Walter Keating Kelly.

Curiosities of Indo-European tradition and folk-lore online

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The buck-goat is another emblem of the clouds, and
the gold it spits is the golden light of the sun that
streams through the fleecy coverings of the sky.
The hen's golden Qgg is the sun itself. The demon
of darkness has stolen these things ; the cloud gives
no rain, but hangs dusky in the sky, veiling the
light of the sun. Then the lightning spear of the
ancient storm-god Odin leaps out from the bag
that concealed it (the cloud again), the robber

• Wulf, I., p. 12.


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falls, the rain patters down, the sun shines once

The asvattha rod of the Atharvaveda incantation
and its equivalent, the spear of Odin, are in fact
wish-rods especially adapted for bringing victory
to their possessor. They have also another comic
counterpart in a sort of wish-rod, which serves
for administering a drubbing at a distance. With
such a hazel implement, cut and prepared with the
proper formalities, one has only to lay an old gar-
ment on a molehill or on a threshold, name the person
intended, and whack away. He will feel eveiy blow
as sorely as though he were actually under the stick,
and if the old garment is beaten into holes, so will
it be with the skin of the absent sufferer.

p 2


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The train of thought by which the Aryans and the
Greeks were led to the discovery of casks and wine-
butts in the clouds (p, 36) could not fail to provide
the denizens of the sky with many other utensils,
such as urns and pitchers, cups, drinking-horns,
cauldrons, and even sieves. The Grecian Naiads
were originally cloud-nymphs, who poured out the
rain-water from their urns ; and the sieves in which
the Danaids were ultimately condemned to draw
water in Tartarus were those which they had used
of yore to pour down the mild rain upon the earth.
Originally the daughters of Danaus were cloud-
goddesses, and were honoured for having enriched
Argos with springs, and changed its arid territory
into a well-watered land (p. 142).* The goddess
Holda has been seen in the Harz going up a steep
hill with a bottomless pail of gold from which water

♦ Strabo, p. c. 871.


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flowed incessantly ; and Meister Pfriem is described
in one of Grimm's popular tales as entering heaven,
where he finds two angels engaged in drawing water
in a perforated vessel There was even a, tribe of
water-spirits, the Draci of Languedoc, old cloud-gods,
like the rest of their order, whose hands were said
to be perforated like colanders* Water poured
through a sieve was so obvious and apt an image
of the rain, that other primitive peoples, as well
as the Aryans, could hardly have failed to seize it.
The Finnish goddess Untar sends all kinds of fine
vapoure down upon the earth through a sieva

The connection of the sieve with the clouds and
the rain accoimts for much that even Grimm was
forced to leave unexplained, when he summed up
the mythology of the subject with the unsatisfactory
remark, that " the sieve appears to be a sacred archaic
implement to which marvellous powers were attri-
buted." "f It possessed those powers because, like
the chark, it was invented and used by gods. The
Greeks, Romans, Germans, and Slaves employed it
in divination and in solemn ordeals. "The vulgar
in many parts," says Brockett,{ "have an abomin-
able practice of using a riddle and a pair of scissors

♦ Liebrecht, p. 186. t D. M. 1066.

X Glossary of North Ooanti;7 Words, s. t.


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214 SIEVE.

in divination. If they have had anything stolen
from them the riddle and shears are sure to be
resorted to. A similar mode of discovering thieves
or others suspected of any crime prevailed among
the Greeks (Potter's Gr. Antiq. i., 352). In North-
umberland, young people turn the riddle for the
purpose of amusing themselves with the foolish idea
of raising their lovers. It is done between open
doors at midnight, and in the dark/'

There was extant in Pliny's time a spell (precatio)
by means of which Tuccia, an unchaste vestal, car-
ried water in a sieve. In one of Grimm's popular
tales a good boy performs the same feat without
spilling a drop ; and it is a Hindu belief that an
innocent person can confute his accusers by holding
water in his hand in the shape of a solid ball.*

The ancient Poles presaged victory from water
carried in a sieve. When Conrad made war. upon
his brother Wlodislas in 1209, the latter had with
him a wise woman — a pythoness, the chronicler calls
her — ^who marched before his troops carrying in a
sieve water drawxi from a river. It did not run
through, and from that portent she promised them
victory. But it was a false prophecy, and she herself
fell at the first onseif

♦ n.M. p. 1066. t Ibid.


