Gypsy Sorcery and Fortune Telling, by Charles Godfrey Leland, , at sacred-texts.com
"Knew many an amulet and charm
Which would do neither good nor harm,
In Rosicrucian lore as learned
As he that veré adeptus earned."—HUDIBRAS.
WITH pleasant plausibility HEINE has traced the origin of one kind of fairy-lore to the associations and feelings which we form for familiar objects. A coin, a penknife, a pebble, which has long been carried in the pocket or worn by any one, seems to become imbued with his or her personality. If it could speak, we should expect to hear from it an
echo of the familiar voice of the wearer; as happened, indeed, in Thuringia in the year 1562, when a fair maid, Adelhait von Helbach, was carried into captivity by certain ill-mannered persons. "Now her friends, pursuing, knew not whither to go, when they heard her voice, albeit very small and feeble, calling to them; and, seeking, they found in the bush by the road a silver image of the Virgin, which she had worn: and this image told them which road to take. Following the direction, they recovered her; the Raubritter who bore her away being broken on the wheel, and the image hung up for the glory of the Virgin, who had spoken by it, in the Church of our Lady of Kalbrunn." Again, these objects have such strange ways of remaining with one that we end by suspecting that they have a will of their own. With certain persons these small familiar friends become at last fetishes, which bring luck, giving to those who firmly believe in them great comfort and endurance in adversity.
Who has not been amazed at the persistency with which some button or pebble picked up, or placed perchance in the pocket, remains in all the migrations of keys and pencils and coins, faithful to the charge? How some card or counter will lurk in our pocket-book (misnamed "purse") or porte-monnaie, until it becomes clear as daylight that it has a reasonable intelligence, and stays with us because it wants to. As soon as this is recognized—especially by some person who is accustomed to feel mystery in everything, and who doubts nothing—the object becomes something which knows, possibly, a great deal which we do not. Therefore it is to be treated with care and respect, and in due time it becomes a kind of god, or at least the shrine of a small respectable genius, or fairy. I have heard of a gentleman in the Western United States who had a cane in which, as he seriously believed, a spirit had taken up its abode, and he reverenced it accordingly. The very ancient and widely-spread belief in the efficiency of magic wands probably came from an early faith in such implements as had been warranted to have magic virtues as weapons, or to aid a pedestrian in walking. Hence it
happened that swords which had been enchanted, or which had taken lives, were supposed to have some indwelling intelligence. Hence also the names given to swords, and indeed to all weapons, by the Norsemen. It was believed that the sword of an executioner, after it had beheaded a certain number of men, pined for more victims, and manifested its desire by unearthly rattling or ringing. Apropos of which I have in my possession such a gruesome implement, which if experience in death could give it life, or make it ring in the silent watches of the night, would be a ghastly, noisy guest indeed. I once told the story in "The Gypsies" (Boston; 1881)—now I have something to add to it. I had met in London with an Indian gypsy named NANO, who informed me that in India he had belonged to a wandering tribe or race who called themselves Rom, or Romani, who spoke Romani jib, and who were the Gypsies of the Gypsies. I have in my possession a strange Hindu knife with an enormously broad blade, six inches across towards the end, with a long handle richly mounted in bronze with a little silver. I never could ascertain till I knew NANO what it had been used for. Even the old king of Oude, when he examined it, went wrong and was uncertain. Not so the gypsy. When he was in my library, and his keen black eyes rested on it, he studied it for a moment, and then said: "I know well enough that knife. I have seen it before; it is very old, and it was long in use—it was the knife used by the public executioner in Bhotan. It is Bhotanî."
NANO had volunteered the explanation, and whatever his moral character might be, he was not given to romantic invention. Time passed, I went to America, stayed there four years, and returned. In 1888 I became a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Art, and was on the Central Committee. One day we had a meeting at the house of a distinguished architect. When it was over, my host showed me his many treasures of art or archæology. While examining these, my attention was attracted by an Indian knife. It was precisely like mine, but smaller. I asked what it was, and learned that it had long been used in some place in the East for the express purpose of sacrificing
young girls. And in all respects It was what we might call the feminine counterpart of my knife. And if I ever had any lingering doubt as to the accuracy of NANO's account, it disappeared when I saw the one whose history was perfectly authentic. A few years ago in Heidelburg there were sold at auction a great number of executioners' swords, some of which had been used for centuries. A gentleman who had a special fondness for this kind of bric-à-brac, had for many years collected them.
It may be here observed that the knife forms a special feature in all witch-lore, and occurs frequently among the Hungarian and Italian gypsy charms, or spells. It is sometimes stuck into a table, while a spell is muttered, protesting that it is not the wood which one wishes to hurt; but the heart of an enemy. Here the knife is supposed in reality to have an indwelling spirit which will pass to the heart or health of the one hated. In Tam O'Shanter there is a knife on the witches' table, and in Transylvania, as in Tuscany, a new knife, not an old one, is used in divers ceremonies. Sometimes an old and curious knife becomes an amulet and is supposed to bring luck, although the current belief is that any pointed gift causes a quarrel.
