Popular Tales from the Norse/Norse Popular Tales
NORSE POPULAR TALES.
The preceding observations will have given a sufficient account of the mythology of the Norsemen, and of the way in which it fell. They came from the East, and brought that common stock of tradition with them. Settled in the Scandinavian peninsula, they developed themselves through Heathenism, Romanism, and Lutheranism, in a locality little exposed to foreign influence, so that even now the Daleman in Norway or Sweden may be reckoned among the most primitive examples left of peasant life. We should expect, then, that these Popular Tales, which, for the sake of those ignorant in such matters, it may be remarked, had never been collected or reduced to writing till within the last few years, would present a faithful picture of the national consciousness, or, perhaps, to speak more correctly, of that half consciousness out of which the heart of any people speaks in its abundance. Besides those world-old affinities and primeval parallelisms, besides those dreamy recollections of its old home in the East, which we have already pointed out, we should expect to find its later history, after the great migration,, still more distinctly reflected; to discover heathen gods masked in the garb of Christian saints; and thus to see a proof of our assertion above, that a nation more easily changes the form than the essence of its faith, and clings with a toughness which endures for centuries to what it has once learned to believe.
In all mythologies, the trait of all others which most commonly occurs, is that of the descent of the Gods to earth, where, in human form, they mix among mortals, and occupy themselves with their affairs, either out of a spirit of adventure, or to try the hearts of men. Such a conception is shocking to the Christian notion of the omnipotence and omnipresence of God; but we question if there be not times when the most pious and perfect Christian may not find comfort and relief from a fallacy which was a matter of faith in less enlightened creeds, and over which the apostle, writing to the Hebrews, throws the sanction of his authority, so far as angels are concerned. Nor could he have forgotten those words of the men of Lystra,—"The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men;" and how they called "Barnabas Jupiter," and himself Mercury, "because he was the chief speaker." Classical mythology is full of such stories. These wanderings of the gods are mentioned in the Odyssey, and the sanctity of the rites of hospitality, and the dread of turning a stranger from the door, took its origin from a fear lest the wayfaring man should be a divinity in disguise. According to the Greek story, Orion owed his birth to the fact that the childless Hyrieus, his reputed father, had once received unawares Zeus, Poseidon, and Hermes, or, to call them by their Latin names, Jupiter, Neptune, and Mercury. In the beautiful story of Philemon and Baucis, Jupiter and Mercury reward the aged couple who had so hospitably received them by warning them of the approaching deluge. The fables of Phaedrus and Æsop represent Mercury and Demeter as wandering and enjoying the hospitality of men. In India it is Brahm and Vishnu who generally wander. In the Edda, Odin, Loki, and Hœnir thus roam about, or Thor, Thialfi, and Loki. Sometimes Odin appears alone as a horseman, who turns in at night to the smith's house, and gets him to shoe his horse,—a legend which reminds us at once of the Master-Smith. Sometimes it is Thor with his great hammer who wanders thus alone.
Now, let us turn from heathen to Christian times, and look at some of these old legends of wandering gods in a new dress. Throughout the Middle Age, it is our blessed Lord and St. Peter that thus wander; and here we see that half-digested heathendom to which we have alluded. Those who may be shocked at such tales in this collection as "The Master-Smith" and "Gertrude's Bird," must just remember that these are almost purely heathen traditions in which the names alone are Christian; and if it be any consolation to any to know the fact, we may as well state at once that this adaptation of new names to old beliefs is not peculiar to the Norsemen, but is found in all the popular tales of Europe. Germany was full of them, and there St. Peter often appears in a snappish ludicrous guise, which reminds the reader versed in Norse mythology with the tricks and pranks of the shifty Loki. In the Norse tales he thoroughly preserves his saintly character.
Nor was it only gods that walked among men. In the Norse mythology, Frigga, Odin's wife, who knew beforehand all that was to happen, and Freyja, the goddess of love and plenty, were prominent figures, and often trod the earth; the three Norns or Fates, who sway the weirds of men, and spin their destinies at Mimirs' well of knowledge, were awful, venerable powers, to whom the heathen world looked up with love and adoration and awe. To that love and adoration and awe, throughout the Middle Age, one woman, transfigured into a divine shape, succeeded by a sort of natural right, and round the Virgin Mary's blessed head a halo of lovely tales of divine help beams with soft radiance as a crown bequeathed to her by the ancient goddesses. She appears as divine mother, spinner, and helpful virgin (vierge secourable). Flowers and plants bear her name. In England one of our commonest and prettiest insects is still called after her, but which belonged to Freyja, the heathen "Lady," long before the Western nations had learned to adore the name of the mother of Jesus.
The reader of these Tales will meet, in that of "The Lassie and her Godmother," p. 188, with the Virgin Mary in a truly mythic character, as the majestic guardian of sun, moon, and stars, combined with that of a helpful, kindly woman, who, while she knows how to punish a fault, knows also how to reconcile and forgive.
The Norseman's god was a god of battles, and victory his greatest gift to men; but this was not the only aspect under which the Great Father was revered. Not victory in the fight alone, but every other good gift came down from him and the Æsir. Odin's supreme will was that treasure-house of bounty towards which, in one shape or the other, all mortal desires turned, and out of its abundance showers of mercy and streams of divine favour constantly poured down to refresh the weary race of men. All these blessings and mercies, nay, their very source itself, the ancient language bound up in a single word, which, however expressive it may still be, has lost much of the fulness of its meaning in its descent to these later times. This word was "Wish," which originally meant the perfect ideal, the actual fruition of all joy and desire, and not, as now, the empty longing for the object of our desires. From this original abstract meaning, it was but a step to pass to the concrete, to personify the idea, to make it an immortal essence, an attribute of the divinity, another name for the greatest of all Gods himself. And so we find a host of passages in early writers, in every one of which "God" or "Odin" might be substituted for "Wish" with perfect propriety. Here we read how "The Wish" has hands, feet, power, sight, toil, and art. How he works and labours, shapes and masters, inclines his ear, thinks, swears, curses, and rejoices, adopts children, and takes men into his house; behaves, in short, as a being of boundless power and infinite free-will. Still more, he rejoices in his own works as in a child, and thus appears in a thoroughly patriarchal point of view, as the Lord of creation, glorying in his handiwork, as the father of a family in early times was glad at heart when he reckoned his children as arrows in his quiver, and beheld his house full of a long line of retainers and dependants. For this attribute of the Great Father, for Odin as the God of Wish, the Edda uses the word "Oski," which literally expresses the masculine personification of "Wish," and it passed on and added the word osk, wish, as a prefix to a number of others, to signify that they stood in a peculiar relation to the Great Giver of all good. Thus, we have oska-steinn, wishing-stone, i.e. a stone which plays the part of a divining-rod, and reveals secrets and hidden treasure; oska-byrr, a fair wind, a wind as fair as man's heart could wish it; osk-barn and oska-barn, a child after one's own heart, an adopted child, as when the younger Edda tells us that all those who die in battle are Odin's choice-bairns, his adopted children, those on whom he has set his heart,—an expression which, in their turn, was taken by the Icelandic Christian writers to express the relation existing between God and the baptized; and, though last, not least, oska-mær, wish-maidens, another name for the Valkyries—Odin's corse-choosers,—who picked out the dead for him on the field of battle, and waited on the heroes in Valhalla. Again, the Edda is filled with "choice things," possessing some mysterious power of their own, some "virtue," as our older English would express it, which belong to this or that god, and are occasionally lent or lost. Thus, Odin himself had a spear which gave victory to those on whose side it was hurled; Thor, a hammer which destroyed the Giants, hallowed vows, and returned of itself to his hand. He had a, strength-belt, too, which, when he girded it on, his god-strength waxed one-half; Freyr had a sword which wielded itself; Freyja a necklace which, like the cestus of Venus, inspired all hearts with love; Freyr, again, had a ship called Skithblathnir.
"She is so great, that all the Æsir, with their weapons and war gear, may find room on board her; and as soon as the sail is set, she has a fair wind whither she shall go; and when there is no need of faring on the sea in her, she is made of so many things, and with so much craft, that Freyr may fold her together like a cloth, and keep her in his bag."
Of this kind, too, was the ring "Dropper" which Odin had, and from which twelve other rings dropped every night; the apples which Idun, one of the goddesses, had, and of which, so soon as the Æsir ate, they became young again; the helm which Œgir, the sea giant had, which struck terror into all antagonists like the Ægis of Athene; and that wonderful mill which the mythical Frodi owned, of which we shall shortly speak.
