Walter Keating Kelly.

Curiosities of Indo-European tradition and folk-lore online

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fell out where the feat was performed with any



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CREEPim THROUGH HOLES IN TREES. 155

earth or rocks, or through natural or artificial
openings in trees, especially the ash and the oak,
is common to most European countries. In our own
it appears to have been no unusual thing in Saxon
times for women who were troubled with crying
brats to dig a hole in the ground and make a timnel
through which they dragged the poor little squallers.
There was a bushy oak near Wittstock in AKmark,
the branches of which had grown together again at
some distance from the stem, leaving open spaces
between them. Whoever crept through these spaces
was freed firom his malady whatever it might be, and
many crutches lay about, which had been thrown
away by visitors to the tree who no longer needed
them.* Close to the road passing through the forest
of Sullingswald, there was an aged oak with a hole
shaped like the eye of a needle in its huge stem.
This gave the foresters and charcoal burners a
welcome opportunity for " hanselling " strangers who
passed that way, that is to say, forcing them to pay
a smalt sum if they did not wish to be dragged
through the needle's eye. This custom of hanselling
travellers kept its ground after the belief in the
healing virtue of the tree had died out.

" This creeping through oak-cleft, earth or stone,"

• P. M. 1119.



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156 CURE-WORKING HOLES,

says Grimm, " seems a transference of the malady or
the bewitchment to the genius of the tree or the
earth.** But this is not a satisfactory explanation;
for though such a mode of shifting oflf bodily disorders
from men to trees is well known, nothing of the kind
appears to have been intended in the case in question.
For the cure of hernia, for instance, it was thought
essential that the cleft tree should become whole
again. Moreover, Grimm's theory is manifestly un-
tenable with reference to a cure-working hole in a
church wall, such as that of Stappenbeck, to which
" there was formerly a great resort of sick people,
for whenever one of them crept through it he was
instantly cured. But it lost its virtue at last when
sick animals were made to pass through it, and
then it was stopped up."* The best explanation
which has been given of this superstition is that
proposed by Liebrecht,*(" who thinks that the whole
proceeding was originally designed to symbolise the
new birth of the patient, who, coming naked again
into the world, left all his former maladies behind
him. It appears indeed to be a close copy of a
Hindu religious usage, and probably had its origin,
like the latter, in times previous to the dispersion of
the Aryans.

♦ Kuhn u. Schwartz, Ndd. p. 129. t Ger. TUb. p. 170.



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TYPICAL REGENERATION, 157

"For the purpose of regeneration," says Coleman,
"it is directed to make an image of pure gold, of the
female power of nature, in the shape either of a
woman or of a cow. In this statue the person to be
regenerated is enclosed and dragged through the
usual channel As a statue of pure gold and proper
dimensions would be too expensive, it is sufficient to
to make an image of the sacred yoni, through which

the person to be regenerated is to pass

Perforated rocks are considered as emblems of the
yoni, through which pilgrims and others pass for the
purpose of being regenerated. The utmost fedth is
placed in this sin-expelling transit." *

The Hindu custom symbolises the new birth of
the soul, the European that of the body. The cloud,
the matrix of the vital spark, is represented in the
one by the figure of the woman or the cow, in the
other by the tree, and in both by the rock.

♦ Coleman, ** Hindu Mythdogy,*' 161, 175.



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CHAPTER VL

THS ROWAN OB MOUNTAIN ASH — THB DIYTNINO BOD — THB MANDBAKl
— THB SPRINGWOBT — FORflBT-XB-NOT — HAZEL — THORN — ^MISTLBTOB.

Of the many ways in which the Vedas recount
the descent of the heavenly soma to earth, one is
to the following eflfect. When gods and men were
pining for the precious beverage, the falcon under-
took to steal it from the demons who kept it shut up
in the rock (cloud). The attempt was successftd,
but as the falcon was flying oflf with its prize, it was
grazed by an arrow shot after it by one of the
demons, and lost a claw and a feather. They fell
to the earth and struck root there, the claw becom-
ing a species of thorn, and the feather a palasa tree,
otherwise called pama, which has a red sap and
scarlet blossoms. Trees owning such an origin could
not fail to possess many supernatural properties, the
more so as the bird from which the claw and the
feather had dropped was a transformed god — some
hymnists say Indra, others say Agni. Sprung from
a god of the lightning, the trees were themselves



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THE PALA8A ROD. 159

divine, and they were incorporations not only of the
heavenly fire, but also of the soma with which the
claw and the feather were impregnated. The virtues
which distinguish them exist in no less degree in
many of their European representatives, such as
the black and white thorn, rowan or mountain ash,
hasel, fern, &c.

