INCIDENTAL FEATURES OF THE STORIES
ALTHOUGH the selection of only a few of the numerous variants of 'Tom Tit Tot' relieves us from comment on sundry differences in detail between the whole of them, there are points of interest which call for notice before we advance to the central idea of the story. Some are of little moment, as where, in the Lorraine variant, the devil's age, instead of his name, has to be guessed to secure quittance from the bargain. Others,. as in the example of the helpful bird in the Eastern story, would carry us into the wide, and fascinating subject of barbaric belief in community between man and all living things beneath him. Of the remainder, three claim comment--the superstitions about iron, the incidents of spinning, and of outwitting the demon or other maliceful agent.
(a) SUPERSTITIONS ABOUT IRON
The reference to iron is one among other examples of incidental features in folk-tales which not only evidence their antiquity, but throw light on the customs and beliefs embodied in them, which otherwise would remain obscure. The unlettered are conservative, both from fear and the power of tradition. The devil may have been 'the first Whig,' which, nowadays, would spell Radical, but whoever, whether man or fiend, challenged authority to produce its credentials, has that distinction. Things new or unusual, being unknown, are objects of dread in the degree that mystery invests them; and this explains, among other matters, the old ideas which attached to iron, and the retention of stone instruments for sacred rites and ceremonies, as, for example, of flint knives, in mummy-incision, among the ancient Egyptians; and among the Jews in circumcision; of obsidian or other stone sacrificial knives among the Mexicans; while in Scotland, in making the clavie, a kind of Yuletide fire-wheel, a stone hammer was used. Witches and fairies are creations of the Stone Age; the peasant-folk see in the delicately shaped flint arrow-heads of our Neolithic forerunners the 'elf-darts' wherewith the 'good people' maim men and cattle. And the dread with which these creatures are believed to regard iron explains its widespread use as a charm against them. Old Aubrey says that 'a Horse-shoe nailed on the threshold of the dore is yet in fashion, and nowhere more than in London. It ought (Mr. Lilly [a] says) to be a Horse-shoe that one finds by chance on the road. The end of it is to prevent the power of witches that come into your house. So in Germany the common people doe naile such an Horse-shoe on the threshold of the doore. So neere the mainmast in ships' [b] As many a stable-door and mainmast testify, the nailing of horse-shoes to 'keep off the pixies,' and, conversely, to bring luck to farmer and sailor, thrives to this day. The magical power of iron is shown in the hero-legends wherein, for example, King Arthur's wonder-working sword Excalibur plays part, while homelier illustrations are given in the use of iron tongs or scissors to protect a new-born babe from being stolen by the fairies. Among the Kols of India, when a child is born, the umbilical cord is cut and buried in the room, and over it a fire is lit in an earthen pot, into which a bit of iron is put, as a protection against evil spirits who may assail mother or infant [c] In county Donegal, when churning is started, the tongs are put in the fire, or a piece of heated iron is put under the chum, and kept there till the work is finished. [d] The Hindus consider it unlucky to visit the sick at night, lest some prowling demon follow the visitor and then haunt the invalid. But if a piece of iron be taken, the demon thinks that his hair may be cut therewith, whereby he becomes enslaved; so he keeps clear. The name of the metal is itself an effective charm. In Arab belief the zdba'ah or sand-whirlwind, which sweeps, pillar-like, across the land, is due to the flight of a jinnee, and therefore, when its approach is seen, one of the charms uttered is, 'Iron, thou unlucky,' because the very name is believed to drive the jinn away. [e] The aborigines of Victoria thought that dust-storms were due to Koo. tchee, the Australian evil spirit, and the more daring among them would throw boomerangs at these blinding whirlwinds. [f]
(b) WOMAN AS SPINSTER AND FARMER