Now, let us see what traces of this great god "Wish" and his choice-bairns and wishing-things we can find in these Tales, faint echoes of a mighty heathen voice, which once proclaimed the goodness of the great Father in the blessings which he bestowed on his chosen sons. We shall not have long to seek. In tale No. XX., p. 131, when Short-shanks meets those three old crook-backed hags who have only one eye, which he snaps up, and gets first a sword "that puts a whole army to flight, be it ever so great." We have the "one-eyed Odin," degenerated into an old hag, or rather by—no uncommon process—we have an old witch fused by popular tradition into a mixture of Odin and the three Nornir. Again, when he gets that wondrous ship "which can sail over fresh water and salt water, and over high hills and deep dales," and which is so small that he can put it into his pocket, and yet, when he came to use it, could hold five hundred men, we have plainly the Skith-blathnir of the Edda to the very life. So also in "The Best Wish," p. 252, the whole groundwork of this story rests on this old belief; and when we meet that pair of old scissors which cuts all manner of fine clothes out of the air, that tablecloth which covers itself with the best dishes you could think of, as soon as it was spread out, and that tap which, as soon as it was turned, poured out the best of mead and wine, we have plainly another form of Frodi's wishing-quern,—another recollection of those things of choice about which the old mythology has so much to tell. Of the same kind are the tablecloth, the ram, and the stick in "The Lad who went to the North Wind," p. 228, and the rings in "The Three Princesses of Whiteland," p. 181, and in "Soria Moria Castle," p. 396. In the first of those stories, too, we find those "three brothers" who have stood on a moor " these hundred years fighting about a hat, a cloak, and a pair of boots," which had the virtue of making him who wore them invisible; choice things which will again remind the reader of the Nibelungen Lied, of the way in which Siegfried became possessed of the famous hoard of gold, and how he got that "cap of darkness" which was so useful to him in his remaining exploits. So again in "The Blue Belt," p. 155, what is that belt which, when the boy girded it on, "he felt as strong as if he could lift the whole hill," but Thor's "choicebelt;" and what is the daring boy himself, who overcomes the Troll, but Thor himself, as engaged in one of his adventures with the Giants? So, too, in "Little Annie the Goose-girl," p. 414, the stone which tells the Prince all the secrets of his brides is plainly the old Oskastein, or "wishing-stone." These instances will suffice to shew the prolonged faith in "Wish," and his choice things; a belief which, though so deeply rooted in the North, we have already traced to its home in the East, whence it stretches itself from pole to pole, and reappears in every race. We recognise it in the wishing-cap of Fortunatus, which is a Celtic legend; in the cornucopia of the Romans; in the goat Amalthea among the Greeks; in the wishingcow and wishing-tree of the Hindoos; in the pumpkin-tree of the West Indian Ananzi stories; in the cow of the Servian legends, who spins yarn out of her ear; in the Sampo of the Finns; and in all those stories of cups, and glasses, and horns, and rings, and swords, seized by some bold spirit in the midst of a fairy revel, or earned by some kind deed rendered by mortal hand to one of the "good folk" in her hour of need, and with which the "luck" of that mortal's house was ever afterwards bound up; stories with which the local traditions of all lands are full, but which all pay unconscious homage to the worship of that great God, to whom so many heathen hearts so often turned as the divine realiser of their prayers, and the giver of all good things, until they came at last to make an idol out of their hopes and prayers, and to immortalise the very "Wish" itself.
Again, of all beliefs, that in which man has, at all times of his history, been most prone to set faith, is that of a golden age of peace and plenty, which had passed away, but which might be expected to return. Such a period was looked for when Augustus closed the temple of Janus, and peace, though perhaps not plenty, reigned over what the proud Roman called the habitable world. Such a period the early Christian expected when the Saviour was born, in the reign of that very Augustus; and such a period, some, whose thoughts are more set on earth than heaven, have hoped for ever since, with a hope which, though deferred for eighteen centuries, has not made their hearts sick. Such a period of peace and plenty, such a golden time, the Norseman could tell of in his mythic Frodi's reign, when gold or Frodi's meal, as it was called, was so plentiful that golden armlets lay untouched from year's end to year's end on the king's highway, and the fields bore crops unsown. Here, in England, the Anglo-Saxon Bede knew how to tell the same story of Edwin, the Northumbrian king, and when Alfred came to be mythic, the same legend was passed on from Edwin to the West Saxon monarch. The remembrance of "the bountiful Frodi" echoed in the songs of German poets long after the story which made him so bountiful had been forgotten; but the Norse Skalds could tell not only the story of Frodi's wealth and bounty, but also of his downfall and ruin. In Frodi's house were two maidens of that old giant race, Fenja and Menja. These daughters of the giant he had bought as slaves, and he made them grind his quern or hand-mill, Grotti, out of which he used to grind peace and gold. Even in that golden age one sees there were slaves, and Frodi, however bountiful to his thanes and people, was a hard taskmaster to his giant handmaidens. He kept them to the mill, nor gave them longer rest than the cuckoo's note lasted, or they could sing a song. But that quern was such that it ground anything that the grinder chose, though until then it had ground nothing but gold and peace. So the maidens ground and ground, and one sang their piteous tale in a strain worthy of Æschylus as the other worked—they prayed for rest and pity, but Frodi was deaf. Then they turned in giant mood, and ground no longer peace and plenty, but fire and war. Then the quern went fast and furious, and that very night came Mysing the Sea-rover, and slew Frodi and all his men, and carried off the quern; and so Frodi's peace ended. The maidens the Sea-rover took with him, and when he got on the high seas he bade them grind salt. So they ground; and at midnight they asked if he had not salt enough, but he bade them still grind on. So they ground till the ship was full and sank, Mysing, maids, and mill, and all, and that's why the sea is salt. Perhaps of all the tales in this volume, none could be selected as better proving the toughness of a traditional belief than No. II., p. 8, which tells "Why the Sea is Salt."
The notion of the Arch-enemy of God and man, of a fallen angel, to whom power was permitted at certain times for an all-wise purpose by the Great Pailer of the universe, was as foreign to the heathendom of our ancestors as his name was outlandish and strange to their tongue. This notion Christianity brought with it from the East; and though it is a plant which has struck deep roots, grown distorted and awry, and borne a bitter crop of superstition, it required all the authority of the Church to prepare the soil at first for its reception. To the notion of good necessarily follows that of evil. The Eastern mind, with its Ormuzd and Ahriman, is full of such dualism, and from that hour, when a more than mortal eye saw Satan falling like lightning from heaven, the kingdom of darkness, the abode of Satan and his bad spirits, was established in direct opposition to the kingdom of the Saviour and his angels. The North had its own notion on this point. Its mythology was not without its own dark powers; but though they too were ejected and dispossessed, they, according to that mythology, had rights of their own. To them belonged all the universe that had not been seized and reclaimed by the younger race of Odin and Æsir; and though this upstart dynasty, as the Frost Giants in Promethean phrase would have called it, well knew that Hel, one of this giant progeny, was fated to do them all mischief, and to outlive them, they took her and made her queen of Niflheim, and mistress over nine worlds. There, in a bitterly cold place, she received the souls of all who died of sickness or old age; care was her bed, hunger her dish, starvation her knife. Her walls were high and strong, and her bolts and bars huge; "Half blue was her skin, and half the colour of human flesh. A goddess easy to know, and in all things very stern and grim." But though severe, she was not an evil spirit. She only received those who died as no Norseman wished to die. For those who fell on the gory battle-field, or sank beneath the waves, Valhalla was prepared, and endless mirth and bliss with Odin. Those went to Hel, who were rather unfortunate than wicked, who died before they could be killed. But when Christianity came in and ejected Odin and his crew of false divinities, declaring them to be lying gods and demons, then Hel fell with the rest; but fulfilling her fate, outlived them. From a person she became a place, and all the Northern nations, from the Goth to the Norseman, agreed in believing Hell to be the abode of the devil and his wicked spirits, the place prepared from the beginning for the everlasting torments of the damned. One curious fact connected with this explanation of Hell's origin will not escape the reader's attention. The Christian notion of Hell is that of a place of heat, for in the East, whence Christianity came, heat is often an intolerable torment, and cold, on the other hand, everything that is pleasant and delightful. But to the dweller in the North, heat brings with it sensations of joy and comfort, and life without fire has a dreary outlook; so their Hel ruled in a cold region over those who were cowards by implication, while the mead-cup went round, and huge logs blazed and crackled in Valhalla, for the brave and beautiful who had dared to die on the field of battle. But under Christianity the extremes of heat and cold have met, and Hel, the cold uncomfortable goddess, is now our Hell, where flames and fire abound, and where the devils abide in everlasting flame.
Still, popular tradition is tough, and even after centuries of Christian teaching, the Norse peasant, in his popular tales, can still tell of Hell as a place where firewood is wanted at Christmas, and over which a certain air of comfort breathes, though, as in the goddess Hel's halls, meat is scarce. The following passage from "Why the Sea is Salt," p. 8, will sufficiently prove this:—
"Well, here is the flitch," said the rich brother, "and now go straight to Hell."
"What I have given my word to do, I must stick to," said the other; so he took the flitch and set off. He walked the whole day, and at dusk he came to a place where he saw a very bright light.
"Maybe this is the place," said the man to himself. So he turned aside, and the first thing he saw was an old, old man, with a long white beard, who stood in an outhouse, hewing wood for the Christmas fire.
"Good even," said the man with the flitch.
"The same to you; whither are you going so late?" said the man.
"Oh! I'm going to Hell, if I only knew the right way," answered the poor man.
"Well, you 're not far wrong, for this is Hell," said the old man. "When you get inside they will be all for buying your flitch, for meat is scarce in Hell; but mind you don't sell it unless you get the hand-quern which stands behind the door for it. When you come out, I'll teach you how to handle the quern, for it 's good to grind almost anything."
