Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

MIDSUMMER-EVE'S SUPERSTITIONS.

333

the Cole is no coal, but simply the rotten roots of old mugwort, which are generally found under the fresh plant; this he pronounces to be an antepileptic in doses. of a dram given in water, the real sanative virtues of the plant having no doubt been, as in so many other instances, the origin of the superstition.

"In addition to these antepileptic virtues, mugwort was also potent against storms and the devil himself, if branches of it were hung up against the house-doors on St. John's Eve. This, however, was far from being a quality peculiar to the mugwort; many other herbs, plants, and minerals, appear to have been equally efficacious.

66

The fern was a yet more important object of popular superstition at this season. It was supposed at one time to have neither flower nor seed, the seed which lay on the back of the leaf being so small as to escape the sight of the hasty observer. Hence, probably, proceeding on the fantastic doctrine of signatures, our ancestors derived the notion that those who could obtain and wear this invisible seed would be themselves invisible, a belief of which innumerable instances may be found in our old dramatists. It was also, as we are informed by Lemnius, gathered at the summer solstice, on tempestuous nights, for the purpose of being used in magic impostures, though of what kind he does not state; by his coupling it with vervain one would suppose he alluded to its power of 'hindering witches of their will;' but upon this important subject even Bovet is not more explicit; he contents himself with saying, ' much discourse hath been about gathering of fern-seed (which is looked upon as a magical herb) on the night of Midsummer Eve; and I remember I was told of one that went to gather it, and the spirits whisked by his ears like bullets, and sometimes struck his hat, and other parts of his body; in fine, though he apprehended that he had gotten a quantity of it and secured it in papers, and a box besides, he found all empty. But most probable this appointing of times and hours, is of the devil's own institution, as well as the fast, that having once ensnared people to an obedience to his rules, he may with more facility oblige them to a stricter vassalage.'

"This eve was particularly favourable to the charms by

which women were to discover their future lovers, the modes of divination being rather various. In addition to those already mentioned, there was the Dumb Cake

Two make it,
Two bake it,
Two break it;

and the third must put it under each of their pillows, but not a word must be spoken all the time. This being done the diviners are sure to dream of the man they love. Then there is the divination by hempseed; that is you sow hemp, saying to yourself,

'Hempseed I sow,
Hempseed I hoe,

And he, that is my true love,
Come after me and mow.'

“Upon looking behind you, the lover makes his appear

ance.

"If you wet a clean shift, and turn it wrong side out, and hang it on the back of a chair before the fire, the result will be the same.

"It is also a good plan to tie your garter nine times round the bed-post and tie nine knots in it, saying to yourself,

'This knot I knit, this knot I tie,
To see my love as he goes by
In his apparel and array,
As he walks in every day.'

"The narrator of this spell says that her lover came, tucked up her bed-clothes at the feet, and drew the curtains.

"Even the snakes in Wales, Cornwall, and throughout all Scotland, celebrate this particular season by meeting toge ther and perform a sort of magical rite after their own fashion, if it should not rather be called a species of glassblowing. It is usual,' says Camden, 'for snakes to meet in companies, and that by joyning heads together and hissing, a kind of bubble is formed, which the rest, by continual hissing, blow on till it passes quite through the body, and then it immediately hardens and resembles a glass ring,

335

which whoever finds (as some old women and children are persuaded) shall prosper in all his undertakings. The rings, thus generated, are called 'Gleineu Nadroedh' i. e. Gemma Anguinæ (Anglicè, Snake-Stones), whereof I have seen at several places twenty or thirty. They are small glass annulets, commonly about half as wide as our finger-rings, but much thicker, of a green colour usually, though some of them are blue, and others curiously waved with blue, red, and white. I have also seen two or three earthen rings of this kind, but glazed with blue and adorned with transverse streaks or furrows on the outside. The smallest of them might be supposed to have been glass beads worn for ornament by the Romans, because some quantity of them, together with several amber beads, have been lately discovered at a stone-pit near Garvord in Berkshire, where they also find some pieces of Roman coin, and sometimes dig up skeletons of men and pieces of arms and armour. But it may be objected that a battle being fought there between the Romans and Britons, as appears by the bones and arms they discover, these glass-beads might as probably belong to the latter. And indeed it seems to me very likely that these snake-stones (as we call them) were used as charms or amulets amongst our Druids of Britain, on the same occasions as the snake-eggs amongst the Gaulish Druids for Pliny, who lived when those priests were in request, and saw one of their snake-eggs, gives us the like account of the origin of them, as our common people do of their Glain Neidr.'

:

SNAKE RINGS.

"Sometimes it would appear that these glass annulets were struck through a larger ring of iron, and that again through a much larger of copper. One of this kind was found in the river Cherwell, near Hampton Gay, in Oxfordshire, as we find it figured and described in Dr. Plott's Natural History of that county. He maintains, however, that they were not British, but either Saxon or Danish, the British rings being of iron, as the Roman were of gold or silver.

"The only remaining feast of this month of any note in the calendar, is the Eve of St. Peter and St. Paul, i.e. the 28th, on which occasion many of the rites peculiar to St. John the Baptist are repeated.

[graphic][graphic][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors]
« ÎnapoiContinuă »