Folk-Lore/Volume 2/Manx Folk-Lore and Superstitions
|←Legends of the Lincolnshire Cars||Folk-Lore Volume 2, 1891
Number 3 (September)
Manx Folk-Lore and Superstitions. John Rhys
FOLK-LORE AND SUPERSTITIONS.
THE following paper exhausts no part of the subject: it simply embodies the substance of my notes of conversations which I have had with Manx men and Manx women, whose names, together with such other particulars as I could get, are in my possession. I have purposely avoided reading up the subject in printed books; but those who wish to see it exhaustively treated may be directed to Mr. Arthur W. Moore's book on The Folk-lore of the Isle of Man, which has just been published by Mr. Nutt.
For the student of folk-lore the Isle of Man is very fairly stocked with inhabitants of the imaginary order. She has her fairies and her giants, her mermen and brownies, her kelpies and water-bulls.
The water-bull or tarroo ushtey, as he is called in Manx, is a creature about which I have not been able to learn much, but he is described as a sort of bull who disports himself about the pools and swamps. For instance, I was Lold at the village of Andreas, in the flat country forming the northern end of the island and known as the Ayre, that there used to be a tarroo ushtey between Andreas and the sea to the west: that was before the ground had been drained as it is now. And an octogenarian captain at Peel related to me how he had once when a boy heard a tarroo ushtey: the bellowings of the brute made the ground tremble, but otherwise the captain was unable to give me any very intelligible description. This bull is by no means of the same breed as the bull that comes from Welsh lakes to mix with the farmer's cattle, for in Wales the result is great fertility among the stock and an overflow of milk and dairy produce, but in the Isle of Man the tarroo ushtey only begets monsters and strangely formed beasts.
The kelpie, or, rather, what I take to be a kelpie, was called by my informants a glashtyn; and Kelly, in his Manx Dictionary, describes the object meant as "a goblin, an imaginary animal which rises out of the water". One or two of my informants confused the glashtyn with the Manx brownie. On the other hand, one of them was very definite in his belief that it had nothing human about it, but was a sort of grey colt, frequenting the banks of lakes at night, and never seen except at night.
Mermen and mermaids disport themselves on the coasts of Man, but I have to confess that I have made no careful inquiry into what is related about them; and my information about the giants of the island is equally scanty. To tell you the truth, I do not recollect hearing of more than one giant, but that was a giant; for I have seen the marks of his huge hands impressed on the top of two massive monoliths. They stand in a field at Balla Keeill Pherick, on the way down from the Sloc to Colby. I was told there were originally five of these stones standing in a circle, all of them marked in the same way by the same giant as he hurled them down there from where he stood, miles away on the top of the mountain called Cronk yn Irree Laa. Here I may mention that the Manx word for a giant is foawr, in which a vowel-flanked m has been spirited away, as shown by the modern Irish spelling, fomhor. This, in the plural in old Irish, appears as the name of the Fomori, so well known in Irish legend, which, however, docs not always represent them as giants, but rather as monsters. I have been in the habit of explaining the word as meaning submarini; but no more are they invariably connected with the sea. So another etymology recommends itself, namely, one which makes the mor in fomori to be of the same origin as the mare in the English nightmare, French cauchemar, German mahr, 'an elf', and cognate words. This suggestion comes from Dr. Whitley Stokes.
The Manx brownie is called the Fenodyree, and he is described as a hairy, clumsy fellow, who would, for instance, thrash a whole barnful of corn in a single night for the people to whom he felt well disposed; and once on a time he undertook to bring down for the farmer his wethers from Snæfell. When the Fenodyree had safely put them in an outhouse, he said that he had some trouble with the little ram, as it had run three times round Snaefell that morning. The farmer did not quite understand him, but on going to look at the sheep, he found, to his infinite surprise, that the little ram was no other than a hare, which, poor creature, was dying of fright and fatigue. I need scarcely point out the similarity between this and the story of Peredur, who, as a boy, drove home a doe with his mother's goats from the forest: he owned, as you will remember, to having had some trouble with the goat that had so long run wild as to have lost her horns, a circumstance which had greatly impressed him. To return to the Fenodyree, I am not sure that there were more than one in Man; but two localities at least are assigned to him, namely, a farm called Ballachrink, in Colby, in the south, and a farm called Lanjaghan in the parish of Conchan, near Douglas. Much the same stories, however, appear to be current about him in the two places, and one of the most curious of them is that which relates how he left. The farmer so valued the services of the Fenodyree, that one day he took it into his head to provide clothing for him. The Fenodyree examined each article carefully, and expressed his idea of it, and specified the kind of disease it was calculated to produce. In a word, he found that the clothes would make head and foot sick, and he departed in disgust, saying to the farmer, "Though this place is thine, the great Glen of Rushen is not." Glen Rushen is one of the most retired glens in the island, and it drains down through Glen Meay to the coast, some miles to the south of Peel. It is to Glen Rushen, then, that the Fenodyree is supposed to be gone; but on visiting that valley last year in quest of Manx-speaking peasants, I could find nobody there who knew anything of him. I suspect that the spread of the English language even there has forced him to leave the island altogether. Lastly, with regard to the term Fenodyree, I may mention that it is the word used in the Manx Bible of 1819 for satyr in Is. xxxiv, 14, where we read in the English Bible as follows: "The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow." In the Vulgate the latter clause reads: "et pilosus clamabit alter ad alterum." The term Fenodyree has been explained by Cregeen in his Manx Dictionary to mean one who has hair for stockings or hose. That answers to the description of the hairy satyr, and seems fairly well to satisfy the phonetics of the case, the words from which he derives the compound being fynney, 'hair', and oashyr, 'a stocking'; but as oashyr seems to come from the old Norse hosur, the plural of hosa, 'hose or stocking', the term Fenodyree cannot date before the coming of the Norsemen; and I am inclined to think the idea more Teutonic than Celtic; at any rate I need not point out to you the English counterparts of this hairy satyr in the hobgoblin, 'Lob lie by the Fire', and Milton's Lubber Fiend, whom he describes as one that
"Basks at the fire his hairy strength,
The fairies claim our attention next, and as the only other fairies tolerably well known to me are those of Wales, I can only compare, or contrast, the Manx fairies with the Welsh ones. They are called in Manx, Sleih Beggey, or Little People, and Ferrishyn, from the English word fairies, as it would seem. Like the Welsh fairies, they kidnap babies; and I have heard it related how a woman in Dalby had a struggle with the fairies over her baby, which they were trying to drag out of the bed from her. Like Welsh fairies, also, they take possession of the hearth after the farmer and his family are gone to bed. A farmer in Dalby used to hear them making a big fire in his kitchen: he used to hear the crackling and burning of the fire when nobody else could have been there except the fairies and their friends. I said "friends", for they sometimes take a man with them, and allow him to eat with them at the expense of others. Thus, some men from the northernmost parish, Kirk Bride, went once on a time to Port Erin, in the South, to buy a supply of fish for the winter, and with them went a Kirk Michael man who had the reputation of being a persona grata with the fairies. Now one of the Port Erin men asked a man from the North who the Michael man might be: he was curious to know his name, as he had seen him once before, and then the Michael man was with the fairies at his house—the Port Erin man's house—regaling himself with bread and cheese in company with the fairies.