This, too, is the proper place to explain the conclusion of that intensely heathen tale, "The Master-Smith," p. 105. We have already seen how the Saviour and St. Peter supply, in its beginning, the place of Odin and some other heathen god. But when the Smith sets out with the feeling that he has done a silly thing in quarrelling with the Devil, having already lost his hope of heaven, this tale assumes a still more heathen shape. According to the old notion, those who were not Odin's guests went either to Thor's house, who had all the thralls, or to Freyja, who even claimed a third part of the slain on every battlefield with Odin, or to Hel, the cold comfortless goddess already mentioned, who was still no tormentor, though she ruled over nine worlds, and though her walls were high, and her bolts and bars huge; traits which come out in "The Master-Smith," p. 105, when the Devil, who here assumes Hel's place, orders the watch to go back and lock up all the nine locks on the gates of Hell—a lock for each of the goddesses' nine worlds—and to put a padlock on besides. In the twilight between heathendom and Christianity, in that half- Christian half-heathen consciousness which this tale reveals, heaven is the preferable abode, as Valhalla was of yore, but rather than be without a house to one's head after death, Hell was not to be despised; though, having behaved ill to the ruler of one, and actually quarrelled with the master of the other, the Smith was naturally anxious on the matter. This notion of different abodes in another world, not necessarily places of torment, comes out too in "Not a Pin to choose between them," p. 173, where Peter, the second husband of the silly Goody, goes about begging from house to house in Paradise.
For the rest, whenever the Devil appears in these tales, it is not at all as the Arch-enemy, as the subtle spirit of the Christian's faith, but rather as one of the old Giants, supernatural and hostile indeed to man, but simple and easily deceived by a cunning reprobate, whose superior intelligence he learns to dread, for whom he feels himself no match, and whom, finally, he will receive in Hell at no price. We shall have to notice some other characteristics of this race of giants a little further on, but certainly no greater proof can be given of the small hold which the Christian Devil has taken of the Norse mind, than the heathen aspect under which he constantly appears, and the ludicrous way in which he is always outwitted.
We have seen how our Lord and the saints succeeded to Odin and his children in the stories which told of their wanderings on earth to warn the wicked, or to help the good; we have seen how the kindliness and helpfulness of the ancient goddesses fell like a royal mantle round the form of the Virgin Mary. We have seen, too, on the other hand, how the procession of the Almighty God degenerated into the infernal midnight hunt. We have now to see what became of the rest of the power of the goddesses, of all that might which was not absorbed into the glory of the blessed Virgin. We shall not have far to seek. No reader of early medieval chronicles and sermons can fail to have been struck with many passages which ascribe majesty and power to beings of woman's sex. Now it is a heathen goddess as Diana; now some half-historical character as Bertha; now a mythical being as Holda; now Herodias; now Satia; now Domina Abundia, or Dame Habonde. A very short investigation will serve to identify the two ancient goddesses Frigga and Freyja with all these leaders of a midnight host. Just as Odin was banished from day to darkness, so the two great heathen goddesses, fused into one "uncanny" shape, were supposed to ride the air at night. Medieval chroniclers, writing in bastard Latin, and following the example of classical authors, when they had to find a name for this demon-goddess, chose, of course, Diana the heathen huntress; the moon-goddess; and the ruler of the night. In the same way, when they threw Odin's name into a Latin shape, he, the god of wit and will, as well as power and victory, became Mercury. As for Herodias—not the mother, but the daughter who danced—she must have made a deep impression on the mind of the early Middle Age, for she was supposed to have been cursed after the beheading of John the Baptist, and to have gone on dancing for ever. When heathendom fell, she became confounded with the ancient Goddesses, and thus we find her, sometimes among the crew of the Wild Huntsman; sometimes, as we see in the passages below, in company with, or in the place of Diana, Holda, Satia, and Abundia, at the head of a bevy of women, who met at certain places to celebrate unholy rites and mysteries. As for Holda, Satia, and Abundia, "the kind," "the satisfying," and "the abundant," they are plainly names of good rather than evil powers; they are ancient epithets drawn from the bounty of the "Good Lady," and attest the feeling of respect which still clung to them in the popular mind. As was the case whenever Christianity was brought in, the country folk, always averse to change, as compared with the more lively and intelligent dwellers in towns, still remained more or less heathen, and to this day they preserve unconsciously many superstitions which can be traced up in lineal descent to their old belief. In many ways does the old divinity peep out under the new superstition—the long train, the midnight feast, "the good lady" who presides, the bounty and abundance which her votaries fancied would follow in her footsteps, all belong to the ancient Goddess. Most curious of all is the way in which all these traditions from different countries insist on the third part of the earth, the third child born, the third soul as belonging to the "good lady" who leads the revel; for this right of a third, or even of a half, was one which Freyja possessed "But Freyja is most famous of the Asynjor. She has that bower in heaven hight Fólkvángr, and whithersoever she rideth to the battle, then hath she one-half of the slain, but Odin the other half." Again "when she fares abroad, she drives two cats and sits in a car, and she lends an easy ear to the prayers of men."
We have got then the ancient goddesses identified as evil influences, and as the leader of a midnight band of women, who practised secret and unholy rites. This leads us at once to witchcraft. In all ages and in all races this belief in sorcery has existed. Men and women practised it alike, but in all times female sorcerers have predominated. This was natural enough. In those days women were priestesses; they collected drugs and simples; women alone knew the virtues of plants. Those soft hands spun linen, made lint, and bound wounds. Women, in the earliest times with which we are acquainted with our forefathers, alone knew how to read and write, they only could carve the mystic runes, they only could chant the charms so potent to allay the wounded warrior's smart and pain. The men were busy out of doors with ploughing, hunting, barter, and war. In such an age the sex which possessed by natural right book-learning, physic, soothsaying, and incantation, even when they used these mysteries for good purposes, were but a step from sin. The same soft white hand that bound the wound and scraped the lint; the same gentle voice that sung the mystic rune, that helped the child-bearing woman, or drew the arrow-head from the dying champion's breast; the same bright eye that gazed up to heaven in ecstasy through the sacred grove and read the will of the Gods when the mystic tablets and rune-carved lots were cast—all these, if the will were bad, if the soothsayer passed into the false prophetess, the leech into a poisoner, and the priestess into a witch, were as potent and terrible for ill as they had once been powerful for good. In all the Indo-European tribes, therefore, women, and especially old women, have practised witchcraft from the earliest times, and Christianity found them wherever it advanced. But Christianity, as it placed mankind upon a higher platform of civilisation, increased the evil which it found, and when it expelled the ancient goddesses, and confounded them as demons with Diana and Herodias, it added them and their votaries to the old class of malevolent sorcerers. There was but one step, but a simple act of the will, between the Norn and the hag, even before Christianity came in. As soon as it came, down went Goddess, Valkyrie, Norn, priestess, and soothsayer, into that unholy deep where the heathen hags and witches had their being; and, as Christianity gathered strength, developed its dogmas, and worked out its faith, fancy, tradition, leechcraft, poverty, and idleness, produced that unhappy class, the medieval witch, the persecution of which is one of the darkest pages in religious history.
It is curious indeed to trace the belief in witches through the Middle Age, and to mark how it increases in intensity and absurdity. At first, as we have seen in the passages quoted, the superstition seemed comparatively harmless, and though the witches themselves may have believed in their unholy power, there were not wanting divines who took a common-sense view of the matter, and put the absurdity of their pretensions to a practical proof. Such was that good parish priest who asked, when an old woman of his flock insisted that she had been in his house with the company of "the Good Lady," and had seen him naked and covered him up, "How, then, did you get in when all the doors were locked?" "We can get in," she said, "even if the doors are locked." Then the priest took her into the chancel of the church, locked the door, and gave her a sound thrashing with the pastoral staff, calling out, "Out with you, lady witch." But as she could not, he sent her home, saying, "See now how foolish you are to believe in such empty dreams." But as the Church increased in strength, as heresies arose, and consequent persecution, then the secret meetings of these sectarians, as we should now call them, were identified by the hierarchy with the rites of sorcery and magic, and with the relics of the worship of the old gods. By the time, too, that the hierarchy was established, that belief in the fallen angel, the Arch-Fiend, the Devil, originally so foreign to the nations of the West, had become thoroughly ingrafted on the popular mind, and a new element of wickedness and superstition was introduced at those unholy festivals. About the middle of the thirteenth century, we find the mania for persecuting heretics invading the tribes of Teutonic race from France and Italy, backed by all the power of the Pope. Like jealousy, persecution too often makes the meat it feeds on, and many silly, if not harmless, superstitions were rapidly put under the ban of the Church, Now the "Good Lady " and her train begin to recede; they only fill up the background, while the Prince of Darkness steps, dark and terrible, in front, and soon draws after him the following of the ancient goddess. Now we hear stories of demoniac possession; now the witches adore a demon of the other sex. With the male element, and its harsher, sterner nature, the sinfulness of these unholy assemblies is infinitely increased; folly becomes guilt, and guilt crime.
