Tuesday, January 31, 2017
Witches in Older Fiction by Edward Yardley 1880
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WHEN, in Ovid's 'Metamorphoses,' Circe, the poetical witch of the ancients, utters her incantation for the purpose of transforming the companions of Picus, the woods are moved, the earth groans, the trees turn pale, the grass is sprinkled with blood, the stones emit sounds, the ground is covered with serpents which issue from it, and ghosts flit all about the place. Doubtless this suggested the incantation scene in 'Der Freischutz.' Witches, both ancient and modern, made use of the cauldron. Medea, in order to restore AEson to youth, puts into her cauldron, besides magical herbs, a screech-owl, the entrails of a were-wolf and other things. Canidia and her associates, in order to make a philtre, starve a boy to death. In the long list of substances, which are to be found in the cauldron of the witches in 'Macbeth,' are
Root of hemlock digged in the dark:
Liver of blaspheming Jew:
Gall of goat, and slips of yew,
Shivered in the moon's eclipse;
Nose of Turk and Tartar's lips.
Hecate, in Middleton's 'Witch,' in order to compass the death of a person, puts into her cauldron marmaritin, cropped by moonlight, three ounces of the red-haired girl she killed at midnight, and other things. The ointment with which witches anoint themselves in order to travel to their sabbath is made out of the fat of a murdered child. The modern witches are generally women, who are supposed to have sold themselves to the devil, and, in return, to have the power of procuring pleasure for themselves, and of doing harm to others by supernatural means. They are thought to transform themselves to animals such as hares and moorfowl; and stories are told that these animals, after being shot and wounded, are seen to stop or drop, and assume the form of old women. These old women are traced to their habitation, and are there found in bed, suffering from a gun-shot wound. When a witch has a grudge against any person, she forms a waxen image in the likeness of that person, sticks pins into it, and sets it to melt before a fire. The original of the image, thereupon, falls into a consumption, and is afflicted with strange pains. In the 'Gesta Romanorum' there is a story of a married lady who practised witchcraft, in conjunction with her paramour, a necromancer. The guilty pair make a magical waxen image of the lady's absent husband, and shoot at it, in order to destroy him; but they are foiled by another wizard. This story is also in the 'Ingoldsby Legends.' Witches are generally attended by a familiar spirit in the shape of a cat, and, accompanied by this animal, and sitting astride on a broom-stick, they fly by night many thousands of miles. On Walpurgis Night they all assemble at the Brocken, under the presidency of Satan, who, on such occasions, generally takes the form of a black he-goat. One of the most innocent recreations at a witches' sabbath is the baptism of toads. Hecate, the ancient goddess of enchantments, has degraded into a witch herself, and figures as such in the plays of Shakespeare and Middleton. Perhaps she has fallen, with Venus and other deities, in consequence of the prevalence of Christianity. Lilith, who was the wife of Adam and mother by him, or, according to another account, by a Devil, her paramour, of a diabolical progeny, is the most distinguished of witches. She appears in the Walpurgis Night scene in Goethe's 'Faust.' The Scandinavian witches were in the habit of taking the form of wolves, and were then called were-wolves. We meet with werewolves in the works of Petronius Arbiter, Apuleius, and other classical writers.
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Alexis de Tocqueville, being commissioned at the age of twenty-six to investigate and report on American prisons, made use of his residence in the United States to gain a thorough insight into the political institutions and social conditions of the great Republic. The results of his observations and reflections were given to the world in 1835, in the two famous volumes De la Démocratie en Amérique, which were followed in 1840 by a third and fourth volume under the same title. As an analysis of American political institutions De Tocqueville's work has been superseded by Mr. Bryce's admirable study of the same subject; but as one of the great classics of political philosophy it can never be superseded, and has rarely been rivalled. With all a Frenchman's simplicity and lucidity he traces the manifold results of the democratic spirit; though sometimes an excessive ingenuity, which is also French, leads him to over-speculative conclusions. The work was received with universal applause.
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The most striking impression which I received during my residence in the United States was that of the equality which reigns there. This equality gives a peculiar character to public opinion and to the laws of that country, and influences the entire structure of society in the most profound degree. Realising that equality, or democracy, was rapidly advancing in the Old World also, I determined to make a thorough study of democratic principles and of their consequences, as they are revealed in the western continent.
We have only to review the history of European countries from the days of feudalism, to understand that the development of equality is one of the great designs of Providence; inasmuch as it is universal, inevitable, and lasting, and that every event and every individual contributes to its advancement.
It is impossible to believe that a social movement which has proceeded so far as this movement towards equality has done, can be arrested by human efforts, or that the democracy which has bearded kings and barons can be successfully resisted by a wealthy bourgeoisie. We know not whither we are moving; we only know that greater equality is found to-day among Christian populations than has been known before in any age or in any country.
I confess to a kind of religious terror in the presence of this irresistible revolution, which has defied every obstacle for the last ten centuries. A new political science is awaited by a world which is wholly new; but the most immediate duties of the statesman are to instruct the democracy, if possible to revive its beliefs, to purify its morals, to enlighten its inexperience by some knowledge of political principles, and to substitute for the blind instincts which sway it, the consciousness of its true interests.
In the Old World, and in France especially, the more powerful, intelligent, and moralised classes have held themselves apart from democracy, and the latter has, therefore, been abandoned to its own savage instincts. The democratic revolution has permeated the whole substance of society, without those concomitant changes in laws, ideas, habits, and manners which ought to have embodied and clothed it. So it is that we indeed have democracy, but without those features which should have mitigated its vices and liberated its advantages. The prestige of royal power is gone, without being replaced by the majesty of law, and our people despise authority as much as they fear it. Our poor have the prejudices of their fathers without their beliefs, their ignorance, without their virtues; they have taken self-interest for a principle without knowing what their interests are. Our society is tranquil, not in the consciousness of strength and of well-being, but a sense of decrepitude and despair. That is why I have studied America, in order that we may ourselves profit by her example. I have no intention of writing a panegyric on the United States. I have seen more in America than America herself; I have sought a revelation of Democracy, with all its characters and tendencies, its prejudices and its passions.
II.—Religion and Liberty
Our first consideration is of great importance, and must never be lost sight of. The Anglo-American civilisation which we find in the United States is the product of two perfectly distinct elements, which elsewhere are often at war with one another, but have here been merged and combined in the most wonderful way; I mean the spirit of religion and the spirit of liberty. The founders of New England were at the same time ardent secretaries and enthusiastic radicals; they were bound by the narrowest religious beliefs, but were free from all political prejudice.
Thus arose two tendencies which we may trace everywhere in American manners, as well as in their lives. All political principles, laws, and human institutions seem to have become plastic in the hands of the early colonists. The bonds which fettered the society in which they had been born fell from their limbs; ancient opinions which had dominated the world for ages simply disappeared; a new career opened for the human race; a world without horizons was before them, and they exulted in liberty. But outside the limits of the political world, they made no ventures of this kind. They abjured doubt, renounced their desire for innovation, left untouched the veil of the sanctuary, and knelt with awe before the truths of religion.
So, in their world of morals, everything was already classed, arranged, foreseen, and determined; but in their world of politics, everything was agitated, debated, and uncertain. In the former they were ruled by a voluntary obedience, but in all political affairs they were inspired by independence, contempt for experience, and jealous of every authority.
Far from impeding one another, these two tendencies, which appear so radically opposed, actually harmonise and seem even to support each other. Religion sees in civil liberty a noble field for the exercise of human faculties. Free and powerful in her own sphere, and satisfied with the part reserved for her, she knows that her sovereignty is all the more securely established when she depends only on her own strength and is founded in the hearts of men. And liberty, on the other hand, recognises in religion the comrade of its struggles and triumphs, the cradle of its rights. It knows that religion is the safeguard of morals, and that morals are the safeguard of the laws, and the judge of the continuance of liberty itself.
III.—Omnipotence of the Majority
The greatest danger to liberty in America lies in the omnipotence of the majority. A democratic power is never likely to perish for lack of strength or of resources, but it may very well fall because of the misdirection of its strength and the abuse of its resources. If ever liberty is lost in America, it will be due to an oppression of minorities which may drive them to an appeal to arms. The anarchy which must then result will be due only to despotism.
This danger has not escaped the notice of American statesmen. Thus, President James Madison said, "It is of great importance to republics, not only that society should be defended from the oppression of those who govern it, but also that one section of society should be protected against the injustice of another section; for justice is the end towards which all government must be directed." Again, Jefferson said that "The tyranny of legislators is at present, and will be for many years, our most formidable danger. The tyranny of the executive will arise in its turn, but at a more distant period." Jefferson's words are of great importance, for I consider him to have been the most powerful apostle that democracy has ever had.
But there are certain factors in the United States which moderate this tyranny of the majority. Chief among these is the absence of any administrative centralisation; so that the majority, which has often the tastes and instincts of a despot, lacks the instruments and the means of tyranny. The local administrative bodies constitute so many reefs and breakwaters to retard or divide the stream of the popular will.
