Abbildungen der Seite

this is an omen that the harvest will be abundant. But doubtless the older view was, not merely that the smoke and flames prognosticated, but that they actually produced an abundant harvest, the heat of the flames acting like sunshine on the corn. Indeed, this older view must still have been held by people in the Isle of Man when they lit fires to windward of their fields in order that the smoke might blow over them. Notions of this sort are not confined to Europe. In South Africa, about the month of April, the Matabele light huge fires to the windward of their gardens," their idea being that the smoke, by passing over the crops, will assist the ripening of them." Among the Zulus also "medicine is burned on a fire placed to windward of the garden, the fumigation which the plants in consequence receive being held to improve the crop."2 Again, the idea of our European peasants that the corn will grow well as far as the blaze of the bonfire is visible, is certainly a remnant of the belief in the quickening and fertilising power of the bonfires. The same belief reappears in the notion that embers taken from the bonfires and inserted in the fields will promote the growth of the crops, and again it plainly underlies the customs of sowing flaxseed in the direction in which the flames blow, of mixing the ashes of the bonfire with the seed-corn at sowing, and of scattering the ashes by themselves over the field. The belief that the flax will grow as high as the flames rise or the people leap over them belongs clearly to the same class of ideas. Once more, we saw that at Konz, on the banks of the Moselle, if the blazing wheel which was trundled down the hillside reached the river without being extinguished, this was hailed as a proof that the vintage would be abundant. So firmly was this belief held that the successful performance of the ceremony entitled the villagers to levy a tax upon the owners of the neighbouring vineyards. Here the unextinguished wheel meant an unclouded sun, and this again portended an abundant vintage. So the waggon-load of white wine which the villagers received from the vineyards round about was in fact a payment for the sunshine which they had procured for the grapes.

1 L. Decle, Three Years in Savage Africa, p. 160 sq.


J. Shooter, The Kafirs of Natal, p. 18.

But in popular belief the quickening and fertilising influence of the bonfires is not limited to the vegetable world; it extends also to animals. This plainly appears both from the Irish custom of driving barren cattle through the midsummer fires, and from the German practice of mixing the ashes of the bonfires with the drink of cattle in order to make the animals thrive. Further, there are clear indications that even human fecundity is supposed to be promoted by the genial heat of the fires. It is an Irish belief that a girl who jumps thrice over the midsummer bonfire will soon marry and become the mother of many children; and in various parts of France they think that if a girl dances round nine fires she will be sure to marry within the year. On the other hand, in Lechrain people say that if a young man and woman, leaping over the midsummer fire together, escape unsmirched, the young woman will not become a mother within twelve months-the flames have not touched and fertilised her. The rule observed in some parts of France and Belgium that the bonfires on the first Sunday in Lent should be kindled by the person who was last married seems to belong to the same class of ideas, whether it be that such a person is supposed to receive from, or to impart to, the fire a generative and fertilising influence. The common practice of lovers leaping over the fires hand in hand may very well have originated in a notion that thereby their marriage would be more likely to be blessed with offspring. And the scenes of profligacy which appear to have marked the midsummer celebration among the Esthonians, as they once marked the celebration of May Day among ourselves, may have sprung, not from the mere licence of holiday-makers, but from a crude notion that such orgies were justified, if not required, by some mysterious bond which linked the life of man to the courses of the heavens at this turning-point of the year.

The interpretation of these fire-customs as charms for making sunshine is confirmed by a parallel custom observed by the Hindoos of Southern India at the Pongol or Feast of Ingathering. The festival is celebrated in the carly part of January, when, according to Hindoo astrologers, the sun enters the tropic of Capricorn, and the chief event of the festival coincides with the passage of the sun. For some



days previously the boys gather heaps of sticks, straw, dead leaves, and everything that will burn. On the morning of the first day of the festival the heaps are fired. Every street and lane has its bonfire. The young folk leap over the flames or pile on fresh fuel. This fire is an offering to Sûrya, the sun-god, or to Agni, the deity of fire; it "wakes him from his sleep, calling on him again to gladden the earth with his light and heat."1 To say that the fires awaken the sun-god from his sleep is only a metaphorical and perhaps modernised expression of the belief that they actually help to rekindle the sun's light and heat.

