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WE have observed, in our first chapter, that magic acts arise from early man's inability to distinguish effect from cause, the part from the whole, that which is like or has been in contact with a person or thing, from the person or thing itself, imaginings about facts from the facts themselves. These turns in thinking, which seem so odd to us, we have ascribed to man's ignorance of the world in which he finds himself--all of which makes him unable to distinguish error from truth. That early man's brain was underdeveloped physiologically may, in a measure, account for this inability to form correct associations and to make logical inferences. However, the precarious life of the savage and the dangers with which he is beleaguered tend to heighten his inability to think correctly.

Note an example, taken from modern times, of such incorrect thinking. Andrew Lang is our informant. He writes: 1 " . . . the arrival of the French missionaries among the Hurons was coincident with certain unfortunate events; therefore it was argued that the advent of the missionaries was the cause of the misfortune." And one example taken from antiquity. Aulus Gellius 2 once attended a dinner given by a poet friend at which shriveled oysters were served. The host thus explained: "The moon, you see, is now waning; oysters, therefore, like certain other things, are scrawny and juiceless." The eyes of cats, too, Gellius informs us, grow larger or smaller according to whether the moon is waxing or waning.

When a person imitates the evil he would repel--grinning like a wolf to ward off wolves, smearing his face with blood to ward off blood and death, making thunderous noises to drive away thunderstorms--anthropologists speak of homoeopathic magic; when he makes use of some object, such as hair or nails, which has been a part of or has been in contact with the individual, the name contagious magic is given. The general term sympathetic magic is applied to both types, for a mysterious sympathy is supposed to exist between the object to be influenced and the object which is like or has been in contact with it. Often the rite is both contagious and homoeopathic at the same time.

In our introductory chapter we discussed one example, taken from primitive magic, of the principles stated above. We shall now add to this an account of two magic rites which, while having no organic connection with the Roman State religion, yet occurred in connection with State rites.

On June first--a day known as the Kalends of the Beans--the pontiffs sacrificed to a somewhat obscure goddess of great antiquity, Carna, the "Flesh Goddess," in an ancient grove near the Tiber. 3 The goddess, it would seem, had in her care the vital organs of human beings, the heart, liver, and stomach. There was a shrine to Carna on the Caelian Hill which, as the tradition went, Marcus Junius Brutus, in fulfillment of a vow, dedicated to her after the expulsion of Tarquin the Proud. Beans mixed with spelt were sacrificed to Carna because, as Macrobius says, "by these foods especially the powers of the human body are strengthened." The people ate this mixture and fat bacon, foods which, they believed, prevented stomach disorders. 4

We may dismiss, as W. Warde Fowler has done, 5 Ovid's identification of Carna with Cardea, the goddess of the hinge; for quite obviously Ovid made the identification in order to introduce a racy story into his text.

We are particularly interested here in Carna as she survived in popular belief, long after the goddess had ceased to be worshiped. She possessed the powers of a witch and could be invoked to keep off bloodsucking vampires which appeared in the form of screech owls. The rites of riddance, described by Ovid in the case of the infant Procas who became king of Alba Longa, are as follows: 6

"Immediately she (Crane) touches the doorposts three times in succession with a spray of arbutus; three times she marks the threshold with an arbutus spray. She sprinkles the entrance with water (and the water contained a drug). She holds the bloody entrails of a two months' old sow and thus speaks: 'Birds of the night, spare the entrails of the boy. For a small boy a small victim falls. Take heart for heart, I pray, entrails for entrails. This life we give you in place of a better one.'"

Having killed the sow, the witch placed the vital organs in the open air and forbade those attending the rite to look upon them. Then a whitethorn branch was set in a small window which furnished light to the house. After that the child was safe and the color returned to his pallid face.

The principle of similarity in this magic act is evident: the vital organs of the child, which, in early Roman times, were under the care of the goddess Carna, are to be saved by the vicarious offering of a sow. The pig was frequently thus used. A similar substitution is to be seen in the ceremony of treaty-making, preserved in Livy, where the spokesman for the Roman side strikes a sacrificial pig, uttering these words the while: 7 "If (the Roman people) shall be the first to defect (from the terms of the treaty) . . . then do you, Diespiter, so strike the Roman people as I shall here to-day strike this pig."

