LENTEN CUSTOM IN THE SOUTH OF ITALY.
To the Editor of Folk-Lore.
Sir, —Seven years ago, whilst I was at Castellamare (below Naples), I noticed in the old town that a cord was hanging from one side of the narrow street to the other, fastened to the upper part of the many-storied houses. From the middle of the cord hung a roughly-made puppet, about a foot long, dressed all in black, rather like a nun in general appearance, and from the skirts of the puppet came five or six hen's feathers, rather like feather legs in arrangement. I asked a peasant what was the meaning of the doll, and he said, with true Italian vagueness, "It is merely Lent." However, by means of questions, in my very limited Italian, I found that, at the expiration of every week throughout Lent, one feather leg was pulled off the puppet, and that it was finally destroyed on the last day of Lent. If I remember well, Mr. Story, the sculptor, refers to a similar custom in his Saints and Superstitions, which I have not got by me, but he does not mention the feather legs. Mr. Story wrote of the custom a good many years ago as being one which was fast dying out in Italy.
Could any folk-lorist explain why feathers should be used? Would there be any connection between them and the Easter hens and Easter eggs which are so much seen in Italy? The destruction of the black doll no doubt has the same meaning as the Easter customs mentioned in Mr. Frazer's Golden Bough, as being so widely spread, and, I suppose, typifies the destruction of Winter and Death?