Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Werewolves and the Transmigration of Souls by Charles Hardwick 1872
Werewolves and the Transmigration of Souls by Charles Hardwick 1872
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Thou almost makes me waver in my faith,
To hold opinion with Pythagoras,
That souls of animals infuse themselves
Into the trunks of men; thy currish spirit
Governed a wolf, who, hanged for human slaughter,
Even from the gallows did his fell soul fleet,
And whilst thou layest in thy unhallowed dam,
Infused itself in thee; for thy desires
Are wolfish, bloody, starved, and ravenous.
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There may still be traced in Europe, and even in England, some remains of the Eastern belief in metempsychosis, or the transmigration of souls. The superstitious reverence for the robin, the wren, and other birds of the Aryan lightning class, points to the belief that the bodies of birds and animals were supposed to be sometimes tenanted by the souls of men, and even by the gods themselves; or at least, that the latter did frequently assume their forms for some special purpose or other. Several nursery stories, such as "Beauty and the Beast," "The White Cat," "Little Red Riding Hood," etc., yet very popular amongst others than the juvenile section of the population, point in a similar direction. These stories are no mere modern inventions. Mr. Cox regards "Beauty and the Beast" but as one form of the Greek myth "Erôs and Psychê." One of the favourite feats of the celebrated British magician, Merlin, was the conversion of men into beasts. Cæsar says: "It is especially the object of the Druids to inculcate this—that souls do not perish, but, after death, pass into other bodies; and they consider that, by this belief more than anything else, men may be led to cast away the fear of death, and to become courageous." Shakspere has several remarkable references to this superstition, one of which is quoted at the head of this chapter. Another instance occurs in Hamlet, in the scene where Ophelia, in her mental aberration, quotes snatches of old ballads. She says, "They say the owl was a baker's daughter. Lord, we know what we are, but we know not what we may be. God be at your table."
Caliban, when remonstrating with the drunken Stephano and Trinculo, on their dallying with the fine clothes at the mouth of the cave of Prospero, instead of taking the magician's life at once, says:—
I will have none on't; we shall lose our time,
And all be turned to barnacles, or to apes
With foreheads villainous low.
The elfin sprite Puck, after placing the ass's head on to Bottom, and terrifying Peter Quince's celebrated amateur corps dramatique, exclaims:—
I'll follow you, I lead you about a round
Through bog, through bush, through brake, through briar;
Sometimes a horse I'll be, sometimes a hound,
A hog, a headless bear, sometimes a fire;
And neigh, and bark, and grunt and roar, and burn,
Like horse, hound, hog, bear, fire, at every turn.
Another instance will be found in "The Twelfth Night," where the clown, under the pretence of his being "Sir Topas, the Curate," questions Malvolio, when confined in a dark room, as a presumed lunatic:—
Mal.—I am no more mad than you are; make the trial of it in any constant question.
Clown.—What is the opinion of Pythagoras concerning wild-fowl?
Mal.—That the soul of our grandam might haply inhabit a bird.
Clown.—What thinkest thou of his opinion?
Mal.—I think nobly of the soul, and no way approve his opinion.
Clown.—Fare thee well. Remain thou still in darkness: thou shalt hold the opinion of Pythagoras ere I will allow of thy wits, and fear to kill a woodcock, lest thou dispossess the soul of thy grandam. Fare thee well.
At an early age, Walter Savage Landor transmitted to Dr. Samuel Parr an essay on the origin of the religion of the Druids. His biographer, John Forster, thus summarises its argument:—"It appeared to Landor that Pythagoras, who settled in Italy, and had many followers in the Greek colony of the Phocæans at Marseilles, had engrafted on a barbarous and bloodthirsty religion the human doctrine of the metempsychosis; for that finding it was vain to say, 'Do not murder,' as none ever minded that doctrine, he frightened the savages by saying, 'If you are cruel even to beasts and insects, the cruelty will fall upon yourselves; you will be the same.' He explained also the 'beans' of the old philosopher in the exact way that Coleridge took credit for afterwards originating; though in this both moderns had been anticipated by sundry other discoverers, beginning with Plutarch himself." The answer of the "kindly old scholar" is both learned and characteristic. He says, "I thank you for your very acute and masterly reasoning about Pythagoras, but I am no convert to his being in Gaul; for the doctrine of transmigration is much older, and prevailed among the Celts and Scythians long before Pythagoras. It is believed, even now, in the north of Europe, and would naturally suggest itself to any reflecting barbarian. However, you have done very well in your hypothesis."
According to Herodotus, the Egyptians were the first who believed in the immortality of the soul. After the demise of the body the soul was supposed to pass from one of the lower animals to another, until it had been duly located in the forms of all, terrestrial, aquatic, and winged. After this had been accomplished, the human form was again assumed. Three thousand years were considered necessary to the effecting of this complete metempsychosis.
