SUPERSTITIONS RELATING TO ANIMALS.
Many other superstitious notions still exist among us with respect to certain animals, which have, no doubt, had their origin in remote times—some of them, doubtless, being survivals of ancient forms of animal worship. The ancient Egyptians worshipped animals, or held certain animals as symbols of divine powers. The Jews made a division of animals into clean and unclean, and the ancient Persians held certain animals in detestation as having a connection with the evil spirit; while others were esteemed by them as connected with the good spirit or principle. Other ancient nations held certain animals as more sacred than others, and these ideas still exist among us, modified and transformed to a greater or less extent. The robin is a familiar example of a bird which is held in veneration by the popular mind. The legend of the robins in the Babes in the Wood may have increased this veneration. There was a popular saying that the robin had a drop of God's blood in its veins, and that therefore to kill or hurt it was a sin, and that some evil would befall anyone who did so, and, conversely, any kindness done to poor robin would be
repaid in some fashion. Boys did not dare to harry a robin's nest.
The yellow yite, or yellow hammer, was held in just the opposite estimation, and although one of the prettiest of birds, their nests were remorselessly harried, and their young often cruelly killed. When young, I was present at an act of this sort, and, as an illustration of courage and affection in the parent bird, I may relate the circumstance. The nest, with four fledglings, was about a quarter of a mile outside the village. It was carried through the village to a quarry, as far on the opposite side. The parent bird followed the boys, uttering a plaintive cry all the way. On reaching the quarry, the nest was laid on the ground, and a certain distance measured off, where the boys were to stand and throw stones at it. While this was being done, the parent bird flew to the nest, and made strenuous efforts to draw it away; and when the stones were thrown, it flew to a little distance, continuing its cry; and only flew away when it was made the mark for the stones. These boys would never have thought of doing the same thing to a nest
of robins. It was said to have a drop of the devil's blood in its veins, and that its jerky and unsteady flight was a consequence of this. The hatred to the yellow hammer, however, was only local. The swallow was also considered to have a drop of the deil's blood in its veins; but, unlike the yellow hammer, instead of being persecuted, it was feared, and therefore let alone. If a swallow built its nest in a window-corner, it was regarded as a lucky omen, and the annoyance and filth arising therefrom was patiently borne with under the belief that such a presence brought luck and prosperity to the house. To tear down a swallow's nest was looked upon as a daring of the fates, and when this was done by
the proprietor or tenant, there were many who would prophesy that death or some other great calamity would
overtake, within a twelvemonth, the family of the perpetrator. To possess a hen which took to crowing like a cock boded ill to the possessor or his family if it were not disposed of either by killing or selling. They were generally sold to be killed. Only a few years ago I had such a prodigy among a flock of hens which I kept about my works, and one day it was overheard crowing, when one of the workmen came to me, and, with a solemn face, told the circumstance, and advised me strongly to have it destroyed or put away, as some evil would surely follow, relating instances he had known in Ireland. This superstition has found expression in the Scotch proverb: " Whistling maids and crowing hens are no canny about a house."
Seeing magpies before breakfast was a good or bad omen according to the number seen up to four. This was expressed in the following rhyme, which varies slightly in different localities. The following version was current in my native village:—
"One bodes grief, two's a death,
Three's a wedding, four's a birth.''
Chambers in his Scottish Rhymes has it thus:—
"One's joy, two's grief.
Three's a wedding, four's a birth."
I knew a man who, if on going to his work he had seen two piets together, would have refrained from working
before he had taken breakfast, believing that if he did so it would result in evil either to himself or his family. If a cock crew in the morning with its head in at the door of the house, it was a token that a stranger would pay the family a visit that day; and so firm was the faith in this that it was often followed by works, the house being redd up for the occasion.
I remember lately visiting an old friend in the country, and on making my appearance I was hailed with the salutation, "Come awa, I knew we would have a visit from strangers to-day, for the cock
crowed thrice over with his head in at the door." If a horse stood and looked through a gateway or along a road
where a bride or bridegroom dwelt, it was a very bad omen for the future happiness of the intending couple. The one dwelling in that direction would not live long.
If a bird got any human hair, and used it in building its nest, the person on whose head the hair grew would
be troubled with headaches, and would very soon get bald.