In the magic rites of Crane there is no mention of a divinity--an important fact, of which we shall take notice in our next chapter. The significant elements of the description for our present use are the sprinkling of purificatory waters, the striking of the door-post and the threshold with arbutus, and the placing of the spray of whitethorn in the window. The belief that whitethorn could keep off the spirits was common in antiquity. Ovid, in the rite which we have just described, says 8 that "by it she (the witch) could drive away sorrow-bringing harm from the doors." The Greeks had such a belief. 9 So, too, many country people in our day use whitethorn to avert evils. 10 Striking and sweeping are universal methods of dispelling evil influences. Hence the witch swept the threshold and the window sill where the vampires would naturally seek entrance.

Another example: On the twenty-first of February, the Feralia, a day on which Roman families concluded their rites in honor of the dead, occurred a curious bit of magic which was intended to silence an enemy. It had no official connection with the ritual of the day, but was appropriate perhaps because, as Frazer facetiously remarks, 11 "the dead . . . are notoriously silent." The picture which Ovid draws  12 is that of an old beldame, surrounded by a group of girls, performing magic rites to Tacita, the Silent Goddess. With three fingers she places three pinches of incense in a mouse's hole under the threshold, probably an offering to the spirits of the dead, which are commonly believed to haunt thresholds. 13 Then, as she utters a spell, she winds woolen threads about a dark-colored lead image of the person whose slanderous tongue she is endeavoring to seal up. Meanwhile, she turns black beans in her mouth. She then takes a fish and smears its head with pitch, pierces it with a bronze needle, and sews it up. As she leaves, she utters these words: "Hostile tongues and enemy lips have we bound."

We have several of the usual magic details in this rite: the number three, incense, beans, woolen threads, the color black, the lead image, bronze, spinning. The object of the performance is to keep a slanderous person from talking. This is accomplished, first, by winding woolen threads around a leaden image of the slanderer. As the old woman thus binds the image, she binds the slanderer. Am incantation assists the magic act. As the mouth of the fish is sewed up, so the mouth of the slanderer will be sealed. The use of the fish in this case is clear: as the person to be affected by the magic is to be rendered silent, a silent creature must be chosen to represent him. Again, thresholds are favorite haunts of departed spirits: hence the appropriateness of the incense offering at that spot.

It is interesting to know in this connection that the punishment meted out in hell by Minos to persons who had been talkative and betrayed secrets was that they should become fishes, that thus, in unending silence, they might atone for the wagging of their tongues. 14

Whether there was actually a goddess Tacita is problematic. Plutarch  15 calls her one of the Muses and says that Numa instituted her worship in honor of the silence enjoined by Pythagoras upon his followers.

We turn now to magic rain-making. We shall first take two examples from Christianity, one from ancient and one from modern times, and one example from modern China. Then we shall discuss a Roman rite of rain-making.

When Marcus Aurelius was leading his forces against the Quadi in 174 A.D., a drought settled upon their country. According to one account, some Christians who happened to be serving under the Roman standards prayed for rain, and forthwith the heavens overflowed. 16 The pagan account of this rainstorm says that an Egyptian magician procured it from Hermes. 17 We do not have to go to antiquity, however, for evidence of supernatural rain-making. Frazer records  18 a case of rain-making by immersing the statue of a saint in water. He writes: "Beside the old priory of Commagny, a mile or two to the southwest of Moulins-Engilbert, there is a spring of St. Gervais, whither the inhabitants go in procession to obtain rain or fine weather according to the needs of the crops. In times of great drought they throw into the basin of the fountain an ancient stone image of the saint that stands in a sort of niche from which the fountain flows."

In the Paris edition of the New York Herald (August 18, 1929) we read of a drought which menaced the crops in one of the Chinese provinces. The rice crops were ruined by lack of rain, and a famine set in. The farmers, backed by the merchants who saw their business in rice endangered, planned a huge meeting for prayer to the god of rain and the god of harvest. The government frowned upon this superstitious practice on the ground that it was out of keeping with the enlightenment of modern China. However, after enduring the opposition for over a month, during which the drought grew worse, the authorities yielded, and the mammoth prayer-meeting was held. Strange to say, rain fell on the day after the meeting, and the farmers naturally ascribed the downpour to their rain god. In token of thankfulness, the people carried the image of the god through the streets.