The Pythagorean doctrine appears to have been originally regarded in the light of a purification. One commentator thus summarises it:—"The souls, previous to their entering into human bodies, floated in the air, from whence they were inhaled by the process of breathing at the moment of birth. At the moment of death, they descended into the lower world, where they were probably supposed to dwell a certain number of years, after which they again rose into the upper world, and floated in the air, until they entered into new bodies. When by this process their purification had become complete, the souls were raised to higher regions, where they continued to exist, and to enjoy the presence and company of the gods."
It is a general opinion that the history of no ancient sage or philosopher has been so much obscured as that of Pythagoras. The fables and miracles interwoven into the biographies of Porphyrius, Diogenes Laertius, and Iamblicus, have largely contributed to this result.
The Indoo doctrine, although differing slightly in detail, presents sufficient resemblance both to that of Pythagoras and that of the Egyptians to suggest their common origin. All agree in averring that the souls of men, after death, pass into other bodies. A most religious life, however, amongst the Indoos, exempted the individual from the penalty of the metempsychosis, the soul, on its departure, being immediately absorbed into the divine essence. Mr. Colebrooke, in the Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society, published a translation of some extracts from the Brahma-sútras, or aphorisms on the Vedenta doctrine by Bâdarâyana, amongst which is the following, bearing on this subject:—
"The soul passes from one state to another invested with a subtle frame, consisting of elementary particles, the seed or rudiment of a grosser body. Departing from that which it occupied, it ascends to the moon, where, clothed with an aqueous form, it experiences the recompence of its works; and whence it returns to occupy a new body with resulting influence of its former deeds. But he who has attained the true knowledge of God does not pass through the same stages of retreat, but proceeds directly to reunion with the Supreme Being, with which he is identified, as a river at its confluence with the sea merges therein altogether. His vital faculties and the elements of which his body consists are absorbed completely and absolutely; both name and form cease; and he becomes immortal without parts or members."
In the Welsh romance, "The History of Taliesin," composed not earlier than the thirteenth century, though often attributed to the sixth (the era of the poet) is a curious story of successive transformations. Caridwen, the wife of Tegid Voel, had an ugly son she desired to make learned as a set-off to his deformity. She procured a cauldron, and proceeded to boil a charmed mixture in order to procure "the three blessed drops of the grace of inspiration." During her absence, the three charmed drops flew from the cauldron on to the finger of one of her watchers, and he, sucking his finger, to relieve himself of the pain, imbibed the inspiration. In fear, he took to his heels, and she ran after him. What followed is thus given in Professor Morley's summary of the romance in English:—
"And he saw her and changed himself into a hare. But she changed herself into a grey-hound and turned him. And he ran towards a river and became a fish. But she, in form of an otter, chased him until he was fain to become a bird. Then she, as a hawk, followed him, and gave him no rest in the sky. Just as he was in fear of death, he saw a heap of winnowed wheat on the floor of a barn, and dropped among the wheat and turned himself into one of the grains. Then she transformed herself into a high-crested black hen, and scratched among the wheat with her feet, and found him out and swallowed him."
From this germ the woman, in due course, was delivered of a son, who, after some romantic adventures, was named Taliesin, "the shining forehead." The three drops had done their work effectually, it seems, for he became a perfect prodigy.
Nash, in his "Christ's Teares over Jerusalem," published in 1613, records a curious instance of faith in this transformation superstition in England. He says, "They talk of an oxe that told the bell at Wolwitch, and howe from an oxe he transformed himself to an old man, and from an old man to an infant, and from an infant to a young man."
In an old work, entitled a "Help to Discourse," published in 1633, is the following passage:—"Q. Wherefore hath it anciently been accounted good luck if a wolfe crosse our way, but ill lucke if a hare crosse it?—A. Our ancestors, in times past, as they were merry conceited, so were they witty; and thence it grew that they held it good lucke if a wolf crost the way and was gone without any more danger and trouble; but ill lucke if a hare crost and escaped them, that they had not taken her." Lupton, in "Notable Things," published in 1660, refers to Pliny as reporting "that men in ancient times did fasten upon the gates of their towns the heads of wolves, whereby to put away witchery, sorcery, or enchantment, which many hunters observe or do to this day, but to what use they know not." Werenfels informs us that when a "superstitious person goes abroad he is not so much afraid of the teeth as the unexpected sight of a wolf, lest he should deprive him of his speech." Brand, referring to the superstition which asserts that if a wolf first sees a man, the latter is suddenly struck dumb, says, "To the relators of this Icaligar wishes as many blows as at different times he had seen wolves without losing his voice. This is well answered. "He further notices the belief "that men are sometimes transformed into wolves, and again from wolves into men," and adds, "Of this vulgar error, which is as old as Pliny's time, that author exposes the falsehoods."