It is still a common belief that crows begin to build their nests on the first Sabbath of March.
A bird coming into a house and flying over any one's head was an unlucky omen for the person over whose head it flew.
It was said that eggs laid upon Good Friday never got stale, and that butter made on that day possessed medicinal properties.
If a horse neighed at the door of a house, it boded sickness to some of the inmates.
A cricket singing on the hearth was a good omen, a token of coming riches to the family.
If a bee came up in a straight line to a person's face, it was regarded as a forerunner of important news.
If a servant wilfully killed a spider, she would certainly, it was said, break a piece of crockery or glass
during that day.
Spiders were, as they are still, generally detested in a house, and were often very roughly dislodged ; but
yet their lives were protected by a very old superstition.
There is an old English proverb—
"If you wish to live and thrive.
Let the spider run alive."
When my mother saw a spider's web in the house she swept it away very roughly, but the spider was not wilfully killed. If it was not seen it was considered all right, but if it fell on the floor or was seen running along the wall, it was brushed out of the room; none of us were allowed to put our foot on it, or wilfully kill it.
This care for the life of the spider is probably due to the influence of an old legend that a spider wove its web over
the place where the baby Christ was hid, thus preserving his life by screening him from sight of those who sought
to kill him. Stories of a similar character are related in connection with King Robert Bruce, and several other
notable persons during times of persecution, who, while hiding in caves, spiders came and wove their webs over the entrances, which, when their enemies saw, convinced them that the parties they were in search of had not taken refuge there, or the webs would have been destroyed.
The common white butterfly was a favourite with children, and to catch one and preserve it alive was considered lucky. Care was taken to preserve them by
feeding them with sugar. But the dark brown and spotted butterflies were always detested, and were named witch
butterflies. Ill luck, it was believed, would attend any
one who kept one alive, but to kill one was an unlucky
transaction, which would be attended by evil to the killer
Beetles were held in aversion by most people, and if one was found upon the person, if they were at all nervous,
it was sufficient to cause a fit, at least would set
them screaming with a shudder of detestation. But there
was a variety of small beetles with a beautiful bronze
coloured back, called gooldies by children, which were held in great favour. They were sometimes kept by
children as little pets, and allowed to run upon their
hands and clothes, and this was not because of their
beauty, but because to possess a gooldie was considered very lucky. To kill a beetle brought rain the following
day. The lady bird, with its scarlet coat spotted with black,
was another great favourite with most people. Very few
would kill a lady bird, as such an act would surely be followed by calamity of some sort. Children were eager
to catch one and watch it gracefully spreading out its
wings from under its coat of mail, and then taking flight,
while the group of youthful onlookers would repeat the
** Lady bird, lady bird, fly away home,
Your house is on fire, aiid your children at home.''
" Lady lady landers, fly away to Flanders."
SUPERSTITIONS RELATING TO ANIMALS. 1 1
But these practices were not altogether confined to children. Grown up girls, when they caught a lady bird, held it in their hands, and repeated the following
' Fly away east or fly away west, And show me where lives the one I like best.'
Its flight was watched with great anxiety, and when it
took the direction which the young girl wished, it was
not only a sort of pleasure, but a proof of the augury.
If a person on going to his work, or while going an
errand, were to see a hare cross the road in front of him,
it was a token that ill luck would shortly befall him. Many under such circumstances would return home and
not pursue their quest until the next meal had been eaten,
for beyond that the evil influence did not extend. This
superstition is very old, but it is not in every country or age connected with the hare. We have already seen in
a quotation from Ovid that this superstition existed in his
day, (page 2.) Probably the hare has been adopted in this '
country from the belief that witches assumed the formof that animal when on their nightly rambles, for how was the wayfarer to know that the hare which he saw was not a transformed witch, intent on working him mischief? The cat was always a favourite in a family, and nothing
was more unlucky than for one to die inside the house. I have known cases where, when such a misfortune
occurred, the family were thrown into great consternation, surmising what possible form of evil this omen portended to them. Generally when a cat was known to be ailing, the animal was removed from the house and placed in
Il8 FOLK LORE.
the coal cellar, or other outhouse, with plenty of food, and kept there until it either recovered or died. With the
ancient Egyptians the cat was one of their favourite •animals. The death of a cat belonging to a family was considered a great misfortune. Upon the oocurrence of
such an event the household went into mourning, shaving
off their eyebrows, and otherwise indicating their sorrow.
