Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/510

This page has been validated.

have reason to know from the example of Ohio, began in the hunting stage of humanity—the burial mound would be almost certainly conspicuous, from this cause alone, for its exceptional greenness. In the second place, again, the body within would add to its fertility, the more so as a great chief was seldom committed to the tomb alone, but was usually accompanied to the grave, whose megalithic stone chamber was to serve as his future palace, by his slaves, his wives, and his other belongings. In the third place, too, animals would be slaughtered, and feasts would take place at the newly made barrow. The blood of the victims on such occasions is habitually poured out on the grave, or on the surface of the altar stone; offerings of meat, of fruit, of milk, of oil, are made there in abundance by trembling worshipers. These offerings would act, of course, as rich manures, and would encourage on the barrows an unusual wealth and luxuriance of vegetation. But primitive man knows nothing of the nature and action of manure. To him, the fact that grass grew greener and bushes spread faster on the tumulus of the dead would almost inevitably appear as an effect immediately due to the supernatural power of the ghost or spirit who dwelt within it. In all probability, the savage would envisage to himself the actual herbs and shrubs which so sprang upon the tumulus as the direct embodiment of the soul of his ancestor, or his departed chieftain.

Now, it could hardly be expected that any direct evidence of so abstruse a point as this would be forthcoming from books or the accounts of travelers. Yet, fortunately, however, I have been lucky enough to hit in an unexpected place upon one curious little bit of actual confirmation of this a priori suggestion. In his excellent work on Nether Lochaber, the Rev. Alexander Stewart, of Ballachulish, quotes and translates a Gaelic MSS. poem, collected by Mr. Macdonald, the minister of the parish of Fortingall, in Perthshire, one stanza of which runs as follows:

"And ever he saw that his maidens paid

To the fairies their due on the Fairy Knowe,
 Till the emerald sward was under the tread
As velvet soft and all aglow
 With wild flowers such as fairies cull,

 Weaving their garlands and wreaths for the dance when the moon is full!"

Upon this suggestive verse Mr. Stewart makes a curious and important comment.

"The allusion to paying—

'The fairies their due on the fairy knowe,'

has reference to the custom, common enough on the western mainland and in some of the Hebrides some fifty years ago, and