Many other authorities refer to this superstition. Giraldus Cambrensis relates a story of a priest being addressed one evening, on his way from Ulster to Meath, by a wolf, who informed him that he belonged to a certain sept or clan in Ulster, "two of whom, male and female, were every seven years compelled, through a curse laid on them by St. Natalis, to depart both from their natural form and from their native soil." They therefore took the form of wolves. If alive at the end of seven years, two others of the sept "took their places under like conditions, and the first pair returned to their pristine nature and country." Camden expresses his disbelief of a story he heard in Tipperary, that there were men who every year were turned into wolves. Gervase, of Tilbury, speaks of were-wolves being common in England in his time (the thirteenth century); and reference is made to a wolf-woman in the Mabinogion, or fairy tales of the Welsh, of about the same period. King John, of England, was suspected of being a were-wolf. It is asserted in an old chronicle that, in some such capacity, he uttered such frightful noises, after he was laid in his grave, in Worcester Cathedral, that the pious monks dug up his body, and removed it from the consecrated ground. One of the mediæval metrical romances, by an unknown English author, refers to this superstition. It is a translation of the "Roman de Guillaume de Palerne," and is entitled the "Romance of William the Werwolf."
Herodotus says the Greeks and Scythians settled on the shores of the Black Sea regarded the Neurians as wizards, and asserted that each individual was for a few days in the year transformed into a wolf. He speaks of a race of men who slept for six months at a time, and of others who could change themselves at will into the shape of wolves, and as easily resume their original form when desirable. He talks likewise of the Troglodytes, or cave dwellers, a race of men, who having no human language, screeched like bats, and fed upon reptiles. They were likewise remarkable for their swiftness of foot.
Some of the Greek traditions represent the transformation of a man into a were-wolf as a punishment for having sacrificed a human victim unto a god. The offender was taken to the edge of a lake; he swam over, and, on reaching the other side, was changed into a wolf. In this condition he remained, roaming abroad with others of the species, for a period of nine years. If during this time he had abstained from eating human flesh, he resumed his original form, which, however, had not been exempt from the influence of increased age. There is remarkable coincidence in some respects between this myth and that related by Giraldus Cambrensis previously referred to, the significance of which Kelly justly regards as "worthy of note."
The Romans believed in the existence of the man-wolf, but attributed the phenomenon to magical arts. Petronius has recorded an incident which presents this superstition in a very graphic form. One Niceros, at a banquet given by Trimalchio, relates the following story:—
"It happened that my master was gone to Capua to dispose of some second-hand goods. I took the opportunity, and persuaded our guest to walk with me to our fifth milestone. He was a valiant soldier, and a sort of grim water-drinking Pluto. About cock-crow, when the moon was shining as bright as mid-day, we came amongst the monuments. My friend began addressing himself to the stars, but I was rather in a mood to sing or count them; and when I turned to look at him, lo! he had already stripped himself and laid down his clothes near him. My heart was in my nostrils, and I stood like a dead man; but he made a mark round his clothes, and on a sudden became a wolf. Do not think I jest; I would not lie for any man's estate. But to return to what I was saying. When he became a wolf he began howling, and fled into the woods. At first I hardly knew where I was, and afterwards, when I went to take up his clothes, they were turned into stone. Who then died with fear but I? Yet I drew my sword, and went cutting the air right and left, till I reached the villa of my sweetheart. I entered the court-yard. I almost breathed my last, the sweat ran down my neck, my eyes were dim, and I thought I should never recover myself. My Melissa wondered why I was out so late, and said to me, 'Had you come sooner you might at least have helped us, for a wolf has entered the farm and worried all our cattle; but he had not the best of the joke, for all he escaped, for our slave ran a lance through his neck.' When I heard this I could not doubt how it was, and, as it was clear daylight, I ran home as fast as a robbed innkeeper. When I came to the spot where the clothes had been turned into stone, I could find nothing except blood. But when I got home I found my friend, the soldier, in bed, bleeding at the neck like an ox, and a doctor dressing his wound. I then knew that he was a turnskin; nor would I ever have broke bread with him again, no not if you had killed me."
In Germany many strange stories are told respecting these transformations. The result of wounding a were-wolf generally appears to be that the human shape is speedily resumed, but the injury inflicted remains notwithstanding. One of these stories is to the following effect:—A farmer and his wife were haymaking together, when suddenly the wife requested her husband to throw his hat at any wild beast that might come in his way. She then immediately disappeared. Soon afterwards a wolf was perceived to be swimming across a neighbouring river in the direction of the party of haymakers. The farmer, remembering his wife's injunction, threw his hat at the wolf, which the ravenous beast seized and tore to pieces. One of the men, however, stabbed the wolf with a pitchfork. This dissolved the spell; the wolf-form disappeared, but the dead body of the farmer's wife lay on the ground before the eyes of the astonished spectators!