In Scotland it was believed that witches often assumed
the cat form while exercising their evil influence over a
It was pretty generally believed a few years ago that in
large fires kept continually burning there was generated
an animal called a salamander. It required seven years
to grow and attain maturity, and if the fires were kept
burning longer than that there was great danger that the animal might make its escape from its fiery matrix, and,
if this should happen, it would range round the world,
destroying all it came in contact with, itself almost indestructible. Hence large fires, such as those of blast
furnaces in ironworks, were extinguished before the ex
piry of the seven years, and the embryo monster taken out. Such an idea may have had its origin in a misin
terpretation of some of St. John's apocalyptic visions, or may have been a survival of the legend of the fiery dragon whose very breath was fire, a legend common during the middle ages and also in ancient Rome. Bacon, in his Natural History, says—"There is an
ancient tradition of the salamander that it liveth in the fire, and hath force also to extinguish the fire " ; and, according to Pliny, Book X. chap. 67,—"The salamander, made in fashion of a lizard, with spots like to
stars, never comes abroad, and sheweth itself only
SUPERSTITIONS RELATING TO ANIMALS. IIQ
during great showers. In fair weather, he is not seen ; he is of SO cold a complexion that if he do but touch
the fire he would quench it."
Holland. This is quite
opposite to the modern notion of it that it was generated
in the fire, but such legends take transformations suitable
to the age and locality. The goat has been associated both in ancient and modern times with the devil, or evil spirit, who is de
picted with horns, hoofs, and a tail. In modern times,
he was supposed to haunt streams and woods in this disguise, and to be present at many social gatherings. He was popularly credited with assisting, in this disguise,
in the instruction of a novice into the mysteries of Free
masonry, and was supposed to allow the novice to ride
on his back, and go withershins three times round the room. I have known men who were anxious to be ad
mitted into the order deterred by the thought of thus
meeting with the devil at their initiation.
While staying at Luss lately, I was informed that a mill near to Loch Lomond had formerly been haunted by the goat demon, and that the miller had suffered much from its mischievous disposition. It frequently let on the water when there was no grain to grind. But one night the miller watched his mill, and had a meeting with the goblin, who demanded the miller's name, and
was informed that it was myself. After a trial of strength,
the miller got the best of it, and the spirit departed. After hearing this, I remembered that the same story, under a slightly-different form, had been told me when a boy in my native village. This was the story as then told :—A certain miller in the west missed a quantity of his meal every day, although his mill was carefully and
120 FOLK LORE.
securely locked. One night he sat up and watched,
hiding himself behind the hopper. After a time, he was
surprised to see the hopper beginning to go, and, looking
lip, he saw a little manakin holding a little cappie in his hand and filling it at the hopper. The miller was so frightened that this time he let him go ; but, in a few
minutes, the manakin returned again with his cappie. Then the miller stepped out from his hiding-place, and said, " Aye, my manakin, and wha may you be, and what's your name?" To which the manakin, without being apparently disturbed, replied, " My name is Self, and what's your name?" "My name is Self, too," replied the miller. The manakin's cappie being by this time again full, he began to walk off, but the miller gave him a whack with his stick, and then ran again to his hiding-place. The manakin gave a terrible yell,
which brought from a hidden corner an old woman, crying, "Wha did it? Wha did it?" The manakin answered, " It was Self did it." Whereat, slapping the manakin on the cheek, the old woman said, " If Self did it, Self must mend it again." After this, they both left the mill, which immediately stopped working. The
miller was never afterwards troubled in this way, and, at the same time, a goat which for generations had been observed at gloaming and on moonlight nights in the dell, and on the banks of the stream which drove the mill, disappeared, and was never seen again. To meet a sow the first thing in the morning boded bad luck for the day. If a male cat came into the house and shewed itself friendly to any one, it was a lucky omen for that person. To meet a piebald horse was lucky. If two such
SUPERSTITIONS RELATING TO ANIMALS. 12 1
horses were met apart, the one after the other, and if then the person who met them were to spit three times, and express any reasonable wish, it would be granted
within three days.
If a stray dog followed any person on the street, without having been enticed, it was lucky, and success was certain to attend the errand on which the person was