Like Welsh fairies, the Manx ones take men away with them and detain them for years. Thus a Kirk Andreas man was absent from his people for four years, which he spent with the fairies. He could not tell how he returned, but it seemed as if, having been unconscious, he woke up at last in this world. The other world, however, in which he was for the four years was not far away, as he could see what his brothers and the rest of the family were doing every day, although they could not see him. To prove this, he mentioned to them how they were occupied on such and such a day, and, among other things, how they took their corn on a particular day to Ramsey. He reminded them also of their having heard a sudden sharp crack as they were passing by a thorn-bush he named, and how they were so startled that one of them would have run back home. He asked them if they remembered that, and they said they did, only too well. He then explained to them the meaning of the noise, namely, that one of the fairies with whom he had been galloping about the whole time was about to let fly an arrow at his brothers, but that as he was going to do this, he (the missing brother) raised a plate and intercepted the arrow; that was the sharp noise they had heard. Such was the account he had to give of his sojourn in Faery. This representation of the world of the fairies, as contained within the ordinary world of mortals, is very remarkable; but it is not a new idea, as we seem to detect it in the Irish story of the abduction of Conla Rúad: the fairy who comes to fetch him tells him that the Folk of Tethra, whom she represents, behold him every day as he takes part in the assemblies of his country and sits among his friends. The commoner way of putting it is simply to represent the fairies as invisible to mortals at will; and one kind of Welsh story relates how the mortal midwife accidentally touches her eyes, while dressing a fairy baby, with an ointment which makes the fairy world visible to her.
Like Welsh fairies, the Manx ones had, as you have seen from this, horses to ride; they had also dogs, just as the Welsh ones had. This I learn from another story, to the effect that a fisherman, taking a fresh fish home, was pursued by a pack of fairy dogs, so that it was only with great trouble he reached his own door. Then he picked up a stone and threw it at the dogs, which at once disappeared; but he did not escape, as he was shot by the fairies, and so hurt that he lay ill for fully six months from that day. He would have been left alone by the fairies, I was told, if he had only taken care to put a pinch of salt in the fish's mouth before setting out, for the Manx fairies cannot stand salt or baptism. So children that have been baptized are, as in Wales, less liable to be kidnapped by these elves than those that have not. I scarcely need add that a twig of cuirn or rowan is also as effective against fairies in Man as it is against them in Wales. Manx fairies seem to have been musical, like their kinsmen elsewhere; for I have heard of an Orrisdale man crossing the neighbouring mountains at night and hearing fairy music, which took his fancy so much that he listened, and tried to remember it. He had, however, to return, it is said, three times to the place before he could carry it away complete in his mind, which he succeeded in doing at last just as the day was breaking and the musicians disappearing. This air, I am told, is now known by the name of the Bollan Bane, or White Wort. I believe that there are certain Welsh airs similarly supposed to have been derived from the fairies.
So far I have pointed out hardly anything but similarities between Manx fairies and Welsh ones, and I find very little indicative of a difference. First, with regard to salt, I am unable to say anything in this direction, as I do not happen to know how Welsh fairies regard salt; it is not improbable that they eschew salt as well as baptism, especially as the Church of Rome has long associated salt with baptism. There is, however, one point at least of difference between the fairies of Man and of Wales: the latter are, so far as I can call to mind, never known to
discharge arrows at men or women, or to handle a bow at all, whereas Manx fairies are always ready to shoot. May we, therefore, provisionally regard this trait of the Manx fairies as derived from a Teutonic source? At any rate English and Scotch elves were supposed to shoot, and I am indebted to the kindness of my colleague. Prof Napier, for calling my attention to the Saxon Leechdoms for cases in point.
Now that most of the imaginary inhabitants of Man and its coasts have been rapidly passed in review before you, I may say something of others whom I regard as semi-imaginary, real human beings to whom impossible attributes are ascribed; I mean chiefly the witches, or, as they are sometimes called in Manx English, butches. That term I take to be a variant of the English word witch, produced under the influence of the verb bewitch, which was reduced in Manx English to a form butch, especially if one bear in mind the Cumbrian and Scotch pronunciation of these words, as wutch and bewutch. Now witches shift their form, and I have heard of one old witch changing herself into a pigeon; but that I am bound to regard as exceptional, the regular form into which Manx witches pass at their pleasure being that of the hare, and such a swift and thick-skinned hare that no greyhound, except a black one without a single white hair, can catch it, and no shot, except a silver coin, penetrate its body. Both these peculiarities are also well known in Wales. I notice a difference, however, between Wales and Man with regard to the hare witches: in Wales only the women can become hares, and this property runs, so far as I know, in certain families. I have known many such, and my own nurse belonged to one of them, so that my mother was reckoned to be rather reckless in entrusting me to y gota, or "the Cutty One", as she might run away at any moment, leaving her charge to take care of itself. But I have never heard of any man or boy of any such family turning himself into a hare, whereas in the Isle of Man the witches may belong, if I may say so, to cither sex. I am not sure, however, that a man who turns himself into a hare would be called a wizard or witch; and I recollect hearing in the neighbourhood of Ramsey of a man nicknamed the gaaue mwaagh, that is to say, "the hare smith", the reason being that this particular smith now and then assumes the form of a hare. I am not quite sure that gaaue mwaagh is the name of a class, though I rather infer that it is. If so, it must be regarded as a survival of the magic skill associated with smiths in ancient Ireland, as evidenced, for instance, in St. Patrick's Hymn in the eleventh or twelfth century manuscript at Trinity College, Dublin, known as the Liber Hymnorum, in which we have a prayer against "the spells of women, and of smiths and druids".