These transformations are believed, in some instances, to be effected by a mere change of the external covering, like that of the cloud-maidens referred to in chapter I. of the present work. These mythical ladies were said to possess "shirts of swan plumage," by means of which they "transformed themselves into water foul, especially swans." The "frost-giants," Thiassi and Suttungr, had each an "eagle-shirt," in which disguise they warred against the gods. The possession of these feathery garments was essential to their retention of the power of transformation. A variety of myths, fairy stories, etc., have sprung from the supposed capture and marriage of these maidens by men who have discovered them bathing, and stealthily appropriated their magic raiment. These swan-shirts, in the more modern myths, become the supernatural garments of the fairies, mermaids, etc., married to mortals, and without which they find it impossible to leave their husbands and resume their elfic nature.
On the west coast of Ireland the fishermen are loth to kill the seals, which once abounded in some localities, owing to a popular superstition that they enshrined "the souls of thim that were drowned at the flood." They were supposed to possess the power of casting aside their external skins, and disporting themselves in human form on the sea-shore. If a mortal contrived to become possessed of one of these outer coverings belonging to a female, he might claim her and keep her as his bride. This seems to point to the origin of the stories about "mermaids" and some similar sea monsters.
Dr. Hertz gives many examples of the prevalence of the were-wolf superstition in Germany. In some instances the bear occupies the place of the wolf. A girdle made of wolf or bear skin is supposed yet to possess the power of transforming a man into one or other of these animals. The skin of a man who has been hanged is considered equally potent. The girdle must have a buckle which possesses seven tags or tongues, and it is powerless when not affixed to the body. One were-wolf could carry a cow in his mouth. He devoured human beings, too, as well as cattle. He had, however, taught his wife how to treat him when in his lupine form. "She used to unbuckle his belt, and he became a rational man again." The wolf and the murderer were frequently hung on the same gallows, hence the old Saxon name for this structure, varagtreo, or wolf-tree. The mere certain recognition of a were-wolf is generally sufficient to dissolve the spell. In cases of doubt, steel or iron is thrown over the suspected animal. If this be done to a genuine were-wolf, "the skin splits crosswise on the forehead, and the naked man comes out through the opening." Kelly adds, "It frequently happens that the were-wolf is frozen, that is to say, invulnerable by ordinary weapons or missiles. In that case he must be shot with elder-pith, or with balls made of inherited silver." The were-wolf of the eastern portion of the continent of Europe appears to be confounded with the vampire superstition, as in the Sclavonic tongues the same word is used to designate both these mythic monsters.
Baron Langon, in his "Evenings with Prince Cambacérès," relates a story of a vampire, or blood-sucker, named Rafin, on the authority of the celebrated Fouché. The astute chief of the police, if not absolutely imposed upon, was, certainly, much perplexed with the case. He says,—"I gave orders to have Rafin arrested, and he was placed in confinement. I paid him a visit. He was strongly bound, and in spite of his cries, supplications, and resistance, I resolutely plunged into his flesh a surgical instrument, which, without producing any injury, would cause an effusion of blood. When he perceived my object he became furiously irritated, and made inconceivable efforts to attack me. He threatened me with his future revenge; but, heedless of his violence, I thrust the instrument into him. No sooner did the first drop of blood appear than the six old wounds opened afresh. All efforts to stop the bleeding proved fruitless—and Rafin died." Some of the witnesses regarded the affair as a police trick, Fouché says,—"As to myself, I have sifted the matter deeply, and I am perplexed to the last degree. I cannot admit the reality of vampires; yet it is certain that I witnessed the facts I have stated." Two women were said to have pined away and died, owing to their intercourse with this man.
As recently as the year 1718, a solemn judicial enquiry took place at Caithness respecting the sufferings of one William Montgomery, who was reduced to a most miserable condition owing to the "gambols of a legion of cats." In Kirkpatrick Sharpe's introduction to Law's "Memorials," we read that the said Montgomery's man servant averred that the feline disturbers of his master's peace "spoke among themselves." The hypochondriac, at length, driven to desperation, attacked the enemy with "broadsword and axe," and utterly routed the caterwauling conclave, killing some and wounding others. The said cats turned out to be veritable witches, as was proved by the fact that two neighbouring "old women died immediately, and a third lost a leg, which, having been broken by a stroke of the hatchet, withered and dropped off."
It was customary, as recently as the sixteenth century, to punish alleged were-wolves as remorselessly as supposed witches. Many suffered at the stake. Kelly says, on the authority of Boquet (Discours des Sorciers), that "a gentleman, looking out one evening from a window of his château, saw a hunter whom he knew, and asked the man to bring him something on his return from the chase. The hunter was attacked in the plain by a great wolf, and, after a sharp conflict, cut off one of the fore paws with his hunting knife. On his way back he called at the château, and putting his hand into his game bag, to show the gentleman the wolf's paw, he drew out a human hand with a gold ring, which the gentleman at once recognised as his wife's. He looked for her, and found her in the kitchen with one arm concealed under her apron, and, on uncovering it, saw that the hand was gone. The lady was brought to trial, confessed(!), and was burnt at Ryon. Boquet says he had this story from a trustworthy person who had been on the spot a fortnight after the event."