From the middle of the fourteenth to the middle of the seventeenth century the history of Europe teems with processes against witches and sorcerers. Before the Reformation it reached its height, in the Catholic world, with the famous bull of Innocent the Eighth in 1484, the infamous Malleus Maleficarum, the first of the long list of witch-finding books, and the zeal with which the State lent all the terrors of the law to assist the ecclesiastical inquisitors. Before the tribunals of those inquisitors, in the fifteenth century, innumerable victims were arraigned on the double charge of heresy and sorcery—for the crimes ran in couples, both being children and sworn servants of the Devil. Would that the historian could say that with the era of the Reformation these abominations ceased! The Roman Hierarchy, with her bulls and inquisitors, had sown a bitter crop, which both she and the Protestant Churches were destined to reap; but in no part of the world were the labourers more eager and willing, when the fields were "black" to harvest, than in those very reformed communities which had just shaken off the yoke of Rome, and which had sprung in many cases from the very heretics whom she had persecuted and burnt, accusing them, at the same time, of the most malignant sorceries. Their excuse is, that no one is before his age. The intense personality given to the Devil in the Middle Age had possessed the whole mind of Europe. "We must take them as we find them, with their bright fancy, their earnest faith, their stern fanaticism, their revolting superstition, just as when we look upon a picture we know that those brilliant hues and tones, that spirit which informs the whole, could never be were it not for the vulgar earths and oil out of which the glorious work of art is mixed and made. Strangely monotonous are all the witch trials of which Europe has so many to show. At first the accused denies, then under torture she confesses, then relapses and denies; tortured again, she confesses again, amplifies her story, and accuses others. When given to the stake, she not seldom asserts all her confessions to be false, which is ascribed to the power which the fiend still has over her. Then she is burnt and her ashes given to the winds. Those who wish to read one, unexampled perhaps for barbarity and superstition, and more curious than the rest from the prominence given in it to a man, may find it in the trial of Dr. Fian, the Scotch wizard, "which Doctor was register to the devill, that sundrie times preached at North Baricke (North Berwick, in East Lothian) Kirke to a number of notorious Witches." But we advise no one to venture on a perusal of this tract who is not prepared to meet with the most unutterable accusations and crimes, the most cruel tortures, and the most absurd confessions, followed as usual by the stoutest denial of all that had been confessed; when torture had done her worst on poor human nature, and the soul reasserted at the last her supremacy over the body. characteristic of all these witch trials is the fact, that in spite of their unholy connection and intrigues with the Evil One, no witch ever attained to wealth and station by the aid of the Prince of Darkness. The pleasure to do ill is all the pleasure they feel. This fact alone might have opened the eyes of their persecutors, for if the Devil had the worldly power which they represented him to have, he might at least have raised some of his votaries to temporal rank, and to the pomps and the vanities of this world. An old German proverb expresses this notorious fact, by saying, that "every seven years a witch is three halfpence richer;" and so with all the unholy means of Hell at their command, they dragged out their lives, along with their black cats, in poverty and wretchedness. To this fate at last came the worshippers of the great goddess Freyja, whom our forefathers adored as the goddess of love and plenty; and whose car was drawn by those animals which popular superstition has ever since assigned to the "old witch" of our English villages.
The North was not free, any more than the rest of the Protestant world, from this direful superstition, which ran over Europe like a pestilence in the sixteenth century. In Sweden especially, the witches and their midnight ridings to Blokulla, the black hill, gave occasion to processes as absurd and abominable as the trial of Dr. Fian and the witch-findings of Hopkins. In Denmark, the sorceresses were supposed to meet at Tromsoe, high up in Finmark, or even on Hecla in Iceland. The Norse witches met at a Blokolle of their own, or on the Dovrefell, or at other places in Norway or Finmark. As might be expected, we find many traces of witchcraft in these Tales, but it may be doubted whether these may not be referred rather to the old heathen belief in such arts still lingering in the popular mind than to the processes of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, which were far more a craze and mania of the educated classes acting under a mistaken religious fanaticism against popular superstitions than a movement arising from the mass of the community. Still, in the Mastermaid, p. 71, the witch of a sister-in-law, who had rolled the apple over to the Prince, and so charmed him, was torn to pieces between twenty-four horses. The old queen in "The Lassie and her Godmother," p. 188, tries to persuade her son to have the young queen burnt alive for a wicked witch, who was dumb, and had eaten her own babes. In "East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon," p. 22, it is a wicked stepmother who has bewitched the prince. In "Bushy Bride," p. 322, the ugly bride charms the king to sleep, and is at last thrown, with her wicked mother, into a pit full of snakes. In "The Twelve Wild Ducks," p. 51, the wicked stepmother persuades the king that Snow-white and Rosy-red is a witch, and almost persuades him to burn her alive. In "Tatterhood," p. 345, a whole troop of witches come to keep their revels on Christmas eve in the Queen's Palace, and snap off the young Princess's head. It is hard, indeed, in tales where Trolls play so great a part, to keep witch and Troll separate; but the above instances will shew that the belief in the one, as distinct from the other, exists in the popular superstitions of the North.
The frequent transformation of men into beasts, in these Tales, is another striking feature. This power the gods of the Norseman possessed in common with those of all other mythologies. Europa and her Bull, Leda and her Swan, will occur at once to the reader's mind; and to come to closer resemblances, just as Athene appears in the Odyssey as an eagle or a swallow perched on the roof of the hall, so Odin flies off as a falcon, and Loki takes the form of a horse or bird. This was only part of that omnipotence which all gods enjoy. But the belief that men, under certain conditions, could also take the shape of animals, is primeval, and the traditions of every race can tell of such transformations. Herodotus had heard how the Neurians, a Slavonic race, passed for wizards amongst the Scythians and the Greeks settled round the Black Sea, because each of them, once in the year, became a wolf for a few days, and then returned to his natural shape. Pliny, Pomponius Mela, and St. Augustin, in his great treatise, De Civitate Dei, tell the same story, and Virgil in his Eclogues has sung the same belief. The Latins called such a man a turnskin,—versipellis, an expression which exactly agrees with the Icelandic expression for the same thing, and which is probably the true original of our turncoat. In Petronius the superstition appears in its full shape, and is worth repeating. At the banquet of Trimalchion, Niceros gives the following account of the turnskins of Nero's time:—
A man who had such a gift or greed was also called lycanthropus, a man-wolf or wolf-man, which term the Anglo-Saxons translated literally in Canute's Laws verevulf, and the early English werewolf. In Old French he was loupgarou, which means the same thing; except that garou means man-wolf in itself without the antecedent loup, so that, as Madden observes, the whole word is one of those reduplications of which we have an example in lukewarm. In Brittany he was bleizgarou and denvleiz, formed respectively from bleiz, wolf, and den, man; garou is merely a distorted form of wer or vere, man and loup. In later French the word became waroul, whence the Scotch wroul, wurl, and worlin.
It was not likely that a belief so widely spread should not have extended itself to the North; and the grave assertions of Olaus Magnus in the sixteenth century, in his Treatise de Gentibus Septentrionalibus, shew how common the belief in were-wolves was in Sweden so late as the time of Gustavus Vasa. In mythical times the Volsunga Saga expressly states of Sigmund and Sinfjötli that they became were-wolves,—which, we may remark, were Odin's sacred beasts,—just in the same way as Brynhildr and the Valkyries, or corse-choosers, who followed the god of battles to the field, and chose the dead for Valhalla when the fight was done, became swan-inaidens, and took the shape of swans. In either case, the wolf's skin or the swan's feathery covering was assumed and laid aside at pleasure, though the Völundr Quidr, in the Edda, and the stories of "The Fair Melusina," and other medieval swan-maidens, shew that any one who seized that shape while thus laid aside, had power over its wearer. In later times, when this old heroic belief degenerated into the notion of sorcery, it was supposed that a girdle of wolfskin thrown over the body, or even a slap on the face with a wolfskin glove, would transform the person upon whom the sorcerer practised into the shape of a ravening wolf, which fled at once to the woods, where he remained in that shape for a period which varied in popular belief for nine days, three, seven, or nine years. While in this state he was especially ravenous after young children, whom he carried off as the were-wolf carried off William in the old romance, though all were-wolves did not treat their prey with the same tenderness as that were-wolf treated William.
But the favourite beast for Norse transformations in historic times, if we may judge from the evidence afforded by the Sagas, was the bear, the king of all their beasts, whose strength and sagacity made him an object of great respect.
This old belief, then, might be expected to be found in these Norse Tales, and accordingly we find men transformed in them into various beasts. Of old these transformations, as we have already stated, were active, if we may use the expression, as well as passive. A man who possessed the gift frequently assumed the shape of a beast at his own will and pleasure, like the soldier in Petronius. Even now in Norway, it is matter of popular belief that Finns and Lapps, who from time immemorial have passed for the most skilful witches and wizards in the world, can at will assume the shape of bears; and it is a common thing to say of one of those beasts, when he gets unusually savage and daring, "that can be no Christian bear." On such a bear, in the parish of Oloden, after he had worried to death more than sixty horses and six men, it is said that a girdle of bearskin, the infallible mark of a man thus transformed, was found when he was at last tracked and slain. The tale called "Farmer Weathersky," in this collection (p. 285), shews that the belief of these spontaneous transformations still exists in popular tradition, where it is easy to see that Farmer Weathersky is only one of the ancient gods degraded into a demon's shape. His sudden departure through the air, horse, sledge, and lad, and all, and his answer, "I'm at home, alike north, and south, and east, and west"; his name itself, and his distant abode, surrounded with the corpses of the slain, sufficiently betray the divinity in disguise. His transformation, too, into a hawk answers exactly to that of Odin when he flew away from the Frost Giant in the shape of that bird. But in these Tales such transformations are for the most part passive; they occur not at the will of the person transformed, but through sorcery practised on them by some one else. Thus the White Bear in the beautiful story of "East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon," p. 22, is a Prince transformed by his stepmother, just as it is the stepmother who plays the same part in the romance of William and the Were-wolf. So the horse in "The Widow's Son," p. 311, is a Prince over whom a king has cast that shape. So also in "Lord Peter," p. 295, which is the full story of what we have only hitherto known in part as "Puss in Boots," the cat is a Princess bewitched by the Troll who had robbed her of her lands; so also in "The Seven Foals," p. 302, and "The Twelve Wild Ducks," p. 51, the Foals and the Ducks are Princes over whom that fate has come by the power of a witch or a Troll, to whom an unwary promise had been given. Thoroughly mythic is the trait in "The Twelve Wild Ducks," where the youngest brother reappears with a wild duck's wing instead of his left arm, because his sister had no time to finish that portion of the shirt, upon the completion of which his retransformation depended.