But to return to the fetish or pocket-deity which is worn in so many forms, be they written scrolls, crosses, medals or relics—cést tout un. Continental gypsies are notable believers in amulets. Being in a camp of very wild Cigany in Hungary a few years ago, I asked them what they wore for bakt, or luck; whereupon they all produced small seashells, which I was assured were potent against ordinary misfortunes. But for a babe which was really ill they had provided an "appreciable" dose in the form of three Maria Theresa silver dollars, which were hung round its neck, but hidden under its clothes. And I may here remark that all through many lands, even into the heart of Africa, this particular dollar is held in high esteem for magical purposes. From one to another the notion has been transferred, and travellers and traders are often puzzled to know why the savages will have no coin
save this. From Russia to the Cape it is the same story, and one to be specially studied by those ethnologists who do not believe in transmission, and hold that myths and legends are of local growth and accounted for by similar local conditions.
The gypsies were very desirous to know what my charm was. Fortunately I had in my pocket a very fine fossil shark's tooth which I had purchased in Whitby, and this was greatly admired by the learned of the tribe. Mindful of good example, I obtained for myself specimens of the mystic shells, foreseeing that they would answer as passes and signs among the fraternity in Germany and elsewhere. Which, indeed, came to pass a few days ago in the town of Homburg, when looking from my window in the Schwedenpfad I saw two very honest-looking gypsies go by. Walking forth, I joined them, and led them into a garden, where over beer and cigars we discussed "the affairs of Egypt." These Romanys were from the Tyrol, and had the frank bold manner of the mountain-men blended with the natural politeness of the better class of gypsy. I had taken with me in my pocket, foreseeing its use, a small bag or purse, containing an assortment of objects such as would have puzzled anybody except a Red Indian, a negro, or any believer in medaolin or Voodoo, or my new acquaintance; and after a conversation on dúrkepen (in Anglo-gypsy, dukkerin) or fortune-telling, I asked the men what they wore. They wished to see my amulets first. So I produced the shells; which were at once recognized and greatly admired, especially one, which is something of a curiosity, since in its natural markings is the word NAV very plainly inscribed: Nav, in gypsy, meaning "the name." The elder gypsy said he had no charm; he had long been seeking a good one, but had not as yet met with the correct article. And then he begged me-gracious powers, how he did beg!—to bestow on him one of my shells. I resolved to do so—but at another time.
The younger gypsy, who was a pasche-paskero, a musician, and had with him a rare old violin in a wonderfully carved wooden case at least two centuries old, was "all right" on the fetish question. He had his
shell, sewn up in a black leather bag, which he wore by a cord round his neck. Then I exhibited my small museum. Every object in it was carefully and seriously examined. My shark's tooth was declared to be a very good fetish, a black pebble almost equal to the shell, and an American Indian arrow-head of quartz passed muster as of possible though somewhat doubtful virtue. But an English sixpence with a hole in it was rejected as a very petty and contemptible object. I offered it in vain as a present to my friends: they would not accept it. Neither did they want money: my dross might perish with me. It was the shell—the precious beautiful little shell on which the Romany in search of a fetish had set his heart; the shell which would bring him luck, and cause him to be envied, and ensure him admiration in the tents of the wanderers from Paris to Constantinople. He admitted that it was the very shell of shells—a baro seréskeri sharkûni, or famous sea-snail. I believe the gypsies would have given me their fine old Stainer violin and the carved case for it. Failing to get the shell, he implored me to give him the black pebble. I resolved to give him both in free gift the next time we met, or as a parting souvenir. Alas for the Romany chal!—we never met again. The police allow no gypsies in Homburg, and so they had to move on. I sought them that night and I sought them next day; but they were over the hills and far away. But I have no doubt that the fame of the shell on which Nature has written the Name—the very logos of magic itself—spread ere the summer was past even to the Carpathians. Something tells me that it is not played out yet, and that I shall hear anon something regarding it.
The cult of the shell is widely spread. One day in a public-house, in the West End of London, I, while taking my glass of bitter, entered into conversation with a rather tall, decently-attired brunette Alsatian girl, who spoke French and German, and who knew a few words of Romany, which she said she had picked up by accident—at least she professed not to be gypsy, and to know no more. Being minded to test the truth of this, I casually exhibited one of my shells
and said it was a Hungarian gypsy amulet for la bonne fortune. She began to beg earnestly for it, without getting it. On several occasions at long intervals, when I met her in the street, she again implored me for the treasure, saying that she believed "if she had it, her luck would turn to good." And, being convinced of her gypsyism, I said, "It will do you no good unless you have faith." To which she replied, in a tone which indicated truth itself: "But I have faith—absolute, entire faith in it." Which seeing, and finding that she was a true convert to the power of the holy shell, I gave it to her with my blessing, knowing that it would be a joy and comfort to her in all the trial, of life.
This reminds me that I have seen, and indeed possess, a pearl-shell bearing the image of Saint Francis of Assisi, such as is sold by thousands at his shrine, and which are supposed to possess certain miraculous innate or intrinsic virtues. Thus, if worn by children, they are a cure for croup.—Ah—but that is a very different thing, you know."
An idol is an object, generally an image, worshipped for its own sake—being supposed to not only represent a god, but to have some immanent sanctity. The Catholic priest, and for that matter all Brahmins or bonzes, assure us that their sacred images are "only symbols, not regarded as really dwelling-places of divinity." They are not, so to speak, magnified amulets. Yet how is it that, if this he true, so many images and pictures are regarded and represented by priests as being able of themselves by the touch to cure tooth-ache, and all other ills which flesh and bones are heirs to. Why is one image especially good for tooth-ache, while another of the same person cures cramp? Why, if they are all only "symbols," is one more healing or holy than another? How can our Lady of Embrun be of greater aid than our Lady of Paris? The instant we ascribe to an image or a shell real power to act, we make of it an inspired being in itself, and all the sophistry in the world as to its being a means of faith, or a symbol, or
causing a higher power to act on the suppliant, is rubbish. The devotee believes tout bonnement that the image works the cure, and if he did not, any other image of the Virgin or Saint would answer the same purpose. This chaff has been thrashed out a thousand times—or many tens of thousand times in vain,—as vain so far as effects go as is the remarkably plain First Commandment. And it will last, while one fetish endures, that the hierophant will call it a mere "symbol," and the ignorant worshipper, absolutely unable to comprehend him, will worship the symbol as the thing itself—as he is really expected to do.
