Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 17, 1906.djvu/272

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.


THE SCAPE-GOAT IN EUROPEAN FOLKLORE.

BY N. W. THOMAS., M.A.

{Read at Meeting, 2$th April, 1906.)

To those who are familiar with the customs of savage and semi-civilised nations, the idea of evil in its various forms as something concrete which can be transferred to a living being, or an inanimate object, is by no means surprising. It is in fact one of the most fertile of primitive ideas, and lies at the root of many customs which survive, in a more or less disguised form, up to the present day among civilised nations. In its more specialised form of the Scapegoat the idea is equally familiar to the average educated man, thanks to the fact that the ritual of the Jews, handed down in the Old Testament, has enshrined this memento of a rude past, and borne witness to the vitality of the underlying principle.

Dr. Frazer has shown in the Golden Bough that there is in Europe a widely-spread custom of burying or casting out, in effigy or otherwise, a personage known as Death, the Carnival, Lent, Winter, or some similar name, and these ceremonies take place in spring for the most part. Among the Slavs the rites are obviously connected with the cult of spirits of vegetation, or are magical practices intended to promote the revival of plant life or to stay its decline ; it is therefore a reasonable hypothesis that the customs among non- Slavonic peoples are of similar origin. In support of