Wellnigh all the heroines in the 'Tom Tit Tot' group are set the task of spinning, in a magic space of time, a large quantity of flax, or, as in the Swedish variant, the still harder task of spinning straw into gold, and so forth. Prominence is therefore given to the wheel and distaff as woman's typical occupation. The old and now discredited school of interpreters, represented in this country chiefly by Professor Max Muller and Sir George W. Cox, which resolved every myth and folk-tale, and occasionally even history itself, [g] into solar elements, explains the spinning incident as the dawn-maiden, be she Penelope or the miller's daughter, weaving 'her robe of clouds.' [h] But a more sober school of interpretation is, like wisdom, 'justified of its children.' That was a relatively advanced stage in human progress 'when Adam delved and Eve span,' because among barbaric people the woman does both. War and the chase fill the lives of men; and the work of handling both spade and spindle falls to the women. They were the first agriculturists, and over a wide area of the arable earth they still 'hold the field.' While the man was fighting or chasing the coveted game, the woman was grubbing up roots and pounding seeds or nuts to keep hunger from the hut, round whose clearing she learned to sow the cereal and plant the fruit-tree. In East Africa she tills the soil, tends the cattle, and does the bartering; [i] among the Niam-Niam the men devote themselves to hunting, and leave the cultivation of the soil to the women, who, among the Monbuttoo, do all the husbandry from hoeing to harvest. [j] Herodotus (Book iv. 6) says of the Thracians that 'they accounted idleness as the most honourable thing, and to be a tiller of the ground the most dishonourable.' Among the ancient Peruvians, farm-work fell entirely to the womenfolk, while the rudest form of agriculture is found among the squaws of Central California, who use their fingers as hoes, rubbing the earth to powder between their hands. [k] In modern Palestine, although the men do the ploughing, the women follow to drop the seed into the furrows; and in the Sonneberg district, in Germany, and indeed throughout Europe, the preparation, planting, and sowing, the harvesting and thrashing, are largely done by women. It is, therefore, an error to speak of fieldwork by woman as a sign of her degradation; for wherever it now exists, although often evidencing man's laziness or brutality, it is a survival of primitive conditions when everything domestic devolved on the female. Among the indoor duties were the keeping of the hearth and weaving. With the long grass as primitive broom, woman tidied the house, and with the primitive spindle-stick she twisted the plant-fibres into yarn. The stone spindle-whorls found among other relics of early Neolithic deposits witness to the high antiquity of an art which ultimately became, both in symbol and language, the type of womans work.[l] How much this all bears on her long foremost place in social organisation, lies beyond our province to deal with. But, as related to what follows, it must be borne in mind that the roots of social unity lie in blood-relationship between mother and offspring rather than between father and offspring. For in the unsettled conditions of barbaric life, when intercourse between the sexes was irregular--the absence or fitful movements of the men leaving the care of home and children to the women,--he was a wise father who knew his own child. Birth and the early nourishment of offspring were the great factors, and hence not only arose the tie of blood-relationship through the mother. but the tracing of descent along the female line both being grouped under what is known as 'mother-right.' Thus, to quote from an able essay by Mr. Karl Pearson on a subject which was originally dealt with some years ago by Bachofen, MacLennan, and other students o~ ancient social groups, 'the mother would be al least the nominal head of the family, the beare~ of its traditions, its knowledge, and its religion. Hence we should expect to find that the deities of a mother-right group were female, and thai the primitive goddesses were accompanied, not by husband, but by child or brother. The husband and father being insignificant or entirely absent, there would thus easily arise myths of virgin and child, and brother and sister, deities. The goddess of the group would naturally be served by a priestess rather than by a priest. The woman, as depository of family custom and tribal lore, the wise woman, the sibyl, the witch, would hand down to her daughters the knowledge of the religious observances, of the power of herbs, the mother-lore in the mother-tongue, possibly also in some form of symbol or rune, such as a priestly caste love to enshroud their mysteries in. The symbols of these goddesses would be the symbols of woman's work and woman's civilisation,--the distaff, the pitchfork, and the broom, not the spear, the axe, and the hammer.' [m] Herein lies the key to the femininity of the larger number of corn and vegetable and