Not less important, as a counterpoise to the danger of democracy, is the strong legal spirit which pervades the United States. Lawyers have great influence and authority in matters of government. But lawyers are strongly imbued with the tasks and habits of mind which are most characteristic of aristocracy; they have an instinctive liking for forms and for order, a native distaste for the will of the multitude, and a secret contempt for popular government. Of course, their own personal interest may and often does over-ride this professional bias. But lawyers will always be, on the whole, friends of order and of precedent, and enemies of change. And in America, where there are neither nobles nor able political writers, and where the people are suspicious of the wealthy, the lawyers do, in fact, form the most powerful order in politics, and the most intellectual class of society. They therefore stand to lose by any innovation, and their conservative tendency is reinforced by their interests as a class.
A third safeguard against the tyranny of the majority is to be found in the institution of a jury. Almost everyone is called at one time or another to sit on a jury, and thus learns at least something of the judicial spirit. The civil jury has saved English freedom in past times, and may be expected to maintain American liberties also. It is true that there are many cases, and those often the most important, in which the American judge pronounces sentence without a jury. Under those circumstances, his position is similar to that of a French judge, but his moral power is far greater; for the memory and the influence of juries are all about him, and he speaks with the authority of one who habitually rests upon the jury system. In no other countries are the judges so powerful as in those where the people are called in to share judicial privileges and responsibilities.
IV.—Equality of Men and Women
Inasmuch as democracy destroys or modifies the various inequalities which social traditions have made, it is natural to ask whether it has had any effect on that great inequality between men and women which is elsewhere so conspicuous. We are driven to the conclusion that the social movement which places son and father, servant and master, and in general, the inferior and superior, more nearly on the same level, must raise woman more and more to an equality with man.
Let us guard, however, against misconceptions. There are people in Europe who confuse the natural qualities of the two sexes, and desire that men and women should be, not only equal, but also similar to one another. That would give them both the same functions, the same duties and the same rights, and would have them mingle in everything, in work, in pleasures, and in business. But the attempt to secure this kind of equality between the two sexes, only degrades them both, and must result in unmanly men, and unwomanly women.
The Americans have not thus mistaken the kind of democratic equality which ought to hold between man and woman. They know that progress does not consist in forcing these dissimilar temperaments and faculties into the same mould, but in securing that each shall fulfil his or her task in the best possible way. They have most carefully separated the functions of man and woman, in order that the great work of social life may be most prosperously carried on.
In America, far more than elsewhere, the lines of action of the two sexes have been clearly divided. You do not find American women directing the external affairs of the family, or entering into business or into politics; but neither do you find them obliged to undertake the rough labours of the field, or any other work requiring physical strength. There are no families so poor as to form an exception to this rule.
So it is that American women often unite a masculine intelligence and a virile energy with an appearance of great refinement and altogether womanly manners.
One has often noticed in Europe a certain tinge of contempt even in the flatteries which men lavish on women; and although the European often makes himself a slave of a woman, it is easy to see that he never really regards her as his equal. But in the United States men rarely praise women, though they show their esteem for them every day.
Americans show, in fact, a full confidence in woman's reason, and a profound respect for her liberty. They realise that her mind is just as capable as that of man to discover truth, and that her heart is just as courageous in following it; and they have never tried to shelter or to guide her by means of prejudice, ignorance, or fear.
For my part I do not hesitate to say that the singular prosperity and the evergrowing power of the American people is due to the superiority of American women.
V.—The Perfectibility of Man
Equality suggests many ideas which would never have arisen without it, and among others the notion that humanity can reach perfection—a theory which has practical consequences of great interest.
In countries where the population is classed according to rank, profession, and birth, and everyone has to follow the career to which he happens to be born, each is conscious of limits to his power, and does not attempt to struggle against an inevitable destiny. Aristocratic peoples do not deny that man may be improved, but they think of this as an amelioration of the individual, and not as a change in social circumstances, and while they admit that humanity has made great progress, they believe in certain limits which it cannot pass. They do not think, for instance, that we shall arrive at sovereign good or at absolute truth.
But in proportion as caste and class-distinction disappear, the vision of an ideal perfection arises before the human mind. Continual changes are ever taking place, some of them to his disadvantage, but the majority to his advantage, and the democrat concludes that man in general is capable of arriving at perfection. His reverses teach him that no one has yet discovered absolute good, and his frequent successes excite him to pursue it. Always seeking, falling, and rising again, often deceived, but never discouraged, he hastens towards an immense grandeur which he dimly conceives as the goal of humanity. This theory of perfectibility exercises prodigious influence even on those who have never thought of it. For instance, I ask an American sailor why the ships of his country are built to last only a few years; and he tells me without hesitation that the art of shipbuilding makes such rapid progress every day, that the finest ship constructed to-day must be useless after a very short time. From these words, spoken at random by an uneducated man, I can perceive the general and systematic idea which guides this great people in every matter.
All free people are proud of themselves, but national pride takes different forms. The Americans, in their relations with strangers, are impatient of the least criticism, and absolutely insatiable for praise. The slightest congratulation pleases them, but the most extravagant eulogium is not enough to satisfy them; they are all the time touting for your praise, and if you are slow to give it they begin praising themselves. It is as if they were doubtful of their own merit. Their vanity is not only hungry, but anxious and envious. It gives nothing, and asks insistently. It is both supplicant and pugnacious. If I tell an American that his country is a fine one, he replies, "It is the finest in the world." If I admire the liberty which it enjoys, he answers, "There are few people worthy of such liberty." I remark on the purity of manners in the United States, and he says, "Yes, a stranger who knows the corruption of other nations must indeed be astonished at us." At length I leave him to the contemplation of his country and of himself, but he presently runs after me, and will not go away until I have repeated it all over again. It is a kind of patriotism that worries even those who honour it.
The Englishman, on the contrary, tranquilly enjoys the real or imaginary advantages which his country affords. He cares nothing for the blame nor for the praise of strangers. His attitude towards the whole world is one of disdainful and ignorant reserve. His pride seeks no nourishment; it lives on itself. It is very remarkable that the two people who have arisen from the same stock should differ so radically in their way of feeling and speaking.
In aristocratic countries, great families possess enormous privileges, on which their pride rests. They consider these privileges as a natural right inherent in their person, and their feeling of superiority is therefore a peaceful one. They have no reason to boast of the prerogatives which everyone concedes to them without question. So, when public affairs are directed by an aristocracy, the national pride tends to take this reserved, haughty, and independent form.
Under democratic conditions, on the contrary, the least advantage which anyone gains has great importance in his eyes; for everyone is surrounded by millions very nearly his equal. His pride therefore becomes anxious and insatiable; he founds it on miserable trifles and defends it obstinately. Again, most Americans have recently acquired the advantages which they possess, and therefore have inordinate pleasure in contemplating these advantages, and in showing them to others; and as these advantages may escape at any moment, they are always uneasy about them, and look at them again and again to see that they still have them. Men who live in democracies love their country as they love themselves, and model their national vanity upon their private vanity. The close dependence of this anxious and insatiable vanity of democratic peoples upon the equality and fragility of their conditions is seen from the fact that the members of the proudest nobility show exactly the same passionate jealousy for the most trifling circumstances of their life when these become unstable or are contested.
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Vampires and Werewolves in English Fiction by Dorothy Scarborough 1917
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Closely related to the devil are certain diabolic spirits that are given supernatural power by him and acknowledge his suzerainty. These include ghosds, vampires, werewolves, and other demoniac animals, as well as the human beings that through a compact with the fiend share in his dark force. Since such creatures possess dramatic possibilities, they have given interest to fiction and other literature from early times. This idea of an unholy alliance between earth and hell, has fascinated the human mind and been reflected astonishingly in literature. In studying the appearance of these beings in English fiction, we note, as in the case of the ghost, the witch, and the devil, a certain leveling influence, a tendency to humanize them and give them characteristics that appeal to our sympathy.
The vampire and the ghoul are closely related and by some authorities are considered the same, yet there is a distinction. The ghoul is a being, to quote Poe, "neither man nor woman, neither brute nor human" that feeds upon corpses, stealing out at midnight for loathsome banquets in graveyards. He devours the flesh of the dead, while the vampire drains the blood of the living. The ghoul is an Asiatic creature and has left but slight impress upon English literature, while the vampire has been a definite motif. The vampire superstition goes back to ancient times, being referred to on Chaldean and Assyrian tablets. William of Newbury, of the twelfth century in England, relates several stories of them; one vampire was burned in Melrose Abbey, and tourists in Ireland are still shown the grave of a vampire. Perhaps the vampire superstition goes back to the savagery of remote times, and is an animistic survival of human sacrifices, of cannibalism and the like. The vampire is thought of as an evil spirit issuing forth at night to attack the living in their sleep and drain the blood which is necessary to prolong its own revolting existence. Certain persons were thought to be especially liable to become vampires at death, such as suicides, witches, wizards, persons who in life had been attacked by vampires, outcasts of various kinds, as well as certain animals, werewolves, dead lizards, and others.
