Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 50.djvu/104

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92
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

POPULAR SUPERSTITIONS.
By WALTER JAMES HOFFMAN, M. D.

PRIMITIVE man fills his world with innumerable spirits, both good and bad, and much of his time is spent in devising means whereby he may invoke the aid of one class to assist him in averting the malignant influence of the other. The dread and wonder excited by the phenomena of the elements, or the discovery of anything abnormal, either animate or inanimate, suggest to his mind the existence and manifestation of deities. As the burrowing of the mole is observed to cause ridges upon the turf, so a mythic gigantic mole traverses beneath the earth to form the mountain range. The storm is caused by a monster bird, the movements of whose wings produce the winds and whose voice is heard in the muttering thunder and lightning flash. So, in everything, he recognizes the presence of some one or more beings, the pretended explanations of whose functions and exploits form the basis of his mythology. The emotions with which these deities are regarded, the dread or reverence in which they are held, and the impressions resulting therefrom, give rise among different peoples to various religious beliefs or cults.

Among civilized nations we perceive evidence of an inherent tendency to regard with partiality anything strange or unusual, the soil of the mind being prolific in the cultivation of morbid fancies which, if given serious thought, become difficult to eradicate.

The survival in America of Old-World customs, beliefs, and superstitions is naturally to be expected because of the continuity of the peoples with whom they originated. This is illustrated by the occurrence of African demonology among the negroes of the South, of Gallic folklore among the Creoles of Louisiana, of some vestiges of quaint old English customs and superstitions in New England, and particularly in the survival of Teutonic folklore among the descendants of the early German colonists.

It is not surprising, then, at this late day, that the folklore and superstition of one part of the country may have been transported into another, and there taken root and become incorporated as original. No matter how little or how much change may have occurred in its transmission, or to what extent a new environment may have influenced it. the nationality of such belief or superstition may still be ascertained with tolerable certainty, as the collection and classification of such data have been reduced to a science.

As pertains to the status of the early cults of northern and western Europe, Germany holds a middle place. Our knowledge