The persons who had the power of turning themselves into hares were believed to be abroad and very active, together with the whole demon world, on the eve of May-day of the Old Style. And a middle-aged man from the parish of Andreas related to me how he came three or four times across a woman, reputed to be a witch, carrying on her evil practices at the junction of cross-roads, or the meeting of three boundaries. This happened once very early on old May morning, and afterwards he met her several times as he was returning home from visiting his sweetheart. He warned the witch that if he found her again that he would kick her: that is what he says. Well, after a while he did surprise her again at work at four cross-roads, somewhere near Lezayre. She had a circle, he said, as large as that made by horses in threshing, swept clean around her. He kicked her and took away her besom, which he hid till the middle of the day. Then he made the farm boys fetch some dry gorse, and he put the witch's besom on the top of it. Thereupon fire was set to the gorse and, wonderful to relate, the besom, as it burned, crackled and made reports like guns going off. In fact, the noise could be heard from Andreas Church—that is to say, miles away. The besom had on it "seventeen sorts of knots", he said, and the woman ought to have been burned; in fact, he added that she did not long survive her besom. The man who related this to me is hale and strong, living now in the parish of Michael, and not in that of Andreas, where he was born.
There is a tradition at St. John's, which is overlooked by the mountain called Slieau Whuallian, that witches used at one time to be punished by being set to roll down the steep side of the mountain in spiked barrels; but, short of putting them to death, there were various ways of rendering the machinations of witches innocuous, or of undoing the mischief done by them; for the charmers supply various means of meeting them triumphantly, and in case an animal is the victim, the burning of it always proves an effective means of bringing the offender to book. I shall have occasion to return to this under another heading. There is a belief that if you can draw blood, however little, from a witch or one who has the evil eye, he loses his power of harming you; and I have been told that formerly this belief was sometimes acted upon. Thus, on leaving church, for instance, the man who fancied himself in danger from another would go up to him, or walk by his side, and inflict on him a slight scratch, or some other trivial wound, which elicited blood; but this must have been a course always attended with more or less danger.
The persons able to undo the witches' work, and move the malignant influence of the evil eye, are known in Manx English as charmers, and something must now be said of them. They have various ways of proceeding to their work. A lady of about thirty-five, living at Peel, related to me, how, when she was a child suffering from a swelling in the neck, she had it charmed by an old woman. This charmer brought with her no less than nine pieces of iron, consisting of bits of old pokers, old nails, and other odds and ends of the same metal, making in all nine pieces. After invoking the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, she began to rub the girl's neck with the old irons; nor was she satisfied with that, for she rubbed the doors, the walls, and the furniture likewise, with the metal. The result, I was assured, was highly satisfactory, as she has never been troubled with a swelling in the throat since that day. Sometimes a passage from the Bible is made use of in charming, as, for instance, in the case of bleeding. One of the verses then pronounced is Ezekiel xvi, 6, which runs thus:—"And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood. Live." This was told me by a Laxey man, who is over seventy years of age. The methods of charming away warts are various. A woman from the neighbourhood of St. John's explained to me how a charmer told her to get rid of the warts on her hands. She was to take a string and make a knot on it for every wart she had, and then tie the string round her hand, or fingers—I forget which; and I think my informant, on her part, forgot to tell me a vital part of the formula, namely, that the string was to be destroyed. However, she assured me that the warts disappeared, and never returned since. A lady at Andreas has a still simpler method of getting rid of warts. She rubs a snail on the warts, and then places the snail on one of the points of a blackthorn, and, in fact, leaves the snail to die, transfixed by the thorn; and as the snail dies, the warts disappear. She has done this in the case of her niece with complete success, so far as the wart was concerned; but she was sorry to say that she had forgotten to notice whether the snail had also succumbed.
The lady who in this case applied the remedy cannot be in any sense called a charmer, however much one may insist on calling what she did a charm. In fact, the term charmer tends to be associated with a particular class of charm involving the use of herbs. Thus there used at one time to be a famous charmer living near Kirk Michael to whom the fishermen were in the habit of resorting, and my informant told me that he had been deputed more than once by his fellow-fishermen to go to him in consequence of their lack of success in the fishing. This charmer gave him a packet of herbs, cut small, with directions that they should be boiled, and the water mixed with some spirits—rum, I think— and partly drunk in the boat by the captain and the crew, and partly sprinkled over the boat and everything in it. The charmer clearly defined his position in the matter to my informant. "I cannot", he said, "put the fish in your nets for you; but if there is any mischief in the way of your luck, I can remove that for you." The fishermen themselves had, however, more exaggerated notions of the charmer's functions; for once on a time my informant spent on drink for his boon companions the money which he was to give the charmer, and then he collected herbs himself—it did not much matter what herbs—and took them to his captain, who, with the crew, went through the proper ritual, and made a most successful haul that night. In fact, the only source of discontent was the charmer's not having distributed the fish over two nights, instead of endangering their nets by an excessive haul all in one night. They regarded him as able to do almost anything he liked in the matter.
A lady at Andreas gave me an account of a celebrated charmer who lived between there and the coast. He worked on her husband's farm, but used to be frequently called away to be consulted. He usually cut up wormwood for the people who came to him, and if there was none to be had, he did not scruple to rob the garden of any small sprouts it contained of cabbage or the like. He would chop them small, and give directions about boiling them and drinking the water. He usually charged anyone leaving him to speak to nobody on the way, lest he break the charm, and this mysteriousness was evidently an important element in his profession. But he was, nevertheless, a thriftless fellow, and when he went to Peel, and sent the crier round to announce his arrival, and received a good deal of money from the fishermen, he seldom so conducted himself as to bring much of it home. He died miserably some seven or eight years ago at Ramsey, and left a widow in great poverty. As to the present day, the daughter of a charmer now dead is married to a man living in a village on the southern side of the island, and she appears to have inherited her father's reputation for charming, as the fishermen from all parts are said to flock to her for luck. Incidentally, I have heard in the South more than once of her being consulted in cases of sudden and dangerous illness, even after the best medical advice has been obtained: in fact, she seems to have a considerable practice.
