed by the fact that many sprites connected with rivers, lakes, and marshes are equine in form, although others are bovine, because, it is to be assumed, cattle were also used as offerings.

  1. The Natural History of Man, 1870, pp. 668, 669, of the volume relating to America.
  2. Hunt, Popular Romances of the West of England (1881), p. 194.