A festival of Northern India which presents points of resemblance to the popular European celebrations which we have been considering is the Holi. This is a village festival held in early spring at the full moon of the month Phalgun. Large bonfires are lit and young people dance round them. The people believe that the fires prevent blight, and that the ashes cure disease. At Barsana the local village priest is expected to pass through the Holi bonfire, which, in the opinion of the faithful, cannot burn him. Indeed he holds his land rent-free simply on the score of his being fire-proof. On one occasion when the priest disappointed the expectant crowd by merely jumping over the outermost verge of the smouldering ashes and then bolting into his cell, they threatened to deprive him of his benefice if he did not discharge his spiritual functions better when the next Holi season came round. Another feature of the festival which has, or once had, its counterpart in the corresponding European ceremonies is the unchecked profligacy which prevails among the Hindoos at this time." In Kumaon, a district of North-West India, at the foot of the Himalayas, each clan celebrates the Holi festival by cutting down a tree, which is thereupon stripped of its leaves, decked with shreds of cloth, and burnt at some convenient place in the quarter of the town inhabited by the clan. Some of the songs sung on this occasion are of a ribald character. The people leap

1 Ch. E. Gover, "The Pongol festival in Southern India," Journai of the Royal Asiatic Society, N.S., v. (1870), p. 96 sq.

2 W. Crooke, Introduction to the Popular Religion and Folklore of Northern India, pp. 387-393.

over the ashes of the fire, believing that they thus rid themselves of itch and other diseases of the skin. While the trees are burning, each clan tries to carry off strips of cloth from the tree of another clan, and success in the attempt is thought to ensure good luck. In Gwalior large heaps of cow-dung are burnt instead of trees. Among the Marwaris the festival is celebrated by the women with obscene songs and gestures. A monstrous and disgusting image of a certain Nathuram, who is said to have been a notorious profligate, is set up in a bazaar and then smashed with blows of shoes and bludgeons while the bonfire of cow-dung is blazing. No household can be without an image of Nathuram, and on the night when the bride first visits her husband, the image of this disreputable personage is placed beside her couch. Barren women and mothers whose children have died look to Nathuram for deliverance from their troubles.1

In the Chinese province of Fo-Kien we also meet with a vernal festival of fire which may be compared to the firefestivals of Europe. The ceremony, according to an eminent authority, is a solar festival in honour of the renewal of vegetation and of the vernal warmth. It falls in April, on the thirteenth day of the third month in the Chinese calendar, and is doubtless connected with the ancient custom of renewing the fire, which, as we saw, used to be observed in China at this season. The chief performers in the ceremony are labourers, who refrain from women for seven days, and fast for three days before the festival. During these days they are taught in the temple how to discharge the difficult and dangerous duty which is to be laid upon them. On the eve of the festival an enormous brazier of charcoal, sometimes twenty feet wide, is prepared in front of the temple of the Great God, the protector of life. At sunrise next morning the brazier is lighted and kept burning by fresh supplies of fuel. A Taoist priest throws a mixture of salt and rice on the fire to conjure the flames and ensure an abundant year. Further, two exorcists, barefooted and followed by two peasants, traverse the fire again and again till it is somewhat beaten down. Meantime the pro

1 Pandit Janardan Joshi, in North Indian § 199.

Notes and Queries, iii. p. 92 sq., See above, p. 251 sq.

cession is forming in the temple. The image of the god of the temple is placed in a sedan-chair, resplendent with red paint and gilding, and is carried forth by a score or more of barefooted peasants. On the shafts of the sedan-chair, behind the image, stands a magician with a dagger stuck through the upper parts of his arms and grasping in each hand a great sword, with which he essays to deal himself violent blows on the back; however the strokes as they descend are mostly parried by peasants, who walk behind him and interpose bamboo rods between his back and the swords. Wild music now strikes up, and under the excitement caused by its stirring strains, the procession passes thrice across the furnace. At their third passage the performers are followed by other peasants carrying the utensils of the temple; and the rustic mob, electrified by the frenzied spectacle, falls in behind. Strange as it may seem, burns are comparatively rare. Inured from infancy to walking barefoot, the peasants can step with impunity over the glowing charcoal, provided they plant their feet squarely and do not stumble; for usage has so hardened their soles that the skin is converted into a sort of leathery or horny substance which is almost callous to heat. But sometimes, when they slip and a hot coal touches the sides of their feet or ankles, they may be seen to pull a wry face and jump out of the furnace amid the laughter of the spectators. When this part of the ceremony is over, the procession defiles round the village, and the priests distribute to every family a leaf of yellow paper inscribed with a magic character, which is thereupon glued over the door of the house. The peasants carry off the charred embers from the furnace, pound them to ashes, and mix the ashes with the fodder of their cattle, believing that it fattens them. However, the Chinese Government disapproves of these performances, and next morning a number of the performers may generally be seen in the hands of the police, laid face downwards on the ground and receiving a sound castigation on a part of their person which is probably more sensitive than the soles of their feet.'

1 G. Schlegel, Uranographic Chinoise (The Hague and Leyden, 1875), p. 143 sq.; id., "La fête de fouler le feu

célébrée en Chine et par les Chinois à Java," Internationales Archiv für Ethnographie, ix. (1896), pp. 193-195.

« ZurückWeiter »