The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 6/Dorset Folk-Lore

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MR. HENRY J. MOULE, of Dorchester, has kindly sent me the following "Jottings." I venture to append a few comments thereon, pointing out, for the most part, where parallel superstitions are recorded in the earlier publications of the Society.

J. J. Foster.

He says: "We Dorset are not without our odd beliefs and queer tales of past time. But most likely many of both are common to us and other shires. I can but jot down what comes to mind, leaving to others to pick and choose."

"Pigeon feathers should never be used for beds. Folks die hard on them."

[The old superstition that no one can die in a bed containing the feathers of pigeons or game-fowl can scarcely be called local, says Mr. Henderson in his Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties, p. 60. In Yorkshire the same is said of cock's feathers. The Russians consider the use of pigeon's feathers as sacrilegious, the dove being the emblem of the Holy Spirit. It is, moreover, a Hindoo and a Mahomedan custom to lay a dying man on the ground. Cf. also Gregor's Folk-Lore of North-East of Scotland, p. 206; Mr. W. G. Black in Folk-Lore Record, vol. iv. p. 94, quotes some curious feather-charms, and their use around dishes and bowls set for the wandering dead to drink from, amongst the Pueblo people in New Mexico, which seem to have some connection with the subject.]

"Comfrey is a capital cure, but I don't know what for, or in what form—a salve, I think. But you must mind to use the red-flowered sort for men, the white for women."

[In Black's Folk-Medicine, pp. 108, et seq. will be found a great deal of curious information pointing to a very wide-spread superstition as to the use of red colours in sickness. Heucherus et Fabricias, De Vegetalibus Magicis, Wittenberg, 1700, is quoted to show that red flowers were given for disorders of the blood, and yellow for those of the liver. When the son of Edward II. was sick of small-pox, the bed-furniture, John of Gaddesden directed, should be red. The Emperor Francis I. when suffering from the same disease was rolled up in a scarlet cloth. So in Japan, when the children of the royal house were attacked by small-pox, the beds and walls were covered with red and the attendants clothed in scarlet. At the present day in China red cloth is worn in the pockets. Red is used liberally at the death of a New Zealand chief. In the West of Scotland red flannel is employed to ward off whooping-cough: and in Wales when the corpse-candles burn white the doomed person is a woman, but if the flame be red it is a man.]

"Fairies come down the chimney and do a deal of harm if you don't stop them. The way to keep them out is to hang a bullock's heart in the chimney."

[The use of the heart of animals and birds is a curious sub-division of witchcraft; and, to quote Henderson alone, in the Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties will be found incantations connected with the hearts of pigeons, horses, cows, hens, sheep, and pigs to counteract a witch, and of a hare to torment a faithless lover, &c.]

"The Dolmen on Blackdown is called the Hell-stone. Folks say that the devil chucked it across from Portland—nine miles or so."

[It may not be out of place to observe that this interesting megalithic monument has been lately "restored" by Mr. Manfield, assisted by Mr. M. Tupper of "Proverbial" celebrity, who have rearranged the stones (for there are seven in all, the largest being about eight feet square, of very hard conglomerate), according to their own sweet will!

Mr. Moule may have told us something about "The Devil's Night-cap," or Agglestone (Saxon, Halig-stan=Holy-stone).

This is a block of ferruginous sandstone, nearly 17 feet high and 35 feet in diameter, computed to weigh some 400 tons. It stands on a moor near Poole harbour; and Dorset folk say that the devil, being one day seated on the Needles, "chucked" this stone at the towers of Corfe Castle, but it fell short, and has remained on the Purbeck heath to this day. Its name of "Night-cap," I may add, is probably derived from its shape, viz. an inverted cone. It is figured in Hutchins's Dorset.]

"Folks say that no man ever saw a 'winter-borne' break. It is dry one day and running the next, but its first downpour was never beheld. Many years ago watch was kept day and night for a fortnight for the breaking of Winterborne Abbas stream. One night the watchman on duty found that his pipe had gone out. 'Bridehead-lodge—he bean't 'bove hundred or two yard—can't do any harm to get light there.' But in those three minutes the winter-borne broke unseen."

[There are or were no less than seventeen villages in Dorset whose names are compounds of Winterbourne.]

"Folks seem to have an odd belief in good luck coming with remnants of antiquity, judging from what a Dorchester antiquary tells me, and has recorded in the Archæologia. Some years ago several metal objects were found buried in a Keltic earthwork. Among them was a curious little grotesque bull, with a quaint tail curled up, which makes it somewhat like a dog. My friend heard that these things were in the hands of a certain old woman, and offered to buy them. "Ha'nt got 'em—used to't—but there—'twer loike this yer. My poor buoy^he wer turble bad, and he pined like a'ter they wold things. And ther—I thought myself how thick brass dog a noiil'd ower door 'd do en a power o' good.' And 'noiil'd ower door' it was found."

[This remarkable "find," which was made in Belbury Camp, near Higher Lytchett, Poole, is fully described in Archæologia, Vol. xlviii. pp. 1-6, where the objects are figured. Mr. Franks was of opinion that the ornamentation on the bull resembled Etruscan, but that the article itself "was late-Celtic." Its use as recently as 1881 as a prophylactic is surely an extremely interesting fact to students of folk-lore.]

"There stood by the cross His mother. Now there grew on Calvary a green-leaved plant with flowers of deep azure blue, but the buds were red. St. Mary's eyes were as blue as the flowers, but with weeping her eyelids were as red as the buds. And as she wept the tears fell on the leaves and spotted them. And spotted they have been from generation to generation ever since, and the plant is grown in cottage gardens, and its name is Mary's Tears. But books call it Pulmonaria."

[We are reminded in Black's Folk-Medicine that blue is the sky colour, the Druids' sacred colour, and the Virgin's colour; but I find no reference to this beautiful legend in the above-named work, where one would expect to meet with it. Dorset, probably, does not possess a monopoly of it, and doubtless members will be able to furnish other examples.]

"Folks hold to the belief that St. Austin's Well, hard by Ceme Abbas, still works wondrous cures. I have had a case told in all detail while sketching the lovely spring."

Of course there are wishing-wells everywhere, although few so clear and full as that at Upwey. But in St. Catherine's Chapel, high on a hill by Abbotsbury—one of the most interesting of fifteenth-century buildings in these parts, by the way—in St. Catherine's are wishing-holes. They are in the south doorway. You put your knee in one hole and your hands in two others, and wish.

[As Mr. Moule has alluded to Cerne Abbas, I wish he had told us something of the remarkable Phallic superstition which attaches to the Cerne Giant, counterparts of which are to be found in Brittany and all over India to this day.]