Ancient peoples, as well as half-civilized tribes of our own day, believed that certain stones, when brought in contact with water, were potent to produce rain.

Outside the walls of Rome, in the vicinity of the temple of Mars, reposed such a stone, perhaps a hollow meteorite, called "the flowing stone" (lapis manalis). 19 When the crops were suffering from lack of rain, the pontiffs, accompanied by the magistrates and their lictors, dragged the stone into the city to the altar of Jupiter Elicius on the Aventine.

Here they drenched it with water, or if, as is generally believed, it was hollow, filled it to overflowing--a rite calculated by sympathetic magic to cause the heavens to overflow. Ovid indicates the magic nature of the rite where he represents Picus and Faunus chanting spells to induce Jupiter to come down from the sky. 20 Petronius represents women, barefoot, with flowing hair, climbing up to the Capitol to petition Jupiter for rain. The god answered their plea, and the women went home as wet as drowned rats. 21 As the setting of the Satyricon is, for the most part, in southern Italy, a Greek rite may be intended. The "flowing stone" in this rite must not be confused with the stone of the same name which, according to Festus, 22 was the gateway to the underworld. Tertullian doubtless has the same or a similar rite in mind when he says: 23 "When the sky is paralyzed and the year is rainless, barefoot processions are declared. The magistrates lay aside the purple, reverse their fasces, offer prayer, and sacrifice a victim." The fact that the magistrates doffed their purple-edged dress and the lictors reversed their fasces points to the conclusion that the rites were believed to lie outside the realm of recognized religion--within the sphere of magic.

In this rite of the aquaelicium, not only does the actual rain-making belong to the realm of magic, but that women were barefoot and had their hair streaming has magic significance as well, a point which we have noticed in our chapters on taboo. Doubtless the stone, representing the sky and not Jupiter Elicius, was at first concerned. The use of a stone to represent the sky was not unusual in Greece. Greek astronomers so employed a stone--a globe resting on a pillar. An Etruscan boundary stone was often spheroidal in shape on a rectangular base, the stone probably representing the sky. Furthermore, meteorites, having fallen from the sky, signified the sky to primitive minds and could quite easily be used to produce rain, because of the habit of incorrect application of the law of the association of ideas.

On March sixteenth and seventeenth, a solemn procession made a circuit of twenty-seven chapels called "Argei" located in various parts of the city of Rome. 24 Rush puppets, bearing the same name, and resembling bound men, were made in the chapels, where they reposed until May fourteenth or fifteenth, when the pontiffs and the generals (praetores) carried them in procession to the Sublician Bridge over the Tiber. Here the Vestals threw them into the river in the presence of the generals and the wife of the Priest of Jupiter, who was in mourning. Ovid records several explanations of the rite which were current in his day: In ancient times, two men had been sacrificed to Saturn, the god of sowing, and thrown into the Tiber; with the coming to Italy of Hercules, who substituted straw puppets for the men, the practice of throwing puppets into the river began. Another account tells how the younger generation of Romans, in order to secure the voting privilege for themselves alone, threw all men who were over sixty years of age from certain bridges, probably--as we read in Festus, 25 who tells the same story--the bridges in the Plain of Mars over which the Romans passed when going to vote. This version, of course, cannot explain a rite which took place, not in the Plain of Mars, but on a bridge over the Tiber. Still another story had it that the followers of Hercules (Argivi), having established themselves in Italy, refused to travel farther with their leader. When one of them was dying, however, the longing for his native land seized him, and he gave instructions that his body should be thrown into the Tiber to be carried to his native shores. The slave who was his heir refused to carry out his master's request and threw a straw puppet into the river in place of his master.

An attempt has been made in modern times to revive the ancient Roman explanation of this rite 26--that the puppets represented, by substitution, a survival of the times when old men had actually been sacrificed and thrown into the Tiber, possibly to pacify the river god for the building of the bridge. We are disposed to follow Fowler, 27 who is convinced that the rite is a case of sympathetic magic, the purpose of which is to produce rain and fertility for the crops. A comparative study of this rite with other magic rites among various peoples strengthens this conclusion.