According to J. B. FRIEDRICH, "Symbolik der Natur," the seashell, on account of its being a product of the sea, or of the all-generating moisture; and much more probably from its shape, is an emblem of woman herself. Therefore as 'Venus, Love's goddess, was born of the sea," shells are dedicated to her. ("Museo Bourbonico," Vol. vi. p. 10. KUGLER, "Handbuch Geschichte der Malerei," Berlin, 1837, Vol. iv. p. 311. Also translated by Sir H. AUSTIN LAYARD). Being one of the great emblems of productive Nature, or of life and light, and opposed to barrenness, absence of pleasure, darkness, or negation, it was of course a charm against witchcraft or evil. That the gypsies have retained it as a powerful agent for "luck," is extremely interesting, showing to what a degree they are still influenced by the early symbolism which effectively formed not one but many mythologies. Among the Hungarian gypsies the virtue or magical power of a shell is in proportion to the degree of resemblance above mentioned, which it possesses, as Wlislocki expressly declares.
This association of shells, with the mysterious and magical, is to be found among gypsies in the East, as is shown by the following: from my work entitled "The Gypsies." It describes something which I saw many times in Cairo—
"Beyond the door which, when opened, gave this sight, was a dark, ancient archway, twenty yards long, which opened on the glaring, dusty street, where camels with their drivers, and screaming saïs or carriage-runners and donkey-boys and crying
venders kept up the wonted Oriental din. But in the archway, in its duskiest corner, there sat in silence and immovable, a living picture-a dark, handsome woman, of thirty years, who was unveiled. She had before her on the gateway floor, a square of cloth and a few shells. Sometimes an Egyptian of the lower class stopped, and there would be a grave consultation. She was a fortune-teller, and from the positions which the shells assumed when thrown she predicted what would come to pass. And then there would be a solemn conference and a thoughtful stroking of the beard, if the applicant was a man, and then the usual payment to the oracle, and a departure. And it was all world-old primæval Egyptian, as it was Chaldæan, for the woman was a Rhagarin, or gypsy, and as she sat so sat the diviners of ancient days by the wayside, casting shells for auspices, even as arrows were cast of old, to be cursed by Israel.
"It is not remarkable that among the myriad manteias of olden days there should have been one by shells. The sound of the sea when heard in a nautilus or conch is marvellously—like that of ocean surges murmuring far."
"Shake me and it awakens—then apply
Its polished lips to your attentive ear,
And it remembers its august abodes
And murmurs as the ocean murmurs there."
All of this is very strange to children and not less so to all unsophisticated folk, and I can remember how in boyhood I was told and listened with perfect faith to the distant roaring, and marvelled at the mystery of the ocean song being thus for ever kept alive inland. The next step to this is to hear in the sea-murmuring something like voices, and this is as curious as it is true—that if the mind be earnestly given to it, and the process be continued for a long time during several days, many persons, and probably all in time, will come to distinguish or hear human utterances and eventually words. There is no special faith required here; the mind even of the most sceptical or unimaginative will often turn back on itself, and by dint of mere perseverance produce such effects. An old pitcher or jug of a peculiar shape is also declared to be admirably adapted for this purpose, and I have one of Elizabeth's time which was trawled up from the sea near Lowestoft which would fulfil every requisition.
In 1886 I was by moonlight in a camp of gypsies in the old Roman amphitheatre near Budapest. It was a very picturesque sight, what with
the blazing fire, the strangely-dressed men, the wild shrieking, singing, and dancing women. And when, as I have before mentioned, they showed me the shells which they carried for amulets, they exhibited one much larger o conch-like form, the tip of which had been removed and to which there was attached a flexible tube. This was used in a very remarkable trick. The shell, or one like it, is put into the hands of the person consulting the oracle, who is directed to listen to the voice of the Nivashi, or spirit of the air. Then he is blindfolded, the tube applied, and through it the gypsy speaks in a trained soft voice. Thus, in conchomanteia, the oracles still live and devotees still hear the fairies talk.
Now, be it observed that hearing is the most deceptive of the senses—as the reader may have seen exemplified by a lecturer, when the audience were persuaded that he was fiddling on one cane with another, or blowing a flute tune on one, when the music was made by a confederate behind a screen. I myself, a few days since, when in the Köppern Thal, verily believed I heard the murmur and music of children's voices—when lo! it proved to be the babbling brook. Some years ago—I forget where it happened in England, but I guarantee the truth of what I tell—it was found that the children in a certain village were in the habit of going to an ancient tomb in which there was a round hole, putting their ears to it, and, as they said, of listening to what the dead people were saying. It is facile enough to understand that among them there would be some whose unconscious creative faculty would lead them to literally hearing words or songs. There is another ancient and beautiful mystical association with shells. The conch when pierced formed a trumpet, whose notes seemed to be allied to the murmuring of the wind and waves heard in the shell when applied to the ear. The sea-god Triton blew upon a shell—"meaning thereby the roaring of the waves." "And in analogous wise a shell is represented on the Tower of the Winds in Athens, to represent Boreas, the north-east wind, and the roaring of the storm" (MILLIN, "Gallerie Mythologique"). The resemblance of wind to the human voice has probably occurred to every human being, and has furnished
similes for every poet. That these voices should be those of spirits is a natural following. So the last Hebrew oracle, the Bath Kol, or Daughter of the Voice, survives in shells and lives in gypsy-lore. And so we find in rags and patches on the garments of Egyptian fellahin the edges of Pharaoh's garment, which in olden time it was an honour for kings to kiss.