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SIEVE. 215

A sieve, as a symbol of the clouds, is used as an
appropriate vehicle by witches, nightmares, and other
elfish beings in their excursions over sea and lani
" But in a sieve I'll thither sail," says the first witch
in " Macbeth " (act 1, sc. 3). Stories of voyages
performed in this way are still common enough in
Germany. A man, for instance, was going through
a field of com, found a sieve on the path, and took
it with him. He had not gone far when a young
lady hurried after him, and hunted up and down as
if looking for something, ejaculating all the time,
" How my children are crying in England ! " The
man thought he would lay down the sieve and see
what would follow ; but hardly had he done so ere
sieve and lady had vanished.* In the case of
another damsel of the same species the usual ex-
clamation is thus varied : " My sieve rim ; my sieve
rim ! how my mother is calling me in England ! " "f"
At the sound of her mother's voice the daughter
immediately thinks of her sieve, as an earthly lady
would call for her carriage when she was in haste to
set out on a journey.

Seeing that the nectar and ambrosia of the
Olympic gods were what mortals call rain-water,

♦ KnhD, u. Schwartz, Ndd. 262.
t Wolf, Zeitschriftj ii., 141.


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216 ffOBI^S.

we know what to think of the golden urns and
beakers of their cupbearers Ganymede and Iris.
These vessels must have come from the same work-
shop, and been of the same material, as the golden
cup which was given to Hercules by the sun-god
Helios, and which also served the hero as a ship to
convey him across the ocean, in like manner as the
Apas (p. 21) and other heavenly navigators were
borne in their cloud-ships over the waters on high.
Out of the same plastic material were formed the
horn of the river-god Acheloos, and the magic horn
of the nymph Amaltheia, for which Acheloos is said
to have exchanged his own when the latter was
broken oflF in his combat with Hercules. Accord-
ing to another legend, Amaltheia's horn was one
which had been lost by the goat of that name that
had suckled Zeus, and the god made it a comucopiar
Both legends amount to the same thing, the essential
fact being that the one horn or the other passed int^«
the possession of the Naiads or rain-goddesses, in
whose hands it became a horn of abundance, for out
of it they poured down the rain which is the source
of all wealth and plenty.

The Wishmays or Valkyries, the manes of whose
horses dropped dew upon the earth, filled the drink-
ing-horns for the gods and the warriors in Odin's


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hall ; and, like them, white maidens, elves, and
witches offer full goblets and horns to thankless
mortals, who usually run away with the beaker after
spilling its contents on the ground. A Count of
Oldenburg, when out hunting one day, left his
retinue far behind, and pulled up at a moimtain
called Osenberg. His hard ride had made him
thirsty, and as luck would have it, as he stood
before the mountain he saw it open, and out
came a damsel who presented him with drink in
a splendid horn. The Count took the horn in his
right hand, tossed its contents over his shoulder, and,
vaulting into the saddle, galloped away at full speed.
When far off he could still hear the damsel's wail-
ings, and when he looked back he saw the mountain
open again and the damsel disappear within it.
Some of the drink he had thrown away had fallen
on his horse, and all the hair was singed off the spot
it had touched. The Cotmt took the horn home, and
after being long preserved in Oldenburg in memory
of the wonderful adventure, it was at last transferred
to the Hanoverian Museum. One thing especially
curious in this horn was, that its point was broken
off, and all the gold and silversmiths tried in vain to
mend it, for it was of a metal unknown to any man.*

• Kuhn und Schwartz, Ndd. p. 280.


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The liquid that singed oflF the horse s hair must
have been strong drink, brewed in the storm, and
with a good dash of lightning in it. A Danish ballad
tells how Svend Falling drank from a horn presented
to him by elfin women, and fomid himself, in conse-
quence of the draught, possessed of the strength of
twelve men,* and with an appetite in proportion.

It is related by William of Newbridge that a
countryman belonging to a village near his own
birthplace was retmning home late at night; and
tipsy, from a visit to a friend in a neighbouring
village, when he heard a sound of singing and
merriment within a hill. Peeping through an
open door in the side of the hill, he saw a nu-
merous company of both sexes feasting in a large
and finely-Ughted hall, and a cup was handed to
him by one of the attendants. He took it, threw
out the contents, and made off with the cup, pur-
sued by the whole party of revellers ; but, like Tam
o' Shanter, he was saved by the speed of his mare,
and got safe home with his booty. The cup, which
was of unknown material and of unusual form and
colour, was presented to King Henry the First.