The vampire superstition was general in the East and extended to Europe, it is thought, by way of Greece. The Greeks thought of the vampire as a beautiful young woman, a lamia, who lured young men to their death. The belief was particularly strong in central Europe, but never seemed to gain the same foothold in England that it did on the continent, though it is evident here and has influenced literature. The vampire has been, the inspiration for several operas, and has figured in the drama, in poetry, in the novel and short story, as well as in folk-tales and medieval legends. The stories show the various aspects of the belief and its ancient hold on the popular mind. The vampire, as well as the ghost, the devil, and the witch, has appeared on the English stage. The Vampire, an anonymous melodrama in two acts. The Vampire, a tragedy by St. John Dorset (1821), The Vampire Bride, a play, Le Vampire, by Alexander Dumas pere, and The Vampire, or the Bride of the Isles, by J. R. Planche, were presented in the London theater. The latter which was published in 1820 is remarkably similar to The Vampyre, a novelette by Polidori, published in 1819, — the story written after the famous ghost session where Byron, the Shelleys, and Polidori agreed each to write a ghostly story, Mary Shelley writing Frankenstein.
Polidori's story, like the play referred to, has for its principal character an Englishman, Lord Ruthven, the Earl of Marsden, who is the vampire. In each case there is a supposed death, where the dying man asks that his body be placed where the last rays of the moon can fall upon it. The corpse then mysteriously vanishes. In each story there is a complication of a rash pledge of silence made by a man that discovers the diabolical nature of the earl, who, having risen from the dead, is ravaging society as a vampire. In each case a peculiar turn of the story is that the masculine vampire requires for his
subsistence the blood of young women, to whom he must be married. He demands a new victim, hence a hurried wedding is planned. In the play the ceremony is interrupted by the bride's father, but in the novelette the plot is finished and the girl becomes the victim of the destroyer. It is a question which of these productions was written first, and which imitated the other, or if they had a common source. The author of the drama admits getting his material from a French play, but where did Polidori get his?
Byron seems to have been fascinated with the vampire theme, for in addition to his unsuccessful short story, he has used the theme in his poem, The Giaour. Here he brings in the idea that the vampire curse is a judgment from God for sin, and that the most terrible part of the punishment is the being forced to prey upon those who in life were dearest to him, which idea occurs in various stories.
"But first on earth as Vampyre sent
Thy corse shall from its tomb be rent;
Then ghastly haunt thy native place
And suck the blood of all thy race;
There from thy daughter, sister, wife.
At midnight drain the stream of life;
Yet loathe the banquet which perforce
Must feed thy livid, living corse.
Thy victims, ere they yet expire
Shall know the demon for their sire;
As, cursing thee, thou cursing them,
Thy flowers are withered on the stem.
But one, that for thy crime must fall,
The youngest, best-beloved of all.
Shall bless thee with a father's name —
That word shall wrap thy heart in flame!
Yet must thou end the task and mark
Her cheek's last tinge, her eye's last spark,
And the last glassy glance must view
Which freezes o'er its lifeless blue;
Then with unhallowed hand shall tear
The tresses of her yellow hair.
Of which, in life, a lock when shorn
Affection's fondest pledge was worn, —
But now is borne away by thee
Memorial of thine agony!
Yet with thine own best blood shall drip
Thy gnashing teeth and haggard lip;
Then stalking to thy sullen grave
Go — and with ghouls and Afrits rave,
Till these in horror shrink away
From specter more accursed than they!"
Southey in his Thalaba shows us a vampire, a young girl in this case, who has been torn away from her husband on their wedding day. The curse impels her to attack him, to seek to drain his lifeblood. He becomes aware of the truth and takes her father with him to the tomb, to await her coming forth at midnight, which is the striking hour for vampires. When she appears, "in her eyes a brightness more terrible than all the loathsomeness of death," her father has the courage to strike a lance through her heart to dispel the demon and let her soul be at peace.
"Then howling with the wound
The fiendish tenant fled. . . .
And garmented with glory in their sight
Oneiza's spirit stood."
Keats uses the Greek idea of the vampire as a lamia or beautiful young woman luring young men to death,— the same theme employed by Goethe in his Die Braut von Corinth. In Lamia, when the evil spirit in the form of a lovely, alluring woman, is accused by the old philosopher, she gives a terrible scream and vanishes. This vanishing business is a favorite trick with vampires — they leave suddenly when circumstances crowd them.
F. Marion Crawford, in For the Blood Is the Life, has given us a terrible vampire story, in which the dream element is present to a marked degree. The young man, who has been vainly loved by a young girl, is after her death vampirized by her, something after the fashion of Turgeniev's Clara Militch, and when his friends get an inkling of the truth, and go to rescue him, they find him on her grave, a thin red line of blood trickling from his throat.
And the flickering light of the lantern played upon another face that looked up from the feast, — upon two deep, dead eyes that saw in spite of death — upon parted lips redder than life itself — upon gleaming teeth on which glistened a rosy drop.
The hawthome stake is driven through her heart and the vampire expires after a terrific struggle, uttering diabolic human shrieks. There is a certain similarity between this and Gautier's La Morte Amoreuse, where the truth is concealed till the last of the story and only the initiated would perhaps know that the reincarnated woman was a vampire. It is also a bit like Turgeniev's Phantoms, where a subtle suggestion at the last gives the reader the clue to vampirism, though the author really asks the question at the close. Was she a vampire? The character of the woman is problematic here, as in Gautier's story, less pronounced than in Crawford's.
The idea of occult vampirism used by Turgeniev is also employed by Reginald Hodder in his work, The Vampire. Here peculiar power is possessed by a woman leader of an occult band, who vampirizes by means of a talisman. Her ravages are psychic rather than physical. Theosophists, according to the Occult Magazine, believe in vampires even in the present. According to their theory, one who has been very wicked in life is in death so inextricably entangled with his evil motives and acts that he is hopelessly lost and knows it, yet seeks to delay for a time his final damnation. He can ward off spiritual death so long as he can keep alive by means of blood his physical corpse. The Occult Review believes that probably only those acquainted with black magic in their lifetime can become vampires, — a thought comforting to some of us.
It is in Bram Stoker's Dracula that one finds the tensest, most dreadful modern story of vampirism. This novel seems to omit no detail of terror, for every aspect of vampire horror is touched upon with brutal and ghastly effect. The combination of ghouls, vampires, ghosts, werewolves, and other awful elements is almost unendurable, yet the book loses in effect toward the last, for the mind cannot endure four hundred pages of vampiric outrage and respond to fresh impressions of horror. The initial vampire here is a Hungarian count, who, after terrorizing his own country for years, transports himself to England to start his ravages there. Each victim in turn becomes a vampire. The combination of modern science with medieval superstition to fight the scourge, using garlic and sprigs of the wild rose together with blood transfusion, is interesting. All the resources of modern science are pitted against the infection and the complications are dramatically thrilling. The book is not advised as suitable reading for one sitting alone at night.
There are other types of vampirism in addition to the conventional theme and the occult vampirism. H. G. Wells gives his customary twist of novelty to supernaturalism by the introduction of a botanical vampire
in his The Flowering of the Strange Orchid. An orchid collector is found unaccountably dead in a jungle in the Andaman Islands, with a strange bulb lying under him, which bulb is brought to England and watched carefully by a botanist there till it comes to flower. When at last its blossoms burst open, great tentacles reach out to grasp the man, sucking his blood and strangling him. The tentacles dripping blood have to be torn away and the man snatched violently from the plant just in time to save his life.
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Algernon Blackwood, who has touched upon every terrible aspect of supernaturalism, gives us two types of vampires in his story. The Transfer. The one is a psychic vampire, stealing the vital power from others, a human sponge, absorbing the strength, the ideas, the soul, of others. The governess describes him: "I watched his hard, bleak face; I noticed how thin he was, and the curious, oily brightness of his steady eyes. And everything he said or did announced what I may dare to call the suction of his presence." This human vampire comes in contact with one of another sort, a soil vampire, the Forbidden Corner, a bald, sore place in the rose garden, like a dangerous bog. The woman and a little child know the truth of this spot so barren in the midst of luxurious growth, so sinister in its look and implication. The child says of it, "It's bad. It's hungry. It's dying because it can't get the food it wants. But I know what would make it feel right." The earth vampire stretches out silent feelers from its secret strength when the man
comes near the evil spot; the empty, yawning spot gives out audible cries, then laughs hideously as the man falls forward into the middle of the patch. "His eyes, as he dropped, faded shockingly, and across the countenance was written plainly what I can only call an expression of destruction." The. man lives on physically, yet without vitality, without real life. But it was otherwise with the Forbidden Corner, for soon "it lay untouched, full of great, luscious, driving weeds and creepers, very strong, full-fed and bursting thick with life."
And so the vampire stories vary in theme and in treatment. Indian folk-tales appearing in English show that the Jigar-Khor, or Liver-eater of India is a cousin to the vampire, for he can steal your liver by just looking at you. (It has long been known that hearts can be filched in this way, but the liver wrinkle is a new one.) There are several points to be noted in connection with these stories of the Un-dead, the incorruptible corpses, the loathsome spirits that haunt the living. Many of the stories have a setting in the countries where the vampire superstition has been most common, though there are English settings as well. Continental countries are richer in vampire lore than England, which explains the location of the incidents even in many English stories and poems.