Deception of this kind by means of voices, apparently supernatural, is of great antiquity. The high priest Savan the Asmunian, of Egypt, is said to have used acoustic tubes for this purpose, and it is very evident that the long corridors or passages in the stone temples must have suggested it as well as whispering galleries. The Hebrew Cabalists are believed to have made one form of the mysterious Teraphim by taking the head of a child and so preparing it by magic ceremonies that when interrogated it would reply. These ceremonies consisted in fact of skilfully adjusting a phonetic tube to the head. It is very probable that the widely-spread report of this oracle gave rise to the belief that the Jews slaughtered and sacrificed children. "Eliphaz Levi," or the Abbé Constant, a writer of no weight whatever as an authority, but not devoid of erudition, and with occasional shrewd insights, gives it as his belief that the terrible murders of hundreds of children by Gilles de Retz—the absurdly so-called original of Blue-beard—were suggested by a recipe for sanguinary sorcery, drawn from some Hebrew Cabalistical book. Nicephorus (Lib. 7 c. 33) and Cedrenus, as cited by Grosius in his "Magica" (1597), tell us that when Constantine was ill a number of children were collected to be slain that the emperor might bathe in their blood (in quo si se Imperator ablueret, certo recuperaret), and that because he was moved by the tears of their mothers to spare their lives, was restored to health by the saints. It seems to have escaped the attention of writers that at the very time during the Middle Ages when the Jews were being most bitterly persecuted for offering children at the Passover, it was really a common thing among Christians to sacrifice children, maids, or grown-up people, by burying them alive under the foundations of castles, &c., to insure their stability—a ghastly sacrifice, which in after-times took the form of walling-up a
cock and finally an egg. But from an impartial and common-sense standpoint: there could be no difference between the sacrifice of a child by a Cabalist and the torturing and burning witches and heretics by ecclesiastics, unless, indeed, that the latter was the wickeder of the two, since the babes were simply promptly killed, while the Inquisitors put their victims to death with every refinement of mental and physical torture. Both Cabalist and priest were simply engaged in different forms of one and the same fetish-work which had been handed down from the days of witchcraft. Nor did Calvin, when he burnt Servetus, differ in anything from a Voodoo sacrificing "a goat without horns."
Punishing a heretic to please or placate the Deity differs in nothing from killing any victim to get luck. Other sentiments may be mingled with this "conjuring," but the true foundation of black witchcraft (and all witchcraft is black which calls for blood, suffering, starvation, and the sacrifice of natural instincts), is the mortar of the fear of punishment, and the stones of the hope of reward, the bulk of the latter being immeasurably greater than that of the former, which is a mere Bindemittel, or means of connection.
It is remarkable that nowhere, not even in England, do the gypsies regard the witch as utterly horrible, diabolical, and damnable. She is with them simply a woman who has gained supernatural power, which she uses for good or misuses for evil according to her disposition. The witch of the Church—Catholic or Protestant—when closely examined is a very childish conception. She sets forth personal annoyance without any regard whatever as to whether it is really good in disguise or a natural result of our own follies. Thus witches caused thunder-storms, which, because they were terrifying and more or less destructive, were seriously treated by the Church as unmitigated evils, therefore as phenomena directly due to the devil and his servants. Theology the omniscient did not know that storms cleared the air. Witches were responsible for all pestilences, and very often for all disorders of any kind—as it was very convenient for the ignorant leech to attribute to sorcery or moral delinquency
or to God a disease which he could not cure. For "Theology, the science of sciences," had not as yet ascertained that plagues and black deaths, and most of the ills of man are the results of neglect of cleanliness, temperance, and other sanitary laws. It is only a few years since a very eminent clergyman and president of a college in America attributed to "Divine dispensation" the deaths of a number of students, which were directly due to palpable neglect of proper sanitary arrangements by the reverend gentleman himself, and his colleagues. But, admitting the "divine dispensation," according to the mediæval theory, the president, as the agent, must have been a "wizard"—or conjuror—a delusion which the most superficial examination of his works would at once dissipate. But to return—there can be no denial whatever that according to what is admitted to be absolutely true to-day by everybody, be he orthodox or liberal, witches, had they existed, must have been agents of God, busied in preventing plagues instead of causing them—by raising storms which cleared the air. Even the Algonkin Indians knew more than the Church in this respect, for they have a strange old legend to the effect that when the god of Storms, Wuch-ow-sen, the giant eagle, was hindered by a magician from his accustomed work, the sea and air grew stagnant, and people died. 1 The witch was simply another form of the Hebrew Azrael, God's Angel of Death.