But we should ill understand the spirit of the Norsemen, if we supposed that these transformations into beasts were all that the national heart has to tell of beasts and their doings, or that, when they appear, they do so merely as men-beasts, without any power or virtue of their own. From the earliest times, side by side with those productions of the human mind which speak of the dealings of men with men, there has grown up a stock of traditions about animals and their relations with one another, which forms a true Beast Epic, and is full of the liveliest traits of nature. Here, too, it was reserved for Grimm to restore these traditions to their true place in the history of the human mind, and to shew that the poetry which treats of them is neither satirical nor didactic, though it may contain touches of both these artificial kinds of composition, but, on the contrary, purely and intensely natural. It is Epic, in short, springing out of that deep love of nature and close observation of the habits of animals which is only possible in an early and simple stage of society. It used to be the fashion, when these Beast traditions were noticed, to point to Æsop as their original, but Grimm has sufficiently proved that what we see in Æsop is only the remains of a great world-old cycle of such traditions which had already, in Æsop's day, been subjected by the Greek mind to that critical process which a late state of society brings to bear on popular traditions; that they were then already worn and washed out and moralised. He has also? hewn how the same process went on till in Phædrus nothing but the dry bones of the traditions, with a drier moral, are served up to the reader; and he has done justice on La Fontaine, who wrote with all the wanton licentiousness of his day, and frittered away the whole nature of his fables by the frivolity of his allusions to the artificial society of his time. Nor has he spared Lessing, who, though he saw through the poverty of Phædrus as compared with Æsop, and was alive to the weakness of La Fontaine, still wandered about in the classical mist which hung heavy over the learning of the eighteenth century, and saw in the Greek form the perfection of all fable, when in Æsop it really appears in a state of degeneracy and decay. Here too, as in so many other things, we have a proof that the world is older than we think it. The Beast-Fables in the Pantcha-Tantra and the Hitopadesa, the Indian parallels to Æsop, reveal, in the connection in which they occur, and in the moral use to which they are put, a state of society long past that simple early time in which such fictions arise. They must have sprung up in the East in the very dawn of time; and thence travelling in all directions, we find them after many centuries in various shapes, which admit of no mistake as to their first origin, at the very ends of the earth, in countries as opposite as the Poles to each other; in New Zealand and Norway, in Central Africa and Servia, in the West Indies and in Mongolia; all separated by immense tracts of land or sea from their common centre.
To the earnest inquirer, to one who believes that many dark things may yet be solved, it is very satisfactory to see that even Grimm, in his "Reynard the Fox," is at a loss to understand why the North, properly so called, had none of the traditions which the Middle Age moulded into that famous Beast Epic. But since then the North, as the Great Master himself confesses in his later works, has amply avenged herself for the slight thus cast upon her by mistake. In the year 1834, when Grimm thus expressed his surprise on this point, the North had no such traditions to shew in books indeed, but she kept them stored up in her heart in an abundance with which no other land perhaps can vie. This book at least shews how natural it seems to the Norse mind now, and how much more natural of course it seemed in earlier times, when sense went for so much and reflection for so little, that beasts should talk; and how truly and faithfully it has listened and looked for the accents and character of each. The Bear is still the King of Beasts, in which character he appears in "True and Untrue," p. 1, but here, as in Germany, he is no match for the Fox in wit. Thus Reynard plays him a trick which condemns him for ever to a stumpy tail in No. XXIII. (p. 172). He cheats him out of his share of a firkin of butter in No. LVIL (p. 409). He is preferred as Herdsman, in No. X. (p. 69), before either Bear or Wolf, by the old wife who wants some one to tend her flock. Yet all the while he professes immense respect for the Bear, and calls him "Lord," even when in the very act of outwitting him. In the tale called "Well Done and Ill Paid," p. 266, the crafty fox puts a finish to his misbehaviour to his "Lord Bruin," by handing him over, bound hand and foot, to the peasant, and by causing his death outright. Here, too, we have an example, which we shall see repeated in the case of the giants, that strength and stature are not always wise, and that wit and wisdom never fail to carry the day against mere brute force. Another tale, however, restores the bear to his true place as the king of beasts, endowed not only with strength, but with something divine and terrible about him which the Trolls cannot withstand. This is "The Cat on the Dovrefell," p. 90, in connection with which it should be remembered that the same tradition existed in the thirteenth century in Germany, that the bear is called familiarly grandfather in the North, and that the Lapps reckon him rather as akin to men than beasts; that they say he has the strength of ten and the wit of twelve men. If they slay him, they formally beg his pardon, as do also the Ostjaks, a tribe akin to the Lapps, and bring him to their huts with great formalities and mystic songs. To the Wolf, whose nickname is "Graylegs," these Tales are more complimentary. He is not the spiteful, stupid, greedy Isengrim of Germany and France. Not that Isengrim. of whom old English fables of the thirteenth century tell us that he became a monk, but when the brethren wished to teach him his letters that he might learn the Paternoster, all they could get out of him was lamb, lamb; nor could they ever get him to look to the cross, for his eyes, with his thoughts, "were ever to the wood ward, " He appears, on the contrary, in "The Giant who had no Heart in his Body," p. 59, as a kindly, grateful beast, who repays tenfold out of the hidden store of his supernatural sagacity the gift of the old jade, which Boots had made over to him.
The horse was a sacred animal among the Teutonic tribes from the first moment of their appearance in history, and Tacitus has related, how in the shade of those woods and groves which served them for temples, white horses were fed at the public cost, whose backs no mortal man crossed, whose neigh ings and snortings were carefully watched as auguries and omens, and who were thought to be conscious of divine mysteries. In Persia, too, the classical reader will remember how the neighing of a horse decided the choice for the crown. Here, in England, at any rate, we have only to think of Hengist and Horsa, the twin-heroes of the Anglo-Saxon migration, as the legend ran,—heroes whose name meant "horse,"—and of the vale of the White Horse in Berks, where the sacred form still gleams along the down, to be reminded of the sacredness of the horse to our forefathers. The Eddas are filled with the names of famous horses, and the Sagas contain many stories of good steeds, in whom their owners trusted and believed as sacred to this or that particular god. Such a horse is Dapplegrim in these Tales (p. 272), who saves his master out of all his perils, and brings him to all fortune, and is another example of that mysterious connection with the higher powers which animals in all ages have been supposed to possess.
Such a friend, too, to the helpless lassie is the Dun Bull in "Katie Woodencloak," p. 357, out of whose ear comes the "Wishing Cloth," which serves up the choicest dishes. The story is probably imperfect, as we should expect to see him again in human shape after his head was cut off, and his skin flayed; but, after being the chief character up to that point, he remains from that time forth in the background, and we only see him darkly in the man who comes out of the face of the rock, and supplies the lassie's wants when she knocks on it. Dun, or blue, or mouse-colour, is the favourite colour for fairy kine. Thus the cow which Guy of Warwick killed was dun. The Huldror in Norway have large flocks of blue kine. In Scotland runs the story of the Mouse-coloured Elfin Bull. In Iceland the colour of such kine is apalgrár, dapple grey. This animal has been an object of adoration and respect from the earliest times, and we need only remind our readers of the sanctity of cows and bulls among the Indians and Egyptians, of "the Golden Calf" in the Bible; of lo and her wanderings from land to land; and, though last, not least, of Audhumla, the Mythic Cow in the Edda, who had so large a part in the creation of the first Giant in human form.
The Dog, to which, with all his sagacity and faithfulness, something unclean and impure clings, as Grimm well observes, plays no very prominent part in these Tales. We find him, however, in "Not a Pin to choose between them," p. 173, where his sagacity fails to detect his mistress; and, as "the foe of his own house," the half-bred foxy hound, who chases away the cunning Fox in "Well Done and Ill Paid," p. 266. Still he, too, in popular superstition, is gifted with a sense of the supernatural; he howls when death impends, and in "Buttercup," p. 124, it is Goldtooth, their dog, who warns Buttercup and his mother of the approach of the old hag. In "Bushy Bride," p. 322, he appears only as the lassie's lap-dog, is thrown away as one of her sacrifices, and at last goes to the wedding in her coach; yet in that tale he has something weird about him, and he is sent out by his mistress three times to see if the dawn is coming. In one tale (p. 264) the Goat appears in full force, and dashes out the brains of the Troll, who lived under the bridge over the burn. In another, "Tatterhood," p. 345, he helps the lassie in her onslaught on the witches. He, too, was sacred to Thor in the old mythology, and drew his thundering car. Here something of the divine nature of his former lord, who was the great foe of all Trolls, seems to have been passed on in popular tradition to the animal who had seen so many adventures with the great God who swayed the thunder. This feud between the Goat and the Trolls comes out curiously in "The Old Dame and her Hen," p. 14, where a goat falls down the trapdoor to the Troll's house: "Who sent for you, I should like to know, you long-bearded beast? " said the Man o' the Hill, who was in an awful rage; and with that he whipped up the Goat, wrung his head off, and threw him down into the cellar." Still he belonged to one of the heathen gods, and so in later Middle-Age superstition he is assigned to the Devil, who even takes his shape when he presides at the "Witches' Sabbath.
