The Grecian husbandmen were accustomed to drive away mice by writing them a message on a piece of paper and sticking it on a stone in the infested field. A specimen of such a message, beginning with an adjuration and concluding with a threat, is to be found in the "Geoponica," a Grecian agricultural treatise.
In the endeavor to justify the employment of radical measures against vermin, some curious questions of casuistry were involved. Rats and mice being God's creatures, one ought not to take their lives. But it was considered entirely proper to drive them off one's own domain, while recommending as preferable the well-stocked cellar of a neighbor. Formulae of exorcism, or sentences containing warnings to depart, were written on scraps of paper, which were then well greased and rolled into little balls, or wrapped about poisoned edibles, and placed in the rat-holes.
Conjurations of vermin were usually in the name of St. Gertrude, the first abbess of Nivelle in Belgium, and also the patron saint of travelers and cats, and protectress against the ravages of the smaller rodents.
The Spanish ecclesiastic, Martin Azpilcueta, surnamed Navarre, stated that when rats were exorcised, it was customary to banish them formally from the territory of Spain; and the creatures would then proceed to the seashore and swim to some remote island, where they made their home.
The public records of Hameln, in the kingdom of Hannover, state that in the year 1284 a stranger, in gay and fantastic attire, visited the town and proclaimed himself a professional rat-catcher, offering for a consideration to rid the place of the vermin which infested it. The townsfolk having agreed to his proposal, the stranger began to play a tune upon his pipe, whereupon the rats emerged in swarms from their hiding-places and followed him to the river Weser, where they were all drowned. The people of Hameln now repented of their bargain and refused to pay the full amount agreed upon, for the alleged reason that the rats had been driven away by the aid of sorcery. In revenge for this, the piper played the same time on the next day, and immediately all the children of the town followed him to a cavern in the side of a neighboring hill, called the Koppenberg. The piper and the children entered the cavern, which closed after them; and in remembrance of this tragic event several memorials are to be seen in Hameln. Indeed, some writers maintain that the legend has an historical foundation, and such appears to have been the opinion of the townspeople, inasmuch as for years afterwards public and legal documents were dated from the mournful occurrence.
An old tradition says that mice originally fell upon the earth from the clouds during a thunder-storm, and hence these animals are emblematic of storms; they are also mystical creatures, and have a relationship with Donar, Wodan, and Frigg. In Bavaria profanity is thought to increase the number of mice in a dwelling, and their appearance in the fields in large numbers indicates war, pestilence, or famine. Bohemian peasants are wont to make a certain provision for these elfish rodents; on Christmas Eve and on the first holiday of the year, whatever food remains from the midday meal is thrown upon the barn floor, and the following sentence is repeated: "O mice, eat these remnants and leave the grain in peace!" On Christmas Eve, also, peas are placed in heaps, shaped like a cross, in the four corners of a mouse-infested room, lest the vermin get the upper hand and the premises be overrun. In eastern Prussia, when the harvest is gathered, the last sheaf of corn is left standing in the field, while the peasants surround it and sing a hymn as an incantation against future devastation of their lands by rats or mice. Or, when the corn is harvested, three inverted sheaves are fixed upon the barn floor for a like purpose.
According to a Bohemian legend, the mouse was originally a creation of the Devil, at the time when Noah entered the Ark, attended by the members of his family and followed by a numerous retinue of animals. The Devil, so runs the tale, hated the patriarch for his piety, and with evil intent created the mouse, whom he sent to gnaw a hole in the side of the Ark, through which the water might enter. But God then created the cat, who pursued and devoured the mouse, thus frustrating the design of the Evil One.
At the siege of Angers, the ancient capital of Anjou, in the year 845, during the reign of King Charles the Bald, the French were much annoyed by swarms of grasshoppers of unusual size. They were duly exorcised according to the custom of the times, and having been put to flight, are reported to have precipitated themselves into a river.
The French writer, St. Foix, in his "Essais historiques sur Paris," has recorded that in the year 1120, the Bishop of Laon, in the Department of Aisne, pronounced an injunction against field-mice, on account of their ravages; and St. Bernard, a contemporary of that prelate, while preaching at Foigny in the same diocese, in order to relieve his congregation of the annoyance caused by a multitude of flies, repeated a formula of excommunication against them, whereat, according to monkish records, the flies fell dead in heaps and were gathered up with shovels.
The early Anglo-Saxons not only made use of amulets of wood or other material, on which were engraven Runic characters, to secure protection from elves and demons, but they carried about with them the herb called periwinkle, of the botanical genus Vinca, as a charm against snakes and wild animals.