Which may all lead to the question: If a belief in witches as utterly evil servants of the devil could be held as an immutable dogma of the Church and a matter of eternal truth for eternal belief-to prove which there is no end of ingenious argument and an appalling array of ecclesiastical authority cited in the black-letter "Liber de Sortilegiis" Of PAULUS GRILLANDUS, now lying before me (Lyons, 1547), as well as in the works of SPRENGER, BODINUS, DELRIO, and the Witch-bull of Pope Innocent—and if this belief be now exploded even among the priests, what proof have we that any of the dogmas which went with it are absolutely and for ever true? This is the question of dogmatik, versus development or evolution, and witchcraft
is its greatest solvent. For when people believe, or make believe, in a thing so very much as to torture like devils and put to death hundreds of thousands of fellow-beings, mostly helpless and poor old women, not to mention many children, it becomes a matter of very serious import to all humanity to determine once for all whether the system or code according to which this was done was absolutely right for ever, or not. For if it was true, these executions and the old theory of witchcraft were all quite right, as the Roman Church still declares, since the Pope has sanctioned of late years several very entertaining works in which modern spiritualists, banjo-twangers, table-turners, &c., are declared to be really wizards, who perform their stupendous and appalling miracles directly by the aid of devils. And, by the way, somebody might make an interesting work not only on the works in the Index Librum Prohibitorum, which it entails seventy-six distinct kinds of damnation to read, but also on those which the Pope sanctions—I believe, blesses. Among the later of the latter is one which pretends to prove that Jews do really still continue to sacrifice Christian children at the Passover feast—and, for aught I know, to eat them, fried in oil, or "buttered with goose-grease"—apropos of which, I marvel that the Hebrews, instead of tamely denying it, do not boldly retort on the Christians the charge of torturing their own women and children to death as witches, which was a thousand times wickeder than simply bleeding them with a pen-knife, as young Hugh of Lincoln was said to have been disposed of by the Jew's daughter.
But people all say now—that was the age, and the Church was still under the influence of barbarism, and so on. Exactly; but that admission plainly knocks down and utterly destroys the whole platform of dogmatism and the immutable and eternal truth of any dogma whatever, for it admits evolution—and to seize on its temporary fleeting forms and proclaim that they are immutable, is to mistake the temporal for the eternal, the infinitesimal fraction for the whole. This is not worshipping GOD, the illimitable, unknown tremendous Source of Life, but His minor
temporary forms, "essences," or "angels," as the Cabalists termed the successive off-castings of His manifestations.
In Being's flood, in action's storm,
I work and weave—above, beneath,
Work and weave in endless motion
Birth and death, an infinite ocean
A seizing and giving
The fire of the living.
'Tis thus at the roaring loom of Time I ply
And weave for God the garment thou seest Him by.
Now there are infinite numbers of these garments, but none of them are GOD, though the Church declared that what they had of them were truly Divine. So Oriental princes sent their old clothes to distant provinces to be worshipped, as GESSLER sent his hat: it is an old, old story, and one which will be long repeated in many lands.
I have, not far back, mentioned a work on witchcraft by PAULUS GRILLANDUS. Its full title is "Tractatus de Hereticis et sortilegiis, omnifariam Coitio eorumque penis. Item de Questionibus et Tortura ac de Relaxatione Carceratorum"—that is, in brief, a work on Heretics, Witches breakers of the Seventh Commandment of all kinds, Examination by Torture, and Imprisonment. It was a leading vade mecum, or standard guide, in its time for lawyers and the clergy, especially the latter, and reads as if it had come from the library of hell, and been written by a devil, though composed, according to the preface, to promote the dignity and glory of the Christian Church. I can well believe that a sensitive humane person could be really maddened by a perusal and full comprehension of all the diabolical horrors which this book reveals, and the glimpses which it gives of what must have been endured literally by millions of heretics and "witches," and all men or women merely accused by anybody of any kind of "immorality," especially of "heresy." I say suspected or accused—for either was sufficient to subject a victim to horrible agonies until he or she confessed. What is most revolting is the calm, icy-cold-blooded
manner in which the most awful, infernal cruelties are carefully discussed—as, for instance, if one has already had any limbs amputated for punishment whether further tortures may then be inflicted? It is absolutely a relief to find that among the six kinds of persons legally exempted from the rack, &c.—there are only six and these do not include invalids—are pregnant women. But such touches of common humanity are rare indeed in it. I do not exaggerate in the least when I say that the whole spirit of this work—which faithfully reflects the whole spirit of the "justice" of the Middle Ages—inclines in a ferocious, wolfish manner to extend and multiply punishment of the most horrible kinds to every small offence against the Church—to manufacture and increase crime as if it were capital for business, and enlarge the sphere of torture so as to create power and awe.
Nous avons changé tout cela, say the descendants of those fiends in human form. But if it was wrong then why did you do it if you were infallible inspired judges? And if you now believe that to be atrocious which was once holy, and a vast portion of your whole system, how can you say that the Church does not follow the laws of evolution and progress—and if so, where will it stop? It is a curious reflection that if the Pope and Cardinals of 1890 had lived four hundred years ago they would (with the exception, perhaps, of the Spaniards) have all been burned alive for heresy. Which is literally true.
Within a minute's walk from where I sit and indeed visible from my window in this town of Homburg vor der Höhe, are two round towers of other days—grim and picturesque relics of the early Middle Ages. One is called the Hexenthurm or Witches' Tower. In it gypsies, witches, and heretics were confined—it was the hotel specially reserved for them when they visited Homburg, and in its cells which are of the smallest between walls of the thickest, I or you, reader, Might be confined to-day, but for one MARTIN LUTHER and certain laws of evolution or progress of which Paulus Grillandus did not dream.