In answer to my question, how the charmer, who died at Ramsey, used to give the sailors luck in the fishing, my informant at Andreas could not say, except that he gave them herbs as already described, and she thought also that he sold them wisps to place under their pillows. I gather that the charms were chiefly directed to the removal of supposed impediments to success in the fishing, rather than to any act of a more positive nature. So far as I have been able to ascertain, charming is hereditary, and they say that it descends from father to daughter, and then from daughter to son, and so on—a remarkable kind of descent, on which I should be glad to have the opinion of Mr. Elton. One of the best Manx scholars in the island related to me how some fishermen once insisted on his doing the charmer for them because of his being of such and such a family, and how he made fools of them. It is my impression that the charming families are comparatively few in number, and this looks as if they descended from the family physicians or druids of one or two chieftains in ancient times. It is very likely a question which could be cleared up by a local man familiar with the island and all that which tradition has to say on the subject of Manx pedigrees.
In the case of animals ailing, the herbs were also resorted to; and, if the beasts happened to be milch cows, the herbs had to be boiled in some of their milk. This was supposed to produce wonderful results, described as follows by a man living on the way from Castletown up South Barrule. A farmer in his parish had a cow that milked blood, as he described it, and that in consequence of a witch's ill-will. He went to the charmer, who gave him some herbs, which he was to boil in the ailing cow's milk, and the charmer charged him, whatever he did, not to quit the concoction while it was on the fire, in spite of any noises he might hear. The farmer went home and proceeded that night to boil the herbs as directed, but he suddenly heard a violent tapping at the door, a terrible lowing of the cattle in the cow-house, and stones coming down the "chumley": the end of it was that he suddenly fled and sprang into bed to take shelter behind his wife. He went to the charmer again, and related to him what had happened: he was told that he must have more courage the next time, unless he wished his cow to die. He promised to do his best, and this time he stood his ground in spite of the noises and the creaking of the windows—until, in fact, a back-window burst into pieces and bodily let a witch in, who craved his pardon, and promised never more to molest him or his. This all happened at the farm in question in the time of the present farmer's grandfather. The boiling of the charmer's herbs in milk always produces a great commotion and lowing among the cattle, and it invariably cures the ailing ones: this is firmly believed by respectable farmers whom I could name, in the North of the island in particular, and I am alluding to men whom you might consider fairly educated members of their class.
Magic takes us back to a very primitive and loose way of thinking; so the marvellously easy way in which it identifies any tie of association, however flimsy, with the insoluble bond of relationship which educated men and women regard as connecting cause and effect, renders even simpler means than I have described quite equal to the undoing of the evils resulting from the activity of the evil eye. Thus, let us suppose that a person endowed with the evil eye has just passed by the farmer's herd of cattle, and a calf has suddenly been seized with a serious illness, the farmer hurries after the man of the evil eye to get the dust from under his feet. If he objects, he may, as has sometimes been very unceremoniously done, throw him down by force, take off his shoes, and scrape off the dust adhering to their soles, and carry it back to throw over the calf Even that is not always necessary, as it appears to be quite enough if he takes up dust where he of the evil eye has just trod the ground. There are innumerable cases on folk record of both means proving entirely effective. A similar question of psychology presents itself in a practice, intended as a preservative against the evil eye rather than as a cure. I allude to what I have heard about two maiden ladies living in a Manx village which I know very well: they are natives of a neighbouring parish, and I am assured that whenever a stranger enters their house they proceed, as soon as he goes away, to strew a little dust or sand over the spot where he stood. That is understood to prevent any malignant influence resulting from his visit. This tacit identifying of a man with his footprints may be detected in a more precarious and pleasing form in a quaint conceit familiar to me in the lyrics of rustic life in Wales, when, for example, a coy maiden leaves her lovesick swain hotly avowing his perfect readiness to cusanu ol ei thraed, that is, to do on his knees all the stages of her path across the meadow, kissing the ground wherever it has been honoured with the tread of her dainty foot. Let me take another case, in which the cord of association is not so inconceivably slender, when two or more persons standing in a close relation to one another are mistakenly treated a little too much as if mutually independent, the objection may be made that it matters not whether it is A or B, that it is, in fact, all the same, as they belong to the same concern: in Welsh this is sometimes expressed by saying, Yr un peth yw Huw'r Glyn a'i glocs, that is, "Whether you talk of Huw'r Glyn, or of his wooden shoes, it is all the same." Then, when you speak in English of a man "standing in another's shoes", I am by no means certain that you are not employing an expression which meant something more to those who first used it than it does to us. Our modern idioms, with all their straining after the abstract, are but primitive man's mental tools adapted to the requirements of civilised life: they betray the form and shape which the neolithic worker's chipping and polishing gave them.