The magic elements are clear: the straw puppets, made to look like men, were as good as men themselves in a magic rite, whether or not the rite originated in human sacrifice. Again, if the straw represented the products of the earth, the "corn spirit" as it is called, 28 the puppets, when drenched with water, were sufficient to cause rain to fall, just as the "flowing stone" when drenched with water could cause the heavens to overflow. This view is strengthened by the prominent part taken in the rite by the Vestals, who, in all their public duties, were concerned with rites to produce fertility in crops and flocks, and who, as we know, were felt to be possessed of magical powers. The procession involved purification, a magic rite in itself.

On the twenty-fifth of April, at the Festival of Robigus  29 (Robigalia), the spirit of the mildew, a suckling puppy and a sheep were slain in the city in the morning, and the entrails and the blood were carried in the afternoon by the priest of Mars, attended by worshipers clad in white, to the grove of Robigus at the fifth milestone from Rome on the Claudian Road. Here they were offered on an altar, together with unmixed wine and incense, as a burnt sacrifice to the god, with prayer to Robigus to spare the crops and to ward off harm from them. On this day, boys and men participated in foot races. Now we have record of a sacrifice of reddish puppies, offered near an otherwise unknown Puppies' Gate. From the entrails of the puppies, auguries were taken--a rite which, while it may have had an independent origin, probably was identical in historical times with the Festival of the Spirit of the Mildew. The rite was a case of homoeopathic magic--a red dog to keep off the red mildew, or, if you prefer, to bring the crops to ruddy ripeness. Ovid once, when returning to Rome from Nomentum, witnessed the ceremonies of the Festival of the Mildew, and on inquiring their purpose, received answer from the sacrificing priest that the rites were intended to keep off the destructive heat of the Dog Star. Ovid writes: 30 "This dog is set on the altar instead of the star dog, and its mere name is sufficient for it to perish." This statement is illuminating, for it clearly shows the same psychology in the sacrificing priest that we find in the savage performing a magic rite. Because the star is called "Dog" a dog in sacrifice will drive away the star and its heat--a process of homoeopathic magic.

It would seem that Robigus was a form of Mars. Tertullian connects the two in a passage  31 in which he ascribes to Numa the institution of games to Mars and Robigus. We have seen that the priest of Mars officiated at the rites of the Robigalia.

April fifteenth marked one of the most ancient rites of the Romans, the Festival of the Pregnant Cows (Fordicidia). 32 On this day, in historical times, the pontiffs sacrificed pregnant cows (called fordae or hordae) to Earth. Some of the cows were slaughtered on the Capitol for the State, and thirty others in the thirty curiae, one for each curia. The Romans themselves believed that the sacrifice was to produce fertility for the crops. Ovid says:  33 "Now the cattle are heavy with young; the earth, too, is heavy with seed. To the full earth a full victim is given." The magic element underlying the sacrifice is simply this: the cows possessed fertility, and their sacrifice to Earth transferred this fertility to the earth.

The most interesting part of the rite for our study of magic is the tearing of the calves, as yet unborn, from their mothers' wombs, under the supervision of the oldest of the Vestals. These calves were burnt by the Vestal and the ashes were preserved until the Festival of Pales on the twenty-first of April. The blood from a horse known as the October Horse, sacrificed on the Ides of October, was mixed with the ashes of the calves and with sulphur, and some of the mixture was thrown into burning bean stalks, through which man and beast leaped--a rite of purification intended to ward off hostile influence from man and beast and crops, and to induce fertility. The Vestals distributed a portion of the mixture--known as suffimen--at the altar of Vesta as a fertility charm. The ashes of the calves, having come from a prolific mother, were believed to give creative strength to the men and women who used the mixture. 34 Other magic elements in this rite--leaping, bonfires--we shall discuss in a later chapter. 35

At the Festival of Ceres (Cerealia) on April nineteenth, foxes were let loose in the Circus Maximus with torches tied to their backs. Ovid explains  36 the custom by telling a story which he had heard from the lips of a friend at Carseoli. It appears that a boy caught a vixen fox which had been playing havoc among the chickens on his father's farm. To punish the thief, the boy wrapped her in straw and hay and set her afire. The fox managed to escape, and soon flames had seized the crops and destroyed them. This rite has puzzled scholars, and many explanations have been forthcoming. The latest is that of Frazer. 37 He believes that the burning of the fox "was intended to serve as an awful warning to other foxes not to come and poach on the farmer's fields." Doubtless here the familiar principle of similarity offers an explanation of the rite. The fox is red and hence keeps off red foxes and, in fact, anything red, mildew, for example, and fire. The firebrands attached to the wolf's tail assist in warding off the red flames which, in the dry season, would menace the crops and flocks.

