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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/234

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

difficult and even dangerous test, they finally submitted to it rather than remain under the suspicion of practicing the black art. This performance, which is unquestionably a relic of Uralian-Finnish paganism, took place on March 16, 1896. The following instance may serve as an example of the ruthless barbarity to which such delusions often lead: In December, 1874, a South Russian peasant in the vicinity of Cherson missed one hundred rubles and went to a weird woman in order to learn what had become of them. She consulted her cards and declared that the money had been stolen by a certain Marfa Artynov. The man was greatly astonished at this response, because the accused was a highly respected teacher of young children, and had the reputation of being thoroughly honest. Nevertheless, his credulity got the better of his common sense, and with the aid of his neighbors he seized Marfa and carried her to the churchyard, where he bound her to a cross and began to torture her, beating her with a knout, suspending her by her hands, and twisting and tearing her neck and tongue with a pincers. To her cries and entreaties her tormentors coolly replied, "If you are really innocent, what we are doing can cause you no pain!" Many of the persons who offer their services as clairvoyants and seers to a credulous and confiding public, and whose utterances are accepted as oracles, are professional swindlers. Thus a young lady moving in the higher circles of society in Vienna had a valuable set of diamonds stolen. By the advice of a trusted lackey she consulted a woman, who was reputed to have the power of divination, and who informed her, contrary to the strong suspicions of the police, that the theft had been committed, not by any member of the household, but by a stranger. The young lady was so firmly persuaded of the truth of this statement that, although urged by the court to prosecute the lackey, she refused to do so. The evidence against him, however, was so strong that he was finally tried and condemned. The pythoness, who had endeavored to exculpate him, proved to be his aunt and accomplice.

A queer phase of superstition, which in many parts of Europe seriously interferes with the administration of justice, manifests itself in the various means of avoiding the evil consequences of perjury, at least so far as to soothe the pangs of conscience and to avert the divine anger. This immunity is secured in some provinces of Austria by carrying on one's person a bit of consecrated wafer, a piece of bone from the skeleton of a child, or the eyes of a hoopoe, holding a ducat or seven small pebbles in the mouth, pressing the left hand firmly against the side, crooking the second finger, or pulling off a button from the trousers while in the act of swearing, or spitting immediately after taking an oath. The Russian province of Viatka