Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/224
210 POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
great difficulty in reaching his home. No sooner was it known that he was still alive than the peasants rushed into his house, dragged him to their village, subjected him to terrible tortures, and finally burned him. A curious feature of these remedial rites is the mixture of paganism and Christianity which characterizes them; and it is an unquestionable though almost incredible fact that their atoning efficacy is often quite as firmly believed in by the village priests of the Russian Church as by the most ignorant members of their flock. In the autumn of 1894 some Russian peasants in the district of Kazan slew one of their own number as a sacrifice to the gods of the Yotiaks, a Finnish race dwelling on the Volga, Viatka, and Kama Rivers. Even orthodox Christians of the Greek Church, although regarding these gods as devils, fear and seek to propitiate them, especially in times of public distress. -
Still more widely diffused is the practice of infanticide as the sequence of superstition. The belief that dwarfs or gnomes, dwell- ing in the inner parts of the earth, carry off beautiful newborn babes and leave their own deformed offspring in their stead is not confined to any one people, but is current alike in Germanic, Celtic, Romanic, and Slavic countries, and causes a misshapen child to be looked upon with suspicion and subjected to cruel tortures and even killed. The supposed changeling is often severely beaten with juniper rods and the scourging attended with incantations, so as to compel the wicked fairies to reclaim their deformed bantling and restore the stolen child. If the castigation proves ineffective, more summary measures are frequently taken, and the supposititious suckling is thrown out of the window on a dunghill or immersed in boiling water. In 1877, in the city of New York, an Irish immigrant and his wife burned their child to death under the delusion that they were ridding them- selves of a changeling. Cases of this kind are quite common in Ireland, where the victims are sometimes adults.* Not long since Magoney, an Irish peasant, had a sickly child, which the most care- ful nurture failed to restore to health and strength. The parents, therefore, became convinced that a changeling had been imposed upon them, and when the boy was four years old they resolved to have recourse to boiling water, in which he was kept, notwithstand- ing his shrieks and protestations that he was not an elf, but their own Johnny Magoney, until death released him from his torments.
Wilhelm Mannhardt, the celebrated writer on folklore, states that when, in 1850, he was in Loblau, a village of West Prussia, he saw a man brutally maltreating a boy on the street. On inquiry he
- See the case of Bridget Cleary, reported in Appletons' Popular Science Monthly for
November, 1895, p. 86. We may add that her husband, Michael Cleary, was tried for murder and sentenced to twenty years' penal servitude.