The palasa was much employed by the Hindus in
religious ceremonies, and particularly in one which
has descended to the dairy farms of Germany and
Sweden, where it is retained to this day with sur-
prisingly little change.

The milk used in the sacrifice which it was cus-
tomary to offer in the new moon (the season of
increase) on behalf of the Hindu master of a herd,
was only to be taken from cows that were still
suckling their calves. That there might be enough
of it, therefore, it was necessary that the calves
should be separated from their dams and driven to
pasture. To this end the officiating priest chose on
the night of the new moon, or on that preceding it,
a palasa or sami rod which grew on the north-east,
north, or east side of the tree, and he cut it off
saying, "JFor strength cut I thee." Then having
stripped off its leaves with the words, "For sap
(strip I) thee," and having placed together at least



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160 THE PALABA BOD:

six calves with their dams, he struck each of the
calves with the rod and drove them out saying, "Ye
are winds." This done, he touched the cows, one
for all, with the rod, and blessed them, bidding them
be good milkers, good breeders, safe from sickness
and robbers, and abidingly numerous in the posses-
sion of the master for whom the sacrifice was offered.
Lastly, he stuck up the rod in front or eastward of
one of the two places of the holy fire (the sacrificial
and the domestic), and bade it protect the cattle of
the same person. A Sanscrit commentator on this
rite says that the calf is struck with the pama-rod
in order that the soma contained in the latter may
pass into the former and enrich its udder. Another
states that the calves which have been commended
to the protection of the rod will, in consequence
thereof, be sure to come safely home firom their
pasture in the evening — a plain proof that the rod
was regarded not as a thing but as a person ; it was
the incorporation of a god who was able from a
distance to protect the young cattle from robbers
and wild beasts.

Kuhn has compared with this ancient Hindu cere-
mony the custom of " quickening" the calves, as it is
observed in the county of Mark in Westphalia.

On the first of May the herdsman gets out of bed



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QUICKENINO THE CALVES. 161

before dawn, and goes to that part of the hill on
which the sun first shines. There he chooses that
sapling quicken tree (rowan, mountain ash) on which
the first rays fall, and fells it. This must be done at
one stroke, otherwise it is a bad sign. He takes the
sapling to the farm-yard, where the people of the
house and the neighbours assemble, and the yearling
heifer which is to be quickened is led on to the
mixen. There the herdsman strikes it with a branch
of the quicken tree, first on the loins, then on the
haunches, repeating at each stroke a verse, in which
he prays that, as sap comes into the birch and
beech, and the leaf comes upon the oak, so may
milk fill the young cow's udder. Lastly, he strikes
the heifer on the udder and gives her a nama
After this, having been regaled with eggs, he adorns
the sapling with the shells, buttercups, &c., and
plants it in front of the cow-house or over the door.*
Throughout Dalsland, in Sweden, the first " mid-
day driving" of the year is celebrated as follows, a
day or two before or after Ascension Day, or Holy
Thursday, formerly the high festival of Thor. When
the cattle have been diiven out to grass, a garland of
flowers is set upon one of the posts of the nearest
gate through which they will have to return home.
* Woeste, Volksiiberlieferimgen der grafechaft Mark, p. 25.



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162 THRICE A'DAT MILKING,

Meanwhile the herdsman trims their horns and
tricks them out as gaily as he can with flowers.
At noon, when he returns with the herd, that they
may be milked for the first time in the year at that
hour, he takes the garland off the gate post, and
setting it on the top of a rowan sapling, which he
carries erect in both hands, he marches before the
herd to the homestead, and plants the rowan on the
haystack, where it remains during the whole graz-
ing season. The bells are then hung for the first
time on the cows, and if there be any among them
that have not yet got a name, the herdsman gives
them one as he strikes them three times on the
back with a rowan branch. The cows are fed at noon
with the choicest fodder, and the people of the house
take their dinner at the entrance of the cattle-yard.

