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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/85

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THE WILL-O'-THE WISP AND ITS FOLK-LORE.

"It is wrong! it is wrong! it is wrong!" There is also a Danish tradition which informs us that near Skovby, on the Isle of Falster, there are many Jack-o'-Lanterns. They are believed to be the souls of land-measurers, who, having in their lifetime perpetrated injustice in their measurements, are doomed to run up Skovby bakke at midnight, which they measure with red-hot irons, exclaiming, "Here is the clear and right boundary! from here to there." By another curious notion the Will-o'-the-Wisps are represented to be the souls of unbaptized children. On one occasion,[1] a Dutch parson, happening to go home to his village late one evening, fell in with no less than three of these fiery phenomena. Remembering them to be the souls of unbaptized children, he solemnly stretched out his hand and pronounced the words of baptism over them. Much, however, to his consternation and surprise, in the twinkling of an eye a thousand or more of these apparitions suddenly made their appearance—no doubt all earnestly wanting to be baptized. The good man, runs the story, was so terribly frightened, that, forgetting all his kind intentions, he took to his heels and ran home as fast as his legs could take him. In Lusatia, where the same superstition prevails, these fires are supposed to be quite harmless, and the souls of the unbaptized children to be relieved from their destined wanderings so soon as any pious hand throws a handful of consecrated ground after them.[2] A Brittany piece of folk-lore is that the "Porte-brandon" appears in the form of a child bearing a torch, which he turns round like a burning wheel—occasionally setting fire to the villages which from some inexplicable cause are suddenly wrapped in flames. According to a Netherlandish tradition,[3] because the souls of these wretched children can not enter heaven, they, under the form of "Jack-o'-Lanterns," take their abode in forests, and in dark and desert places, where they mourn over their bitter lot. Whenever they are fortunate enough to see any one, they run up and hasten before him, in order to show the way to some water, that they may get baptized. Should no one take compassion on them, it is said that they must for ever remain without the gates of paradise.

Among other legends connected with this subject, we may mention one current on the Continent, thus recorded by Carl Engel:[4] On the ridge of the high Rhön, near Bischofsheim, there are two morasses—known as the red and black morass—where two villages are reported to have stood which sunk into the earth on account of the dissolute life of the inhabitants.[5] On these two morasses there appear at night maidens in the shape of dazzling apparitions of light. They float and flutter over the light of their former home, but are now less frequently seen than in the olden time. A good many years ago, two or three of

  1. Engel's "Musical Myths and Facts," 1876, i, 407.
  2. Thoms's "Notelets on Shakespeare," 1865, 63.
  3. Thorpe's "North-German Mythology," iii, 220.
  4. "Musical Myths and Facts," i, 208.
  5. Cf. similar tale in Hunt's "Popular Romances of the West of England."