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Text on one page: Few Medium Many
des Rel._, ii. 136.

[4] _Sprachvergleichung und Urgeschichte_, p. 431.

[5] _Prim. Cult._, i. 394.




_THE METHOD OF FOLKLORE._


After the heavy rain of a thunderstorm has washed the soil, it
sometimes happens that a child, or a rustic, finds a wedge-shaped
piece of metal or a few triangular flints in a field or near a road.
There was no such piece of metal, there were no such flints, lying
there yesterday, and the finder is puzzled about the origin of the
objects on which he has lighted. He carries them home, and the village
wisdom determines that the wedge-shaped piece of metal is a
'thunder-bolt,' or that the bits of flint are 'elf-shots,' the heads
of fairy arrows. Such things are still treasured in remote nooks of
England, and the 'thunder-bolt' is applied to cure certain maladies by
its touch.

As for the fairy arrows, we know that even in ancient Etruria they
were looked on as magical, for we sometimes see their points set, as
amulets, in the gold of Etruscan necklaces. In Perugia the arrow-heads
are still sold as charms. All educated people, of course, have long
been aware that the metal wedge is a celt, or ancient bronze axe-head,
and that it was not fairies, but the forgotten peoples of this island,
who used the arrows with the tips of flint. Thunder is only so far
connected with them that the heavy rains loosen the surface soil, and
lay bare its long-hidden secrets.

There is a science, Archæology, which collects and compares the
material relics of old races, the axes and arrow-heads. There is a
form of study, Folklore, which collects and compares the similar but
immaterial relics of old races, the surviving superstitions and
stories, the ideas which are in our time but not of it. Properly
speaking, folklore is only concerned with the legends, customs,
beliefs, of the Folk, of the people, of the classes which have least
been altered by education, which have shared least in progress. But
the student of folklore soon finds that these unprogressive classes
retain many of the beliefs and ways of savages, just as the Hebridean
people used spindle-whorls of stone, and bake clay pots without the
aid of the wheel, like modern South Sea Islanders, or like their own
prehistoric ancestors.[6] The student of folklore is thus led to
examine the usages, myths, and ideas of savages, which are still
retained, in rude enough shape, by the European peasantry. Lastly, he
observes that a few similar customs and ideas survive in the most
conservative elements of the life of educated peoples, in ritual,
ceremonial, and religious traditions and myths. Though such remains
are rare in England, we may note the custom of leading the dead
soldier's horse behind his master to the grave, a relic of days when
the horse would have been sacrificed.[7] We may observe the
persistence of the ceremony by which the monarch, at his coronation,
takes his seat on the sacred stone of Scone, probably an ancient
fetich stone. Not to speak, here, of our own religious traditions, the
old vein of savage rite and belief is found very near the surface of
ancient Greek religion. It wants but some stress of circumstance,
something answering to the storm shower that reveals the flint
arrow-heads, to bring savage ritual to the surface of classical
religion. In sore need, a human victim was only too likely to be
demanded; while a feast-day, or a mystery, set the Greeks dancing
serpent-dances or bear-dances like Red Indians, or swimming with
sacred pigs, or leaping about in imitation of wolves, or holding a
dog-feast, and offering dog's flesh to the gods.[8] Thus the student
of folklore soon finds that he must enlarge his field, and examine,
not only popular European story and practice, but savage ways and
ideas, and the myths and usages of the educated classes in civilised
races. In this extended sense the term 'folklore' will frequently be
used in the following essays. The idea of the writer is that mythology
cannot fruitfully be studied apart from folklore, while some knowledge
of anthropology is required in both sciences.