In this ceremony, says Kuhn, the festive adorn-
ment of the cattle, the choice fodder set before
them, the assemblage of the whole household, and
their meal taken near the kine, are evidently relics
of an old sacrificial feast in which the guardian god
had his share, along with his votaries, in the fresh-
drawn milk. The holding of the feast on the day
on which the thrice-a-day milking began, shows how
important an event that was for an ancient pastoral
people. That it occurred of old in May is plain



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TBE ROWAN. 163

from the Anglo-Saxon name of the month. May
was called Thrimilci, says Bede, because in that
month the cows were milked thrice a day.

These German and Swedish customs reveal the
cause of that reputation for magical powers which
the rowan tree or mountain ash has enjoyed from
time immemorial in all parts of our own coimtry as
well as on the continent. Like its congener the ash,
and the palasa and sami of India, it is an embodi-
ment of soma and lightning. It is observed to be
frequent in the neighbourhood of what are com-
monly called druidical circles. A rowan stood in
every churchyard in Wales, as the yew did in
England ; and on a certain day of the year every
person wore a cross of the wood. It averted fasci-
nation and evil spirits.* For that reason "many,"
says Plot, " are very careful to have a walking staff
of it, and will stick the boughs of it about their
beds."t In Cornwall, where it is called " care," it
"has still great repute among our coimtryfolk in
the curing of ills arising from supernatural as well
as ordinary causes. It is dreaded by evil spirits ; it
renders null the spells of the witch, and has many
other wonderful propertiea The countryman will

♦ Evelyn, "Silya," ch. xvi,
t " Nat. Hist, of Staffordshire," ch. vi., § 62.

M 2



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164 ROWAN TREE.

cany for years a piece of the wood in his pocket as
a charm against ill wish, or as a remedy for his
rheumatism. If his cow is out of health, and he
suspects her to be ' overlooked' — i.e., smitten by an
* evil eye' — away he runs to the nearest wood, and
brings home bunches of care, which he suspends
over her stall, and wreathes round her horns ; after
which he considers her safe."* In Scotland "the
dairymaid will not forget to drive the cattle to the
shealing or summer pastures with a rod of the
rowan tree, which she carefully lays up over the
door of the sheal-boothy or summer house, and
drives them home again with the same."-|"

" At Modrufell, on the north coast of Iceland, is,
or was, a large rowan, always on Christmas-eve
stuck full of torches, which no wind could possibly
extinguish ; and one of the Orkneys possessed a
still more mysterious tree, with which the fate of the
islands was bound up, since if a leaf was carried
away they would pass to some foreign lord."J

Among the many English names of the mountain
ash, are witchen tree, witch elm, witch hazel, witch
wood ; quicken tree, quick beam (guici= alive, 6eam



♦ "Choice Notes," p. 88.

+ Dr. George Johnston, "Flora of Berwick-upon-Tweed,'* p. 110.

t *' Quart. Key.," July, 1863, p. 243.



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ROWAN TREE. 165

= German 6aum, tree) ; roan tree, roun tree, rowan.
These last three synonymes are from the Norse
tongues, and denote, as Grimm conjectures, the
runic or mysterious and magic character of the tree*

The red berries of the moimtain ash correspond*
in colour with the blossoms and the sap of the
Indian palasa, and they also mark the European
tree as appropriate to Thor, the German fire god.
It was called Thor*s refuge in the North, because he
was said to have clung to it when swept away by
the river Vimur. Kuhn shows it to be probable
that under the figure of the river we are to under-
stand the clouds, and that the legend originally
represented Thor as taking refuge, not upon the
tree, but actually within it, like Agni when he hid
himself in the heart of the asvattha or peepul tree.
That tree has red berries like those of the mountain
ash, and the latter resembles the sami in the
pinnate form of its leaves, which call to mind the
feather shot firom the soma-bringing falcon. The
leaves of the palasa are not pinnate, but the tree
is remarkable for the luxuriant abimdance of its
foliage, a characteristic which belongs also to the
mountain ash. On the whole^ then, it is clear that
not without manifest reason did the mountain ash
acquire its high European renown.



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166 THE IMPERIAL MIMOSA.

But we can connect the rowan still more closely
with a tree venerated in India as a soma-bearer.

