The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 5/Notes and Queries (September)


Building Superstitions.—A Human Sacrifice necessary to the Stability of an important Building.—See Folk-Lore Record, vol. iii. pp. 282-3; do. vol. iv. pp. 124, 186; Folk-Lore Journal, vol. i. pp. 23-4, 92. The following extracts from the Ceylon Observer of 27th January, 1887, show that there has recently been a scare of this kind at Colombo, where new waterworks are being constructed. One correspondent says:—

"Have you heard the reports and rumours about the human sacrifices? It is reported all over Colombo for the last ten days that human sacrifices are being offered up—some say for the completion of the Maligakanda Reservoir (by Europeans). The rumour has spread to such an extent that many of the schools in Colombo are almost empty the parents refusing to allow their children to go out, as the sacrifices are all boys under twelve years, and a good many children are reported missing. The next rumour to-day is that a Buddhist priest has heard of an enormous treasure, and that he is secretly sacrificing 350 boys under twelve years of age before he can get at it. It is a fact that in one school in Colombo to-day there appeared only a seventh part of the scholars, and during the day some of these are taken away by their parents. The children are said to have a white powder as fine as snuff thrown in their faces, or that they are made to smell it, and are consequently made insensible and carried off. Unless something be done and the rumours put down, the schools of Colombo may soon get emptied, as the story is believed even by many very intelligent people who ought to know better, and by almost every native I have spoken to."


"The kidnapping scare is on the increase, and everybody believes it. All sorts of wild rumours are afloat. The Chettys lock themselves in at seven, and nothing can induce them to get out after that hour. I hear that the Moorman assaulted at Kayman's Gate has died. The fact seems to be that the Moorman was a quiet shop-keeper who bought some things in the market and asked a cooly boy to carry them home. The boy, whose mind was rather unsettled by the recent rumours, suspecting something, refused. The Moorman who wanted somebody to carry his purchases gave the boy a gentle tap on the back and pressed the boy to help him, who, thinking that he had encountered a real kidnapper, set up a frightful howl which induced the people in the neighbourhood to rush in and give the surprised Moorman a sound thrashing. Two hundred human beings are required, says rumour, to propitiate the deity, who is responsible for the crack in the Maligakanda Reservoir."

J. P. Lewis.

The Evil Eye and the Evil Tongue.—The influence of the evil eye is as well known in Shetland as in other parts of the world. But to rank an evil tongue in the same category of malefic potency is a refinement of superstition unknown to the folk-lore of the majority of people. "Nobody must praise a child or anything they set a value on, for if anything evil afterwards befals it," this will be attributed to the tongue that spoke of it. This was called "forespeaking," and persons so forespoken could only be loosed from their enchantment by being washed in a water of which the concoction is kept a profound secret. —"Shetland and its People," by Sheriff Rampini, in Good Words for 1884, p. 748. See also Gregor, Folk-Lore of the North-east of Scotland, under "Forespeaking."

In Ceylon, both Sinhalese and Tamil cultivators believe in the evil influence on their crops of the tongue as well as in that of the eye.

J. P. Lewis.

Laying a Ghost.—A Newhaven despatch to a New York paper says:—In the Roman Catholic Cemetery in Birmingham early on the morning of the 18th ult., four middle-aged women and two men, the latter armed with spades and picks, entered by the side gate and halted in front of a newly-made grave. The men set to work, while the women wept, and opened the grave and hauled a coffin up. The lid was taken off, and the remains of a beautiful young girl were revealed. The men stood aside, and the four women bent over the coffin, and deft fingers went rapidly through the dead girl's hair and shroud, and all the pins that could be found on the remains were removed. Then a needle and thread were procured, and the shroud and hair sewn back into their places. The lid was then screwed back on the coffin, and the remains were again lowered into the grave, which was at once filled up. It was learned that the women were of a very superstitious nature, and that they believed that if a corpse is buried with a shroud pinned up, instead of sewed, the soul will be confined to the grave for eternity, and the persons guilty of the mistake will be haunted till death by the ghost of the victim. A mistake was made in this case, and one of the women claims that she had seen the ghost for two or three nights successively, and she could stand it no longer; so she got the other women together, and between them they hired the men to disinter the body. The ghost has not been seen since.—Bath Herald, 13th March, 1886.

Some curious Scottish Customs, temp. 1535.—In a diary of Peter Suavenius, during his mission in England and Scotland, there is recorded that "there are trees in Scotland from which birds are produced; he is told it is undoubtedly true; those birds which fall from the trees into water become animated, but those which fall to the ground do not; the figures of birds are found in the heart of the wood of the trees and on the root; the birds themselves (which are very delicate eating) do not generate .... There is a place within a circuit of eight miles in which cocks never crow .... The Scots who inhabit the woods live like Scythians; they have no bread and live on raw venison .... In England there is a noble family named Constable, who formerly received their fee from the king of the Danes; now annually, at Christmas, the oldest member of the family goes to the seaside northwards, and cries out three times that if there is any one who will receive the rent for the king of the Danes he is ready to pay it; at last, tieing a coin to an arrow, he shoots it as far as possible into the sea."—See Forty-fifth Report of the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records, Appendix, p. 15.