As I was sketching the tower, an old woman told me that there were many strange tales about it. That I can well believe but I dare
say they are all summed up in the following ballad from the German of HEINE
"FOLKS said when my granny Eliza bewitched,
She must die for her horrid transgression;
Much ink from his pen the old magistrate pitched,
But he could not extort a confession.
And when in the kettle my granny was thrown
She yelled 'Death' and 'Murder!' while dying.
And when the black smoke all around us was blown.
As a raven she rose and went flying.
Little black grandmother, feathered so well,
Oh, come to the tower where I'm sitting
Bring cakes and bring cheese to me here in the cell,
Through the iron-barred window flitting.
Little black grandmother, feathered and wise,
Just give my aunt a warning,
Lest she should come flying and pick out my eyes
When I merrily swing in the morning."
HORST in his "Dæmonomagie," a History of the Belief in Magic, Demoniac marvels, Witchcraft, &c., gives the picture of a Witch-tower, at Lindheim in the Wetterau, with all its terrible history, extracted from the town archives. It is a horrible history of torturing and burning at the stake of innumerable women of all ages, the predominant feature
being that any accusation by anybody whatever, or any rumour set afloat in any way, amply sufficed to bring an enemy to death, or to rob a person who had money. Hysterical women and perverse or eccentric children frequently originated these accusations merely to bring themselves into notice.
There was till within a few years a Witches' Tower in Heidelberg. It was a very picturesque structure in an out-of-the-way part of the town, in nobody's way, and was therefore of course pulled down by the good Philistine citizens, who have the same mania in Heidelberg as "their ignorant-like" in London, Philadelphia, or any other town, for removing all relics of the olden time.
In connection with sorcery and gypsies, it is worth observing that ill 1834 the latter, in Swabia, or South Germany, frequently went about among the country-people, with puppet-shows, very much of the Punch kind, and that they had a rude drama of Faust, the great wizard, which had nothing to do with that of Goethe. It was derived from the early sources, and had been little by little gypsified into a melodrama peculiar to the performers. August Zoller, in his "Bilder aus Schwaben" (Stuttgard, 1834), gives the following description of it. The book has a place in all Faust libraries, and has been kept alive by this single passage:—
"There is a blast of a trumpet, and the voice of a man proclaims behind the scenes that the play is to begin. The curtain is drawn, and Faust leaning against the background—which represents a city-soliloquizes!
"'I am the cleverest doctor in the world, but all my cleverness does not help me to make the beautiful princess love me, I will call up Saran front the under-world to aid me in my plans to win her. Devil—I call thee!'
"Meanwhile Faust's servant—the funny man—has entered and amused the public with comical gestures. The appearance of the devil is announced by a firework (Sprühteufel) fizzing and cracking. He descends from the air, there being no arrangements for his coming up. The servant bursts into a peal of laughter, and the devil asks:
"'Faust thou hast called me; now, what is thy wish?'
"'I love the lovely princess—canst thou make her love me?'
"'Nothing is easier. Cut thy finger and sign to me thy life; then all my devilish art will be at thy service till thou hast committed four murders.'
"Faust and the devil fly forth, the servant making sarcastic remarks as to the folly of his master, and the curtain falls.
"In the second act the fair princess enters—she is three times as large as Faust, but bewails his absence in a plaintive voice and departs. Faust enters and calls for a Furio who shall carry him to Mantua. Enter three Furios (witches) who boast their power. 'I can carry you as swiftly as a moor-cock flies,' says one. This is not swift enough for Faust. 'I fly as fast as bullet from a gun,' says the second. The master answers:
"'A right good pace, but not enough for Faust.' To the third: 'How fast art thou?'
"'As quick as Thought.'
"'That will suffice—there's naught so swift as Thought. Bear me to Mantua, to her I love, the princess of my heart!'
"The Furio takes Faust on her back, and they fly through the air. The servant makes, as before, critical and sarcastic remarks on what has passed, and the curtain falls.
"In the third act the devil persuades Faust to murder his father, so as to inherit his treasures, 'for the old man has a tough life.' In the fourth, maddened by jealousy, he stabs the Princess and her supposed lover. The small sarcastic servant takes the murdered pair by the legs, and drags them about, cracking jokes, and giving the corpses cuff's on their ears to bring them again to life.
"In the fifth act, the clock strikes eleven. Faust has now filled to the brim the measure of his iniquity. The devil appears, proves to him that it is time to depart; it strikes twelve; the smoke of a fizzling squib and several diabolical fire-crackers fills the air, and Faust is carried away, while the small servant, as satanical and self-possessed as ever, makes his jokes on the folly of Faust—and the curtain falls."
This is the true Faust drama of the Middle Ages, with the ante-Shakespearian blending of tragedy and ribald fun. But this same mixture is found to perfection in the early Indian drama—for instance, in "Sakuntala"—and it would be indeed a very curious thing should it be discovered that the gypsies, who were in all ages small actors and showmen of small plays, had brought from the East some rude drama of a sorcerer, who is in the end cheated by his fiend. Such is, in a measure, the plot of the Baital Pachisi or Vikram and the Vampire, which is borrowed from or founded on old traditions, and the gypsies, from their familiarity with magic, and as practical actors, would, in all probability, have a Faust play of some kind, according to the laws of cause and effect. In any case the suggestion may be of value to some investigator.