"Near Boitpoor, in Upper India," says Bishop
Heber, "I passed a fine tree of the mimosa, with
' leaves at a little distance so much resembling those
of the mountain ash, that I was for a moment
deceived, and asked if it did not bring fruit ? They
answered no ; but that it was a very noble tree,
being called the imperial tree, for its excellent pro-
perties ; that it slept all night, and awakened and
was alive all day, withdrawing its leaves if any one
attempted to touch them. Above all, however, it
was useful as a preservative against magic. A sprig
worn in the turban, or suspended over the bed, was
a perfect security against all spells, evil eye, &c. ;
insomuch that the most formidable wizard would
not, if he could help it, approach its shade. One
indeed, they said, who was very renowned for his
power (like Lorinite, in the Kehama) of killing
plants and drying up their sap with a look, had
come to this very tree and gazed on it intently ; but,
said the old man, who told me this with an air of
triumph, look as he might, he could do the tree
no harm. I was amazed and surprised to find the
superstition which in England and Scotland at-
taches to the rowan tree, here applied to a tree of



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MIMOSA CATECHU. 167

nearly similar form. What nation has in this case
been the imitator ? Or from what conmion centre
are these common notions derived V*

This imperial tree was most probably the Mimosa
catechu ; but if not, it was at all events of the same
genus, and therefore,^ in a mythical point of view,
closely allied to or even identical with it Now the
Mi/moda catechu was the tree which sprang from the
claw lost by the soma-robbing falcon,* along with
the feather which became a palasa or pama tree
(p. 159). Its younger branches have straight thorns,
which afterwards become hooked, and very much
resemble a bird's claw.

The asvattha or peepul is often propagated by
seeds dropped by apes or birds on housetops or on
other trees ; and we have seen (p. 23) that a
peculiar virtue was ascribed to an asvattha which
had come by that means to grow upon a sami. The
same superior excellence is attributed at this day in
Sweden and Norway to the flogronn, or fly-rowan,
which grows upon another tree, or in the cleft of a
rock, where the seed has been dropped by a bird —
perhaps by a god disguised in that form. "Any-
body who ventures out in those countries at night,
unprovided with flogronn to chew^ must look sharp

* Eahn, Herab. p. 236.



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168 DIVmiNQ-ROD.

lest he be robbed of his wits or left unable to
stir from the spot."* Manifestly the fly-rowan is
chewed for sake of its juice, which must be a most
potent antidote to witchcraft. The Swedish author
last quoted says, " The belief is almost as general in
the efficacy of the flogronn as a divining rod, for the
discovery of hidden treasures, but people can hardly
tell nowadays how the matter must be set about
The art is explained, however, as follows, in a manu-
script of the beginning of the seventeenth century.

*' When you find in the wood or elsewhere, on old
walls or on high hills or rocks, a rowan which has
grown out of a berry let fall from a bird's bill, you
must go at twilight in the evening of the third day
after our Lady's day, and either uproot or break oiBF
the said rod or tree ; but you must take care that
neither iron nor steel come nigh it, and that it do
not fall to the ground on the way home. Then place
the rod under the roof, at a spot under which you
have laid sundry metals, and in a short time you will
see with astonishment how the rod gradually bends
under the roof towards the metals. When the rod
has remained fourteen days or more in the same
place, you take a knife or an awl which has been
stroked with a magnet, and previously stuck through

* Dybeck's Runa, 18^%% p. 62.



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DIVINING OR WISH-ROD. 169

a great Fro-groda (?), slit the bark on all sides, and
pour or drop in cock's blood, especially such as is
drawn from the comb of a cock of one colour ; and
when this blood has dried, the rod is ready, and
gives manifest proof of the efficacy of its wondrous
nature. "

In England and in France the divining rod is
known chiefly for its alleged power of discoveiing
mines, buried treasure, and hidden springs of water,
and it is named accordingly ; but this is a modem
and too limited view of its wondrous efficacy, the
boimdless range of which is duly signified by the
German name wish-rod (wunschelruthe). That
name implies a rod which endows its possessor with
all earthly blessings, health, wealth, fortune, favour
— ynth everything, in short, that heart can wish. In
the Niebelungen Lied it is called, like the bounteous
god Odin, simply "wish," "The wish lay there-
under, a rod of gold." In this larger sense the
divining or wish-rod corresponds very closely with
the Hindu chark, and also with the mandrake.

The mandrake is a root, in shape resembling a
human being, and is renowned for its power of bring-
ing wealth and other good things to its possessor. A
letter is extant* which was written by a burgher of

* Eejftler, Antiqu. Septempt., p. 507.