Arabic Proverbs.—In Hearne's Collections, issued by the Oxford Historical Society, we read (p. 240):—"Some years ago Dr. Pocock made or at least began a translation of a curious MS. amongst his Collection of Arabick Proverbs; but it being not ever publish'd and nobody now knowing where it is; Mr. Marshal (Bachelor of Arts and student of Christ Church), an ingenious modest young gentleman and of considerable abilities in these studies, about 203 years since had some design of doing it anew and making it publick . . . but not finding, I presume, sufficient encouragement . . . the work was laid aside." Is it known where this MS. now is?

Story of King Alfred and the Cakes.— In a Blue Book, Report of Vice-Consul Carles of a Journey from Soul to the Phyong Kong Gold Washings, 1885 (C. 4522), occurs the following interesting passage (p. 5):—"A mountain in this neighbourhood [near the town of Cnböl-wön] called P'öm-bök-san, owes its name 'Dough Hill,' according to tradition, to an incident in the life of one of the kings of Kao-kuri, in an early century of the Christian era, resembling the well-known story of King Alfred and the cake."

The Hare in Folk-Lore).—Mr. Black's summary of the folk-lore of the Hare is so interesting and so full that there is not very much left to say upon the subject; but I may perhaps be allowed to make one or two slight additions to the knowledge which he so pleasantly imparts.

In South Northamptonshire "the right fore-foot of a hare, worn constantly in the pocket, is considered a fine amulet against the "rheumatiz."[1]

It would appear that the hare was at one time in some way associated with Easter observances in this country; for in the Calendar of State Paper's (Domestic Series) is the following entry: "1620, April 2. Thos. Fulnety solicits the permission of Lord Zouch, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, to kill a hare on Good Friday, as huntsmen say that those who have not a hare against Easter must eat a red herring."[2]

M. E. Rolland, in his invaluable Faune populaire de la France, devotes many pages ("Les Mammifères Sauvages," pp. 78-88) to the names, proverbs, and sayings, connected with the hare. From him we learn that the idea that it is unlucky to meet a hare prevails in France, Germany, and Lower Austria; the misfortune may be averted by returning three times and then resuming one's journey. "Quand on veut être beau ou belle pendant sept jours de suite, on doit manger du lièvre." Here is a French explanation: "Pourquoi les lievres ont la levre fendue. Un jour un lievre passait pres d'une mare, toutes les grenouilles étaient au soleil; quand elles ont entendu du bruit, elles ont sauté dans la mare; le lièvre en a tant ri[3] qu'il s'est fendu la lèvre." Mr. Gregor[4] tells that "in the north-east of Scotland hare-lip in the human subject is accounted for by a woman enceinte putting her foot into a hare's lair. If the woman noticed she had done so, and immediately took two stones and put them into the lair, the evil effects were averted."

There is an expression in common use in Ireland, which is sometimes seen in print, e. g. in "Father Tom and the Pope," one of the "Tales from Blackwood," where we are told that Father Tom by his astuteness " made a hare " of his Holiness. The term is commonly used when speaking of an opponent who has been worsted in an argument: "I made a hare of him, sir." The hare is popularly taken as a type of timidity—Lepus timidus is its scientific name—but not of stupidity; so that this expression is of some interest.

A Charm.—Mr. C. E. Doble, in the Academy of 2 August, 1884, writes as follows: Possibly the following charm has already appeared in print. I found it written, in a contemporary hand, between the end-papers of a copy of Gaigny's Scholia on the Epistles of St. Paul (Paris, 1539), which formerly belonged to the library of the Barefoot Cannelites at Milan.

Oxford, July 28, 1884.

Vt mulier pariat 03

Dominus noster Jesus Christus stabat in monte oliueti cum discipulis suis, et audivit vocem mulieris parturientis, et dixit Johanni, vade et die ad aurem dextram sic, Elisabet peperit Joannem, anna, peperit mariam, Maria me saluatorem mundi, sic pariat Ista domina sine dolore. o Infans sine sis masculus, sine sis femina, sine viuus, sine mortuus veni foras quia Christus vocat te ad lucem, Caspar te rogat, Melchior te vocat, Baldesar te extrait, memento filiorum Edon qui dixerunt exinanite exinanite.

Dicatur ter a dextra parte
mulieris plane cum vno paternoster
et vna aue vero pro qualibet
vice cum vna candella benedi
eta pre manu deuote, et statim
pariet deo gratias amen.

Colic.—Folk-lore on this complaint is very trifling. Black in Folk-Medicine names a charm of wolf's dung shut up in a pipe, used by Alexander of Tralles in the sixth century. At Towednack in Cornwall they advise you to stand on your head to cure it (p. 183).

