[From A Second Manx Scrapbook]


" Burning out the witches " (page 129).

TEE practice is not extinct. The Somerset County Herald for 28th March, 1931, contained the following paragraph:" Two peasants were on Friday sentenced in Berlin to terms of penal servitude for causing the death of two men in an attempt to ' burn out a witch.' "

The details of the Manx fishermen's burning of the witches out of their boats so closely resemble those of the Breton cleansing of the boat from an evil spirit after a theft from it, that a comparison may be of interest. The fullest account of the Manx ceremony is to be found in Roeder's Manx Notes and Queries, page 38. 1 do not apologize for reproducing it entire, for Roeder's work is not generally known among English folklorists. His account evidently repeats the exact words of some fisherman. " How the fishermen were driving the witch out of their boats when they were unsuccessful in catching herrings, and thinking some harm had been done by a witch. ' In the evening when the nets were in the water, if it was calm, they got a lot of oakum and tied it on the end of a stick, then soaking it well with tar in the tar bucket, when the darkness set in they lighted the oakum and the tar, and the skipper took the torch and commenced at the stem-head, and the rest of the crew looking out for the witch. They were telling many lies over it, sometimes one would say he had seen the witch in this crevice, and another would say that she was in that crevice, and the skipper went with the torch to every place where they said the witch was, and put the burning torch in that place. Then the witch had to get away from the fire, and they kept on going from one place to another for a long time, until someone said the witch was gone aft. Then the skipper went aft with the torch, and put it in every crevice round the stern-sheets until the witch was on the rudder-head, he said, and then she had to get off that too, from the torch, and jump into the sea. "Then he threw the torch into the sea after her.' "

The Breton idea is that when an article has been stolen from a lucky boat the boat's luck goes with it, and a spirit of bad luck is left in its place. The measures taken to evict this spirit are exactly the same as the Manx remedy for bewitchment, except that the smoke of the torch seems to play a more effective part than the flame, just as it did in the need-fire custom. " Dans le Finistëre, lorsque la malechance est venue a bord, â la suite d'un vol, on flambe l'intérieur avec de la paille humide, dont la fumée a la vertu d'exorciser le malin esprit qui s'y est logéan moment du larcin. Mais le lutin peut se faire petit, petit â se blottir dans un dé â coudre ; on doit done avoir grand soin de faire entrer la fumée dans les moindres fentes et les plus petits trous. Une fois bien flambë, le bateau peut retourner en mer sans crainte de maléfice, la sardine reviendra visiter ses filets." (Sébillot, Le Folklore des Pécheurs, page 215.)


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