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170 MANDRAKE,

Leipsic to his brother in 1575, condoling with the
latter for the heavy losses he had sustained : his
cattle had died, his store of com and other provisions
had been spoiled, his business had all gone wrong
and there was great discord in consequence between
him and his wife. The writer, therefore, sends him
a mandrake or earth-mannikin, because if he keeps
it in his house, things will take quite a diflferent turn
with him. When he receives it he is to let it rest
for three days, and then bathe it in warm water. He
is to sprinkle his cattle and the threshold of his
house with the water of the bath, and all will go
better with him. Be it known to him, moreover,
that the bath is singularly good in the case of a
woman in childbed ; if she cannot be delivered, let
her take a spoonful of the water, and she will bring
forth with joy and thankfulness. Finally, should he
have to go before the court or the council, he has
only to stick the mannikin imder his right arm, and
then he will have judgment in his favour, be his
cause right or wrong.

From this letter, and other evidence to the same
effect, it is plain that the mandrake, as well as the
wish-rod, was credited with the power of con-
ferring good fortune in general, the only apparent
difference between the two being that a human foim



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WISE-ROD, 171

^wa& invariably attributed to the one but not to the
other. There is good reason however, according to
Dr. Kuhn, to think that anciently they were both
alike in this respect. Even now the likeness of a
puppet or doll is sometimes given to the wish-rod, it
is wrapped in swaddling clothes, a head is stuck
upon it, and a baptism is smuggled for it by furtively
attaching the puppet to the body of a child that is
about to be christened.* In the Oberpfalz, imme-
diately after the wish-rod is cut, it is baptised and
given a name, and three signs of the cross are made
over it with the hand.-|" But this is not alL In
every instance the divining or wish-rod has a forked
end. This is an essential point, as all authorities
agree in declaiing. Now a forked rod (or *' a forked
radish") is the simplest possible image of the human
figure. •

The inference drawn by Dr. Kuhn from all this is
that, as the mandrake was conceived to be a super-
human being — god or demigod — so the equally man-
like wish-rod was originally understood to be an
incorporate god — ^the god of the lightning, as we
have seen with regard to the rowan rod, and as Dr.
Kuhn has likewise proved in the instances of the hazel

♦ Prohle, Harzbilder, 79.

t Sohdnwerth, OberpflLlzische Sagen, iii., 216.



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172 WISH ROD.

and the thorn, the trees from which the wish-rod was
most commonly taken. A comparison with ancient
Hindu usages fully confirms the truth of this con-
clusion. The human form is expressly attributed in
the Eig Veda and other Sanscrit books to the pieces
of asvattha wood used for kindling sacred fire — ^so
many inches for the head and neck, so many for the
upper and lower parts of the trunk, the thighs and
legs respectively — and the operator is warned to be
very careful where he chums, for perdition will issue
from most parts of the arani, whereas he who chums
in the right spot will obtain firiition of all his wishes ;
he will gain wealth, cattle, sons, heaven, long life,
love, and good fortune. Evidently the tabular part
or block of the chark is equivalent to the wish-
rod, and the reason of this is that they are both
embodiments of the lightning.

So also was the caducous, or Hermes* rod, which
Grimm and all the best authorities after him have
identified with the wish-rod ; and so were all the
plants which popular tradition has gifted with
similar virtues. Germany is inexhaustible in legends
of the luckflower and the springwort, before either
of which hidden doors and rocks fly open, and give
admission to vast treasures concealed in the hearts
of mountains. Rock, mountain, and cloud are



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. LUGKFLOWER. 173

synonymous in all Indo-European mythologies ;
the luckflower or keyflower is the lightning that
opens the clouds, and the treasures it discloses
are that primal wealth of the pastoral Aryan, the
rain that refreshes the thirsty earth and the sun-
shine that comes after, the tempest. The intimate
connection between lightning and human life and
happiness may not be very obvious to all minds at
the present day, but in primaeval times it was a
palpable fact intuitively understood, and out of it
grew the conception of the magic rod that fulfilled
all wishes. In like manner the epic poetry of the
Hindus evoked out of the waters of the cloud sea
the marvellous cow KS-maduh, from which all things
that could be desired might be milked. It is clear
that the supposed attraction of the divining-rod for
metals was also a product of the same primitive
mode of thought, for "the golden sunbeams" is a


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Online LibraryWalter Keating KellyCuriosities of Indo-European tradition and folk-lore → online text (page 9 of 17)