Nor in this list must the little birds be forgotten which taught the man's daughter, in the tale of "The Two Stepsisters," p. 113, how to act in her trials. So, too, in "Katie Woodencloak," p. 357, the little bird tells the Prince, "who understood the song of birds very well," that blood is gushing out of the golden shoe. The belief that some persons had the gift of understanding what the birds said is primeval. We pay homage to it in our proverbial expression, "A little bird told me." Popular traditions and rhymes protect their nests, as in the case of the wren, the robin, and the swallow. Occasionally this gift seems to have been acquired by eating or tasting the flesh of a snake or dragon, as Sigurd, in the Volsung tale, first became aware of Regin's designs against his life, when he accidentally tasted the heart-blood of Fafnir, whom he had slain in dragon shape, and then all at once the swallow's song, perched above him, became as intelligible as human speech.
We now come to a class of beings which plays a large part, and always for ill, in these Tales. These are the Giants or Trolls. In modern Norse tradition there is little difference between the names, but originally Troll was a more general expression for a supernatural being than Giant, which was rather confined to a race more dull than wicked. In the Giants we have the wantonness of boundless bodily strength and size, which, trusting entirely to these qualities, falls at last by its own weight. At first, it is true, that proverbial wisdom, all the stores of traditional lore, all that could be learnt by what may be called rule of thumb, was ascribed to them. One sympathises too with them, and almost pities them as the representatives of a simple primitive race, whose day is past and gone, but who still possessed something of the innocence and virtue of ancient times, together with a stock of old experience, which, however useful it might be as an example to others, was quite useless to help themselves. They are the old Tories of mythology, as opposed to the Æsir, the advanced liberals. They can look back and say what has been, but to look forward to say what will be and shall be, and to mould the future, is beyond their ken. True as gold to the traditional and received, and worthless as dross for the new and progressive: such a, nature, when unprovoked, is easy and simple; but rouse it, and its exuberant strength rises in a paroxysm of rage, though its clumsy awkward blows, guided by mere cunning, fail to strike the slight and lissom foe who waits for and eludes the stroke, until his reason gives him the mastery over sheer brute force which has wearied itself out by its own exertions.
This race, and that of the upstart Æsir, though almost always at feud, still had their intervals of common intercourse, and even social enjoyment. Marriages take place between them, visits are paid, feasts are given, ale is broached, and mirth is fast and furious. Thor was the worst foe the giants ever had, and yet he met them sometimes on good terms. They were destined to meet once for all on that awful day, "the twilight of the gods," but till then, they entertained for each other some sense of mutual respect.
The Trolls, on the other hand, with whom mankind had more to do, were supposed to be less easy-tempered, and more systematically malignant, than the Giants, and with the term were bound up notions of sorcery and unholy power. But mythology is a woof of many colours, in which the hues are shot and blended, so that the various races of supernatural beings are shaded off, and fade away almost imperceptibly into each other; and thus, even in heathen times, it must have been hard to say exactly where the Giant ended and the Troll began. But when Christianity came in, and heathendom fell, when the godlike race of the Æsir became evil demons instead of good genial powers, then all the objects of the old popular belief, whether Æsir, Giants, or Trolls, were mingled together in one superstition, as "no canny." They were all Trolls, all malignant; and thus it is that, in these Tales, the traditions about Odin and his underlings, about the Frost Giants, and about sorcerers and wizards, are confused and garbled; and all supernatural agency that plots man's ill is the work of Trolls, whether the agent be the arch-enemy himself, or giant, or witch, or wizard.
In tales such as "The Old Dame and her Hen," p. 14, "The Giant who had no Heart in his Body," p. 59, "Shortshanks," p. 131, "Boots and the Troll," p. 215, "Boots who ate a Match with the Troll," p. 36, the easy temper of the old Frost Giants predominates, and we almost pity them as we read. In another, "The Big Bird Dan," p. 382, we have a Troll Prince, who appears as a generous benefactor to the young Prince, and lends him a sword by help of which he slays the King of the Trolls, just as we sometimes find in the Edda friendly meetings between the Æsir and this or that Frost Giant. In "Tatterhood," p. 345, the Trolls are very near akin to the witches of the Middle Age. In other tales, as "The Mastermaid," p. 71, "The Blue Belt," p. 155, "Farmer Weathersky," p. 285, a sort of settled malignity against man appears as the direct working and result of a bad and evil spirit. In "Buttercup," p. 124, and "The Cat on the Dovrefell," we have the Troll proper,—the supernatural dwellers of the woods and hills, who go to church, and eat men, and porridge, and sausages indifferently, not from malignity, but because they know no better, because it is their nature, and because they have always done so. In one point they all agree: in their place of abode. The wild pine forest that clothes the spurs of the fells, but more than all, the interior recesses of the rocky fell itself, is where the Trolls live. Thither they carry off the children of men, and to them belongs all the untold riches of the mineral world. There, in caves and clefts in the steep face of the rock, sits the. Troll, as the representative of the old giants, among heaps of gold and silver and precious things. They stride off into the dark forest by day, whither no rays of the sun can pierce; they return home at nightfall, feast themselves full, and snore out the night. One thing was fatal to them: the sight of the sun. If they looked him full in the face, his glory was too great for them, and they burst, as in "Lord Peter," p. 295, and in "The Old Dame and her Hen," p. 14. This, too, is a deeply mythic trait. The old religion of the North was a bright and lively faith; it lived in the light of joy and gladness; its gods were the "blithe powers"; opposed to them were the dark powers of mist and gloom, who could not bear the glorious face of the Sun, of Baldr's beaming visage, or the bright flash of Thor's levin bolt.
In one aspect, the whole race of Giants and Trolls stands out in strong historical light. There can be little doubt that, in their continued existence amongst the woods, and rocks, and hills, we have a memory of the gradual suppression and extinction of some hostile race, who gradually retired into the natural fastnesses of the land, and speedily became mythic. Nor, if we bear in mind their natural position, and remember how constantly the infamy of sorcery has clung to the Finns and Lapps, shall we have far to go to seek this ancient race, even at the present day. Between this outcast nomad race, which wandered from forest to forest, and from fell to fell, without a fixed place of abode, and the old natural powers and Frost Giants, the minds of the race which adored Odin and the Æsir soon engendered a monstrous man-eating cross-breed of supernatural beings, who fled from contact with the intruders as soon as the first great struggle was over, abhorred the light of day, and looked upon agriculture and tillage as a dangerous innovation which destroyed their hunting-fields, and was destined finally to root them out from off the face of the earth. This fact appears in countless stories all over the globe, for man is true to himself in all climes, and the savage in Africa or across the Rocky Mountains dreads tillage and detests the plough as much as any Lapp or Samoyed.
"See what pretty playthings, mother!" cries the Giant's daughter, as she unties her apron, and shows her a plough, and horses, and peasant. "Back with them this instant," cries the mother in wrath, "and put them down as carefully as you can, for these playthings can do our race great harm, and when these come we must budge." "What sort of an earthworm is this?" said one Giant to another, when they met a man as they walked. " These are the earthworms that will one day eat us up, brother," answered the other; and soon both Giants left that part of Germany. Nor does this trait appear less strongly in these Norse Tales. The Giants or Trolls can neither brew nor wash properly, as we see in "Shortshanks," p. 131, where the Ogre has to get Shortshanks to brew his ale for him; and in "East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon," p. 22, where none of the Trolls are able to wash out the spot of tallow. So also in the "Two Step-sisters," p. 113, the old witch is forced to get human maids to do her household work; and, lastly, the best example of all, in "Lord Peter," p. 295, where agriculture is plainly a secret of mankind, which the Giants were eager to learn, but which was a branch of knowledge beyond their power to attain.
"'Stop a bit,' said the Cat, 'and I'll tell you how the farmer sets to work to get in his winter rye.'
"And so she told him such a long story about the winter rye.
"'First of all, you see, he ploughs the field, and then he dungs it, and then he ploughs it again, and then he harrows it,' and so she went on till the sun rose."
Before we leave these gigantic natural powers, let us linger a moment to point out how heartily the Winds are sketched in these Tales as four brothers; of whom, of course, the North wind is the oldest, and strongest, and roughest. But though rough in form and tongue, he is a genial, kind-hearted fellow after all. He carries the lassie to the castle, "East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon," whither none of his brothers had strength to blow. All he asks is that she won't be afraid, and then he takes a good rest, and puffs himself up with as much breath as ever he can hold, begins to blow a storm, and off they go. So, too, in "The Lad who went to the North Wind," p. 228, though he can't restore the meal he carried off, he gives the lad three things which make his fortune, and amply repay him. He, too, like the Grecian Boreas, is divine, and lineally descended from Hræsvelgr, that great giant in the Edda, who sits "at the end of the world in eagle's shape, and when he flaps his wings, all the winds come that blow upon men."