It is difficult to arrange these scraps under any clearly classified headings, and now that I have led you into the midst of matters magical, perhaps I may just as well go on to the mention of a few more: I alluded to the boiling of the herbs according to the charmer's orders, with the result, among other things, of bringing the witch to the spot. This is, however, not the only instance of the importance and strange efficacy of fire. For when a beast dies on a farm, of course it dies, according to the old-fashioned view of things, as I understand it, from the influence of the evil eye, or the interposition of a witch; and if you want to know to whom you are indebted for the loss of the beast, you have simply to burn its carcase in the open air and watch who comes first on the spot or who first passes by; for that is the criminal to be charged with the death of the animal, and he cannot help coming there; such is the effect of the fire. A Michael woman, who is now about thirty, related to me how she watched while the carcase of a bewitched colt was burning, and how she saw the witch coming, and how she remembers her shrivelled face, with nose and chin in close proximity. According to another native of Michael, a well-informed middle-aged man, the animal in question was oftenest a calf, and it was wont to be burnt whole, skin and all. The object, according to him, is invariably to bring the bewitcher on the spot, and he always comes; but I am not clear what happens to him, when he appears. My informant added, however, that it was believed that, unless the bewitcher got possession of the heart of the beast burning, he lost all his power of bewitching. He related, also, how his father and three other men were once out fishing on the west coast of the island, when one of the three suddenly expressed his wish to land. As they were fishing successfully some two or three miles from the shore, they would not hear of it. He, however, insisted that they must put him ashore at once, which made his comrades highly indignant; but they had soon to give way, as they found that he was determined to leap overboard unless they complied. When he got on shore they watched him hurrying away towards a smoke where a beast was burning in the corner of a field,
Manx stories merge this burning in a very perplexing fashion with what may be termed a sacrifice for luck. The following scraps of information will make it clear what I mean:—A respectable farmer from Andreas told me that he was driving with his wife to the neighbouring parish of Jurby some years ago, and that on the way they beheld the carcase of a cow or an ox burning in a field, with a woman engaged in stirring the fire. On reaching the village to which they were going, they found that the burning beast belonged to a farmer whom they knew. They were further told it was no wonder that the said farmer had one of his cattle burnt, as several of them had recently died. Whether this was a case of sacrifice or not I cannot say. But let me give you another instance: a man whom I have already mentioned, saw at a farm nearer the centre of the island a live calf being burnt. The owner bears an English name, but his family has long been settled in Man. The farmer's explanation to my informant was that the calf was burnt to secure luck for the rest of the herd, some of which were threatening to die. My informant thought there was absolutely nothing the matter with them, except that they had too little to eat. Be that as it may, the one calf was sacrificed as a burnt-offering to secure luck for the rest of the cattle. Let me here also quote Mr. Moore's note in his Manx Surnamess, p. 184, on the place-name Cabhal yn Oural Losht, or the Chapel of the Burnt Sacrifice. "This name", he says, "records a circumstance which took place in the nineteenth century, but which, it is to be hoped, was never customary in the Isle of Man. A farmer", he goes on to say, "who had lost a number of his sheep and cattle by murrain, burned a calf as a propitiatory offering to the Deity on this spot, where a chapel was afterwards built. Hence the name." Particulars, I may say, of time, place, and person could be easily added to Mr. Moore's statement, excepting, perhaps, as to the deity in question; on that point I have never been informed, but Mr. Moore is probably right in the use of the capital d, as the sacrificer is, according to all accounts, a highly devout Christian.
One more instance: an octogenarian woman, born in the parish of Bride, and now living at Kirk Andreas, saw, when she was a "lump of a girl" of ten or fifteen years of age, a live sheep being burnt in a field in the parish of Andreas, on May-day, whereby she meant the first of May reckoned according to the Old Style. She asserts very decidedly that it was son oural, "as a sacrifice", as she put it, and "for an object to the public": those were her words when she expressed herself in English. Further, she made the statement that it was a custom to burn a sheep on old May-day for a sacrifice. I was fully alive to the interest of this evidence, and cross-examined her so far as her age allows of it, and I find that she adheres to her statement with all firmness. I distinguish two or three points in her evidence: 1. I have no doubt that she saw, as she was passing by a certain field on the borders of Andreas parish, a live sheep being burnt on old May-day. 2. But her statement that it was son oural, or as a sacrifice, was probably only an inference drawn by her, possibly years afterwards, on hearing things of the kind discussed. 3. Lastly I am convinced that she did hear the May-day sacrifice discussed, both in Manx and in English: her words, "for an object to the public", are her imperfect recollection of a phrase used in her hearing by somebody more ambitious of employing English abstract terms than she is; and the formal nature of her statement in Manx, that it was customary on May-day to burn as a sacrifice one head of sheep (Laa Boaldyn va cliaghtey dy lostey son oural un baagh keyrragh), produces the same impression on my mind, that she is only repeating somebody else's words. I mention this more especially as I have failed to find anybody else in Andreas or Bride, or indeed in the whole island, who will now confess to having ever heard of the sheep sacrifice on old May-day.
The time assigned to the sheep sacrifice, namely May-day, leads me to make some remarks on the importance of that day among the Celts. The day meant is, as I have already said, old May-day, in Manx Shenn Laa Boaldyn, This was a day when systematic efforts were made to protect man and beast against elves and witches; for it was then that people carried crosses of rowan in their hats and put May flowers on the tops of their doors and elsewhere as preservatives against all malignant influences. With the same object also in view crosses of rowan were likewise fastened to the tails of cattle, small crosses which had to be made without the help of a knife. Early on May morning one went out to gather the dew as a thing of great virtue, as in other countries. One woman who had been out on this errand years ago told me that she washed her face with the dew in order to secure luck, a good complexion, and immunity against witches. The break of this day is also the signal for firing the ling or the gorse, which used to be done in order to burn out the witches fond of taking the form of the hare; and even guns, I am told, were freely used to shoot any game met with on that morning. With the proper charge some of the witches were now and then hit and wounded, whereupon they resumed the human form and remained cripples for the rest of their lives. Fire, however, appears to have been the chief agency relied on to clear away the witches and other malignant beings; and I have heard of this use of fire having been carried so far that a practice was sometimes observed—as, for example in Lezayre—of burning gorse, however little, in the hedge of each field on a farm in order to drive away the witches and secure luck.
The man who told me this, on being asked whether he had ever heard of cattle being driven through fire or between two fires on May-day, replied that it was not known to him as a Manx custom, but that it was as an Irish one, A cattle-dealer whom he named used on Mayday to drive his cattle through fire so as to singe them a little, as he believed that would preserve them from harm. He was an Irishman, who came to the island for many years, and whose children are settled in the island now. On my asking him if he knew whence the dealer came, he answered, "From the mountains over there", pointing to the Mountains of Mourne looming indefinite in the mists on the western horizon. The Irish custom known to my Manx informant is interesting both as throwing light on the Manx custom, and as being the continuation of a very ancient rite mentioned by Cormac. That writer, or somebody in his name, says that Beltane, May-day, was so called from the "lucky fire", or the "two fires" which the druids of Erinn used to make on that day with great incantations; and cattle, he adds, used to be brought to those fires, or driven between them, as a safeguard against the diseases of the year. Cormac says nothing, it will be noticed, as to one of the cattle or the sheep being sacrificed for the sake of prosperity to the rest. However, Scotch May-day customs point to a sacrifice having been once usual, and that possibly of human beings, and not of sheep, as in the Isle of Man. I have elsewhere tried to equate these Celtic Mayday practices with the Thargelia of the Athenians of antiquity. The Thargelia were characterised by peculiar rites, and among other things then done, two adult persons were lead about, as it were scapegoats, and at the end they were sacrified and burnt, so that their ashes might be dispersed. Here we seem to be on the track of a very ancient Aryan practice, although the Celtic date does not quite coincide with the Greek one.