The most celebrated of these elfin drinking ves-
sels is the Luck of Edenhall. " It is still currently

♦ D.M. 345, n.


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believed that he who has the courage to rush upon a
fairy festival, and snatch from them their drinking
cup or horn, shall find it prove to him a cornucopia
of good fortune, if he can bear it across a running
stream. A goblet is still carefully preserved in
Edenhall, Cumberland, which is supposed to have
been seized at a banquet of the elves by one of the
ancient family of Musgrave, or, as others say, by one
of their domestics in the manner above described.
The fairy train vanished, crying aloud :

' If that glass do break or &1I,
FareweU the luck of EdenhaU !' " *

The Luck is described by Mr. Walter White as a
tall enamelled glass, apparently of Venetian work-
manship of the tenth century. It is supposed to
have been a chalice belonging to St. Cuthbert's
ruined chapel in the neighbourhood of the hall.

The reason why fairies, white women, and witches
offered drink to mortals has been clearly explained
by Grimm.+ It was for the purpose of making those
who drank it remain with them and forget all other
women. The fairy beverage was the same as that
quaffed in ValhaUa, and which was called, among

* Sir W. Scott's ** Minstrelsy," ii., 180.
t n. M. p. 1065.


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other names, ominnisol, i, e., the ale or drink of
forgetfuhiess, for the mortal who has tasted it at
once forgets the earth. The hero Sigurd received
from Grimhild a draught of ominnisol, and forthwith
forgot Brynhild, and Godrun had to drink of the
same oblivious potion before she could forget Sigurd
and choose AtE The affinity of meaning between
the words ominnisol and nectar has been pointed
out by Kuhn.* Nectar signifies a destroyer of
earthly recollection and earthly existence,*!" for
which very reason it is equivalent to ambrosia
(Sanscrit aTnartyd, immortal), and the two words
are used interchangeably. The teiinination of
earthly life is the beginning of immortality.
Thetis (Hiad xix., 38) preserved the body of Pa-
troclus from decay with nectar and ambrosia. In
like manner it is said of the haoma plant (p. 137),
"Where grows the hom, the preparer of corpses,
with which corpses are put in due order, and the
subsequent bodies are made." J

The identity of the heavenly soma with the cloud-
water, and the close connection in which fire and

♦ Herabk. 175, n.

+ N^icrap is formed from the same root as ytK-pSs^ v4k-vs, Lat. nex,
nec-is, nec-are.
X Spiegel, P&rsigramm. 170, 6. Eulm, Herab. p. 175.


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soma are brought in various Aryan legends, prove
that the drink of the gods was conceived to be a
product of the storm. It appears also that the
earthly soma was boiled or brewed before it was
fermented* whence it must have followed as a
matter of course that its divine counterpart should
be supposed to undergo the same process. Hence
it is manifest that we cannot claim for any of the
later ages the credit of having invented the meta-
phor involved in the common saying, " It's brewing
a storm." In that phrase, as in many others, we
only repeat the thoughts of our primaeval ancestors.
In Germany the mists that gather about the lofty
mountain-tops before a storm are accounted for in
like manner, as if they were steam from the brewing
or boiling in which dwarfs, elves, or witches were
engaged. Such modes of expression, according to
the dictionary of the brothers Grimm, are of ex-
treme antiquity ; and Kuhn has identified the word
hrew itself with the Sanscrit hrajj, which is applied
in the Rig Veda to the roasting of barley for an in-
gredient in soma-wort, and is very closely related to
the word Bhrigu (p. 44). On tracing the word hrajj
still further back. Dr. Kuhn finds reason to think
that it originally comprised within its meaning the

♦ Kig Veda, It., 27, 7.


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action of the beings who brewed and lightened in
the storm, namely the Bhrigus, the genii of the
lightning, who in one passage of the Veda are
expressly designated as yielders of soma.

If the Bhrigus or their associates were brewers
they must needs have had brewing utensils, at the
very least they must have had a brewing-pot, and
therefore we are justified in referring back the origin
of the witch's cauldron to the remotest antiquity^
Perhaps the oldest example of such a vessel of
which there is any distinct record is the cauldron
which Thor earned off from the giant Hymir, to
brew drink for the gods at Oegir's harvest feast. It
was five miles deep, and modem expounders of the
Eddie myths are of opinion that it was in fact the
vaulted sky.

