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The savage sees individual
stars as animate beings, or combines star-groups into living celestial
creatures, or limbs of them, or objects connected with them; while at
the other extremity of the scale of civilisation the modern astronomer
keeps up just such ancient fancies, turning them to account in useful
survival, as a means of mapping out the celestial globe.'[156]


[142] The attempt is not to explain the origin of each separate name,
but only of the general habit of giving animal or human names to

[143] Mr. Herbert Spencer believes that the Australians were once more
civilised than at present. But there has never been found a trace of
pottery on the Australian continent, which says little for their
civilisation in the past.

[144] See C. O. Müller (_Prolog. zur Mythol._, Engl. transl., p. 17):
'Callisto is just nothing else than Artemis and her sacred animal
comprehended in one idea.' See also pp. 201-4. Müller (C. O.) very
nearly made the discovery that the gods of Greece may in some cases
have a bestial ancestry.

[145] Brugsch, _History of Egypt_, i. 32.

[146] Brough Smyth.

[147] _Amazonian Tortoise Myths_, p. 39.

[148] Sahagun, vii. 3.

[149] Grimm, _D. M._, Engl. transl., p. 716.

[150] Hartt, _op. cit._, p. 40. For a modern sun-man and his myth in
the Cyclades, see J. T. Bent, in the _Athenæum_, Jan. 17, 1885.

[151] Kaegi, _Der Rig Veda_, p. 217.

[152] _Mainjo-i-Khard_, 49, 22, ed. West.

[153] _Op. cit._, p. 98.

[154] _Prim. Cult._, i. 357.

[155] _Lectures on Language_, pp. 359, 362.

[156] Ideler (_Untersuchungen ueber den Ursprung der Sternnamen_) may
also be consulted.


'I have found out a new cure for rheumatism,' said the lady beside
whom it was my privilege to sit at dinner. 'You carry a potato about
in your pocket!'

Some one has written an amusing account of the behaviour of a man who
is finishing a book. He takes his ideas everywhere with him and broods
over them, even at dinner, in the pauses of conversation. But here was
a lady who kindly contributed to my studies and offered me folklore
and survivals in cultivated Kensington.

My mind had strayed from the potato cure to the New Zealand habit of
carrying a baked yam at night to frighten away ghosts, and to the old
English belief that a bit of bread kept in the pocket was sovereign
against evil spirits. Why should ghosts dread the food of mortals when
it is the custom of most races of mortals to feed ancestral ghosts?
The human mind works pretty rapidly, and all this had passed through
my brain while I replied, in tones of curiosity: 'A potato!'

'Yes; but it is not every potato that will do. I heard of the cure in
the country, and when we came up to town, and my husband was
complaining of rheumatism, I told one of the servants to get me a
potato for Mr. Johnson's rheumatism. "Yes, ma'am," said the man; "but
it must be a _stolen_ potato." I had forgotten that. Well, one can't
ask one's servants to steal potatoes. It is easy in the country, where
you can pick one out of anybody's field.' 'And what did you do?' I
asked. 'Oh, I drove to Covent Garden and ordered a lot of fruit and
flowers. While the man was not looking, I stole a potato--a very
little one. I don't think there was any harm in it.' 'And did Mr.
Johnson try the potato cure?' 'Yes, he carried it in his pocket, and
now he is quite well. I told the doctor, and he says he knows of the
cure, but he dares not recommend it.'

How oddly superstitions survive! The central idea of this modern folly
about the potato is that you must pilfer the root. Let us work the
idea of the healing of magical herb backwards, from Kensington to
European folklore, and thence to classical times, to Homer, and to the
Hottentots. Turning first to Germany, we note the beliefs, not about
the potato, but about another vegetable, the mandrake. Of all roots,
in German superstition, the Alraun, or mandrake is the most famous.
The herb was conceived of, in the savage fashion, as a living human
person, a kind of old witch-wife.[157]