Another point to be noted is the agreement of the stories in the essential features. While there are numerous variants, of course, there is less divergence than in the case of ghosts, for instance. The description of the daemonic spirit tenanting the body of a dead person, driving him by a dreadftil urge to attack the living, especially those dear to him in life, is much the same. The personality of the vampire may vary, in one line of stories being a young woman who lures men to death, in the other a man who must quench his thirst with the blood of brides. These are the usual types, though there are other variants.
The Werewolf and Others. Another daemonic figure popular in fiction is the werewolf. The idea is a very old one, having been mentioned by various classical writers, it is said, including Pomponius Mela, Herodotus, and Ovid. The legend of the werewolf is found in practically all European countries, especially those where the wolf is common. In France many stories of the loup-garou are current. The werewolf is a human being cursed with the power or the obligation to be transformed into an animal who goes forth to slay and devour. Like a vampire, he might become such as a curse from God, or he might be an innocent victim, or might suffer from an atavistic tendency, a cannibaHstic craving for blood. Distinction is to be made between the real werewolf and the lycanthrope, — the latter a human being who, on account of some
peculiar twist of insanity, fancies himself a wolf and acts accordingly. There is such a character in The Duchess of Malfi, a maniac who thinks himself a mad wolf, and another in The Albigenses, a creature that crouches in a corner of its lair, gnawing at a skull snatched from the graveyard, uttering bestial growls. Algernon Blackwood has a curdling story of lycanthropy, where the insane man will eat nothing but raw meat and devours everything living that he can get hold of. He confesses to a visitor that he used to bite his old servant, but that he gave it up, since the old Jew tasted bitter. The servant also is mad, and "hides in a vacuum" when his master goes on a rampage. Stories 'of lycanthropy illustrate an interesting aspect of the association between insanity and the supernatural in fiction.
The most revolting story of lycanthropy is in Frank Norris's posthumous novel, Vandover and the Brute. This is a study in soul degeneration, akin to the moral decay that George Eliot has shown in the character of Tito Melema, but grosser and utterly lacking in artistic restraint. We see a young man, at first sensitive, delicate, and with high ideals, gradually through love of ease and self-indulgence, through taking always the line of least resistance, becoming a moral outcast. The brute that ever strains at the leash in man gains the mastery and the artist soul ends in a bestial creature. Dissipation brings on madness, called by the doctors "lycanthropy-mathesis." In his paroxysms of insanity the wretch thinks that his body is turned into the beast that his soul symbolizes, and runs about his room, naked, four-footed,
growling like a jungle animal and uttering harsh, raucous cries of Wolf -wolf!
Kipling's The Mark of the Beast is midway between a lycanthrope and a werewolf story, for while the soul of the beast — or whatever passes for the brutish soul — enters into the man and drives out his spirit, and while many bestial characteristics result, including the revolting odor, the man does not change his human form.
While lycanthropy has never been a frequent theme in fiction, the werewolf is a common figure, appearing in various forms of literature, from medieval ballads and legends to modem short stories. Marie de France, the Anglo-Norman writer, tells of a werewolf that is by day a gallant knight and kindly gentleman, yet goes on nocturnal marauding expeditions. When his wife shows curiosity concerning his absences and presses him for an explanation, he reluctantly tells her that he is a werewolf, hiding his clothes in a hollow tree, and that if they were removed he would have to remain a wolf. She has her lover steal his clothes, then marries the lover. One day long afterward the king's attention is called to a wolf that runs up to him and acts strangely. It is a tame and well- mannered beast till the false knight and his wife appear, when he tries to tear their throats. Investigation reveals the truth, the clothes are fetched, and the curse removed. Arthur O'Shaughnessy's modern version of this, as of others of Marie's lais, is charming.
Like the vampire, the werewolf is under a curse that impels him to prey upon those dearest to him. Controlled by a daemonic spirit, the human being, that in his normal personality is kindly and gentle, becomes a jungle beast with ravening instincts. The motif is obviously tangled up with the vampire superstition here, and it would be interesting, if possible, to trace out the two to a point of combination. This irresistible impulse to slay his dear ones introduces a dramatic element into the plot, here as in the vampire stories. The wolf is not the only animal around whom such plots center, but being most common
he has given his name to the type. The Albigenses tell of a young husband who, as a werewolf, slays his bride, then vanishes to be seen no more.
There are interesting variants of the werewolf story, introducing other elements of supematuralism. In A Vendetta of the Jungle, we have the idea of successive infection of the moral curse, similar to the continuation of vampirism. Mrs. Crump, a lady in India, is eaten by a tiger, who has a good digestion for he assimilates not only her body but her soul. So that now it is Mrs. Crump-Tiger, we might say, that goes about the jungle eating persons. In time she devours her successor in her husband's affection. The man is aware that it is his first wife who has eaten his second, so he starts out to kill the animal to clear off the score. But by the time he reaches the jungle the beast has had time to digest his meal and when the husband levels his gun to fire, the eyes that look out at him from the brutish face are his
beloved's eyes. What could he do?
Eugene Field gives a new turn to the idea by representing the werewolf curse as a definite atavistic throw-back. His wolf-man is an innocent marauder, the reincarnation of a wicked grandfather, yet a gentle, chivalrous soul very different from his grandparent. The old gentleman has left him heir to nothing but the curse and a magic spear given him by the witch Brunhilde. The werewolf bears a charmed life against which no weapon of man can avail, and the country is panic-stricken over his ravages. The legend is that the beast's fury cannot be stopped till some man offers himself as a voluntary sacrifice to the wolf. The youth does not know that he is the guilty one until his reprehensible grandfather appears to him in a vision, demanding his soul. He hears that there is to be a meeting in the sacred grove on a certain day and begs his beloved to remain away, lest the werewolf come. But when she insists that she will go, he gives her his magic spear, telling her to strike the wolf through the heart if he approaches her. True to his accursed destiny the wolf does come to the grove and lunges at the girl. All the men flee but one, and his weapons fail, — then the terrified girl hurls the spear, striking the beast to the heart. But
when he falls, it is young Harold who is dying, who has given himself a voluntary sacrifice to save others. The curse is lifted but he is dead.
In The Camp of the Dog, by Algernon Blackwood, we have another unconscious werewolf, a gentle, modest, manly young fellow madly in love with a girl who doesn't care for him. In his sleep he goes questing for her. While his body lies shrunken on a cot in his tent, his soul takes the form of a wolf and goes to the hilltop, uttering unearthly howls. By an equally strong psychic disturbance the girl is impelled to go in a somnambulistic state to the hilltop. Each is in waking hours utterly unaware of their strange jaunts, till the father shoots the wolf. The young man in this case suffers only curious psychic wounds, from which he recovers when the girl promises to marry him, and the wolf is seen no more.
The panther plays his part in this were-menagerie. Ambrose Bierce, in The Eyes of the Panther, tells of a young girl who, because of a prenatal curse similar to that affecting Elsie Venner, is not wholly human. She is conscious of her dual nature and tells the man she loves that she cannot marry him since she is a panther by night. He thinks her mildly insane till one night a settler sees a beast's eyes glaring into his window and fires. When they follow the blood-tracks, they find the girl dying. This is one of the conventions of the werewolf story, the wounding of an animal that escapes and the blood-trail that leads to a human being wounded just as the beast was.
Elliott O'Donnell, in a volume called Werewolves published in London in 1912, gives serious credence to the existence of werewolves not only in the past but also in the present. He tells a number of stories of what he claims are authenticated instances of such beings in actual life. He relates the experience of a man who told him that he had himself -seen a youth turn himself into a tiger after preparatory passes of enchantment. The watcher made haste to climb a sacred Vishnu tree when the transformation was complete. O'Donnell tells a tale of a widow with three children that married a Russian noble-man. She saw him and his servant change into werewolves, at least partially, remaining in a half state, devouring her children whom she left behind in her escape.
O'Donnell relates several stories of authentic (according to him) werewolf stories of England in recent times, giving the dates and places and names of the persons who saw the beasts. The incidents may be similar to those spoken of in Dicken's Haunted House, where the famous "ooded woman with the howl" was seen, — or at least, many persons saw the owl and knew that the woman must be near by. These witnesses of werewolves may have seen animals, all right enough. Modernity is combined with medieval superstition here, and it seems uncanny, for instance, to identify a werewolf by means of an electric pocket flashlight.
In collections of folk-tales, the tribal legends of the American redmen as well as of Kipling's India and of England, there are various stories of werewolves. Among primitive peoples there is a close relation between the brute and the human and the attributing of human characteristics and powers to the beast and vice versa is common, so that this supernatural transfer of personality is natural enough. A madwolf might suggest the idea for a werewolf.
Algernon Blackwood advances the theory that the werewolf is a true psychical fact of profound importance, however it may have been garbled by superstition. He thinks that the werewolf is the projection of the untamed slumbering sanguinary instincts of man, "scouring the world in his fluidic body, the body of desire." As the mind wanders free from the conscious control of the will in sleep, so the body may free itself from the fetters of mind or of custom and go forth in elemental form to satisfy its craving to slay, to slake its wild thirst for blood. O'Donnell says that werewolves may be phantasms of the dead that cannot be at peace, or a certain kind of Elementals. He also thinks that they may be the projection of one phase of man's nature, of the cruelty latent in mankind that seeks expression in this way. According
to that theory, a chap might have a whole menagerie inside him, to turn loose at intervals, which would be exciting but rather risky for society. It was doubtless a nature such as this that Maupassant attempts to describe in his story The Wolf, where the man has all the instincts of the wolf yet never changes his human form.
