Monday, January 4, 2016
Ancient Jewish Superstitions by James Grant 1880
Ancient Jewish Superstitions by James Grant 1880
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Jews, who professed to work wonders by enchantments, gave directions how to select and combine passages and proper names of Scripture that would render supernatural beings visible, and bring about many surprising results. The sacred word Jehovah, they said, when read with points, multiplied by or added to a given number of letters, and composed into certain words, produced miraculous effects. By that sacred name and strange arrangements, their prophets, they thought, performed miracles. The devil was supposed to have the power of accusing mortal man at the great day of propitiation, so the Jews endeavoured to appease him with presents. They believed that on that day only he had the power to bring a charge against them, and therefore, to deceive him, they had recourse to a singular stratagem. In reading the accustomed portion of the law, they left out the beginning and the end,—an omission which was expected to cause Satan to overlook the important time. Those versed in magic could tell that the five Hebrew letters of which the devil's name was composed constituted the number 364, during which number of days he could not accuse them; and in some way or other unknown to us, in addition to the plan of mutilating the law, they kept his mouth shut year after year.
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We find from the Holy Scriptures, that a witch was not permitted to live,—that there should not be found among the Hebrews any that used divination, an enchanter, a charmer, a consulter with familiar spirits, nor a necromancer, because the abominations of these mischievous people proved a snare to the nations that were driven out before the Israelites. Various opinions have been expressed regarding the witch of Endor. Parties are not agreed as to whether she did or did not bring up Samuel before Saul; but into their disputes it is unnecessary for us to enter. All that we mean to draw from the narrative is, that if the King of Israel had recourse to a witch in his hour of perplexity, superstition must have been general in the nation.
Religiously disposed Jews wore upon their arms and foreheads two pieces of parchment containing the ten commandments. These charms, or emblems of sanctity, or whatever they were called, were not allowed to be worn by women or by men when they went to a funeral or approached a dead body.
The Jews confessed their sins to their rabbis, and the penance or punishment was commensurate with their guilt. It was not uncommon for Jewish devotees to lash themselves, but the number of stripes did not at any time exceed thirty-nine. During the flagellation the penitent lay on the ground with his head to the north and his feet to the south, and it would have been considered profane to look to the east or west while the chastisement was being inflicted. A Jew would as soon have eaten swine's flesh as look to the east or west while he was in a bath. Offenders were sometimes cursed in addition to their other punishments; hence, it is presumed, the more modern recourse to curses or denunciations. A doomed or cursed individual was consigned to the power of evil angels, and prayers were offered up that he might be tormented in life with every disease, and afterwards cast into eternal darkness.
At the commencement of the Jewish Sabbath, half an hour before sunset on Friday, every Jew was bound to have his lamp lighted, though he should beg the oil. The women were required to light the lamps in memory of Eve, who by her disobedience extinguished the light of the world. Every Hebrew was obliged to pare his nails on Friday, beginning with the little finger of the left hand, and then going to the middle finger, after which he returned to the fourth finger, and then to the thumb and fore finger. In cutting the nails of the fingers of the right hand, he began with the middle finger, then proceeded to the thumb, and after that took the fore finger, the middle and fourth fingers, in the order stated. The parings were either buried or burned. The Hebrews believed that the sounding of a consecrated horn drove away the devil.
A curious custom prevailed among them in early times. The father of a family took a white cock, and each of his wives selected a hen, but such of them as were expectant mothers took both a cock and a hen. With these fowls they struck their heads twice, and at every blow the head of the family said, "Let this cock stand in my room; he shall die, but I shall live." Having said this, the neck of the fowl was drawn and its throat cut; and either the dead fowl, or its value in money, was given to the poor. In the evening previous to the feast of expiation, a man wishing to pry into futurity carried a lighted candle to the synagogue, and from particular appearances of the flame he prognosticated whether good was to follow him and his, or whether he and his family were to be overtaken by evil.
