Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/881

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861
POPULAR MISCELLANY.

but only of a part of three fifths of the population, among whom Protestants of every denomination are included, and it has long ceased to be a living faith there. It would be more reasonable to ascribe the prevalence of self-murder to drink, for Switz- erland is one of the most drunken countries in the world. The fact is, however, that suicide is not excessively prevalent among the Swiss. Self-murders are committed in the country, but not by natives. Thus the statistics show that, of 263 suicides com- mitted in the Canton of Geneva between 1873 and 1S78, 48 - 3 per cent were com- mitted by foreigners, and only 26 - 6 per cent by natives of the canton, the others having been natives of other cantons than Geneva.

Folk-Lore of the Elder and the Juniper.

The elder and the juniper were formerly sacred to the German goddess Bercht Hol- da, and many traces of their former sanc- tity remain in popular customs. Thus elder- branches are scattered around, and juniper is smoked, on the day of Corpw Christi. The German name of the juniper ( Wach- holder) appears to be a corruption of a com- bination of words, which, when analyzed, are found to signify the living tree of Holda. A number of superstitions may be traced back to the former connection of the elder- bush with the goddess. Witches are thought to produce bad weather by stirring water with branches of elder. Some believe that to burn elder-wood will bring harm to the house. It is not considered lucky to cut down elder-bushes or juniper-trees without asking their consent, and offering an ex- change. February was the month of Holda, and Lady-Day was her particular day. On that day, the women were accustomed to dance in the sunshine, having elder sticks in their hands, with which they struck the men who came near them. The ancient Prussians made offerings to the god of death under elder-trees, and the pollen was con- sidered dangerous. The Slovaks made elder- men out of the pith, to be servants of the death-god; and the Poles never ventured to cut down the bush except under the protec- tion of an incantation. When any one died in Hildesheim, the undertaker took the measure for his coffin in silence with an

elder-rod, and the driver of the hearse had a whip of elder-wood. The gods of the lower world were propitious to every one who planted an elder. In Vinchgau, in the Tyrol, it was thought that any one on whose grave a transplanted elder-bush became green was happy; the bier of the dead was a cross made entirely of elder-wood. The wood was worn as a charm for protection against epilepsy, and whoever took hold of the amulet acquired the disease. Similar superstitions were attached to the juniper. The berries were holy; the plant, bearing green berries along with ripe ones, gave protection against the small-pox, as well as against witches. The pollen was consid- ered invaluable for the young growth of the wood. The spirits loved to dwell among the bushes; whoever could make himself invisible could change himself into a juni- per-bush, which no one would dare to touch. A statue of the Virgin was surrounded by juniper, and the Christ-child had a queen- bee in his hand. The dead were burned with juniper-wood. The hornbeam had such an affection for the juniper that it would die if its neighbor was plucked up. The linden, the hypericum, the hazel, the service- tree, and the ash, were also consecrated to Holda, and the first tree in the list played a prominent part as a magic tree, with which many different usages are associated.

Advantages of Cremation. Dr. W. H.

Curtis, of Chicago, in an address before the American Public Health Association, at its Savannah meeting in 1881,* summarizes the objections to the disposition of the dead by burial as consisting in the pollution of the soil, air, and water a real danger in crowd- ed cemeteries; the peril from body-snatchers; and the possible danger of persons being buried alive. The objection to crema- tion, that it is a heathen rite and not a Christian one, is dismissed as untenable; it may be as Christian as any other method. There remain but two objections that de- serve notice. Cremation may be used to destroy evidences of crime; and it is too costly for general use. The former objec. tion is outweighed by the advantages that might be derived from the general adoption of cremation, and can be obviated by the

  • Riverside Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.