The werewolf in fiction has suffered the same leveling influence that we have observed in the case of the ghost, the devil, the witch, and the vampire. He is becoming a more psychical creature, a romantic figure to be sympathized with, rather than a beast to be utterly condemned. In recent fiction the werewolf is represented as an involuntary and even unconscious departure from the human, who is shocked when he learns the truth about himself. Whether he be the victim of a divine curse, an agent of atavistic tendencies, or a being who thus gives vent to his real and brutish instincts, we feel a sympathy with him. We analyze his motives — at a safe distance— seek to understand his vagaries and to estimate his kinship with us. We think of him now as a noble figure in fiction, a lupine Galahad like Blackwood's, a renunciatory hero like Eugene Field's or what not. Or we reflect that he may be a case of metempsychosis and treat him courteously, for who knows what we may be ourselves some day? The werewolf has not figured in poetry or in the drama as have other supernatural beings, as the ghost, the devil, the witch, the vampire, — one wonders why. He is a dramatic figure and his character-analysis might well furnish themes for poetry though stage presentation would have its difficulties.
Perhaps the revival of interest in Elizabethan literature has had a good deal to do with the use of supernatural beings in literature of recent times. The devil and the daemonic spirits he controls, the witches and wizards, the vampires, the enchanted animals, to whom he delegates a part of his infernal power, appear as impressive moral allegories, mystical stories of life, symbols of truths. As literature is a reflection of life, the evil as well as the good enters in. But since the things of the spirit are intangible they must be represented in concrete form, as definite beings whom our minds can apprehend. Thus the poets and dramatists and story-makers must show us images to shadow forth spiritual things. As with a shudder we close the books that tell us horrifying tales of Satanic spirits, of accursed beings that are neither wholly animal nor human, of mortals with diabolic powers, we shrink from the evils of the soul that they represent, and recognize their essential truth in the guise of fiction.
Monday, January 30, 2017
Ancient German Mythology and the Christian Cross by Karl Blind 1874
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No special plea is surely required for occupying ourselves with the religious beliefs of our forefathers, when we remember—-in the words of the Rev. Isaac Taylor—-that “day by day, as the weeks run round, we have obtruded upon our notice the names of the deities” who were once worshipped by the heathen Saxons, Angles, Frisians, Scandinavians, and the Germanic race in general. Strange enough, however, our very familiarity with the names of those deities is such that the great mass of men use them without thinking of, or even knowing, their origin and meaning.
The words alluded to refer, of course, to the names given to the days of the week. In “Sunday” and “Monday” we get a glimpse of that worship of the Sun and the Moon which prevailed among our ancestors from the immemorial time when they yet dwelt on the pasture--grounds of Central Asia, as a simple tribe of herdsmen and hunters, down to the days when Caesar met the fierce warriors of Ariovist between the Rhone and the Rhine. Star and Fire-worshippers our forefathers were, as Caesar relates. Hence they could—-even as the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans did—-give to those days the appellation of Sunday and Monday.
In the word “Tuesday,” we meet with the name and worship of Tyr, Tiu, or Ziu, the Germanic God of War. In “Wednesday,” we find Wodan (Odin), the supreme deity, or All-father. In “Thursday” is contained the name of Thunar, or Thor, the God of Thunder. In “Friday,” that of Freia, the Goddess of Love and Domestic Wirtue. In “Saturday,” which some think is the Germanized form of the Roman day of Saturnus, there is, in the opinion of Grimm, a god “Saetere” hidden-—a malicious deity, whose name is but an alias for Loki, of whom it is recorded that once, at a great banquet, he so insulted all the heavenly rulers that they chained him down, Prometheus-like, to a rock, and made a serpent trickle down its venom upon his face. His faithful wife, Sigyn, held a cup over him to prevent the venom from reaching his face; but whenever she turned away to empty the cup, his convulsive pains were such that the earth shook and trembled. So it is stated in the Edda, the text-book of the Germanic pagans, in that famous song, “The Banquet of Oegir,” which is a Titanic satire upon the dwellers in Asgard. I believe we can see in that fable some poetical attempt at explaining earthquakes by the action of subterranean fire-—for Saetere-Loki is a Fire-god. But, no doubt, few people now-a-days, when pronouncing the simple word “Saturday,” think or know of this weird and pathetic myth which must have exercised a similar spell upon the Teutonic race of old, as did a kindred legend upon the Hellenic mind.
Even as the days of the week are primed with the mythology of our forefathers, so it is the case also with the names of many towns and villages, and hills, all over Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, England, and Scotland. When we travel to Athens, we easily think of the Greek goddess Athene; when we go to Rome, we are reminded of Romulus, its mythic founder. But when we go to Dewerstone, in Devonshire; to Dewsbury, in Yorkshire; to Tewesley, in Surrey; to Great Tew, in Oxfordshire; to Tewin, in Hertfordshire—-have a great many even an inkling that these are places once sacred to Tiu, the Saxon Mars? When we go to Wednesbury; to Wanborough; to Woodnesborough; to Wembury; to Wanstrow; to Wansdike; to Woden Hill, we visit localities where the Great Spirit, Wodan, was once worshipped. So also we meet with the name of the God of Thunder in Thundersfield; Thundersleigh; Thursleigh; Thurscross; Thursby, and Thurso. The German Venus, Freia, is traceable in Fridaythorpe and Frathorpe; in Fraisthorpe, and Freasley. Her son was Baldur, also called Phol or Pol, the sweet god of peace and light. His name comes out in Balderby; Balderton; Polbrook; Polstead, and Polsden. Loki, or Saetere, is probably hidden in Satterleigh and Satterthwaithe. Ostara, or Eostre, the Easter Goddess of Spring, appears in two Essex parishes, Good Easter and High Easter; in Easterford; Easterlake, and Eastermear. Again, Hel, the gloomy mistress of the underworld, has given her name to Hellifield; Hellathyrne; Helwith; Healeys, and Helagh-all places in Yorkshire, where people seem to have had a particular fancy for that dark and grimy deity. Then, we have Asgardby and Aysgarth, places reminding us of Asgard, the celestial garden, or castle, of the Aesir—-in other words, the Germanic Olympus.
The instances just given might be multiplied by the hundred: so full is England, to this day, of the vestiges of Germanic mythology. Far more important, however, is the fact that in this country, as in Germany, we still find a great deal of current folk-lore and fairytales, of either a charming or a ghastly character, as well as a mass of quaint customs and superstitious beliefs affecting the daily life and even the happiness of men, which, on closer investigation, can be shown to be the remnants of a “strange and savage faith of mightiest power,” as Southey called it. To go even lower down: the very nursery tales, and children's games and rhymes, in Germany, England, and other countries where the people of Teutonic stock dwell, are imbued with the lingering spirit of that ancient creed. There are German children's games that are the poor remnants of religious ceremonies and rude dramatic representations once performed by Pagan priests. There are children's dances and lullabies in which may be recognized the last faint echoes of sacred dances and hymns, formerly danced and sung in the primaeval forests of Northern Europe, or, earlier still, on the green hills between the Caspian Sea and the Punjaub. A rhyme apparently so bereft of sense, like
“Lady-bird, lady-bird, fly away home !
Thy house is on fire!
Thy children at home!”
can be proved to refer to a belief of our forefathers in the coming downfall of the Universe by a great conflagration. The Lady-bird has its name from having been sacred to Our Lady Freia, the Germanic Venus. The words addressed to the insect were once an incantation—-an appeal to the goddess for the protection of the souls of the Unborn, over whom, in her heavenly abode, she was supposed to keep watch and ward, and whom she is asked to shield from the fire which consumes the world.
Everyone knows of Grimm's Tales. They were collected, from the lips of the people, by one of the greatest authorities on German language, literature, and mythology. Now, a writer who, besides his own deep researches, has worked successfully to render the labours of Continental authorities accessible to the English public, says, with the felicity of expression that is peculiar to him —“It might seem strange, indeed, that so great a scholar as Grimm should have spent so much of his precious time in collecting his Märchen, or Tales, if those tales had only been intended for the amusement of children. When we see a Lyell or Owen pick up pretty shells and stones, we may be sure that, however much little girls may admire these pretty things, this was not the object which those wise collectors had in view. Like the blue and green and rosy sands which children play with in the Isle of Wight, these tales of the people, which Grimm was the first to discover and collect, are the detritus of many an ancient stratum of thought and language, buried deep in the past. They have a scientific interest.”
And they have a scientific interest in more than one respect: Surprising thoughts of generations long gone by may often be read in mythic tales. Fanciful and odd as their imagery appears, a grain of sense, even of science, can frequently be discovered in their fantastic shell. In olden times, even as now, there were men of science; and there were others who wanted to hide science under a bushel, or to keep it to themselves. Hence, mythological systems were generally erected over a substratum of philosophical thought; the priest keeping to himself the latter as a private knowledge, only to be talked of in the innermost recess of the sanctuary, where no profane gaze could penetrate, whilst the mass of the people were spoken to in highly coloured tales which they were asked to accept as a revelation. But the tale itself—-formed, as it were, in the shape of a riddle—-mostly contained some deeper meaning, which was only walled in by the flowery, or sometimes prickly, language of fiction, and requiring a key, or some opening pass-word, to unlock its secret.