In Denmark, Iceland, Germany, and the North of England, there exist many similar stories, but they are more or less connected with witchcraft, with which, indeed, they seem to have much in common. The chief feature is the transformation of a man into a horse, by a woman throwing a magic halter over his head while he is lying in bed. The woman, who is a disguised witch, then mounts the horse and gallops to the trysting place, where her compeers meet to revel. If the man-horse can contrive to slip the magic bridle from his head, and throw it over that of the woman, she is suddenly transformed into a mare, and in turn is ridden almost to death by her previous victim. One witch-mare, at Yarrowfoot, a few years ago, according to Mr. Henderson, was found afterwards to be shod in the usual manner, and sold to her own husband, who, on removing the bridle, saw standing before him his wife, with a horseshoe nailed to each hand and foot! Glanvil, in his "Saducismus Triumphatus," relates an instance in which a "great army of witches" was charged with performing this horse transformation feat on a large scale, at Blocula, in Sweden, in 1669.
There is a German story of a joiner at Bühl, who, being troubled with the nightmare, saw the elf enter his room, through a hole, in the shape of a cat. He caught the animal and nailed one of its paws to the floor. In the morning he was surprised to find his feline prisoner transformed into a handsome young woman perfectly naked. He married her, however; but, after they had had three children, she disappeared suddenly, in the form of a cat, through the hole by which she had entered, her husband having inadvertently removed the material with which he had blocked it up.
In East Prussia, they have a story of a girl, who, without her knowledge, was every evening transformed into a cat, and awoke much fatigued. One night her lover caught a cat, which had regularly tormented and scratched him at night, and secured it in a sack. The next morning he found the cat transformed into his naked sweetheart. The story adds she was cured by the parson of the parish.
In 1633, a "second batch" of Lancashire witches was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death, at Lancaster; but after more elaborate investigation into the circumstances, first at Chester, under the presidency of the bishop, and afterwards at London, by the physicians and surgeons to the king, and again by the king himself, Charles I., fully convinced of their innocence, extended to them his royal pardon. The deposition of the principal witness, "Edward Robinson, sonne of Edmond Robinson, of Pendle Forest, mason, taken at Padiham, before Richard Shuttleworth and John Starkey, Esquires, two of his Majestie's Justices of Peace," affords curious evidence of the strength of this superstition little more than two centuries ago. The deponent sayeth that at the time he was occupied in "gettinge Bullas hee sawe two grey hounds, vizt., a blacke and a browne one, come runninge over the next field towards him. He verilie thinketh the one to be Mr. Butters and the other to be Mr. Robinsons, the said Mr. Butter and Mr. Robinson then havinge such like. And the said Grey Hounds came and fawned on him, they having about their necks either of them a Coller, to either of which Collers was tyed a strynge, which Collers, as this Informer affirmeth, did shine like gold, and he thinkinge that some either of Mr. Butters or Mr. Robinsons familie should have followed them, but seeinge noe bodie to followe them, hee tooke the said Grey-hounds thinkinge to hunte with them, and presentlie a hare did rise verie neere before him, at the sight whereof he cried 'Loo, loo, loo,' but the doggs would not runn, wherevpon hee beinge verie angrie tooke them, and with the string that were at their Collers tyed either of them to a little bush at the next hedge, and with a rodd that he had in his hand hee beate them, and instead of the blacke grey-hound one Dickensons wife stud vpp, a neighbour whom this Informer knoweth, and instead of the browne Greyhound a little Boy, whom this Informer knoweth not, at which sight this Informer being afrayd, endeavoured to runn awaie, but beinge stayed by the woeman, vizt., Dickensons wife, shee put her hand into her pocket, and pulled forth a piece of silver much like to a fayre shillinge, and offered to give it him to hold his tongue, and not to tell, which hee refused, sayinge, 'nay, thou art a witch,' wherevpon shee put her hand into her pocket againe, and pulled out a thing like unto a bridle that gingled, which shee put on the little Boyes head which stood vpp in the browne greyhounds stead, wherevpon the said Boye stood vpp a white horse. Then ymmediatlie the said Dickensons wife tooke this Informer before her vpon the said horse." As in the case previously referred to, the party galloped off to a feast of witches. It is true Dr. Webster, who carefully examined the witness, informs us, in his "Display of Witchcraft," that "the boy Robinson, in more mature years, acknowledged that he had been instructed and suborned to make these accusations by his father and others, and that, of course, the whole was a fraud." Nevertheless, the belief in the probability of such transformations must have been very general and deeply rooted, otherwise such impostors could not have practised their villainy with the impunity they did. Witches, we have previously seen, were often transformed into hares. Margery Grant, the recently deceased Scotch witch, referred to in a previous chapter, "believed herself to be transmutable, and avers that she was, at times, actually changed by evil-disposed persons into a pony or a hare, and rode for great distances, or hunted by dogs, as the case might be."