Enough surely has now been said to shew that the old religion and mythology of the Norseman still lives disguised in these popular tales. Besides this internal evidence, we find here and there, in the written literature of earlier days, hints that the same stories were even then current, and current then, as now, among the lower classes. Thus in King Sverri's Saga we read, "And so it was just like what is said to have happened in old stories of what the king's children suffered from their stepmother's ill-will." And again, in Olof Tryggvason's Saga by the monk Odd, "And better is it to hear such things with mirth than stepmother's stories which shepherds tell, where no one can tell whether anything is true, and where the king is always made the least in their narrative." But, in truth, no such positive evidence is needed. Any one who has read the Volsung tale as we have given it, will be at no loss to see where the "little birds" who speak to the Prince and the lassie, or the "pit of snakes" into which folk are cast, in these tales, come from; nor when they read in the "Big Bird Dan," p. 382, about "the naked sword" which the Princess lays by her side every night, will they fail to recognise Sigurd's sword Gram, which he laid between himself and Brynhildr when he rode through the flame and won her for Gunnar. These mythical deep-rooted germs, throwing out fresh shoots from age to age in the popular literature of the race, are far more convincing proofs of the early existence of these traditions than any mere external evidence.
- Heb. xiii. 1: "Let brotherly love continue. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."
- One of Odin's name, when on these adventures, was Gangradr, or Gangleri. Both mean "the Ganger, or wayfarer." We have the latter epithet in the "Gangrel carle," and "Gangrel loon," of the early Scotch ballads.
- So also Orion's Belt was called by the Norsemen, Frigga's spindle or rock, Friggjar rockr. In modern Swedish, Friggerock, where the old goddess holds her own; but in Danish, Mariæ-rock, Our Lady's rock or spindle. Thus, too, Karlavagn, the "car of men," or heroes, who rode with Odin, which we call "Charles's Wain," thus keeping something, at least, of the old name, though none of its meaning, became in Scotland "Peter's-pleugh," from the Christian saint, just as Orion's sword became "Peter's-staff." But what do "Lady Landers" and "Lady Ellison" mean, as applied to the "Lady-Bird" in Scotland?
- D. M., p. 126 fol., where they are cited at length.
- Snorro's Edda, Stockholm, 1842, translated by the writer.
- See the well-known story of the "Luck of Eden Hall."
- Hist. ii. 16.
- Snor. Ed. Skaldsk. ch. 43.
- St. Luke x. 18.
- Snor. Edda, ch. 34, Engl. Transl.
- Here are a few of these passages which might be much extended:—Burchard of Worms, p. 194, a. "credidisti ut aliqua femina sit quæ hoc facere possit quod quædam a diabolo deceptæ se affirmant necessario et ex præcepto facere debere; id est cum dæmonum turbâ in similitudinem mulierum transformatâ, quam vulgaris stultitia Holdam vocat, certis noctibus equitare debere super quasdam bestias, et in eorum se consortio annumeratam esse.
"Illud etiam non omittendum, quod qusedam sceleratæ mulieres retro post Sathanam converse, dæmonum illusionibus et phantasmatibus seductæ credunt se et profitentur nocturnis horis cum Dianâ paganorum dea, vel cum Herodiade et innumera multitudine mulierum equitare super quasdam bestias, et multa terrarum spatia intempestæ noctis silentio pertransire, ejusque jussionibus velut Dominæ obedire et certis noctibus ad ejus servitium evocari."—Burchard of Worms, 10, 1. "Quale est, quod noctilucam quandam, vel Herodiadem, vel præsidem noctis Dominam concilia et conventus de nocte asserunt convocare, varia celebrari convivia, etc."—Joh. Sarisberiensis Polycrat., 2, 17, died 1182. "Herodiam illam baptistæ Christi interfectricem, quasi reginam, immo deam proponant, asserentes tertiam totius mundi partem illi traditam."—Rather. Cambrens., died 974. "Sic et dæmon qui prætextu mulieris cum aliis de nocte, domos et cellaria dicitur frequentare, et vocant eam Satiam a satietate, et Dominam Abundiam pro abundantia, quam earn præstare dicunt domibus quas frequentaverit; hujusmodi etiam dæmones quas dominas vocant, vetulæ penes quas error iste remansit et a quibus solis creditur et somniatur." Guilielmus Alvernus, i. 1036, died 1248. So also the Roman de Eou (Méon, line 18,622)—
"Qui les cine sens ainsine deçoit
Par les fantosmes, qu'il reçoit,
Dont maintes gens par lor folie
Cuident estre par nuit estries,
Errans aveques Dame Habonde;
Et dient, que par tout le monde
Li tiers enfant de nacion
Sunt de ceste condicion."
And again, line 18,686—
"Dautre part, que li tiers du monde
Aille ainsinc avec Dame Habonde."
- See the derivation of pagan from 'paganus,' one who lived in the country, as opposed to 'urbanus,' a townsman.
- Snorro's Edda, Dasent's Trans, pp. 29, Stockholm 1842.
- J Keisersberg Omeiss, 46 b., quoted by Grimm, D. M., p. 991, says—
"Wen man ein man verbrent, so brent man wol zehen frauen."
- See the passage from Vincent, Bellov. Spec. Mor. iii. 2, 27, quoted in Grimm, D. M., pp. 1012-13.
- The following passage from "The Fortalice of Faith" of Alphonso Spina, written about the year 1458, will suffice to show how disgustingly the Devil, in the form of a goat, had supplanted the "Good Lady:"—"Quia nimium abundant tales perversse mulieres in Delphinatu et Guasconia, ubi se asserunt concurrere de nocte in quâdam planitie deserta ubi est caper quidam in rupe, qui vulgariter dicitur el boch de Biterne, et quod ibi conveniunt cum candelis accensis et adorani ilium caprum osculantes eum in ano suo. Ideo captæ plures earum, ab inquisitoribus fidei et convictæ ignibus comburuntur."
About the same time, too, began to spread the notion of formal written agreements between the Fiend and men who were to be his after a certain time, during which he was to help them to all earthly goods. This, too, came with Christianity from the East. The first instance was Theophilus, vicedominus of the Bishop of Adana, whose fall and conversion form the original of all the Faust Legends. See Grimm, D. M., 969, and "Theophilus in Icelandic, Low German, and other tongues, by G. W. Dasent, Stockholm, 1845," where a complete account of the literature of the legend may be found. In almost all these early cases the Fiend is outwitted by the help of the Virgin or some other saint, and in this way the reader is reminded of the Norse Devil, the successor of the Giants, who always makes bad bargains. When the story was applied to Faust in the sixteenth century, the terrible Middle Age Devil was paramount, and knew how to exact his due.
- How strangely full of common sense sounds the following article from the Capitularies of Charlemagne, De part. Sax. 5: "Si quis a diabolo deceptus crediderit secundum morem Paganorum, virum aliquem aut fœminam strigam esse et homines comedere, et propter hoc ipsum incenderit, vel carnem ejus ad comedendum dederit, capitis sententiâ punietur." And this of Rotharius, Lex. Roth., 379: "Nullus præsumat aldiam alienam aut ancillam quasi strigam occidere, quod Christianis mentibus nullatenus est credendum nee possibile est, ut hominem mulier vivum intrinsecus possit comedere." Here the law warns the common people from believing in witches, and from taking its functions into their own hands, and reasons with them against the absurdity of such delusions. So, too, that reasonable parish priest who thrashed the witch, though earlier in time, was far in advance of Gregory and his inquisitors, and even of our wise King James.
- The following is the title of this strange tract,—"Newes from Scotland, declaring the damnable life of Doctor Fian, a notable Sorcerer, who was burned at Edenbrough, in Januarie last 1591, which Doctor was register to the devill, that sundrie times preached at North Baricke Kirke to a number of notorious Witches. With the true examinations of the said Doctor and witches, as they uttered them in the presence of the Scottish king. Discovering how they pretended to bewitch and drowne his Majestic in the sea, comming from Denmarke, with such other wonderfull matters as the like, hath not bin heard at anie time. Published according to the Scottish copie. Printed for William Wright." It was reprinted in 1816 for the Roxburghe Club by Mr. G. H. Freeling, and is very scarce even in the reprint, which, all things considered, is perhaps just as well.
- The following specimens of the tortures and confessions may suffice; but most of the crimes and confessions are unutterable. One Geillis Duncane was tortured by her master, David Seaton, dwelling within the town of Tranent, who, "with the help of others, did torment her with the torture of the Pilliwinkes (thumbscrews), upon her fingers, and binding and wrinching her head with a cord or roape, which is a most cruel torment also." So also Agnes Sampson, "the eldest witch of them all, dwelling in Haddington, being brought to Haleruid House before the kinge's majestic and sundry other of the nobilitie of Scotland, had her head thrawne with a rope according to the custom of that countrie, beeing a payne most greevous." After the Devil's mark is found on her, she confesses that she went to sea with two hundred others in sieves to the kirk of North Berwick in East Lothian, and after they had landed they "took handes on the lande and daunced, this reill or short daunce, saying all with one voice,—
"Commer goe ye before, Commer goe ye,
Gif ye will not goe before, Commer let me."