In the case of that young peasant I found that, unwittingly, he was the possessor of a very remarkable chip of Teutonic mythology which contained a presentiment, in a very crude and mystic form, but still a presentiment, or early conception, of that Germ Theory which traces all living things, and their fatally foreshadowed form, from an “egg”—-a theory now held by a majority of scientific men. Even all the minor accessories of the peasant's tale explained themselves by-and-by. Easter Sunday had to be chosen for his piece of witchcraft because Easter was originally a Germanic festival in honour of the Goddess of Spring, who is to this day remembered by the people in Germany and other Continental countries, as well as by the peasantry of some of the northern and eastern counties in England, in the well-known custom of presenting coloured eggs to children. The “going out backwards from church" was, according to the orientalizing system of Christian edifices, practically an obeisance before the Goddess, who was supposed to dwell in the East, in the region of the rising sun, whose orb is the great agency for awakening life out of the sleeping germs. The “sign of disrespect” that had to be made before leaving church was meant as an abrenunciation to the Christian creed; the soothsayer returning for the nonce to the heathen belief—-and thereby, it was thought, endangering his soul. Even the “laughter” which had to be indulged in found its explanation. At Pagan festivals, about Easter time, a laughing chorus once typified the smile of re-awakening Nature. Many centuries after the overthrow of Paganism, the priest, on Easter Sunday, had first to tell his congregation a merry tale, and then to break out into what was called an “Easter-laughter”!
Thus, in that young peasant's mind, a very important piece of Teutonic mythology had stuck fast, of which he could not get rid, in spite of the proficiency he had obtained in the mechanical repetition of his catechism. And the more one enters into those matters, the more one must become convinced that it is no use fighting against superstitions by simply calling them “rubbish” and “nonsense;” for somehow the untutored mind clings to them as if, in its vague yearning for something higher than the prosaic every-day life, it felt that there is a poetical treasure concealed in those myths, which only required a magic wand to come forth and charm the craving heart. Nor will these superstitions be entirely rooted out until a full scientific treatment of them has taken place—until they shall be universally known to be the last remnants of heathen creation-stories, of ancient attempts at a philosophical or physical explanation of this wondrous world, of religious systems built thereon, or of glorious hero-sagas which have arisen out of these systems, and then been transformed, broken up, or degenerated, into rustic tales.
It would be idle, no doubt, to look for great depth of meaning in all the shallows of mythological systems-—and some of them are very shallow. But this much is clear, that if we will wean men from crude notions that haunt them, and yet promote the enjoyment of fancies which serve as embellishing garlands for the stern realities of life, we cannot do better than to spread a fuller scientific knowledge of that circle of ideas in which those moved who moulded our very speech. From an artistic point of view, the spread of such knowledge is also desirable. We feel delight in the conceptions of the Greek Olympus. We store in our museums the statues of Jupiter, Juno, Mars, and Venus. Painters and poets still go back to that old fountain of fancy. Why, then, should we not seek for similar delight in studying the figures of the Germanic Pantheon, and the rich folk-lore connected with them? Why should that powerful Bible of the Norse religion, which contains such a wealth of striking ideas and descriptions in language the most picturesque, not be as much perused as is the Iliad, the Odyssey, or the AEneid? Or is it too much to say that many even of those who know of the Koran, of the precepts of Kon-fu-tse, and of Buddha, of the Zendavesta, and of the Vedas, have but the dimmest notion of that grand Germanic Scripture?
No doubt, Mannhardt is right when saying that the Teutonic divinities have not the perfect harmony and quiet plasticity of the Olympian ideals. Still, to resume a description before given: Can it be said that there is a lack of poetical conception in the figure of Wodan, or Odin, the hoary ruler of the winds and the clouds, who, clad in a flowing mantle, careers through the sky on a milk-white horse from whose nostrils fire issues, and who is followed at night by a retinue of heroic warriors whom he leads into the golden, shield-adorned Walhalla? Is there a want of artistic delineation in Freia, an Aphrodite and Juno combined, who changes darkness into light wherever she appears—-the goddess with the streaming golden locks and the siren voice, who hovers in her snow-white robe between heaven and earth, making flowers sprout along her path, and planting irresistible longings in the hearts of men? Do we not see in bold and well-marked outlines the figure of the red-bearded, steel-handed Thor who rolls along the sky in his goat-drawn car, and who smites the mountain giants with his magic hammer? Are these dwellers in the Germanic Olympus mere spectres, without distinct contour! And if their strength often verges upon wildness; if their charms are sometimes allied to cruel sorcery—-are they not, even in their uncouth passions, the representatives of a primitive race, in which the pulse throbs with youthful freshness? Or need I allude to that fantastical throng of minor deities, of fairies, and wood-women, and elfin, and mixes, and cobolds, that have been evolved out of all the forces of Nature by the Teutonic mind, and before whose bustling crowd even Hellenic imagination pales?
Then, what a dramatic power the mythology of our forefathers has! The gods of classic antiquity have been compared to so many statues ranged along a stately edifice; no idea of action, of tragic conflict, arising out of the whole. How different the Germanic view of the Universe! There, all is action, struggle, dramatic contest—-with a deep, dark background of inevitable Fate that controls alike gods and men. The battle-spirit and the terrible earnestness of our ancestors reflects itself in this creed. The religion which a race produces is generally an image of its character. “In his deities,” Schiller says, “man depicts himself.” At the end of time—-the Germanic tribes believed—-Odin is to be devoured by the wolf Fenrir; Thor to be destroyed by the Serpent's poison; the heavens and the earth stand in a lurid blaze; the abodes of gods and heroes are doomed to destruction; and only after this terrible catastrophe shall have ended, will there be introduced a new and peaceful reign, with eternal bliss.
So, on the score of dramatic and pictorial interest, the creed of the Teutons has something to show. But it is a subject much neglected by both poets and artists. Whilst the eternal classic figures, Madonnas, and threadbare subjects from Italy and Spain never cease to be treated, the old Germanic deities, in spite of the poetical halo which surrounds them, are mostly left to wander about disembodied, waiting for the gifted hand that will mould them into form. The artist who has attempted or who will do this, is assuredly not placed in a worse position than his Hellenic predecessors who also had to make their selection from a number of floating mythological conceptions, which it was their merit to have wrought into a harmonious figure.
It is a characteristic of the mythology of all nations that changes are continually being at work within the most elaborate systems. Hence, any one dealing in a general way with the ancient Germanic creed will have to make a cross-cut, so to say, through the vast material before him. In this way, he may be able to show some of the chief strata of a bygone religion, as well as some incongruous layers which seem to lie confusedly between and athwart them, and which may have been forced across the original structure by heathen theological commotions that are beyond the ken of history. A mere glance at the sources of Germanic mythology is sufficient to give an idea of the many changes which must necessarily have occurred in its contents through the lapse of time, during which, whilst the main substance of sagas may remain the same, the ever-weaving hand of fiction continually seeks for new garnish, with which to edge, lace, and border out the familiar garment.
If we begin with Herodotus' account of the Thracian and Getic people who, according to modern research, are supposed to have been a Gothic, Germanic race; and if we follow our sources through Roman, Greek, German, and Norse literature, ending with the two Eddas which were written down when the Odin religion collapsed in her last northern stronghold, we have already gone over a period of not less than 1600 years. Besides this, there are supplementary sources in the still current popular tales, as well as in the records of the Witch Trials. Within the 1600 years mentioned, the sources at first flow very scantily. They are more or less pure; not seldom they cease altogether. At other times, they are contradictory; even each particular source sometimes contradictory in itself—-as is the case in well-nigh all religious systems. The Brahminic creed is no longer to-day what it was of old: the hundred sects within it have points of contact, but also points of decided divergence. Under the official Greek religion, there continued, for a long time, an undercurrent of Orphic rites; and the divinities of Homer and Hesiod were not exactly those of Aeschylus and Sophokles. The Hebrew Church, some 1800 years ago, was divided into fiercely contending parties whose representatives, differing on cardinal points, yet sat side by side in the Temple. It is scarcely necessary to supply more recent examples. In the same way, it is not to be expected that the ancient Teutonic religion should present features of an immutable fixity. At different periods, or among different tribes, it had its gradual changes, like all other creeds. Most probably also it had its sects. A stiff and fixed uniformity is the less to be expected in it, because the Germanic tribes, unlike in this, as in other respects, to the Gauls, had no fully formed priestly caste. The Germanic creed may therefore have least presented “that angularity which drives sharp points into people's ribs”—to borrow an expression from Professor Blackie.