It is probably in some ancient May-day custom that we are to look for the key to a remarkable place-name occurring several times in the island: I allude to that of Cronk yn Irree Laa, which literally means the Hill of the Rise of the Day. This is the name of one of the mountains in the south of the island, but it is also borne by one of the knolls near the eastern end of the range of low hills ending abruptly on the coast between Ramsey and Bride Parish, and quite a small knoll bears the name near the church of Jurby. I have heard of a fourth instance, however has escaped both my memory and note-book. It has been attempted to explain the name as meaning the Hill of the Watch by Day, in reference to the old institution of Watch and Ward on conspicuous places in the island; but that explanation is inadmissible as doing violence to the phonetics of the words in question. I am rather inclined to think that the name everywhere refers to an eminence to which the surrounding inhabitants resorted for a religious purpose on a particular day in the year. I should suggest that it was to do homage to the Sun on May morning, but this conjecture is offered only to await a better explanation.
The next great day in the pagan calendar of the Celts is called in Manx Laa Lhunys, in Irish Lugnassad, which was associated with the name of the god Lug. This should correspond to Lammas, but, reckoned as it is, according to the Old Style, it falls on the twelfth of August, which used to be a great day for business fairs in the Isle of Man as in Wales. But for holiday-making the twelfth only suited when it happened to be a Sunday; when that was not the case, the first Sunday after the twelfth was fixed upon. It is known, accordingly, as the First Sunday of Harvest, and it used to be celebrated by crowds of people visiting the tops of the mountains. The kind of interference to which I have alluded with regard to an ancient holiday, is one of the regular results of the transition from Roman Catholicism to a Protestant system with only one fixed holiday, namely, Sunday. The same shifting has partly happened in Wales, where Lammas is Gwyl Awst, or the festival of Augustus, since the birthday of Augustus, auspiciously for him and the celebrity of his day, fell in with the great day of the god Lug in the Celtic world. Now the day for going up the Van Vach mountain in Brecknock was Lammas, but under a Protestant church it became the first Sunday in August, and even modified in that way it could not long survive under a vigorous Protestant régime either in Wales or Man. As to the latter in particular, I have heard it related by persons who were present, how the crowds on the top of South Barrule on the first Sunday in Harvest were denounced as pagans, by a preacher called William Gick, some seventy years ago; and how another man called Paric Beg, or Little Patrick, preaching to the crowds on Snæfell, in milder terms, used to wind up the service with a collection, which appears to have proved a speedier method of reducing the dimensions of these meetings on the mountain-tops. Be that as it may, they seem to have dwindled since then to comparative insignificance.
If you ask the reason for this custom now, for it is not yet quite extinct, you are told, first, that it is merely to gather ling berries; but now and then a quasi-religious reason is given, namely, that it is the day on which Jephthah's Daughter and her companions went forth on the mountains to bewail her virginity: somehow, some Manx people make believe that they are doing likewise. That is not all, for people who have never themselves thought of going up the mountains on the first Sunday of Harvest or any other, will be found devoutly reading at home about Jephthah's Daughter on that day. I was told this first in the South by a clergyman's wife, who, finding a woman in the parish reading the chapter in question on that day, asked the reason for her fixing on that particular portion of the Bible. She then had the Manx view of the matter fully explained to her, and she has since found more information about it, and so have I. This is a very curious instance of a pagan practice profoundly modified to procure a new lease of life; but it is needless for me to say that I do not quite understand how Jephthah's Daughter came to be introduced, and that I should be glad to have light shed on the question.
I notice, with regard to most of the mountains climbed on the first Sunday of Harvest, that they seem to have near their summits wells of some celebrity; and these wells appear to be the goal of the visitors' peregrinations. This is the case with South Barrule, the spring near the top of which cannot, it is said, be found when sought a second time; also with Snæfell and Maughold Head, which boasts one of the most famous springs in the island. When I visited it last summer, in company with Mr. Kermode, we found it to contain a considerable number of pins, some of which were bent, and many buttons. Some of the pins were not of a kind usually carried by men, and most of the buttons decidedly belonged to the dress of the other sex. Several people who had resorted many years ago to St. Maughold's Well told me that the water is good for sore eyes, and that after using it on the spot, or filling a bottle with it to take home, one was wont to drop a pin, or bead, or button, into the well. But it had its full virtue only when visited on the first Sunday of Harvest, and that only during the hour the books were open at church, which, shifted back to Roman Catholic times, means doubtless the hour when the priest is engaged saying Mass. This restriction, however, is not peculiar to St. Maughold's Well, as I have heard of it in connection with other wells, such as Chibbyr Lansh in Lezayre parish, and with a well on Slieau Maggyl, in which some Kirk Michael people have a great belief. But even sea-water was believed to have considerable virtues if you washed in it while the books were open at church, as I was told by a woman who had many years ago repeatedly taken her own sister to divers wells and to the sea during the service on Sunday, in order to have her eyes cured of their chronic weakness.
