The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 1/Continental Folk-lore Notes


THE following scraps of folk-lore were noted down from the conversation of persons of the middle-class in Switzerland and Würtemberg, during the year 1881. As such old-world sayings are still half believed among educated people, it is probable that a rich harvest of superstitions might be reaped among the poorer and more ignorant portion of the populations of those countries.

Swiss Superstitions.—It is unlucky to mention the date at which the birth of a child is expected. If you have reason to think that a child is bewitched, place a bible under its pillow, then the spell will be broken. This bible-charm was used by the mother of a Calvinistic pastor in the year 1880.

Never go out for pleasure on the Lake of Bienne on one certain day,—it is, I think, the 25th of July,—if you wish to escape death. The general belief in this superstition was greatly strengthened in 1880, for a steamer capsized on the fatal day and all on board were drowned.

An unmarried woman should not be the first person to cut a pat of butter, for if she does so she will never marry though she may have many suitors.

Friday is the proper day on which to cut a baby's nails.

If the fowls huddle together outside a hen-house, instead of going to roost, there will be wet weather.

if a child suffers much pain while it is teething, hang a necklace of amber round its neck, then the teeth will appear quickly and easily. Amber necklaces made specially for this purpose are advertised in the country papers.

Never bring the flower of the periwinkle into the house; if you do so strife will follow.

A birthday-cake must have lighted candles arranged around it, one candle for each year of life. Before the cake is eaten the person whose birthday it is should solemnly blow out the candles one after another.

If people wed when the bise is blowing the wife will be the master.

It is unlucky to dream of cherries or fish.

There are fifty-two unlucky days in the year, and on these days one should not marry.

When the soup is burnt it is said that the fox has dipped his brush into it. Is it possible that our English word "bishopped" refers to some beast fable in which Reynard plays the part of an ecclesiastic?

If you lose your engagement ring you will be very unfortunate.

Always make a new-born child a present when you go to see the mother.

The sunset glow on the waters of the Lake of Morat is called "the blood of the Burgundians," but this name is, like the following legend, probably modern.

When the devil showed all the kingdoms of the earth and the glory of them to our Lord, he hid the hill which lies between the Lake of Morat and the Lake of Neuchâtel under his thumb, for the ways of its inhabitants were so much to his liking that he could not make up his mind to part from them.

Hundreds of people flocked into the town of Fribourg from the outlying villages during the summer of 1881 to see a celebrated woman doctor who had the power of giving sight to the blind and speech to the dumb. This wonder-worker could, according to the general belief, not only make the lame walk, but could knit together a broken spine and make the crooked straight.

Würtemherg Superstitions.—The first dream that you dream in a strange house will be fulfilled.

It is lucky to see a spider in the morning, but unlucky to see it in the afternoon. In some villages wedding guests walk round the altar before leaving the church, the bride walks before the women and the bridegroom before the men.

Firearms and crackers are constantly exploded during the last days of the vintage.

Never leave a solitary scrap of food on a plate, for if you do so bad weather will follow. If a child's stocking slips down bid it fasten it up quickly for fear that it should bring bad weather.

If a bat flies into a house and settles on a person's head that person will become bald.

When you kill a pig send your neighbours some of the meat. This custom is also English. In Lincolnshire "pig-cheer," i. e. the inward parts of the pig which cannot be salted, are distributed among the neighbours after a sufficient portion has been put aside for family use.

A Würtemberg Pfarrer told me that he had great trouble with his people on account of their obstinate belief in witchcraft. Formerly he lived in a village which was the dwelling-place of a well-known wizard. This wizard had received many sackfuls of apples from a certain rich and pious peasant, but on one occasion the peasant refused to give him more, when he came to ask for a further supply. "You will be sorry for this," said the wizard, as he went away. And sure enough the man was sorry, for in a few days one of his children sickened, and after a short illness died. On the burial-day another child fell ill, and it also died. A third was also attacked by the fatal disease. While it lay dying the father said to his fourth child, "Your turn will come next"; and, when he was reproved for speaking thus, he obstinately asserted that the whole family was bewitched. A Jew, who lived in the village, came to the Pfarrer soon after and told him that he believed that the children were all put to sleep in the bed where the first child had died, and that therefore they were infected by the fever-germs that it had left behind. He also said that he would lend the children beds if the Pfarrer could persuade the parents to take them. This was needless, however, as the peasant himself changed the sleeping-place of the children, and the malady spread no further. The whole family believes to this day the wizard caused this calamity to fall on their house because he had been sent away empty-handed.

On another occasion a rich peasant-woman sent for a wise man to tell her why a fine young horse had fallen ill. The man told her it was bewitched, and after drawing a magic circle he declared that whoever first stepped within the line would be the guilty person. A poor old woman to whom the peasant-woman had been very kind appeared almost immediately, and entered the circle. From that time her rich neighbour detested her and warned the neighbours against her. The poor creature was persecuted so constantly that she had to appeal to the Pfarrer for protection, and he caused the chief sinner to be threatened with prison by the legal authorities, while he himself spoke of penalties "worse than prison," and told his people from the pulpit that he should "leave this sin lying on the congregation till the poor outcast was again kindly received by her fellow parishioners." At this threat the persecution ceased, but it is to be doubted whether the opinion of the villagers was in the least changed.

In Holstein there is a saying that if you eat the three first daisies that you find in the spring you will not suffer from fever during the year.

In Hamburg people say "the angels are playing at skittles," when it thunders. It is the custom in this city to take out the marking letters from the clothes in which a corpse is buried. If this is not done a person of the same name and from the same house as the dead man. or woman will speedily die.

In Greece there will be a wedding in the house where myrtle grows in the form of a crown.

Professor Stephens mentions several variants of the story of Thor slaughtering one of his goats in his Professor S. Bugge's Studies on Northern Mythology Shortly Examined, p. 116, but he does not appear to have met with the following folk-tale, which is evidently the old heathen legend slightly altered:—

"Once upon a time, in the early days of the world, the Lord God often took upon Him the form of a man and descended to earth, and walked about among men. Now one night He was belated at the hour when all creatures seek repose, in a village high up in the mountains of Bigorre. He called to beg hospitality at the doors of many rich people, but one and all refused to take Him into their houses, and He could find no shelter except in the hut of a poor cowherd. And as the cowherd had nothing to set before the poor traveller for supper, he generously killed his only calf, and made it ready, and set meat before Him. And God said to the poor cowherd, 'My dear host, put aside all the bones of that calf except this one, which I will take.' The cowherd obeyed, and when they had supped he laid the bones of the calf in a row at one end of the hut, and the two laid down and slept. At daybreak the cowherd arose and went out, and he saw his calf whose flesh they had eaten the night before eating the grass before the hut; and he had got all his bones except the one which the Lord God had taken, and which sounded merrily in a great bell that hung round his neck. But the village, with its wicked and inhospitable inhabitants, was swallowed up entirely, except the cabin into which the Lord had entered, and in its place there was a great lake, whose clear waters were as blue as the sky. That lake is called Lhéon."—A Lady's Walks in the South of France, by Mary Eyre, London, 1865, pp. 293-294.