There are indications that, among the earliest forms of Teutonic worship, there was, besides the worship of Light and Fire, a cultus of water-deities. It is stated that, after a great struggle between the two contending divine circles, the Vana gods “received admission into Asgard,”—in other words, that the rival creeds were merged into each other, even as the Greeks worked the Tree and Serpent worship of subject races into their own religion; or as the Brahminic religion has, from a similar reason, been gradually overlaid with forms and figures originally foreign to it. Few are the passages from which we can get a glimpse, at this distance of time, of the Vana creed, which seems to have preceded, or been in opposition to, the Odin religion. But we know that Odin's own consort, the Germanic Queen of the Heavens, originally came, with her brother Freyr, the refulgent god of the sun, from this Vana circle. This combination of the two different and opposing creeds in the two chief representatives of the victorious religion has perhaps its counterpart in the mediaeval Madonna cultus, which has in a large measure arisen out of the Venus and Freia worship of preceding systems of belief.
In accounting for the origin of the world, the Teutonic doctrine knows-—like Buddhism-—of no personal creator. There are several striking resemblances between certain Buddhistic and Wodanic tenets; and some writers have endeavoured to trace that similarity between the very names of Woden, or Boden, and Buddha. Yet, as Mr. Fergusson has rightly remarked in his book on Tree and Serpent Worship —“There are not perhaps in the whole world two religions so diametrically opposed to one another as Buddhism and Wodenism, nor two persons so different as the gentle Sakya Muni, who left a kingdom, family, and friends, to devote fifty years of his blameless life to the attempt to alleviate the sufferings of mankind, and Odin, ‘the terrible and severe god, the Father of Slaughter; he who giveth victory and reviveth courage in the conflict; who nameth those that are to be slain.'”
In the beginning of things, there is, in the grand and impressive words of the Edda, only a deep and dreary chasm:
“Once was the age
when all was not;
nor sand, nor sea,
nor salty waves;
nor earth there was, nor sky above;-
only yawning abyss, and grass nowhere."
Ere the world comes into shapely existence, a chaos was assumed, in which an Abode of Darkness and of icy cold, and an Abode of Fire were marked off at opposite poles. But this Chaos had already the principle of Life in it; for out of the meeting of Fire and Ice came a giant form, Oergelmir, whose name signifies Fermenting Matter. We here see a combination of those Neptunic and Volcanic theories by which geologists have endeavoured to explain the formation of the surface of the earth.
After the appearance of Fermenting Matter, it was said, there rose in course of time—-even as in Greek mythology-—first a half-human, half-divine race of Giants, and then a race of Gods. The Gods had to wage war against the Giants, and finally vanquished them. Evidently, the Giants represent a torpid, barren state of things in nature; whilst the Gods signify the sap and fulness of life, which struggles into distinct and beautiful form. There was a custom, among the Germanic tribes, of celebrating this victory over the uncouth Titans by a festival, when a gigantic doll was carried round in Guy Fawkes' manner, and at last burnt. To this day there are traces of this heathen practice. In some parts of northern Europe, so-called “Judas-fires” are lighted about Easter time, which have their origin in the burning of the doll that represented the giants, or jotun. In some places, owing to another perversion of the original meaning of things and words, the people run about, on that fete day, shouting: “Burn the old Jew burn the old Jew!”. The jötun was, in fact, converted, when Christianity came in, first into a Judas, and then into a Jew; a transition to which the similarity of the sound of words easily lent itself: and so a Pagan superstition, or religious notion, which at any rate had some basis of meaning, serves even now, in a Christian age, for the maintenance of an unjust prejudice against an inoffensive class of fellow-citizens. Out of such errors of the ear, new mythological conceptions often arise; whilst old prejudices maintain or fortify themselves by slipping into the cast-off garments of a vanquished creed, and puzzling men by this strange travesty.
The origin of man, in Teutonic cosmogony, leads us back to kindred classic myths. Man and woman, in the Eddaic conception, were supposed to have grown out of the trees, though they were fashioned into form, and gifted with a soul, by a divine act. Among the Greeks there were similar legends of the rise of mankind both from stones and trees; that is, from all kinds of matter, inorganic and organic. Perhaps we have in both the Germanic and the Greek tale a pantheistic notion, or a notion of the affinity of all things and beings, which again comes near the results of modern science. It is supposed by Simrock and other authorities that even that well-known German children's rhyme, which mothers and nurses sing when dandling a child on the knee: “Jetzt reiten wir mach Sachsen, wo die schönen Mädchen auf den Baumen wachsen” (“Now we ride into Saxony, where the pretty girls grow on a tree”), is by no means a senseless doggerel, but a last echo of an ancient cosmogonic view. The very word “Sachsen,” being derived from a word signifying “stone,” brings this ditty into close connection with the Greek tale. It is only of late, I may say in passing, that this apparently childish lore has been more fully investigated in a systematic form all over Germany; and the most curious vestiges of ancient Pagan notions, rites, and incantation songs, have already been discovered in them-—the results, in some cases, being truly astounding, and of the highest interest to the archaeologist. It is as if a costly vase had been shattered into a thousand fragments, showing no trace of their original connection, and one were able, by dint of persevering labour, to collect them once more, and reconstruct the noble contour of that antique vase.
The idea of the immortality of the soul was strong with the Teutonic races. Whilst in Buddhistic doctrine-—unless Professor Max Müller's contrary reading be accepted—-there is nirwana, or an entire extinction of the soul, so that in Buddhism we have the extraordinary spectacle of a religious system without a personal creator, without a future state, but with high moral precepts, the energetic individualism of the Teutons was loath to conceive the possibility of entire personal annihilation. They believed in a paradise of warriors, where the blessed heroes while away the time with fights, giving and receiving wounds; wounds that heal every night, when the warriors joyously sit down in the glittering banquet hall. With Wodan, in Walhalla, the departed leaders of men were supposed to dwell; with Thor, the common folk; others with Freyr, the God of Light; others, again, with his sister Freia. The notions about the future life were, however, not so clearly fixed as some writers appear to have imagined. At the side of the loftier conceptions of immortality, there was another line of thought, indicating a change of the dead into flowers. It seems to be an etherealized refinement of the idea of the origin of mankind from the world of vegetation. In the song of “Fair Margaret,” in Bishop Percy's Manuscript, there is a last faint echo of this flowery creed. “Out of her breast there sprang a rose; and out of his a briar.” So also, a vine and a rose-tree sprout forth on the grave of Tristan and Isolt; and a violet on the tomb of Ophelia.
In connection with the Germanic idea of a future state, there was a belief in a Fountain of Rejuvenescence, to which the aged return, to be gifted with new powers of life. There is some resemblance, here, to the Platonic idea of pre-existence, and of a never-ending regeneration. This notion re-appears in the character of Hel, who is half dark, or livid, and half of the hue of the human skin—-a Goddess of Death, as well as a Mother of Life, working with hidden powers beneath the soil. The place where she resided, and which has furnished the word for the later “Hell,” was only a shadowy place of concealment for those who had died otherwise than in battle—-from age or from illness; ingloriously. Hehlen, in German, means, in fact, “to conceal,” and still has the same meaning in some English dialects. When, however, the origin of the name of this sheltering deity became lost, her appellation was used to torment mankind with the idea of unutterable horrors. This transmutation is the more surprising because the Germanic races had known of no hellish fire, nor of any Satanic Prince of this World. Though Loki was an evil-doing god, they did not conceive him as an arch-fiend; they did not assume a Principle of Evil; and long after they had been converted to Christianity, they felt a remarkable repugnance against the belief in a Satan. The Church introduced this belief with some degree of difficulty; and when at last the notion of a demoniacal arch-fiend was accepted, popular fancy twisted him into all manner of shapes, monstrous and grotesque, in which we can sometimes detect a remnant of that wild humour which attaches to some of the doings of Loki, as well as of his gigantic counterpart, Utgard-Loki, to whom he stands about in the relation in which Hephaistos did to Pluton.
For the sake of correctness it must be added that in the Edda, which, like other sacred Scriptures, is not throughout of a homogeneous mould, some passages occur, mentioning a place of punishment, as well as a personal creator. These passages are apparently borrowed from a foreign religious system. One of them is almost Dantesque in its ghastly imagery. Of the Prophetess Wala it is said:—
“She saw a hall standing
far from the Sun,
on the Dead-land’s shore;
its doors are northwards turned.
Venom drops fall
in through the holes;
entwined is that hall
with serpents' backs.
She there saw wading
the sluggish streams,
bloodthirsty men, and perjurers...
There the Serpent sucks
the corpse of the dead;
the Wolf tears men.”
Very powerful, and very hideous withal! Upon the whole, Germanic Mythology is not disfigured by many such conceptions, though the sombre sky and scenery of Northern climes has left a deep imprint upon it, and clothed not a few of its forms with an aspect of terror.
I now come to some facts which at first sight appear rather startling.
The Germanic races—like many others, from Assyria to Mexico–-had the tradition of a great flood. They had the ceremony of baptism. They had the sign of the Cross. They had a Queen of the Heavens, whose Son, destined to suffer death, was called “the blood-covered God.” They believed in twelve divine personages amongst whom a thirteenth played the traitor. They had a God of Peace, who died through that traitor. They spoke of the Supreme Being as hanging in the flesh on a tree—-wounded by a spear—-suffering thirst—-and “offering himself to himself.” They believed that the God who had been slain by treachery would come back at the end of time, when a Golden Age would follow. Of Odin, who appears in various incarnations, several miracles are recorded. It was said that he could raise men from death, and make the wind cease, and still the tempest of the sea, and prevent the waves from swamping the ship. In the ninth incantation of the “Runic Song,” Odin says:—
“For the ninth I know:
if I stand in need
my bark on the water to save,
I can the wind
and the waves allay,
and still the sea.”