The science of Folklore, if we may call it a science, finds
everywhere, close to the surface of civilised life, the remains of
ideas as old as the stone elf-shots, older than the celt of bronze. In
proverbs and riddles, and nursery tales and superstitions, we detect
the relics of a stage of thought, which is dying out in Europe, but
which still exists in many parts of the world. Now, just as the flint
arrow-heads are scattered everywhere, in all the continents and isles,
and everywhere are much alike, and bear no very definite marks of the
special influence of race, so it is with the habits and legends
investigated by the student of folklore. The stone arrow-head buried
in a Scottish cairn is like those which were interred with Algonquin
chiefs. The flints found in Egyptian soil, or beside the tumulus on
the plain of Marathon, nearly resemble the stones which tip the reed
arrow of the modern Samoyed. Perhaps only a skilled experience could
discern, in a heap of such arrow-heads, the specimens which are found
in America or Africa from those which are unearthed in Europe. Even in
the products of more advanced industry, we see early pottery, for
example, so closely alike everywhere that, in the British Museum,
Mexican vases have, ere now, been mixed up on the same shelf with
archaic vessels from Greece. In the same way, if a superstition or a
riddle were offered to a student of folklore, he would have much
difficulty in guessing its _provenance_, and naming the race from
which it was brought. Suppose you tell a folklorist that, in a certain
country, when any one sneezes, people say 'Good luck to you,' the
student cannot say _à priori_ what country you refer to, what race you
have in your thoughts. It may be Florida, as Florida was when first
discovered; it may be Zululand, or West Africa, or ancient Rome, or
Homeric Greece, or Palestine. In all these, and many other regions,
the sneeze was welcomed as an auspicious omen. The little superstition
is as widely distributed as the flint arrow-heads. Just as the object
and use of the arrow-heads became intelligible when we found similar
weapons in actual use among savages, so the salutation to the sneezer
becomes intelligible when we learn that the savage has a good reason
for it. He thinks the sneeze expels an evil spirit. Proverbs, again,
and riddles are as universally scattered, and the Wolufs puzzle over
the same _devinettes_ as the Scotch schoolboy or the Breton peasant.
Thus, for instance, the Wolufs of Senegal ask each other, 'What flies
for ever, and rests never?'--Answer, 'The Wind.' 'Who are the comrades
that always fight, and never hurt each other?'--'The Teeth.' In
France, as we read in the 'Recueil de Calembours,' the people ask,
'What runs faster than a horse, crosses water, and is not
wet?'--Answer, 'The Sun.' The Samoans put the riddle, 'A man who
stands between two ravenous fishes?'--Answer, 'The tongue between the
teeth.' Again, 'There are twenty brothers, each with a hat on his
head?'--Answer, 'Fingers and toes, with nails for hats.' This is like
the French '_un père a douze fils?_'--'_l'an_.'[9] A comparison of M.
Rolland's 'Devinettes' with the Woluf conundrums of Boilat, the Samoan
examples in Turner's 'Samoa,' and the Scotch enigmas collected by
Chambers, will show the identity of peasant and savage humour.

A few examples, less generally known, may be given to prove that the
beliefs of folklore are not peculiar to any one race or stock of men.
The first case is remarkable: it occurs in Mexico and Ceylon, and has
been found in other regions. In _Macmillan's Magazine_[10] is
published a paper by Mrs. Edwards, called 'The Mystery of the Pezazi.'
The events described in this narrative occurred on August 28, 1876, in
a bungalow some thirty miles from Badiella. The narrator occupied a
new house on an estate called Allagalla. Her native servants soon
asserted that the place was haunted by a Pezazi. The English visitors
saw and heard nothing extraordinary till a certain night: an abridged
account of what happened then may be given in the words of Mrs.
Edwards:--

Wrapped in dreams, I lay on the night in question tranquilly
sleeping, but gradually roused to a perception that
discordant sounds disturbed the serenity of my slumber. Loth
to stir, I still dosed on, the sounds, however, becoming, as
it seemed, more determined to make themselves heard! and I
awoke to the consciousness that they proceeded from a belt of
adjacent jungle, and resembled the noise that would be
produced by some person felling timber.

Shutting my ears to the disturbance, I made no sign, until,
with an expression of impatience, E---- suddenly started up,
when I laid a detaining grasp upon his arm, murmuring that
there was no need to think of rising at present--it must be
quite early, and the kitchen cooly was doubtless cutting
firewood in good time. E---- responded, in a tone of slight
contempt, that no one could be cutting firewood at that hour,
and the sounds were more suggestive of felling jungle; and he
then inquired how long I had been listening to them. Now
thoroughly aroused I replied that I had heard the sounds for
some time, at first confusing them with my dreams, but soon
sufficiently awakening to the fact that they were no mere
phantoms of my imagination, but a reality. During our
conversation the noises became more distinct and loud; blow
after blow resounded, as of the axe descending upon the tree,
followed by the crash of the falling timber. Renewed blows
announced the repetition of the operations on another tree,
and continued till several were devastated.

It is unnecessary to tell more of the tale. In spite of minute
examinations and close search, no solution of the mystery of the
noises, on this or any other occasion, was ever found. The natives, of
course, attributed the disturbance to the _Pezazi_ or goblin. No one
perhaps has asserted that the Aztecs were connected by ties of race
with the people of Ceylon.



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