Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 14, 1903.djvu/67

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The Voice of the Stone of Destiny. 55

No argument is needed to show that the form of tradi- tion is affected, even where the substance remains, by external changes. Customs referred to in a legend may become obsolete and consequently unintelligible ; and the reference to them must of necessity be modified into some- thing which is understood, or it will be dropped into oblivion. The tradition of the Lia Fail, with which I started, is an example. To step on the stone was to put one's claim to sovereignty to proof. As Keating relates, doubtless from some older author, on it " were enchant- ments, for it used to roar under the person who had the best right to obtain the sovereignty of Ireland." But this is the latest form of the tradition. We can, however, reconstruct the earlier form by comparison with custom and tradition elsewhere. They render it clear that the stone was once held to declare the divine will as to the succession. Further back still, it may have been regarded as itself endowed with power of choice.^ Strictly speaking, this is not augury, for augury is the ascertainment and declaration of a higher will. But some such animistic belief may have been the seedplot out of which augury grew as gods properly so called were evolved. At the stage at which the tradition reaches us the Lia Fail no longer either chooses on its own account or makes known the choice of heaven. At this stage, not only is it enchanted, consequently diabolic rather than divine in the source of its power, but also it merely points out him who has " the best right." The principle of heredity is now firmly established ; its application alone is uncertain. When the principle is established and the application certain, it is not necessary to consult an oracle.

' I am indebted to Miss Burne for suggesting that something like this is the true interpretation of the use alike of the Lia Fail and of the various regal paraphernalia employed in the stories. As she puts it, they would know their rightful owner. This, however, is to assume the principle of heredity as already established. The animistic belief involved in the interpretation sug- gested was perhaps applied even before then.