spinning deities, whether one or triune, 'the divine mothers who travel round and visit houses, from whom mankind learned the oçcupations and arts of housekeeping and husbandry, spinning, weaving, tending the hearth, sowing and reaping.' [n] Ceres, eat whose nod the wheat-field shakes,' to whom the corn-thief, by the code of the Twelve Tables, was hanged as an offering; [o] Persephone, whom Demeter seeks sorrowing, to find her with the upsprouting corn; Xilomen, the Mexican maize-goddess; Nirdu, among the Teutons,--one and all subordinate to the mighty food-giving Earth-mother, known by many names, Erda, Demeter, Pachamama, Dharitri, but everywhere worshipped as the giver of life, whose motherhood, as among the aboriginal Americans, was no mere figure of speech, but an article of positive belief. [p] Naming among hearth-goddesses only the Roman Vesta, the Greek Hestia, and the Teutonic Hiodyn, our more immediate interest in this digression centres round the spinning deities and wise women. The Greeks put spindle and distaff in the hands of several of their goddesses, as of Artemis, Leto, and Athène, the last-named recalling to mind the legend of Arachne's challenge to the goddess to compete with her in the art of weaving. When Arachne produced the cloth on which the loves of the gods were depicted, Athène, enraged at finding no fault in it, tore the work to pieces, whereupon the despairing Arachne hanged herself. But Athène loosened the rope and changed it into a cobweb, Arachne becoming a spider. With the Greek Fates, of whom, according to Hesiod, Clotho spins the web of man's destiny, while Lachesis allots and Atropos cuts the thread, may be compared the weaving of Helgi's fate by the three Norns of Teutonic myth. Stretching the golden cord across the heaven, one Norn hid an end of the thread eastward, another Norn hid an end westward, while a third fastened it northward, the region between the eastern and western ends falling to Helgi's share. The hieroglyph of the great Egyptian goddess Neith was a shuttle, but she lies too remote for knowledge of the degree in which she was a spinning deity. Not so our western Berchtá and Holda, round whom, and their degraded forms in witches, many a legend clusters. To Holda is assigned the cultivation of flax. She gives spindles to industrious girls, and spins their reels full for them overnight, but she burns or spoils the distaffs of lazy maidens. 'On her coming at Christmas, all the distaffs are well stocked, and left standing for her; by Carnival, when she turns homeward, all the spinning must be finished, and the staffs kept out of her sight, otherwise her curse is on the disobedient. The concealment of the implements shows the sacredness of her holy day as a time of rest; [q] an idea transferred, like many others, to the Virgin Mary, on whose holy days spinning is forbidden. Berchta spoils whatever spinning she finds unfinished the last day of the year, and, 'in the North, from Yule day to New Year's day, neither wheel nor windlass must go round.' [r] In Thuringen, songs rose to Frau Holle as the women dressed the flax; and in Lower Austria, Walpurg (whence the name of the great witchgathering, Walpurgisnacht) goes round the fields at harvest-time with a spindle to bless them. In Bavaria, 'flax will not thrive unless it is sown by women, and this has to be done with strange ceremonies, including the scattering over the field of the ashes of a fire made of wood consecrated during matins. As high as the maids jump over the fires on the hilltops on Midsummer Night, so high will the flax grow; but we find also that as high as the bride springs from the table on her marriage night, so high will the flax grow in that year.[s] In Sweden no spinning is done on Thursday night, for fear of offending the spirit who watches over the cattle and the crops. The twisting of the thread and the downward pull of the spindle might affect the growth of the corn. With which examples of ' sympathetic magic' we may couple that given by Mr. Frazer. 'In the interior of Sumatra the rice is sown by women who, in sowing, let their hair hang loose down their back, in order that the rice may grow luxuriantly and have long stalks.' [t] The day after Twelfth Day was called St. Distaff's Day, when spinning was resumed, as in Herrick's lines -
'Partly work and partly play,
Ye must on St. Distaffe's day;
If the maids a-spinning go,
Burn the flax and fire the tow;
Give St. Distaffe all the right,
Then bid Christmas sport good night.' [u]
At Pergine in Tyrol, within recent years, the friend of the bridegroom carried a spinning-wheel, with flax wound round the distaff, in the wedding procession.