Gypsies in England—that is those "of the old sort"—regard a shoestring as a kind of amulet or protection. Many think it is unlucky to
have one's photograph taken but no harm can come of it if the one who receives the picture gives the subject a shoe-string or a pair of laces.
Dr. F. S. KRAUSS in his curious work, "Sreća, or Fortune and Fate in the popular belief of the South Slavonians" (Vienna, 1886), draws a line of distinction between the fetish and amulet. "The fetish," he declares, "has virtue from being the dwelling of a protecting spirit. The amulet, however, is only a symbol of a higher power," that is of a power whose attention is drawn by or through it to the believer or wearer. This, however, like the distinction between idolatry and worshipping images as symbols of higher beings, becomes in the minds of the multitude (and for that matter, in all minds), a distinction without a dot of difference. The amulet may "rest upon a higher range of ideas, while the fetish stands on its own feet," but if both are regarded as bringing luck, and if, for instance, one rosary or image of the same person is believed to bring more luck than another, it is a fetish and nothing else. An amulet may pretend to be a genteeler kind of fetish, but they are all of the same family.
The gypsies prepare among the Bosniacs, "on the high plains of Malwan," a fetish in the form of a cradle made of nine kinds of wood, to bring luck to the child who sleeps in it. But Dr. KRAUSS falls, I presume, into a very great error, when he attributes to her Majesty the Queen of England a belief in fetish, on the strength of the following remarkable pas sage from the Wiener Allgemeine Zeitung:—
"By command of Queen VICTORIA, Mr. MARTIN, Director of the Institute for the Blind, has attended to the making a cradle for the newly-born child of the Princess of Battenberg. The cradle is to be made entirely by blind men and women. The Queen firmly believes that objects made by blind people bring luck."
Truly, if anything could bring luck it ought to be something ordered with a kind and charitable view from poor and suffering people, but it is rather hard to promptly conclude that her Majesty believes in fetish because she benevolently ordered a cradle from the blind, and that she had no
higher motive than to get something which would bring luck to her grandchild.
It may be observed in connection with this superstition that among the Hungarian gypsies several spells depend on using different kinds of wood, and that four are said to have been taken for the true cross.
Gypsies, in common with the rest of the "fetishioners" of all the world, believe in the virtue of a child's caul. Dr. KRAUSS found in Kobaš on the Save an amulet which contained such a caul with garlic and four-leaved clover. This must have been a very strong charm indeed, particularly if the garlic was fresh.
Another very great magic protector in every country among gypsies as well as Gentiles, is the thunderbolt, known in Germany as the Donneraxt, Donnerstein, Donnerkeil, Albschoss, Strahlstein, and Teufelsfinger. It was called by the Greeks Astropelákia, by the Latins Gemma cerauniæ, by the Spaniards Piedras de rayo, by the dwellers in the French High Alps Peyras del tron (pierres de tonerre), by the Birmans Mogio (the child of lightning), by the Chinese Ra-fu-seki (the battle-axe of Tengu, the guardian of Heaven), by the Hindoos Swayamphu, or "the self-originated." Dr. KRAUSS, from whom I have taken these remarks, adds that in America and Australia it is also regarded as a charm protective and luck-bringing. But here there is a confusion of objects. The thunderbolt described by Dr. KRAUSS is, I believe, a petrified shell, a kind of mucro or belemnite. The thunderbolt of the Red Indians really resembles it, but is entirely different in its nature. The latter results from lightning entering the sand fusing it. It sometimes makes in this way a very long tube or rod, with a point. People, finding these, naturally believed that they were thunderbolts. I knew an old Penobscot Indian who, seeing the lightning strike the earth, searched and found such a thunderbolt, which he greatly prized. In process of time people who found mucrones in rocks believed them to be the same as the glass-like points of fused sand which they so much resembled.
The so-called thunderbolt is confused with the prehistoric stone axe,
both bearing the same name in many lands. As this axe is often also a hammer it is evident that it may have been sacred to Thor. "The South Slavonian"—or gypsy—"does not distinguish," says Dr. KRAUSS, "between the thunderbolt and prehistoric axe. He calls both strelica. The possession of one brings luck and prosperity in all business, but it must be constantly carried on the person. Among the "thirties" there lived in Gaj in Slavonia a poor Jewish peddler named DAVID. Once he found a strelica. He always carried it about with him. The peasants envied him greatly its possession. They came to him in the market-place and cried, "Al si sretan, Davide!" ("Ha, how lucky thou art, David!") The Slavonian Jews called him, for a joke, "Strelica."
The prehistoric axe was probably regarded as gifted with fetish power, even in the earliest age, especially when it was made of certain rare materials. Thus among the Red Indians of Massachusetts stone "tomahawks" of veined, petrified wood were specially consecrated to burial-places, while in Europe axe-heads of jade were the most coveted of possessions. A. B. MEYER has written a large work, "Jade und Nephrit Objecte aus dem Ethriographische Museum zu Dresden, America und Europe" (Leipzig, 1882). It has always been supposed that the objects of true jade came only from Tartary, and I believe that I was the first person to discover that it existed in quantities in Western Europe. The history of this "finding" is not without interest.
It has been usual—it is said for a thousand years—for pilgrims to Iona to bring away with them as souvenirs a few green pebbles of a peculiar kind, and to this day, as every tourist will remember, the children who come to the steamboat offer handsful of them for sale. When I was there many years ago—in Iona—I also went away with perhaps twenty of them. One evening, after returning to London, there were at my home three Chinese gentlemen attached to the Legation. The conversation turned on Buddhist pilgrimages and Fusang, and the question, founded on passages in the Chinese annals, as to whether certain monks had really passed from the Celestial Kingdom to Mexico in the fifth century and returned. This
reminded me of Iona, and I produced my green pebbles, and told what I knew about them.