Again, the root has a human shape. 'If a hereditary thief who has
preserved his chastity gets hung,' the broad-leafed, yellow-flowered
mandrake grows up, in his likeness, beneath the gallows from which he
is suspended. The mandrake, like the moly, the magical herb of the
Odyssey, is 'hard for men to dig.' He who desires to possess a
mandrake must stop his ears with wax, so that he may not hear the
deathly yells which the plant utters as it is being dragged out of the
earth. Then before sunrise on a Friday, the amateur goes out with a
dog, 'all black,' makes three crosses round the mandrake, loosens the
soil about the root, ties the root to the dog's tail, and offers the
beast a piece of bread. The dog runs at the bread, drags out the
mandrake root, and falls dead, killed by the horrible yell of the
plant. The root is now taken up, washed with wine, wrapped in silk,
laid in a casket, bathed every Friday, 'and clothed in a little new
white smock every new moon.' The mandrake acts, if thus considerately
treated, as a kind of familiar spirit. 'Every piece of coin put to her
over night is found doubled in the morning.' Gipsy folklore, and the
folklore of American children, keep this belief in doubling deposits.
The gipsies use the notion in what they call 'The Great Trick.' Some
foolish rustic makes up his money in a parcel which he gives to the
gipsy. The latter, after various ceremonies performed, returns the
parcel, which is to be buried. The money will be found doubled by a
certain date. Of course when the owner unburies the parcel he finds
nothing in it but brass buttons. In the same way, and with pious
confidence, the American boy buries a marble in a hollow log, uttering
the formula, 'What hasn't come here, _come!_ what's here, _stay_
here!' and expects to find all the marbles he has ever lost.[158] Let
us follow the belief in magical roots into the old Pagan world.

The ancients knew mandragora and the superstitions connected with it
very well. Dioscorides mentions _mandragorus_, or _antimelon_, or
_dircæa_, or _Circæa_, and says the Egyptians call it _apemoum_, and
Pythagoras 'anthropomorphon.' In digging the root, Pliny says 'there
are some ceremonies observed, first they that goe about this worke,
look especially to this that the wind be not in their face, but blow
upon their backs. Then with the point of a sword they draw three
circles round about the plant, which don, they dig it up afterwards
with their face unto the west.' Pliny says nothing of the fetich
qualities of the plant, as credited in modern and mediæval Germany,
but mentions 'sufficient it is with some bodies to cast them into
sleep with the smel of mandrago.' This is like Shakespeare's 'poppy
and mandragora, and all the drowsy syrups of the world.' Plato and
Demosthenes[159] also speak of mandragora as a soporific. It is more
to the purpose of magic that Columella mentions 'the _half-human_
mandragora.' Here we touch the origin of the mandrake superstitions.
The roots have a kind of fantastic resemblance to the human shape;
Pliny describes them as being 'of a fleshy substance and tender.' Now
it is one of the recognised principles in magic, that things like each
other, however superficially, affect each other in a mystic way, and
possess identical properties. Thus, in Melanesia, according to Mr.
Codrington,[160] 'a stone in the shape of a pig, of a bread-fruit, of
a yam, was a most valuable find,' because it made pigs prolific, and
fertilised bread-fruit trees and yam-plots. In Scotland, too, 'stones
were called by the names of the limbs they resembled, as "eye-stane,"
"head-stane." A patient washed the affected part of his body, and
rubbed it well with the stone corresponding.'[161] In precisely the
same way, the mandrake root, being thought to resemble the human body,
was credited with human and superhuman powers. Josephus mentions[162]
a plant 'not easily caught, which slips away from them that wish to
gather it, and never stands still' till certain repulsive rites are
performed. These rites cannot well be reported here, but they are
quite familiar to Red Indian and to Bushman magic. Another way to dig
the plant spoken of by Josephus is by aid of the dog, as in the German
superstition quoted from Grimm. Ælian also recommends the use of the
dog to pluck the herb aglaophotis, which shines at night.[163] When
the dog has dragged up the root, and died of terror, his body is to be
buried on the spot with religious honours and secret sacred rites.

So much for mandragora, which, like the healing potato, has to be
acquired stealthily and with peril. Now let us examine the Homeric
herb moly. The plant is thus introduced by Homer: In the tenth book of
the _Odyssey_, Circe has turned Odysseus's men into swine. He sets
forth to rescue them, trusting only to his sword. The god Hermes meets
him, and offers him 'a charmed herb,' 'this herb of grace' (φάρμακον
ἐσθλόν), whereby he may subdue the magic wiles of Circe.

The plant is described by Homer with some minuteness. 'It was black
at the root, but the flower was like to milk. "Moly," the gods call
it, but it is hard for mortal men to dig, howbeit with the gods all
things are possible.' The etymologies given of 'moly' are almost as
numerous as the etymologists. One derivation, from the old 'Turanian'
tongue of Accadia, will be examined later. The Scholiast offers the
derivation 'μωλύειν, to make charms of no avail'; but this is
exactly like Professor Blackie's etymological discovery that Erinys is
derived from ἐρινὺειν: 'he might as well derive _critic_ from
_criticise_.'[164] The Scholiast adds that moly caused death to the
person who dragged it out of the ground. This identification of moly
with mandrake is probably based on Homer's remark that moly is 'hard
to dig.' The black root and white flower of moly are quite unlike the
yellow flower and white fleshy root ascribed by Pliny to mandrake.
Only confusion is caused by regarding the two magical herbs as

But why are any herbs or roots magical?

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