In these illustrations of the prominence given to spinning in popular belief and ritual, no line has been drawn between the part severally played by goddess and by witch. Earth supplies the pattern of heavenly things, and therefore the gods and goddesses, with the swarm of godlings, are for the most part mortals variously magnified, whose deeds are the reijection of those which fill the life of man. As for the witch, she may be regarded as the degraded and demon-inspired representative of the priestess and medicine-woman, who still survive in barbaric communities. Weatherwise, as all folk become who, with anxious outlook on the harvest of both land and sea, watch the skies; skilled in the virtue of simples through testing of the qualities of plants; wielder of the pitchfork, the broom, and the distaff, tamer of the cat, as, in his more adventurous life, man was tamer of the wolf, making the devourer of the flock to be the guardian of the fold,--here are the elements out of which was shaped the monstrous nightmare that terrorised mankind and sent thousands to the gallows or the stake.
(c) THE GULLIBLE DEVIL
The stories of the gullibility of the devil are incidents in the history of his decline and fall. Ridicule paved the way to a doom which comparative mythology, in explaining him, has sealed. The ridicule followed his defeat in his own realm of trickery and cunning by mortals. It was a sincere belief among Scotch theologians of the seventeenth century that his cunniing so increased with age that he became more than a match for the cleverest. Abercromby, in his Physick of the Soule, speaks of the devil 'as now almost of six thousand years, and of great wily-ness and experience.' But man is a combative animal, and the feeling that the devil was ever on the watch to trip him up or outwit him, warmed rather than chilled his fighting instinct. In the belief that the devil's favourite method was the bargaining for both body and soul, that he might win both. the snirit of rivalry in the game of huckstering was aroused, so that it became a contest of 'pull devil, pull baker,' as the saying goes. As the old legends show, and as is also manifest in the 'Tom Tit Tot' group of stories, he is the transformed giant or wizard with the superadded features of the fiend whose aim it is to induce the unwary to agree to sell themselves to him at the price of some fleeting advantage. Hence, when he is checkmated, great is the joy at the discomfiture of the 'stupid beast,' as Pope Gregory the Great called him. And of this defeat many a legend tells. In northern saga, King Olaf desired to build a church greater than any yet seen, but lacked the means to accomplish this. As he walked 'twixt hill and dale he met a troll, who, when he heard the king's wish, offered to build the church for him within a given time, stipulating that he was to have the sun and moon, or Olaf himself, in payment. The king agreed; the church was to be large enough to allow seven priests to preach in it at the same time without disturbing one another, and ere long the structure was finished, except the roof and spire. Perplexed at the bargain which he had made, Olaf once more wandered over hill and dale, when suddenly he heard a child cry from within a mountain, while a giantess quieted it with these words, 'Hush, hush, to-morrow comes thy father, Wind and Weather, home, bringing both sun and moon, or saintly Olaf's self.' Overjoyed at this discovery, the king turned home, arriving just in time to see the spire being fixed. He cried out, 'Wind and Weather, thou hast set the spire askew,' when instantly the giant fell off the ridge of the roof with a fearful crash, and burst into a thousand pieces, which were nothing but flint stones.[v] In Swedish legend a giant promises to build a church for the White Christ, if Laurentius can find out his name, otherwise he must forfeit his eyes. As in the Olaf story, the giantess is overheard hushing her crying child and uttering the giant's name. [w]
In the great collection of Welsh manuscripts published by Owen Jones in the beginning of this century, the story of the battle of Achren precedes some verses. It was fought on account of a white roebuck and a puppy which were of Hades. Amathaon, son of Don, had caught them. Therefore he fought with Arawn, King of Hades, and there was in the engagement on the side of Hades a man who could not be vanquished unless his name could be discovered; while there was a woman on the other side called Achren, whose name was to be found out before her side could be vanquished. Gwydion, son of DOn, guessed the man's name, and sang the two following englyns. They are the verses alluded to, and they embody Gwydion's guess as to the man's name, which he discovered to be Bran; and as Bran, which means a 'crow,' is one of the appellations of the terrene god, he may be supposed to have been a principal in the fight, that is to say, he was probably the King of Hades himself.[x] Cognate with the foregoing legend of the discomfiture of the devil is that which tells how he agrees to build a house for a peasant at the price of the man's soul, the contract to be null and void if the work is not finished before cockcrow.