My visitors regarded the stones with great interest and held an animated conversation over them in Chinese, which I did not understand. Observing this I made them presents of the pebbles, and was thanked with an earnestness which seemed to me to be out of all proportion to the value of the gifts. Thinking this over the next day, I wrote to the clergyman at Iona asking him to be so kind as to send me some of the pebbles, and offering to pay for them. He did so, sending me by mail a box of the stones. Two or three were very pretty, one especially. It is of a dark green colour and slightly transparent.
Two years after, when in Philadelphia, meeting with an old friend, Dr. JOSEPH LEIDY, well known as a man of science, and, inter alia, as a mineralogist. I showed him my pebble and asked him what it was. He replied, "It is jade." To my query whether it might not be nephrite he answered no, that it was true jade of fine quality.
Jade is in China a talismanic stone, many occult virtues and luck-bringing qualities being ascribed to it. It is very curious, and possibly something more than a mere chance coincidence, that the green pebbles of Iona were also carried as charms. It would be remarkable if even in prehistoric times, or in the stone age, Iona and Tartary had been connected by superstition and tradition.
Among the gypsies as well as Christians in Servia, nuts, especially those which are heart-shaped (i.e., double), are carried as fetishes or amulets. In very early times a nut, as containing like a seed the principle of germination and self-reproduction, was typical of life. Being enclosed in a shell it seemed to be in a casket or box which was of itself a mystical symbol. Hence nuts are often found in ancient graves. There are many stories accordingly in all countries in which a nut or egg is represented as being connected with the life of some particular being or person. The ogre in several tales can live until a certain egg is broken. In the Graubunden or Grisons there is the following legend:—
"Once there lived near Fideriseau a rich peasant. To him came a poor beggar, who asked for alms in vain. Then the man replied, 'If thou wilt give me nothing yet will I give thee something. Thou shalt keep thy treasure and also thy daughter after thee; yea, and for years after she is dead her spirit shall know no rest for taking care of it. But I give thee this nut. Plant it by yonder great stone, thou stony-hearted fool. From the nut will grow a tree, and from the tree twigs from which a cradle will be made in which a child will be rocked who will redeem thy daughter from her penance.' And after the girl died, a spirit of a pale woman with dark hair was seen flying nightly near Fideris, and that for many years, for it takes a long time for an acorn to grow up into an oak. But as she is no longer seen it is believed that the cradle has been made and the child born who became the deliverer."
A. B. Elysseeff, in his very interesting article based on Kounavine's "Materials for the Study of the Gypsies," gives the representation of four gypsy amulets, also "a cabalistic token" that brings good luck to its wearer.
"The amulets," writes M. Elysseeff, "are made of wrought iron and belong to M. Kounavine. The cabalistic sign is designed" (copied?) "by ourselves, thanks to the amiability of a gypsy djecmas (sorcerer) of the province of Novogorod. The amulet A was found by M. Kounavine among the gypsies who roam with their camps in the Ural neighbourhood; some Bessarabian gypsies supplied B; C was obtained from a gypsy sorcerer of the Persian frontier, and D formed a part of some ornaments placed with their dead by gypsies of Southern Russia.
"The cabalistic sign" (vide illustration at head of chapter) "represents roughly a serpent, the symbol of Auromori, the evil principle in gypsy mythology. The figure of an arch surrounded with stars is, according to M. Kounavine, held by the gypsies as symbolizing the earth, the meaning of the triangle A is not known. The moon and stars which surround the earth and which are, so to speak, enclosed in the serpent's coils, symbolize the world lying in evil. This sign is engraved by gypsies upon the plates of the harness of the horses, of garments, and as designed ornaments."
It may be here remarked that the symbolism of M. Kounavine, while it may be quite accurate, must be taken with great reserve. If the "arch" he simply a horse-shoe, all these ornaments, except the serpent, may be commonly found on the trappings of London dray-horses.
"Amulet A, which also represents the sun, the moon, the stars, earth, and a serpent, can equally serve as a symbol of the universe. According to M. Kounavine, Ononi" (the Ammon of the Egyptians) "and Auromori, are symbolized upon this amulet. Amulet B represents a man surrounded by a halo, aided by the moon and the stars, and armed with a sword and
arrows. Beneath is represented the horse; the serpent symbolizes Auromori. As a whole this amulet represents the conflict between the good and evil principle, Jandra (Indra) against Auromori.
"Amulet C represents a gleaming star and the serpent, and is called Baramy (Brama), symbolizing, according to M. Kounavine, the gypsy proto-divinity.
"Or amulet D, which represents a flaming pyre and some hieroglyphics, may also symbolize the prayer addressed to the divinity of the fire."
If these explanations were given by gypsy sorcerers the amulets are indeed very curious. But, abstractly, the serpent, arrows, stars, the moon, an archer, a fox, and a plant, occur, all the world over., on coins or in popular art, with or without symbolism, and I confess that I should have expected something very different as illustrating such a remarkable mythology as that given by M. Kounavine. However, the art of a nation—as, for instance, that of the Algonkin, Indians—may be very far indeed behind its myths and mental conceptions.
242:1 See the "Algonkin Legends of New England," by Charles G. Leland.