In the same song, Odin says of himself:-
“I know that I hung
on a wind-beaten tree,
nine whole nights,
with a spear pierced,
and to Odin offered
myself to myself;—
on the branch of that tree
of which none knows
from what root it springs.
Bread no one gave me
nor a horn of drink;
downward I peered,
to runes applied myself;
then fell down thence.”
The End of the World is said, in the Norse Scripture, to be preceded by a time of horror:—
“An axe-age, a sword-age—
shields will be cloven;
a wind-age, a wolf-age,
ere the world sinks.
Brothers shall fight,
and slay each other,
the bonds of kinship
be ruthlessly broken.”
Even as in St. Mark it is said:—“The brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son, and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death.” Again, the “Song of the Prophetess,” when describing how the very powers in Heaven shall be shaken and dissolved, says:
“The sun darkens;
Earth into Ocean sinks.
From Heaven fall
the bright stars—”
a passage that comes remarkably close to St. Mark —“The sun shall be darkened . . . and the stars of Heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in Heaven shall be shaken.”
At last, after the world has been consumed, and the great struggle with the Wolf-Beast has been fought out, a Golden Age begins:—
the fields bring forth,
all evil be amended.
Baldur shall come:–
Hödur and Baldur, the heavenly gods,
Odin's glorious dwellings shall inhabit.
A hall is standing,
brighter than the Sun,
with gold bedecked,
There shall the righteous
and for evermore
Then comes the Mighty One
to the Great Judgment,
the Powerful from Above,
who rules over All.
He shall dooms pronounce,
and strifes allay,
holy peace establish,
which shall for ever last.”
This, again, comes surprisingly near the last but one chapter in St. John's Revelation. I am compelled to point out these extraordinary similarities, in order to make it more clearly understood how the early Christian missionaries, on setting to work to supplant the Germanic creed, could sometimes make use of the contents of the latter. There is a letter, written by Pope Gregory in the sixth century, which refers to the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons, and which has served as a guide, in not a few instances, for the missionary labour among the heathens in Germany. In this letter it is laid down as a maxim that the sacred places of the Pagans should not be destroyed, but be sprinkled over with consecrated water, and then changed into Christian churches, so that the people should be gradually induced, in the places dear to them through old custom, to devote themselves to the service of the true God. The sacrificial meals in honour of the Pagan divinities, the Pope added, should be changed into repasts in honour of the holy martyrs; and so-forth. It is easy to see that, under such a system, unless a missionary was of a peculiarly unbending character, every apparent point of contact between the two creeds was frequently rendered available for the purposes of conversion.
There is a theory—-Mr. Gladstone, amongst others, has given utterance to it-—which, instead of explaining these similarities and points of contact in a simple and natural way, declares that all the creeds before Christianity prophetically point to the coming of the Messiah. But with every due respect for the great English statesman who has shown but recently, by his letter on the Evolution Theory, that he is at any rate sensitive about the opinion of independent thinkers, I believe all scientific inquirers will agree that his is an impossible thesis. None can doubt, for instance, that the Cross has been used as a religious symbol for thousands of years before the Christian era. On Scandinavian runic-stones the Cross is found before the time when the Northmen were converted. The hammer of the Germanic God of Thunder had the shape of one of the numerous forms of the cross. The sign of Thor's hammer was made over the drinking-cups at sacrificial meals. Crosses are to be seen in the rock-hewn caves and temples of India, and of Central America—nay, in the very wilds of Asia, among groups of cairns, dolmen, and cromlechs, where it is supposed they were erected by an aboriginal race which had been driven there by the first Aryan invasion—-ages before Christ. The Egyptians, the Phoenicians, the Chinese, the Etruscans, the Keltic races, the Aztecs, had various forms of the cross. In the British Museum there are some statues from an island in the Pacific which have Crosses of the simplest form—in the shape of a T-engraven on their backs.
Now, shall we say that from the beginning of times the Cross cast its prophetic “Shadow of Death” over the world? Or is it not more reasonable to think that a religious symbol which is found at the earliest times easily came to be introduced into a later form of creed?
We live in an age in which the human mind endeavours to trace all things and ideas to some early germ, or root. It is done in language, in literature, in physiology, in religion. We take pleasure—-though it is not unmixed with pain for the poetic temperament and for the profound but melancholy disposition-—in showing how, out of some poor root, or cell of speech, a language arises which serves as a garb for the master-works and master-thoughts of a Sophokles and a Shakespeare; of a Bacon, Descartes, and Kant; of a Lessing, Göthe, and Schiller. We look for the connecting links between physical forms which, at first sight, strike us rather by their dissimilarity than by any resemblance; and at last, men like Lamarck, Geoffroy St. Hilaire, Darwin, and Haeckel, succeed in tracing out some original type from which the present structures have gradually branched out. We take up some great epic poem like our Nibelungen-Lied, which is the Iliad of Germany's heroic age. It dates from the Christian era—-from the twelfth century. To the general reader, the Nibelungen-Song may appear as the product of a single bard, who, out of the furnace of his own fiery soul, created, all by himself, those mighty figures of Brunhild and Kriemhild, of Siegfried, Hagen, and Dietrich. But any one who drank deeper at the well of ancient Germanic poetry, soon becomes aware that the Nibelungen-Lied similar in this to the Homeric poems—has been gradually evolved out of a number of heroic ballads whose authors are lost in the night of ages, but which, in their main substance, can be traced back to that same Edda wherein the heathen theology of our forefathers is preserved. Were that collection of songs still extant which Karl the Great had ordered to be made, but which, until now, has not yet been recovered, we would probably possess the missing link between our mediaeval epic and the ancient Wodanic religion. In the Edda itself, the careful student will find the vestiges of different authors as well as of different developments of creed. Beyond the Edda, we have at present but a few passages in early Roman and other writers to go back to. Still, in spite of that lack of further material, we may, even by the aid of those scanty data, establish a clear connection between the mythology of our Germanic ancestors and that of the Aryan stock in India, at the time when the Vedas were composed-—that is, probably, thousands of years before Christ.
Again, to take quite a recent instance, some man, learned in cuneiform inscriptions, alights, by good chance, upon an old clay tablet, and by a second good chance picks up, on the spot where once the palaces of the Assyrian rulers stood, another bit of inscribed clay which fits in to the former. The result is, that the Biblical account of the Great Flood is shown to be derived from a tale older than the Mosaic one by, perhaps, thousands of years. The main substance of the legend is in both cases alike. There is the ark, and the raven, and the dove, and the mountain which appears when the waters subside; and the altar on which the sacrifice is offered after the deliverance from danger. The language also is in some passages nearly identical. The names, however, are different: the half-divine Sisit is changed into a human being, Noah; and altogether the description is worked out in a somewhat different manner. Now, could it be said, with any show of reason, that the Assyrian clay tablet prophetically points to the flood described in the First Book of Genesis? Or is it not rather clear that the Hebrew text has been evolved from some previous Assyrian or Chaldean poetry, in the same way as the Song of the Niblungs was evolved from the old Norse mythology? On all sides, then, we get into some kind of Evolution, or gradual development. I would not assume, on philosophical grounds, that we can, by pushing this theory to its farthest ends, penetrate at last the great domain of what has been called the “Unknowable.” Resolve language indeed, as you will, into its roots or earliest sounds; trace back all living forms to some original cell; show how Mind, in its first feeble flickerings, darts forth from Matter: the Great Secret remains the same. Unless human thought changes its very conditions of existence, I cannot see how we shall ever comprehend Eternity and Infinity, which yet we are driven to assume; or how we shall bridge over the immense gulf that separates an incomprehensible state of absolute void from one filled with the essence of life. No; that deep darkness which surrounds the bright sphere of thousands and myriads of conceivable worlds, will not leave us--let the telescope sweep ever so far through the immensity of the star-lit heavens!
But one thing we can do through Science—-and that is, light up the space which more immediately surrounds us, and destroy the terrors which are but the projections of the infant spirit, or the wilful fabrications of interested deceivers. Science-—the Science of Religion—-can show how out of a few germs of mythology, which were the product of early races, a forest of legends has grown up and spread through ages over all parts of the world. In this way we learn to understand how religions apparently the most diversified often exhibit such striking similarities. But if, after all these careful inquiries, there are still men, even men of genius, who will regard as realities, or as miraculous occurrences, those mythic fancies which have come down to us in a multitude of shapes, independent thinkers must surely ask to be excused from sharing their view. Science will go its way unmoved. It will know how to appreciate the wonderful play of the imagination which is so highly developed in the Indian, the Egyptian, the Hellenic, and the Germanic systems of creed. It will readily point to all that there is of philosophical speculation, of beauty, or of rugged grandeur in them. But neither will it shrink from proving how mythological notions which are still upheld as articles of faith to-day, have been developed from heathen tenets older by thousands of years; and thus Science, by pouring a flood of light on the gloomy world of superstition, will aid in removing some of the worst impediments of human progress. KARL BLIND.