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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/850

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

A Tyrolese legend[1] relates how a boy who had climbed a tree "overlooked the ghastly doings of certain witches beneath its boughs. They tore in pieces the corpse of a woman, and threw the portions in the air. The boy caught one, and kept it by him; but the witches, on counting the pieces, found that one was missing, and so replaced it by a scrap of alder-wood, when instantly the dead came to life again."

Similarly, also, they had their favorite flowers, one having been the foxglove, nicknamed "witches' bells," from their decorating their fingers with its blossoms; while in some localities the harebell is designated the "witches' thimble." On the other hand, flowers of a yellow or greenish hue were distasteful to them.[2]

In the witchcraft movement it would seem that certain plants were in requisition for particular purposes, these workers of darkness having utilized the properties of herbs to special ends. A plant was not indiscriminately selected, but on account of possessing some virtue as to render it suitable for any design that the witches might have in view. Considering, too, how multitudinous and varied were their actions, they had constant need of applying to the vegetable world for materials with which to carry out their plans. But foremost among their requirements was the power of locomotion wherewith to enable them, with supernatural rapidity, to travel from one locality to another. Accordingly, one of their most favorite vehicles was a besom or broom, an implement which, it has been suggested, from its being a type of the winds, is an appropriate utensil "in the hands of the witches, who are wind-makers and workers in that element."[3] According to the "Asiatic Register" for 1801, the Eastern as well as the European witches "practice their spells by dancing at midnight, and the principal instrument they use on such occasions is a broom." Hence, in Hamburg, sailors, after long toiling against a contrary wind, on meeting another ship sailing in an opposite direction, throw an old broom before the vessel, believing thereby to reverse the wind.[4] As, too, in the case of vervain and rue, the besom, although dearly loved by witches, is still extensively used as a counter-charm against their machinations—it being a well-known belief both in England and Germany that no individual of this stamp can step over a besom laid inside the threshold. Hence, also, in Westphalia, at Shrovetide, white besoms with white handles are tied to the cows' horns; and, in the rites connected with the midsummer fires kept up in different parts of the country, the besom holds a prominent place. In Bo-

  1. See Folkard's "Plant Lore, Legends, and Lyrics," p. 209.
  2. Ibid., p. 10-1.
  3. See Kelly's "Indo-European Folk-Lore," pp. 225-227.
  4. See Hardwick's "Traditions, Superstitions, and Folk-Lore," p. 117; also Grimm's "Teutonic Mythology," 1883, iii, 1083.