Pepys tried a more agreeable method as a charm. He says:—

20 Jan. 1664:-5. "Homeward, in my way buying a hare and taking it home, which arose upon my discourse to-day with Mr. Batten in Westminster Hall, who showed me my mistake, that my hare's foot hath not the joynt in it, and assures me he never had the cholique since he carried it about him; and it is a strange thing how fancy works, for I no sooner handled his foot but I became very well, and so continue " (vol. ii. p. 423).

2nd. "Now mighty well, and truly I can but impute it to my fresh hare's foot" (p. 424).

March 26. "Now I am at a loss to know whether it be my hare's foot, which is my preservation; for I never had a fit of collique since I wore it, or whether it be my taking a pull of turpentine every morning (p. 448).

Number in Folk-Medicine.—(Cure for Sweating Sickness).—"Another very true medecine.—For to say every day at seven parts of your body 7 paternosters, and 7 Ave Marias with 1 credo at the last. Ye shal begyn at the ryght syde, under the ryght ere, saying the 'paternoster qui es in coelis, sanctificetur nomen tuum,' with a cross made there with your thumb, and so say the paternoster full complete, and 1 Ave Maria, and then under the left ear, and then under the left armhole, and then under the left the (thigh?) hole, and then the last at the heart, with 1 paternoster, Ave Maria, with 1 credo; and these thus said daily, with the grace of God is there no manner drede hym. Quod pro certo probatum est cotidie."—(Addit. MS. 6716, f. 98.)

The above is quoted in the late Rev. J. S. Brewer's Reign of Henry VIII. vol. i. p. 614.

Extraordinary Case of Witchcraft in Waterford.—To-day a woman called at the Manor Barracks, Waterford, and reported to Constable Eustace an extraordinary occurrence with the view of having the chief actor in it arrested. Mrs. Phelan stated that about an hour earlier a woman, whose name she did not know, called at her house and asked for permission to make a cup of tea, stating that she had only arrived in the city from visiting Knock, and that she was on her way to her friends, who resided in the country. Mrs. Phelan consented, and while the saucepan containing the water was being boiled she entertained her with some interesting accounts of incidents that had come under her notice while at Knock. Having done so she observed, "I can tell you what you suffer from, and I can cure you. Don't you suffer from pains in the head often?" Mrs. Phelan replied that she did, and occasional stitches in the side. "I do," said the other; "and with palpitation of the heart?" "I am very bad with it," was Mrs. Phelan's reply. " Very well, I will cure you for your kindness to me. What money have you in your pocket?" "I have 4½d.," was Mrs. Phelan's reply. "I cannot cure you if you commence by telling me a lie. You have nearer 4s. 6d. than 4½d." Mrs. Phelan stated that she had 4s. 6d. in her pocket, and that hearing the stranger tell her so she became alarmed and greatly frightened, confessed that she had such a sum. " If you wish to get rid of all you are suffering, you put that 4s. 6d. in my lap and keep your eye fixed on it, and while I am muttering the charm say a short prayer." Mrs. Phelan stated she put the 4s. 6d. in her lap and kept her eye on it until the stranger, having gone through some form of silent devotion, took the 4s. 6d. in her hand, saying, "Look at it," after which she stooped, and pulling a quantity of ashes from under the fire-grate, went through the form of rubbing the coin through it, then lifting as much ashes as her hands could contain she threw them behind the fire, exclaiming, "Now it is gone, and all your pains and aches and palpitation are for ever gone with it." Mrs. Phelan admits that she immediately felt well. Within five minutes after performing the ceremony the woman left the house. Scarcely had she done so ere Mrs. Phelan stooped and searched the ashes, and afterwards raked out the fire in the vain hope of finding her 4s. 6d., but it was gone, and, feeling indignant at being so shamelessly duped, she rushed to the police and reported the swindle to Constable Eustace.—Irish Times, August 16, 1886.

Mole-lore.—Here are three items of mole-lore in the district of Columbia:—

1. A mole's feet cut off and hung around a child's neck will help it in teething. In some instances in Virginia these odd amulets have been handed down, I am told, for generations. They are equally believed in by coloured people of Maryland. "That's what the old-time people say" is the only explanation. The superstition comes into the district from both these neighbouring states.

2. Once the mole was an over-proud young lady. She is condemned to travel underground as a punishment for her pride. Unlike the former, this is told with a smile, and probably quite without belief. It will be readily recognised as a myth of wide dispersion. Perhaps the delicate fur and the grovelling habits of the little animal account for it.

3. Once the mole had eyes like other animals, but no tail. He met a creature which ridiculed him for his poverty in this latter respect. The derision preyed on his mind, and, when he met a being who could help him, he petitioned for aid. He was told that he must give up his eyesight. "So he sold his eyes for his tail." W. H. Babcock, Washington, D.C.— From Science, New York. 22nd April, 1887.

  1. Notes and Queries, First Series, ii. 37.
  2. Ibid, Fourth Series, viii. 23.
  3. "Il a ri de ce que lui, le poltron par excellence, avait fait peur aux autres.
  4. Folk-Lore of North-east of Scotland, p. 129.