Having explained and illustrated the general principles underlying magic acts, we may proceed to a study of magic acts as we find them embedded in the rites of Roman religion.


1 Andrew Lang, Myth, Ritual and Religion, Vol. 1, pp. 94-95.

2 Noctes Atticae XX. 8; see also Pliny, Naturalis Historia II. 41, 109.

3 Ovid, Fasti VI. 101-106.

4 Macrobius, Saturnalia I. 12. 31-33.

5 The Roman Festivals, p. 131.

6 Fasti VI. 155-162. I have already made use of this excerpt in another connection; but its appropriateness for our present purpose compels me to repeat it here.

7 Livy I. 24, 8.

8 Fasti VI. 129-130.

9 See Frazer, The Fasti of Ovid, Vol. IV, p. 142.

10 Frazer, loc. cit.

11 Ibid., Vol. II, p. 446.

12 Fasti II. 571-582.

13 See Frazer, The Fasti of Ovid, Vol. II, pp. 447-448.

14 Claudius Claudianus, In Rufinum II. 488-490.

15 Numa VIII. 6.

16 Tertullian, Apologeticus adversus Gentes pro Cbristianis V; Julius Capitolinus, Marcus Antoninus XXIV. 4.

17 Dion Cassius LXXI. 8-10.

18 The Magic Art, P. 307.

19 Ancient sources for this rite are: Festus: Aquaelicium (Mueller's edition, p. 2); lbid.: Manalem lapidem (p. 128); Tertullian, Apologeticus XL; De Ieiunio XVI; Servius on Vergil's Aeneid III. 175; Varro, De Lingua Latina VI. 94; Livy I. 20, 7; Ovid, Fasti III. 327-328; Arnobius V. I; Plutarch, Numa XV; Pliny, Naturalis Historia II. 140, XXVIII. 14.

20 Fasti III. 324-325. Note that Jupiter, i.e., rain, is to be brought down from heaven by sheer magic.

21 Satyricon XLIV.

22 Manalem lapidem (Mueller's edition, p. 128).

23 De Ieiunio XVI.

24 Ancient sources for this rite are: Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Antiquitates Romanae I. 37, 3; Ovid, Fasti III. 791-792, V. 621-622; Varro, De Lingua Latina V. 45-54, VII. 44; Plutarch, Quaestiones Romanae XXXII; Festus: Sexagenarios (Mueller's edition, P. 334). The best summary of the views of modern scholars is contained in Frazer's note to Ovid, Fasti V. 621-622.

25 Loc. cit.

26 Georg Wissowa, Religion und Kultus der Romer, p. 421.

27 The Roman Festivals, pp. 116-121.

28 See H. J. Rose, Primitive Culture in Italy, pp. 103-io4.

29 For this rite see: Varro, Res Rusticae I. 1, 6, De Lingua Latina VI. 16; Ovid, Fasti IV. 901-942; Servius on Vergil's Georgica I. 151; Columella, De Re Rustica X. 342; Tertullian, De Spectaculis XV; Lactantius I. 20, 17; Festus: Catularia (Mueller's edition, p. 45), Robigalia (p. 267) ; Pliny, Naturalis Historia XVIII. 14; C. I. L. I, pp. 231, 316.

30 Fasti IV. 941-942.

31 De Spectaculis V.

32 For this rite see: Festus: Horda (Mueller's edition, p. 102) Varro, Res Rusticae II. 5, 6-7; De Lingua Latina VI. 15; Lydus, De Mensibus IV. 49 and 72; Ovid, Fasti IV. 629-672, 731-740.

33 Fasti IV. 633-634.

34 See Joannes Lydus, De Mensibus IV. 72.

35 Chapter V.

36 Fasti IV. 681-712.

37 Frazer, The Fasti of Ovid, Vol. III, p. 331; see also Rose, Primitive Culture in Italy, pp. 50-51.

Next: Chapter V: Removing Evils by Magic Acts