"At which time she confessed that this Geillis Duncane did goe before them playing this reill or daunce upon a small trumpe called a Jew's trump, until they entered into the kirk of North Barrick." "As touching the aforesaid Doctor Fian," he "was taken and imprisoned, and used with the accustomed paine provided for these offences, inflicted upon the rest, as is aforesaid. First by thrawing of his head with a rope, whereat he would confesse nothing (!) Secondly, he was. persuaded by faire means to confesse his follies, but that would prevaile as little. Lastly, he was put to the most severe and cruell paine in the world, called the Bootes, who, after he had received three strokes, being inquired if he would confesse his damnable actes and wicked life, his toong would not serve him to speake." This inability, produced no doubt by pain, the other witches explain by saying that the Devil's mark had not been found, which, being found, "the charm " was "stinted," and the Doctor, in dread probably of a fourth stroke, confessed unutterably shameful things. Having escaped from prison, of course by the aid of the Devil, he was pursued, and brought back and re-examined before the king. "But this Doctor, notwithstanding that his own confession appeareth remaining in recorde, under his owne handewriting, and the same thereunto fixed in the presence of the King's majestie and sundrie of his councell, yet did he utterly deny the same, whereupon the King's majestie, perceiving his stubborne wilfulnesse … he was commanded to have a most strange torment, which was done in this manner following, His nailes upon all his fingers were riven and pulled off with an instrument called in Scottish a Turkas, which in England wee call a payre of pincers, and under everie nayle there was thrust in two needels over even up to the heads. At all which torments, notwithstanding the Doctor never shronke anie whit, neither would he then confesse it the sooner for all the tortures inflicted upon him.
"Then was he with all convenient speed, by commandement convaied againe to the torment of the Bootes, wherein hee continued a long time, and did abide so many blowes in them, that his legges were crusht and beaten together as small as might bee, and the bones and flesh so brused that the bloud and marrow spouted forth in great abundance, whereby they were made unserviceable for ever. And notwithstanding all these grievous paines and cruel torments, he would not confesse aniething, so deepely had the Devill entered into his heart, that hee utterly denied all that which he had before avouched, and would saie nothing therunto but this, that what he had done and sayde before, was onely done and saide for fear of paynes which he had endured." Thereupon as "a due execution of justice," "and for example sake," he was tried, sentenced, put into a cart, strangled and "immediately put into a great fire, being readie provided for that purpose, and there burned in the Castle Hill of Edenbrough on a saterdaie, in the ende of Januarie last past, 1591." The tract ends significantly: "The rest of the witches which are not yet executed remayne in prison till further triall and knowledge of his majestie's pleasure."
- Od. iii. 372 and xxii. 239.
- Ed. viii. 97—
"His ego sæpe lupum fieri et se condere silvis
- See Grimm's D. M., 1047 fol.; and for this translation from Petronius, a very interesting letter prefixed to Madden's ed. of the old English Romance of "William and the Were-wolf," 1832, one of the Roxburghe Club Publications. This letter, which was by the hand of Mr. Herbert of Petworth, contains all that was known on this subject before Grimm; but when Grimm came he was, compared with all who had treated the subject, as a sober man amongst drunkards.
- Bisclavaret in the Lais of Marie de France, i. 178, seems to be a corruption of Bleizgarou, as the Norman garwal is of garwolf. See also Jamieson's Dict, under warwolf.
- Fornald Sög., i. 130, 131.
- See Landnama in many places. Egil's Sag. Hrolf Krak. Sag.
- Troldham, at kaste ham paa. Comp. the Old Norse hamr, hamför, hammadr, hamrammr, which occur repeatedly in. the same sense.
- Reinhart Fuchs, Introduction.
- Grimm, Irisch. Elfenm., 114-19, and D. M., 447.
- Comp. Viet. Hug., Notre-Dame de Paris, where he tells us that the gipsies called the wolf piedgris. See also Grimm, D. M., 633, and Reinhart, Iv, ccvii, and 446.
- Douce, Illust. to Shakspeare, ii. 33, 344, quoted in Reinhart Fuchs, ccxxi.
- German. 9, 10.
- Snorro's Edda, ch. vi., English trans., Stockholm, 1842.
- Thus from the earliest times "dog," "hound," has been a term of reproach. Great instances of fidelity, such as "Gellert" or the "Dog of Montargis," both of which are Eastern and primeval, have scarcely redeemed the cringing currish nature of the race in general from disgrace. M. Francisque Michel, in his Histoire des Races Maudites de la France d de l'Espagne, thinks it probable that Cagot, the nickname by which the heretical Goths who fled into Aquitaine in the time of Charles Martel, and received protection from that king and his successors, were called by the Franks, was derived from the term Canis Gothicus or Canes Gothi. In modern French the word means 'hypocrite,' and this would come from the notion of the outward conformity to the Catholic formularies imposed on the Arian Goths by their orthodox protectors. Etymologically, the derivation is good enough, according to Diez, Romanisches Worterbuch; Provençal ca, dog; Got, Gothic. Before quitting Cagot, we may observe that the derivation of bigot, our ' bigot,' another word of the same kind, is not so clear. Michel says it comes from Vizigothus, Bizigothus. Diez says this is too far-fetched, especially as "Bigot," "Bigod," was a term applied to the Normans, and not to the population of the South of France. There is, besides, another derivation given by Ducange from a Latin chronicle of the twelfth century. In speaking of the homage done by Rollo, the first Duke of Normandy, to the King of France, he says—
"Hic non dignatus pedem Caroli osculari nisi ad os suum levaret, cumque sui comites ilium admonerent ut pedem Regis in acceptione tanti muncris, Neustriaa provinciæ, oscularetur, Anglicâ linguâ respondit 'ne se bi got,' quod interpretatur 'ne per deum.' Rex vero et sui ilium deridentes, et sermonem ejus corruptè referentes, ilium vocaverunt Bigottum; unde Normanni adhuc Bigothi vocantur."
Wace, too, says, in the Roman de Rou, that the French had abused the Normans in many ways, calling them Bigos. It is also termed, in a French record of the year 1425, "un mot tres injurieux." Diez says it was not used in its present sense before the sixteenth century.
- The most common word for a giant in the Eddas was Jötunn (A.-Sax. eoten), which, strange to say, survives in the Scotch Etin. In one or two places the word Ogre has been used, which is properly a Romance word, and comes from the French ogre, Ital. orco, Lat. orcus. Here, too, we have an old Roman god of the nether world degraded.
- These paroxysms were called in Old Norse Jötunmodr, the Etin mood, as opposed to Asmodr, the mood of the Æsir, that diviner wrath which, though burning hot, was still under the control of reason.
- It may be worth while here to shew how old and widespread this custom or notion of the "naked sword" was. In the North, besides being told of Sigurd and Brynhildr, we hear it of Hrôlf and Ingigerd, who took rest at night in a hut of leaves in the wood, and lay together, "but laid a naked sword between them." So also Saxo Grammaticus says of King Gorm: "Cæterum ne inconcessum virginis amorem libidinoso complexu prseripere videretur, vicina latera non solum alterius complexibus exuit, sed etiam districto mucrone secrevit."—Lib. 9, p. 179. So also Tristan and Isolt in Gottfried of Strasburg's poem, lines 17,407-17
Hierüber vant Tristan einen sin,
Si giengen an ir bette wider,
Und leiten sich dâ wider nider,
Von einander wol bin dan,
Rent als man und man,
Niht als man uiid wîp;
Dî lac lip und lîp,
In fremder gelegenheit,
Ouch hât Tristan geleit
Sin swert bar enzwischen si."
And the old French Tristan in the same way—
"Et qant il vit la nue espee
Qui entre eus deus les deseurout."
So the old English Tristrem, iii. 20, 21, 22—
"His swerd he drough titly
And laid it hem bitvene."
"Der Herzog zog aus sein goldiges schwert,
Er leit es zwischen beide hert
Das schwert soil weder hauen noch schneiden,
Das Annelein soil ein megedli bleiben."
So Fonzo and Fenizia in the Pentamerone, i. 9—
"Ma segnenno havere fatto vuto a Diana, de non toccare la mogliere la notte, mese la spata arrancata comme staccione 'miezo ad isso ed a Fenizia."
And in Grimm's story of "[[The Two Brothers (Grimm)|]]," where the second brother lays "a double-edged sword" at night between himself and his brother's wife, who has mistaken him for his twin brother. In fact, the custom, as William Wackernagel has shewn in Haupt's Zeitschrift fur Deutsches Alterthum, was one recognised by the law; and so late as 1477, when Lewis, County Palatine of Veldenz represented Maximilian of Austria as his proxy at the betrothal of Mary of Burgundy, he got into the bed of state, booted and spurred, and laid a naked sword between him and the bride. Comp. Birkens Ehrenspiegel, p. 885. See also as a proof that the custom was known in England as late as the seventeenth century, "The Jovial Crew," a comedy first acted in 1641, and quoted by Sir W. Scott in his Tristrem, p. 345, where it is said, Act v. sc. 2, "He told him that he would be his proxy, and marry her for him, and lie with her the first night with a naked cudgel betwixt them." And see for the whole subject, J. Grimm's Deutsche Bechts-Alterthümer, Göttingen, 1828, pp. 168-70.