Mr. A. Russel Wallace, in his "Malay Archipelago," says that it is yet "universally believed in Lombock that some men have the power to turn themselves into crocodiles, which they do for the sake of devouring their enemies, and many strange tales are told of such transformations." He adds that the islands of Bali and Lombock, situated to the east of Java, "are the only islands in the whole Archipelago in which the Hindoo religion still maintains itself—and they form the extreme point of the two great zoological divisions of the Eastern hemisphere."
The owl and the eagle, both lightning birds of the Aryan mythology, received divine honours from the Greeks. The eagle was Jove's emblem, the owl that of Pallas, or Athenê. The latter was sometimes called Glaucopis, or "owl-eyed," significant of the supernatural light which was presumed to radiate from her lightning orbs.
The owl is not the only bird that is believed to have been transformed into a human being skilled in the art of baking bread. The cuckoo and the woodpecker have been subjected to a similar metamorphosis. The legend of the owl and the baker's daughter appears to be still popular in Gloucestershire. The story is generally told with a view to prevent children and others from indulging in harsh conduct towards the poor. Douce relates the legend in the following terms:—
"Our Saviour went into a baker's shop where they were baking, and asked for some bread to eat: the mistress of the shop immediately put a piece of dough into the oven to bake for him; but was reprimanded by her daughter, who, insisting that the piece of dough was too large, reduced it to a very small size; the dough, however, immediately began to swell, and presently became a most enormous size, whereupon the baker's daughter cried out, 'Heugh, heugh, heugh!' which owl-like noise probably induced our Saviour to transform her into that bird for her wickedness."
Dasent, in his "Popular Tales from the Norse," gives a very minute version of this tradition, in which the purely heathen superstition is related with the nomenclature modernised. The names, however, are its only Christian attributes. It markedly exhibits the tendency of the vulgar to confound one mystery or tradition with another, to which I have previously referred. Dasent gives the story as follows:—
"In those days, when our Lord and St. Peter wandered upon earth, they came once to an old wife's house, who sat baking. Her name was Gertrude, and she had a red mutch on her head. They had walked a long way, and were both hungry, and our Lord begged hard for a bannock to stay their hunger. Yes, they should have it. So she took a little tiny piece of dough and rolled it out, but as she rolled it, it grew until it covered the whole griddle.
"Nay, that was too big; they couldn't have that. So she took a tinier bit still; but when that was rolled out it covered the whole griddle just the same, and that bannock was too big, she said; they couldn't have that either.
"The third time she took a still tinier bit—so tiny that you could scarce see it; but it was the same story over again—the bannock was too big.
"'Well,' said Gertrude, 'I can't give you anything; you must just go without, for all these bannocks are too big.'
"Then our Lord waxeth wroth, and said. 'Since you loved me so little as to grudge me a morsel of food, you shall have this punishment—you shall become a bird and seek your food between bark and bole, and never get a drop to drink save when it rains.'
"He had scarce said the last word before she was turned into a great black woodpecker, or Gertrude's bird, and flew from her kneading trough right up the chimney; and till this very day you may see her flying about, with her red mutch on her head, and her body all black, because of the soot in the chimney; and so she hacks and taps away at the trees for her food, and whistles when rain is coming, for she is ever athirst, and then she looks for a drop to cool her tongue."
Brand informs us that "the woodpecker's cry denotes wet."
Grimm tells a German version of the story, in which the hard-hearted baker is a man, but whose wife and six daughters were made of more charitable materials. They privately bestowed what he had publicly refused, and were rewarded by being converted into the "seven stars" (the Pleiades), while the baker was transformed into a cuckoo. The cuckoo is believed to continue his spring cry only so long as the "seven stars" are visible in the heavens. Another version says the cuckoo was a baker's or miller's man. He cheated the poor, and "when the dough swelled by God's blessing in the oven, he drew it out and nipped off a portion of it, crying each time 'gukuk,' which signifies 'look! look!' For this crime he was converted into a cuckoo, and condemned to the perpetual repetition of the monotonous cry."
A Lancashire superstition exists referred to in Chapter IX., in which the plover is identified as the transmuted soul of a Jew. At least, when seven of them are seen together, they are called the "seven whistlers," and their musical chorus bodes ill or harm to those who hear it. The tradition represents them as the "souls of those Jews who assisted at the crucifixion, and in consequence were doomed to float in the air for ever."