The remaining great day in the Celtic year is called Sauin or Laa Houney; in Irish, Samhain, genitive Sanihna; the Manx call it in English Hollantide, a word derived from the English genitive plural, Allhallown, for All Hallowen Tide or Day. This day is also reckoned in Man according to the Old Style, so that it is our 12th of November. That is the day when the tenure of land terminates, and when servant-men go to their places. In other words, it is the beginning of a new year; and Kelly, in his Manx-English Dictionary, has, under the word blein, "year", the following note: "Valancey says the Celts began their year with January; yet in the Isle of Man the first of November is called New Year's Day by the Mummers, who, on the eve, begin their petition in these words: 'To-night is New Year's night, Hog-un-naa, etc' " It is a pity that Kelly, whilst he was on this subject, did not give the rhyme in Manx, and all the more so, as the mummers of the present day have changed their words into Noght oie Houney, that is to say, To-night is Sauin Night (or Halloween). So I had despaired of finding anybody who could corroborate Kelly in his statement, when I happened last summer to find a man at Kirk Michael who was quite familiar with this way of treating the year. I asked him if he could explain Kelly's absurd statement—I put my question designedly in that form. He said he could, but that there was nothing absurd in it. He then told me how he had heard some old people talk of it; he is himself now about sixty-seven. He had been a farm-servant from the age of sixteen till he was twenty-six to the same man, near Regaby in the parish of Andreas, and he members his master and a near neighbour of his discussing the term New Year's Day as applied to the first of November and explaining to the younger men that it had always been so in old times. In fact, it seemed to him natural enough, as all tenure of land ends at that time, and as all servant-men begin their service at that date. I cross-examined him, without succeeding in any way in shaking his evidence. I should have been glad a few years ago to have come across this piece of information, or even Kelly's note, when I was discussing the Celtic year and trying to prove that it began at the beginning of winter, with May-day as the beginning of its second half.
One of the characteristics of the beginning of the Celtic year with the commencement of winter was the belief that indications can be obtained on the eve of that day regarding the events of the year; but with the calendar year gaining ground it would be natural to expect that the Calends of January would have some of the associations of the Calends of Winter transferred to them, and vice versa. In fact, this can, as it were, be watched now going on in the Isle of Man. First, I may mention that the Manx mummers used to go about singing, in Manx, a sort of Hogmanay song, reminding one of that usual in Yorkshire and other parts of Great Britain, and supposed to be of Scandinavian origin. The time for it in this country was New Year's Eve, according to the ordinary calendar, but in the Isle of Man it has always been Hollantide Eve, according to the Old Style, and this is the night when boys now go about continuing the custom of the old mummers. There is no hesitation in this case between Hollantide Eve and New Year's Eve. But with the prognostications for the year it is different, and the following practices have been usual. I may, however, premise that as a rule I have abstained from inquiring too closely whether they still go on, but here and there I have had the information volunteered that they do.
1. I may mention first a salt prognostication, which was described to me by a farmer in the North, whose wife practises it once a year regularly. She carefully fills a thimble with salt in the evening and upsets it in a neat little heap on a plate: she does that for every member of the family, and every guest, too, if there happen to be any. The plate is then left undisturbed till the morning, when she examines the heaps of salt to see if any of them have fallen; for whoever is found represented by a fallen heap will die during the year. She does not herself, I am assured, believe in it, but she likes to continue a custom which she has learned from her mother.
2. Next may be mentioned the ashes being carefully swept to the open hearth, and nicely flattened down by the women just before going to bed. In the morning they look for footmarks on the hearth, and if they find such footmarks directed towards the door, it means, in the course of the year, a death in the family, and if the reverse, they expect an addition to it by marriage.
3. Then there is an elaborate process of eaves-dropping recommended to young women curious to know their husbands' names: a girl would go with her mouth full of water and her hands full of salt to the door of the nearest neighbour's house, or rather to that of the nearest neighbour but one, for I have been carefully corrected more than once on that point. There she would listen, and the first name she caught would prove to be that of her future husband. Once a girl did so, as I was told by a blind fisherman in the South, and heard two brothers quarrelling inside the house at whose door she was listening. Presently the young men's mother exclaimed that the devil would not let Tom leave John alone. At the mention of that triad the girl burst into the house, laughing and spilling the mouthful of water most incontinently. The end of it was that before the year was out she married Tom, the second person mentioned: the first either did not count or proved an unassailable bachelor.
4. There is also a ritual for enabling a girl to obtain other information respecting her future husband: vessels placed about the room have various things put into them, such as clean water, earth, meal, a piece of a net, or any other article thought appropriate. The candidate for matrimony, with her eyes bandaged, feels her way about the house until she puts her hand in one of the aforesaid vessels. If what she lays her hand on is the clean water, her husband will be a handsome man; if it is the earth, he will be a farmer; if the meal, a miller; if the net, a fisherman, and so on into as many of the walks in life as may be thought worthy of consideration.
careless enough never to have asked the question. I have referred it to Mr. Moore, who informs me that nobody, as I expected, will venture on an explanation, by whom the foot-marks are made.
Probably none of the practices which I have enumerated, or similar ones mentioned to me, are in any sense peculiar to the Isle of Man; but what interests me in them is the divided opinion as to the proper night for them in the year. I am sorry to say that I have very little information as to the blindman's-buff ritual (No. 4); what information I have, to wit, the evidence of two persons in the South, fixes it on Hollantide Eve. But as to the others (Nos. 1, 2, 3, 5), they are observed by some on that night, and by others on New Year's Eve, sometimes according to the Old Style and sometimes the New. Further, those who are wont to practise the Salt Heap ritual, for instance, on Hollantide Eve, would be very indignant to hear that anybody should think New Year's Eve the proper night, and vice versa. So by bringing women bred and born in different parishes to compare notes on this point, I have witnessed arguing hardly less earnest than that which characterised the ancient controversy between British and Italian ecclesiastics as to the proper time for keeping Easter. I have not been able to map the island according to the practices prevalent at Hollantide and the beginning of January, but local folk-lorists could probably do it without much difficulty. My impression, however, is that January is gradually acquiring the upper hand. In Wales this must have been decidedly helped by the influence of Roman rule and Roman ideas; but even in Wales the adjuncts of the Winter Calends have never been wholly transferred to the Calends of January. Witness, for instance, the women who used to congregate in the parish church to discover who of the parishioners should die during the year. That custom, in the neighbourhoods reported to have practised it, continued to attach itself to the last, so far as I know, to the beginning of November. In the Isle of Man the fact of the ancient Celtic year having so firmly held its own, seems to point to the probable fact that the year of the pagan Norsemen pretty nearly coincided with that of the Celts. For there are reasons to think, as I have endeavoured elsewhere to show, that the Norse Yule was originally at the end of summer or the commencement of winter, in other words, the days afterwards known as the Feast of the Winter Nights. This was the favourite date in Iceland for listening to soothsayers prophesying with regard to the winter then beginning. The late Dr. Vigfusson had much to say on this subject, and how the local Sybil, resuming her elevated seat at the opening of each successive winter, gave the author of the Volospá his plan of that remarkable poem, which has been described by the same authority as the highest spiritual effort of the heathen poetry of the North.