Cauldrons or brewing-pans figure very promi-
nently in tales of the elfin race: When the
departing Zwergs pay their boat fare or bridge toll
in money, or when they are caught stealing peas in
a field and have to pay ransom, the coin is almost
always dropped by them into a large brewing-pan
which is placed expressly for the purpose. Not far
from the village of Scharfenberg, near Brilon, is the
Hollenhoel, a cave formerly inhabited by the Hollen
or Holden (p. 135). There they had all sorts of


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utensils which they readily lent to the people of
the village. Among other things they had a large
brewing-pan, which the villagers often borrowed
when they wanted to brew beer, and when they
brought it back they just left a little beer in it by
way of thanks. It happened one day that some
unmannerly fellows saw the cauldron in the cave,
where it had been left by one who had borrowed it.
They drank up the beer, and, not content with that,
they defiled the cauldron in a most abominable
manner. From that time forth no one got the
loan of the cauldron again ; the Holden vanished
soon after, and not a trace of them remained.*

The same tale is told of another Holden cave at
Velmede, in Westphalia ; and there is a parallel for
it in the story of Ludlam's Hole, near Famham,
in Surrey. "Mother Ludlam or Ludlow, a white
witch" (the inhabitant of the cave), " kindly assisted
her poor neighbours in necessities, by lending them
such culinary utensils and household furniture as
they wanted for particular occasions. The business
was thus transacted : the petitioner went into the
cave at midnight, turned three times round, and
thrice repeated : ' Pray, good Mother Ludlam, lend
me such a thing * (naming the utensil), ' and I will

* Kuhn, Westf. p. 213,


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return it within two days/ He or she then retired,
and coming agaiii early the next morning found at
the entrance the requested movable. This inter-
course continued a long time, till once a person not-
returning a large cavMron according to the stipu-
lated time, Madam Ludlow was so irritated at this
want of punctuality that she refiised to take it back
when afterwards left in the cavern ; and from that
time to this has not accommodated any one with
the most trifling loan. The story adds that the
cauldron was carried to Waverley Abbey, and, after
the dissolution of that monastery, deposited in Tren-
sham church."*

The human witches of Northern Europe are dege-
nerate and abhorred representatives of the ancient
goddesses and their attendants, who were themselves
developments of the primitive conception of the
cloud-women ; but witches, even in their degraded
state, exhibit a multitude of characteristics by which
we can recognise the originals of whom- they are
but loathsome caricatures. Their alleged Mayday
meetings for instance on the Brocken, the Blocks-
berg, and at Lucken Hare in the Eildon Hills, are
not, as commonly supposed, merely reminiscences of
certain popular gatherings in heathen times, but

* Wonderful Magazine, y. 202.


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BESOM. 225

'were originally assemblies of goddesses and their
retinues, making their customary progress through
the land at the opening of the spring, and visible to
their believing votaries in the shifting clouds about
the summits of the mountains. Even the Mayday
night dances of the witches, with the devil for a
master of the ceremonies in the shape of a buck-
goat, are but coarse representations of weather
tokens of the early spring ; they are analogous in all
but their ugliness to the dances of the nymphs, led
by the goat-footed Pan at the same glad season of
the year, amongst the clouds on the windy mountain
tops of Arcadia.*

The witch's broom, or besom, appears to be not
less ancient than her cauldron, for it is known in
the folk-lore of the Hindus as well as in that of
the West. "The Asiatic as well as the European
witches practise their spells by dancing at midnight,
and the principal instrument they use on such oc-
casions is a broom." f Hence it is tolerably clear
that the broom must originally have been supposed,
like the sieve, to be used for some purpose or other
in the economy of the upper regions. Now it
seems that in modem times, besides serving the

♦ Schwartz, p. 222.

t Asiatic An. Regist. 1801. Miscell. Tracts, p. 91.



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22€ JmXJM.

-witch a& a nag, the impleaaaent is intended for
aiweeping the sky ; for that is a work aligned to
its riders> as may be inferred from the preyaLent
belief in the Harz, that on the Ist of Mjay the
witches must dance away all the snow npo» the
Blocksberg.* The besom is a type of the winds,
and therefore an af^opriate utensil in the hands of
the witches who are wind-makers and workers in
that element They say in the Mark that if you
want a wind you must bixm an old broom ; and it
is a nautical tradition in Hamburg, that if you have
long had a contrary wind, and meet with aaothetr
ship, you must throw an old broom before it. The
wind will then chop round and become a good one
for you, and a bad one for the other ship-i"

The traditional sanctity of the besom is indicated
by simdry other superstitions and customs of the
Gtermans and Slaves. For instance :—

It is well known in England, and also in Germany,
t^at no witch can step over a besom laid along the
threshold of the house door on the inside. She will
kick it or push it aside before she can enter your
house, and by this token you may know her for
what she is. J An axe (Thor s weapon) and a hrooia

♦ Kubn, XL Schwartz, Ndd. p. 376. f Ibid, p. 454.