Wordsworth, in his beautiful poem, "The White Doe of Rylstone," has preserved the memory of a Yorkshire tradition which asserts that the soul of the lady founder of Bolton Abbey revisited the ruins of the venerable pile, in the form of a spotless white doe.
When Lady Aäliza mourned
Her son, and felt in her despair,
The pang of unavailing prayer;
Her son in Wharf's abysses drowned,
The noble boy of Egremound,
From which affliction, when God's grace
At length had in her heart found place,
A pious structure fair to see,
Rose up this stately Priory!
The lady's work,—but now laid low;
To the grief of her soul that doth come and go,
In the beautiful form of this innocent doe:
Which, though seemingly doomed in its breast to sustain
A softened remembrance of sorrow and pain,
Is spotless, and holy, and gentle, and bright,—
And glides o'er the earth like an angel of light.
The Manx wren, the robin, and the stork are supposed to be inhabited by the souls of human beings. MacTaggart, speaking of the wren, says,—"Manx herring fishers dare not go to sea without one of these birds taken dead with them, for fear of disasters and storms. Their tradition is of a sea spirit that hunted the herring track, attended always by storms, and at last it assumed the figure of a wren and flew away. So they think that when they have a dead wren with them all is snug. The poor bird had a sad life of it in that singular island. When one is seen at any time, scores of Manx-men start and hunt it down." The stork in Prussia, on the contrary, is protected from injury, owing to the belief that "he is elsewhere a man." Gervase of Tilbury informs us that in England it was regarded as both bird and man. It was a very wide-spread belief that the human soul left its earthly tabernacle in the form of a bird. The "Milky-way" is, in Finland and Lithuania, the "Birds' way," or the "Way of Souls." Grimm tells us that every member of a certain Polish noble family are turned into eagles at death. He adds the eldest daughter of the Pileck line, if they die unmarried, are transformed into doves, but, if married, into owls. Kelly relates an anecdote of a gentleman in Soho, London, who believed that the departing soul of his brother-in-law, in the form of a bird, tapped at his window at the time of his death. The mother and sister, in Grimm's story of "The White and the Black Bride," push the true bride into the stream. At the same or the following moment a snow-white swan is discovered swimming gracefully down the river.
M. Paul B. Du Chaillu, in his recent work, "A Journey to Ashango-land; and further penetration into Equatorial Africa," gives two curious illustrations of the existence of a belief in men being sometimes transformed into beasts. He says,—
"I cannot avoid relating in this place a very curious instance of a strange and horrid form of monomania which is sometimes displayed by these primitive negroes. It was related to me so circumstantially by Akondogo, and so well confirmed by others, that I cannot help fully believing in all the principal facts of the case. Poor Akondogo said that he had had plenty of trouble in his day, that a leopard had killed two of his men, and that he had a great many palavers to settle on account of these deaths. Not knowing exactly what he meant, I said to him, 'Why did you not make a trap to catch the leopard?' To my astonishment, he replied, 'The leopard was not of the kind you mean. It was a man who had changed himself into a leopard, and then became a man again.' I said, 'Akondogo, I will never believe your story. How can a man be turned into a leopard?' He again asserted that it was true, and gave me the following history:—'Whilst he was in the woods with his people, gathering india-rubber, one of his men disappeared, and, notwithstanding all their endeavours, nothing could be found of him but a quantity of blood. The next day another man disappeared, and in searching for him more blood was found. All the people got alarmed, and Akondogo sent for a great doctor to drink the mboundou, and solve the mystery of these two deaths. To the horror and astonishment of the old chief, the doctor declared it was Akondogo's own child (his nephew and heir), Akosho, who had killed the two men. Akosho was sent for, and, when asked by the chief, answered that it was truly he who had committed the murders; that he could not help it, for he had been turned into a leopard, and his heart longed for blood; and that after each deed he had turned into a man again. Akondogo loved his boy so much that he would not believe his own confession, until the boy took him to a place in the forest where lay the two bodies, one with the head cut off, and the other with the belly torn open. Upon this, Akondogo gave orders to seize the lad. He was bound with ropes, taken to the village, and then tied in a horizontal position to a post, and burnt slowly to death, all the people standing by until he expired.'
"I must say the end of the story seemed to me too horrible to listen to. I shuddered, and was ready to curse the race that was capable of committing such acts. But on careful enquiry, I found it was a case of monomania with the boy Akosho, and that he really was the murderer of the two men. It is probable that the superstitious belief of these morbidly imaginative Africans in the transformation of men into leopards, being early instilled into the minds of their children, is the direct cause of murders being committed under the influence of it. The boy himself, as well as Akondogo and all the people, believed he had really turned into a leopard, and the cruel punishment was partly in vengeance for witchcraft, and partly to prevent the committal of more crimes by the boy in a similar way, for, say they, the man has a spirit of witchcraft."
