Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/775

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CURIOSITIES OF SUPERSTITION.

life, and restores the peace of the original elements." The Parsees worship in fire the purifying principle of Nature. Their millennium, like that of the Nihilists, will he preceded by a general explosion, a thorough actual cautery of earthly sores, and uncremated corpses will have to await the day of that final world-purgatory.

The vampire-superstition has been traced back to the earliest centuries of the Christian era, when the Nature-worship of ancient Europe had to yield to the dreary asceticism of the new creed, and the ancient divinities and their retainers had to wander homeless—in the North as followers of the Wild Huntsman, and in the South as night-hags and ghouls, like the Lamia of that weird and wonderful ballad, Goethe's "Bride of Corinth," which his rival, Heine, calls the "lyrical masterpiece of European poetry." A citizen of Corinth, a recent convert, betroths his daughter first to a young Athenian, and next to the "bridegroom of the Church," i. e., shuts her up in a nunnery, where they kill her with prayers and penances. Bridegroom number one arrives unexpectedly one evening; explanations are postponed to the next day, and in the mean time the guest is consigned to a room formerly occupied by his lost bride. During the night her mother hears stealthy footsteps and a whispered conversation, and, impelled by an irresistible curiosity, she opens the door of the guest-chamber. A vampire, caught in flagrante, confronts her, and she recognizes her own daughter, who, instead of collapsing at the sign of the cross, turns upon her with fierce reproaches, admits the fatal consequences of her visit, mentions other victims, but finally suggests the remedy—a Grecian funeral-pile. Her body, she says, has to be removed from the stifling cloister-vault, and cremated in due form, together with the corpse of her lover:

"When the stake-fires blend,
When the sparks ascend,
Shall our spirits join the ancient gods."

In the mountains of Upper Austria the natives dread the boding voice of the Klage, a spectral Cassandra who frequents the desolate highlands of the Wiener Wald and the eastern Alps. He who meets her meets his death; her voice presages imminent misfortune, or afflicts the hearer with chronic hypochondria, for the echo of her wail will haunt the ear forever. A precisely analogous spook, the llorona (from llorar, to weep or mourn), infests the Sierras of old Spain, while La Pleureuse bemoans the sorrows of life on the French side of the Pyrenees. This concomitance of highlands and pessimism seems rather paradoxical; but mountaineers are mostly autochthones (like the Basques, Gaelic Scotch, Circassians, Ghebirs, and Druses), and may have preserved the memory of a Juventus Mundi, which lingered in their rocks, together with paganism and Ruskinian ideals.

The belief in the malign influence of the mal-occhio, or evil-eye, is