- For the text see the Oxford edition of the Mabinogion, pp. 193-4, and for comparisons of the incident see Nutt's Holy Grail, p. 154 et seq.; and Rhys' Arthurian Legend, pp. 75-6.
- The spelling there used is phynnodderee, to the perversity of which Cregeen calls attention in his Dictionary.
- I am inclined to think that the first part of the word fenodyree is not fynney, the Manx word for 'hair', but the Scandinavian word which survives in the Swedish fjun, 'down'. Thus fjun-hosur (for the fjun-hosur suggested by analogy) would explain the word fenodyree, except its final ee, which is obscure. Compare also the magic breeks called finn-brækr (see Vigfusson's Dic. s. v. finnr), to which Mr. Plummer kindly calls my attention.
- See Windisch's Irische Graininatik p. 120.
- The Manx word for the rowan-tree, incorrectly called a mountain ash, is cuirn, which is in Irish caorihihaintn, Scotch Gaelic caorunn; but in Welsh books it is cerddin, singular cerddinen, and in the spoken language mostly cerdin, cerding, singular cerdingen. This variation seems to indicate that these words have been borrowed by the Welsh from a Goidelic source; but the berry is known in Wales by the native name of criafol, from which the wood is frequently called, especially in North Wales, coed criafol, singular coeden griafol.
- I am sorry to say that it never occurred to me to ask whether the shooting was done with such modern things as guns. But Mr. Moore, to whom I have submitted the proof-sheets of this paper, assures me that it is always understood to be bows and arrows, not guns.
- Edited by Oswald Cockayne for the Master of the Rolls (London, 1864-6); see more especially vol. ii, pp. 156, 157; 290, 291; 401; vol. iii, pp. 54 and 55.
- Mr. Moore is not familiar with this term, but I heard it at Surby, in the South.
- See the Stokes O'Donovan edition of Cormac (Calcutta, 1868), pp. 19, 23.
- Sir John Sinclair's Statistical Account of Scotland, xi, 620; Pennant's Tour in Scotland in 1769 (3rd edition, Warrington, 1774, i, 97, 186, 291); Thomas Stephens' Gododin, pp. 124-6; and Dr. Murray in the New English Dictionary, s. v. Beltane.
- In my Hibbert Lectures on Celtic Heathendom, pp. 517-21.
- As to the Thargelia and Delia, see Preller's Griechische Mythologie, i, 209-10, and A. Mommsen's Heortologie, pp. 414-25.
- It is my impression that it is crowned with a small tumulus, and that it forms the highest ground in Jurby, which was once an island by itself. The one between Ramsey and Bride is also probably the highest point of the range. But these are questions which I should like to see further examined, say in the pages of the Manx Journal, edited by Mr. P. M. C. Kermode, the Lioar Manninagh.
- Cronk yn Irree Laa is the name as it is used by all Manxmen whose pronunciation has not been tampered with by antiquarians. To convey the other meaning, referring to the day watch, the name would have to be Cronk ny Harrey Laa; in fact, a part of the Howe in the south of the Island is called Cronk ny Harrey, "the Hill of the Watch". Mr. Moore tells me that the Jurby Cronk was one of the eminences for "Watch and Ward"; but he is now of opinion that the high mountain of Cronk yn Irree Laa in the South was not. As to the duty of the inhabitants to keep "Watch and Ward" over the island, see the passage concerning it extracted from the Manx Statutes (vol. i, p. 65), by Mr. Moore in his Manx Surnames, pp. 182-83; also my preface to the same work, pp. v-viii.
- See the New English Dict., s, v. Allhallows.
- This comes near the pronunciation usual in Roxburghshire and the South of Scotland generally, which is, as Dr. Murray informs me, Hunganay without the m occurring in the other forms to be mentioned presently. But so far as I have been able to find, the Manx pronunciation is now Hob dy naa, which I have heard in the North, but Hob ju naa is the prevalent form in the South.
- See my Hibbert Lectures, pp. 514-5.
- I am indebted to Mr. Elton, M.P., for references on this subject to Hazlitt's edition of Brand's Popular Antiquities (London, 1870), i, 247-8, and Robert Bell's Songs of the Peasantry (London, 1857), pp. 186, 187, where the following is given as sung at Richmond in Yorkshire:
"To-night it is the New-Year's night, to-morrow is the day,
And we are come for our right, and for our ray,
As we used to do in old King Henry's day.
Sing, fellows, sing, Hagman-heigh.
"If you go to the bacon-flick, cut me a good bit;
Cut, cut and low, beware of your maw;
Cut, cut and round, beware of your thumb.
That me and my merry men may have some.
"If you go to the black-ark bring me X mark;
Ten mark, ten pound, throw it down upon the ground,
That me and my merry men may have some.
- On being asked, after reading this paper, who was supposed to make the footmarks in the ashes, I had to confess that I had been careless enough never to have asked the question. I have referred it to Mr. Moore, who informs me that nobody, as I expected, will venture on an explanation, by whom the foot-marks are made.
- This seems to imply the application of the same adjective, some time or other, to clean water and a handsome man, just as we speak in North Cardiganshire of dwr glân, "pure water", and bachgen glân, "a handsome boy."
- This is called in Phillips' Prayer-book Lá nolick y biggy, "Little Nativity Day," and Lá ghian blieny, "The Day of the Year's End," meaning of course the forroer, not the latter, end of the year.
- Here, again, I must appeal to Mr. Kermode and Mr. Moore.
- See my Hibbert Lectures, pp. 514-5, and the Brython for 1859, pp. 20, 120.
- This has been touched upon in my Hibbert Lectures, p. 676; but to the reasons there briefly mentioned should be added the position allotted to intercalary months in the Norse calendar, namely, at the end of the summer, that is, as I think, at the end of the ancient Norse year.