::: Ktthn, Westf. p. 28.


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BROOM. 227

are laid crosswise on the inner side of the threshold
over which the nurse has to step when she goes out
with an infant to have it christened. This is done
that the babe may be safe from all the devices of
the powers of evil* When the cattle are first
driven out to pasture in the springs a besom made
in " the twelve days'* is laid on the threshold of
their stall, or of the gate of the cattle-yard, and they
are made to step over it, by which means they are
secured against witchcraft throughout the year.-)*

At Theden, on the Lenne, on Mayday, birches are
set up before the houses, and besoms are fastened to
them which are made quite white by peeling them4
In several other parts of Westphalia, at the b^in-
ning of Shrovetide, white besoms with white handles
are tied to the cows' horns. The house is afterwards
swept with them, and then they are hung up over or
near to the cowhouse door.§

The custom of going about with burning besoms
at Michaelmas is mentioned by Schmitz, pp. 43, 44.||
The St John's fires in the Harz are accompanied
with burning besoms which are swung in the air.T
In Yoigtland fires are seen on Walpurgis night on

♦ Knha, Westf. p. 84.

t Kahn, u. Schwartz, Ndd. pp. 410, 447.

X Kuhn, Westf. p. 156. § Ibid. p. 167.

II Ibid, p, 99. ^ IbicL p. 135.



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228 BESOM.

most of the hills, and children run about with burn-
ing besoms.* In the Altenburg territory people go
up a hill on Walpurgis night with all the old
besoms they can gather, which they then set on
fire, and run about with them, playing all sorts of
tricks upon each other.f The Czechs of Bohemia do
the same thing on St John's day, and young men
and lads are busy for weeks beforehand in collect-
ing all the worn-out besoms they can beg or steal
for the occasion. They dip* them in tar, light them,
and run with them from one bonfire to another,
jumping over each of the latter. The burnt stumps
of the broom handles are stuck in the cabbage
gardens, to preserve the plants from flies and cater-
pillars. In some places the lads and lasses toss
their bmning besoms into the air, and sing a rhyme,
in which they ask for a token how many years they
have to live. If the besom is still alight when it
comes down, and continues to bum on the ground,
they expect to live through the year, and they count
upon another year of life for every time the experi-
ment is repeated with success. {

The reason is plain why the plague of witches is
by all accounts more severely felt in the dairy than

♦ P.M. p. 594. t Kubn, a. Schwartz, Ndd. p. 377.

% Rcinsberg-Diiriugsfeld, pp. 307—311.


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cows AND WITCHES. 229

in any other department of rural economy. The
Aryan idea, that the rain-clouds were cows, has been
well preserved among the Northern nations. Hence
it is a common superstition in Germany, that a fire
kindled by lightning can only be extinguished with
cow's milk, cow's hair, or cow dung. Read in its
natural sense, the proposition is, that flames kindled
by heavenly fire can only be quenched by the waters
of heaven. It is also a very common opinion that
rain and dew, the milk' of the heavenly cows, are
capable of increasing the milk of earthly cows ;
hence a dewy May morning is welcomed as giving
promise of a good dairy year. On such a morning
witches go into the fields, brush the dew from the
grass, and collect it in linen cloths, which they
squeeze into their milk chums, to the manifest
increase of the butter. In North Germany it is
customary, when the cows are driven out to pasture
for the first time in spring, to tie a green maybush
to the tail of the foremost cow, that she may gather
up the dew with it, and so yield plenty of milk.*
On the same occasion the farm-wives in Aberdeen-
shire tie a red thread (p. 146) round the cows' tails,
to preserve the animals from witchcraft, and (Jerman
Jierdsmen lay a woman's red apron, or a broad axe

. . * Mannbardti p. 89«

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Online LibraryWalter Keating KellyCuriosities of Indo-European tradition and folk-lore → online text (page 12 of 17)