Page:Elizabethan People.djvu/397

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309
BIRTH—BAPTISM—ETC.

Strange noises preceded death; so, in many cases, did direful storms, especially if the death were the result of a crime.

It was customary at that time to draw the pillow from beneath the head of dying persons in order to accelerate the passage to the world beyond. "Pluck stout men's pillows from below their heads" is a line from Timon of Athens. It was thought hard to die on feathers plucked from a dove. This is what gave rise to the above superstition, for there was always a chance of some of the tabooed feathers having got among the others used to stuff the pillow.

Agents of the deities that ruled the upper and the lower worlds waited upon a man at the moment of death. The Elizabethans were in ever constant dread lest on such occasions the agent of the devil should prove the more powerful of the two. Signing the cross, incantations, and many other rites besides earnest prayer were resorted to in order to drive away these evil spirits. Recall Henry's appeal at the bedside of Beaufort:

"O thou eternal mover of the heavens,
Look with a gentle eye upon this wretch!
O beat away the busy meddling field
That lays strong siege unto this wretch's soul,
And from his bosom purge this black despair!"

Perhaps the most popular and wide-spread superstition of this kind was that which related to