Just as day dawns, and as the devil is putting on the last tile, the peasant wakens up ~a1l the roosters by imitating their crowing. Or the devil helps to construct a bridge on condition that he receives in payment the soul of the first thing that crosses it, and while he is on the watch to seize his prize, a chamois or dog rushes past him. In the well-known story of the shadowless man, the devil agrees to take the hindmost in a race, and is able to grasp only the shadow of the rearmost runner. The fiend is also befooled by one man, who whistles the Gospel which he has bound himself not to say, and by the refusal of another to carry out his bargain at the fall of the leaf because the foliage sculptured on the church columns is still on the boughs. In the venerable street play of ' Punch and Judy' the climax is reached when, after shamming defeat by the devil, Punch seizes him and strings him to the gallows. The story is told of some angry lookers-on stoning a showman who reversed the traditions of the play by letting the devil carry off Punch. These examples, of which a store may be gathered from Grimm, Thorpe, and other collectors, [y] fall into line with the typical incident of the befooling and discomfiture of the demon in one shape or sex and another in 'Tom Tit Tot' and his variants, along the main track of which group of folk-tales we may now advance without further digression.
[a] An astrologer who 'flourished' in the reign of Charles I.
[b] Remaines of Gentilisme and Judaisme, p. 27.
[c] Orooke, Tribes and Castes of the North- Western Provinces, vol.. iii. p. 307,
[d] Folklore, 1897, p. 18.
[e] Lane, Modern Egyptians, ch. x. p. 204.
[f] cf. Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, p. 1088
[g] The siege of Troy is but a repetition of the daily siege of the East by the solar powers that every evening are robbed of their brightest treasures in the West.'--Max Muller's Science of Language, vol ii. p. 515.
[h] Cox, Mythology of the Aryan Nations, ii. p. 165.
[i] Mrs. French Sheldon, Journal Anthropol. Inst., 1892, p. 362.
[j] Schweinfurth, Heart of Africa, vol. ii. pp 12, 90.
[k] Mason, Woman's Share in Primitive Culture, p. 147.
[l] In opposition to the male or 'spear.side,' the female branch of the family was formerly known as the 'spindle-side.'
[m] Karl Pearson, Chances of Death, and other Studies in Evolution, vol. ii. p. 8.
[n]Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, p. 250.
[o] Grainger, Worship of the Romans, p. 260.
[p] Payne, History of America, vol. i. p. 464.
[q] Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, p. 270.
[r] Ibid. p. 270.
[s] Karl Pearson, Chances of Death, and other Studies in Evolution, vol. ii. p. 36.
[t] The Golden Bough, vol. i. p. 10.
[u] Hesperides, 'St. Distaffe's Day, or the Morrow after Twelfth Day.'
[v] Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, pp. 547, 548.
[w] Cp. Arnason, Icelandic Legends, p. 49, where the story hinges on the name of the builder in 'Who built Reynir Church?'
[x] Prof. Rhys, Hibbert Lectures, p. 244.
[y] Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, pp.1018 -1024. Thorpe, Northern Mythology, vol. ii. p. 177; Dasent, Popular Tales from the Norse, xcvii; Crane, Italian Tales, p. 221; Clouston, Popular Tales and Fictions, vol i. p. 381.