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The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 2/Notes and Queries (p. 285–8)

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Folk-lore Terminology.—In the August number of Mélusine, M. Gaidoz draws attention to the great importance of determining the terminology of the science of comparative mythology. There can be no doubt that this work is very much needed, but not more so, I would venture to suggest, than the determination of the terminology of the science of folk-lore. It will be gathered from this way of putting it that I claim for folk-lore a distinct and separate existence from "Comparative Mythology"; and though I know that in most minds, and I should judge in that of M. Gaidoz himself, the two terms are synonymous, or nearly so, yet I would urge that the settlement of this very question of terminology would set at rest all doubts about this primary question. It seems a little curious that after six years of existence for the Folk-Lore Society we should not yet have satisfactorily settled the proper meaning of the term "Folk-lore." Mr. Lang has over and over again protested against its misuse, but I think that even his definition of it as a study of survivals does not comprehend all the functions that the science of folk-lore properly includes. I have been studying this question for some time past with a view of writing an introduction to the science of folk-lore, which is now far advanced towards completion; but the many difficulties and the many differences of opinion on most subjects connected with the study of folk-lore have made me hesitate to promulgate my own opinion as one which should govern folk-lorists. Still there can be no doubt that the subject wants taking up in this way; and I shall be happy to lead off the discussion in these columns by printing my own definition of folk-lore, if by so doing I can obtain the opinions of other Members of the Society, and by this means thrash the question out.

Besides, however, the primary question as to the scope and meaning of the science of folk-lore, there are several subsidiary points in folklore terminology to settle. The Folk-Tale Committee was met at the very outset by the difficulty of a standard title for stories which belonged to one class—such as, we will say, the Cinderella class. All stories being variants of the Cinderella story should be known by some standard title. Then again there is the terminology for incidents in folk-tales. The incidents in folk-tales have been neglected, while the form, plot, and construction have been studied for years. But we cannot study the incidents of folk-tales until we get a proper terminology. I should like to see compiled (and to get it done by co-operation with Members of the Society, just as the tabulation is being done) an index of folk-tale incidents; but such a task is hopeless unless first of all a common terminology is agreed upon.

I have just thrown these few thoughts together with the ope that by discussion we may arrive at something like a process of settlement; and if no one else comes forward with any definition I will gladly commence with mine.

Threading the Needle at Ripon Cathedral.—(Ante, p. 253.)—There is a crypt beneath Ripon Minster which is believed by those best competent to judge to be of early Saxon architecture. In this crypt, connecting one part with another in a way not easy to describe without a plan, is a passage raised above the ground. The late Mr. John Richard Walbran, in a paper which he read before the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire Architectural Societies on September 14, 1858, says that "the easternmost niche in the north wall has, at some period subsequent to its original construction, been perforated and enlarged through the wall to the passage behind, so as to form that renowned place of ordeal to which tradition tells us that those ladies who loved 'not wisely but too well' were occasionally subjected The purposes to which this very singular place has been successively applied are not certainly ascertained, though there seems no doubt but that originally it was intended to serve as a place of retirement, humiliation, penance, and prayer. Camden was told, within memory of the Reformation, that women were drawn through 'the Needle' as an ordeal of their chastity—the culprit being 'miraculously' detained; or, as Fuller wittily observed, 'they pricked their credits who could not thread the needle.' As far, however, as the contraction of space was concerned, the frailest of the frail might have rioted in intrigue unconvicted. A conspicuous reluctance to assume the necessary prostrate position was, I apprehend, the real difficulty."—Reports of Associated Architec. Societies, 1859, pp. 82, 83. Cf. Walbran's Guide to Ripon, 12th ed. 1875, p. 67.

Flax in Folk-lore.—(Ante, p. 254).—Perhaps the following extract from my Flowers and Flower-lore,^ vol. i. p. 134, may throw light on the subject. "We are told that it is customary in one part of Germany for the bride to place flax in her shoes, that she may never come to want. In another place she will tie a string of flax around her left leg, in the belief that she will thereby enjoy the full blessing of the marriage state." See also page 180 for the association of this plant, with other branches of folk-lore. From Liddell and Scott we learn that the word λινον was used metaphorically to signify the thread spun by the Fates, so that flax has long had a mysterious association with the well-being of man. In fact, as Count A. de Gubernates says: "Le lin est symbole de vie de végétation facile et abondante." Vide Mythologie des Plantes, vol. ii. p. 199. It is one of the famous springwurzel, whence we find it known iu Würtemburg as springlein and schliesslein, both interesting words in this connexion.


Notes from Leland's Itinerary (Hearne).— At Kenchester Roman money found there "the people calleth Dwarfes mony."—Vol. v. p. 62. "The first river be side Tyue that I passid over was Clardue. . . . . . . I saw ii hillettes, thorough the wich Clarduy passith, wher they fable that a Gigant striding was wont to wasch his hondes, and that Arture killid hym. The Dwellers say also that the Gigant was buried therby, and shew the place."—Vol. v. p. 78. "To Borow Hilles [from Burton Lazar] more than ii miles . . . . . . [it] is duble dichid and conteinith within the Dishe to my estimation a iiii score Acres. . . . . . . To thes Borow Hilles every yere on Monday after Whitesonday cum people of the Contery therabowt, and shote, renne, wrastel, dawnce, and use like other Feates of exercyse."—Vol. v. p. 100. "Mougreve Castelle stondith on a Craggy Hille, and on each side of it is an Hille far higher then that whereon the Castelle stondith on. The North Hille on the Toppe of it hath certen stones communely caullid Waddes Grave, whom the people there say to have bene a Gigant and Owner of Mougreve."—Vol, i. p. 60.

Revival of Witchcraft in Ross-shire.—A correspondent sends us the following:—The belief in witchcraft, which has never become quite extinct in the more remote parts of the Highlands, has recently been revived in a certain parish on the west coast of Ross-shire. Some time ago a party of gipsies, who had been encamped in the locality in question, took the liberty of grazing their horses on pasture belonging to a township of small tenants in the immediate neighbourhood of their camp. This unwarranted encroachment on their rights the tenants resented, and drove away the obnoxious intruders, hag and baggage, from the place. On taking their departure some of the gipsies were heard to remark that the tenants might not be quite so conservative of their pasture, which ere long they would have no cattle to consume. At the time no notice was taken of this implied threat. Soon after, however, three valuable cows belonging to one of the tenants died one after the other in quick succession, suddenly and under mysterious circumstances, while two of the other tenants lost a cow each under similar circumstances. A respectable farmer, noted in the district for uprightness and integrity of character, and who is considered an authority in veterinary matters, had been called to see one of the animals shortly before it died, and, having carefully examined the beast, at once pronounced it to have been "witched," as the symptoms were those of no known disease. On the strength of this statement on the part of one who is looked on as an authority in such matters, coupled with the ominous language made use of by the gipsies, a considerable section of the community unhesitatingly attribute the death of the cattle to the agency of witchcraft! As a charm against the evil influences at work one of the tenants, acting on the advice of the initiated, had the door of his byre changed from one side of the house to the other, but with what result remains to be seen. Pending the efficacy of this charm a young man has proceeded to one of the western isles, with the view of consulting a famous witch-doctor said to be in practice there. As an indication of the prevalence of the belief in witchcraft it may be stated that in the district in question there are two witch-doctors residing within a distance of twenty miles of each other.—Glasgow Herald, 28 July, 1884.