At their great feasts of tents or tabernacles (observed in memory of their living in tents in the wilderness) the Israelites went from their tents to the synagogue every day during the feast, bearing in their right hands branches of palms, myrtle, and willows, and in their left hands branches of citron. When they reached the synagogue, they turned the branches first to the east, then to the south, next to the west, and lastly to the north. These ceremonies were allegorical: the palm was an emblem of hypocrisy, the myrtle pointed to good works, the willow represented the wicked, and the citron the righteous. At marriages, while the young persons present held torches in their hands and sang the marriage song, the bride walked three times round the bridegroom, and he in turn walked thrice round her. In some countries—Germany and Holland, for instance—the guests threw handfuls of corn at the young wedded pair, telling them to "increase and multiply." The newly married people drank a little wine, and then emptied the cup on the floor. At the wedding repast a roasted hen and an egg were presented to the bride, who, after partaking of them, distributed the remainder to the guests. The hen had reference to the fruitfulness of the bride, and her delivery in childbirth.
The thumbs of a dead Jew were tied down close to the palms of his hands, to preserve the deceased from the devil's clutches. While the body was being washed, an egg was put into a glass of wine, and the deceased's head anointed with the mixture. Those who were not reconciled to the departed, before his death, kissed his great toe and asked pardon, lest he should accuse them at the great tribunal before the Most High. When the body was carried away for interment, a person, who remained behind, threw a brick after it, as a sign that all sorrow was past. The nearest friends or relations walked seven times round the grave, after each of them had driven a nail into the coffin. Hence the saying in our own time, when one signifies his willingness to do a friend a favour or kindness, "I will drive a nail into your coffin." When the body was put into the grave, every person present threw a handful of earth in after it.
On important occasions the Hebrews, like Pagans, consulted diviners, who had recourse to various ways of divination. In the days of Joseph there was divination by cups, one particular manner of proceeding being to observe how their wine sparkled when poured out. Casting or drawing of lots was a favourite method of divination, not only among the Jews, but among all nations. Mention is made of divination by means of household gods or images in human shape, prepared by astrologers under particular constellations, and made capable of the heavenly influences. The rabbis, in making some of these images, killed a man who was a first-born son, wrung off his head, seasoned it with salt, spices, etc., and then put a gold plate, bearing the name of an unclean spirit, under the head, which was fixed to a wall, and had candles burning beside it. The images were consulted as oracles concerning things accomplished but unknown, and regarding events in the future.
Among the Jews there were observers of times who laid great stress on certain seasons and critical moments, which they supposed depended on particular positions of the heavenly bodies. A learned rabbi expressed the opinion that the celestial bodies rewarded persons who put confidence in them, and that consequently men acted wisely to reverence the stars and implore their assistance. Guesses at futurities were made from the falling of a crumb of bread out of one's mouth or a staff from a man's hand, from a person sneezing, or the breaking of a shoe-latchet.
The Hebrew witches were supposed to possess the power of doing mischief to man and beast by their occult science, and of changing the form of things. Witches used their wicked skill to allure maidens. Through magical operations, a Jew endeavoured long ago to procure the love of a Christian woman, but she was preserved from the power of his craft by sealing herself with the sign of the cross. It was an ancient way of enchantment, to bring, by the power of magic, various kinds of beasts together into one place, which were designated as the "great congregation" and the "little congregation." The great congregation consisted of many of the larger animals, and the lesser was made up of numerous smaller creatures, such as serpents, scorpions, and the like. Wizards were famous fortune tellers; they pretended to be the interpreters of all the most important occurrences of the world. According to the Hebrew laws, the deceivers, and those who consulted them, were liable to be stoned. Necromancers obtained a footing among the Jews. Such wicked people were accustomed to fast, go to burying-places, and there lie down, fall asleep, and pretend that the dead appeared to them in dreams or otherwise, and told them what was desired. They also pretended to call up the dead by means of certain fumes and particular words. In cases where the spirits of dead men were obstinate and refused to appear or answer when summoned in the more simple form, recourse was had to the burning of portions of black cats, or the still more cruel method of cutting up young boys and virgins.
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