Again, after informing us that the Ashango people believed (not knowing that he was really wounded in his disastrous retreat from their country), that he, being "Oguisi," or "the spirit," was invulnerable, and that their poisoned arrows glanced from his body without doing him any injury, he further adds, that Magouga, one of his native guides, said "he had heard that at one time I had turned myself into a leopard, had hid myself in a tree, and had sprung upon the Mouaou people as they came to make war upon my men; that at other times I turned myself into a gorilla, or into an elephant, and struck terror and death among the Mouaou and Mobana. Magouga finished his story by asking me for a 'war fetich,' for he said I must possess the art of making fetiches, or I and my men could not have escaped so miraculously."
It is necessary to remind the reader that Du Chaillu and others have failed to find any remains of ancient civilisation on the western coast of Equatorial Africa, and that he expressly states his belief in the native tradition that the ancestors of the present tribes migrated from the east.
The Rev. G. W. Cox, in his "Mythology of the Aryan Nations," referring to the origin of Greek "Lykanthropy," says,—"The question to be answered is, whence came the notions that men were changed into wolves, bears, and birds, and not into lions, fishes, or reptiles; and to this question Comparative Mythology seems to me to furnish a complete answer; nor can I disavow my belief that this loathsome vampire superstition was in the first instance purely the result of a verbal equivocation which, as we have seen, has furnished so fruitful a source of myths." Mr. Cox regards the superstition to have originated in "that confusion between Leukos bright, as a general epithet, and the same word Lukos as a special name for the wolf, from which sprung first the myth of the transformation of Lycaon, and then probably the wide-spread superstition of Lykanthropy."
Respecting the Eastern origin of this superstition, Kelly says,—"The were-wolf tradition has not been discovered with certainty amongst the Hindoos, but there is no European nation of Aryan descent in which it has not existed from time immemorial. Hence, it is certain that the tradition itself, or the germs of it more or less developed, must have been brought by them all from Arya; and if Dr. Schwartz has not actually proved his case, he seems at least to have conjectured rightly in assigning, as one of these germs, the Aryan conception of the howling wind as a wolf. The Maruts and other beings who were busy in the storm assumed various shapes. The human form was proper to many or all of them, for they were identical with the Pitris or Fathers, and it would have been a very natural thought, when a storm broke out suddenly, that one or more of these people of the air had turned into wolves for the occasion. It was also a primæval notion that there were dogs and wolves amongst the dwellers in hell; and Weber, who has shown that this belief was entertained by the early Hindoos, is of opinion that these infernal animals were real were-wolves, that is to say, men upon whom such a transformation had been inflicted as a punishment."
The darkness of night is personified by the wolf in the folk-lore of the Teutonic nations. It is the Fenris of the Edda. In this sense the mythic wolf and "Little Red Riding Hood" are transparent enough. The ruddy glow of the evening sunlight is extinguished in the darkness of night. The Rev. G. W. Cox says that in one version of the story "Little Red Cap escapes his malice as Memnon rises again from Hades." This resurrection typifies the dawn springing from the darkness of the night on the following morning.
The Greek myth developed into the story that Zeus, when visiting Lycaon, was fed by his numerous sons with human flesh, and that he, in his anger at such treatment, turned them all into wolves. Similar transformations are frequent in the classical myths. Kirke turned the followers of Odysseus into swine, and Callisto was turned into a bear by the anger of Artemis.
This were-wolf, or man-wolf, myth, from the Anglo-Saxon wer, a man, has doubtless undergone much change and mutilation in its descent to modern times. The earlier Apollo of the Greeks, at the time of Homer even, was not the Sun-god he afterwards became. He was the "god of the summer storms," and, as such, he himself appeared in the form of a wolf. His mother, Latona, as Kelly observes, was regarded as "the dark storm-cloud, escorted at Jove's command by the Northwind," and she "came as a she-wolf from Lycia to the place where she was delivered of her twins.... In mythical language, Apollo was the son of Zeus; that is to say, he was Zeus in another form. The two gods were, in fact, like Indra and Rudra, only different personifications of the same cycle of natural phenomena."
The Laureate, in his recent poem, "The Coming of Arthur," has the following beautiful poetic illustration of that which, no doubt, underlies much of the were-wolf superstitions:—
Thick with wet woods, and many a beast therein,
And none or few to scare or chase the beast;
So that wild dog and wolf and boar and bear
Came night and day, and rooted in the fields,
And wallow'd in the gardens of the king.
And ever and anon the wolf would steal
The children and devour, but now and then,
Her own brood lost or dead, lent her fierce teat
To human sucklings; and the children, housed
In her foul den, there at their meal would growl,
And mock their foster-mother on four feet,
Till, straighten'd, they grew up to wolf-like men,
Worse than the wolves.
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