[From A Second Manx Scrapbook]
ANY domestic animal the possession of which is grudged or envied "will never do any good "-it will not thrive or be of use to its owner.
The animal most intimately allied with magic in the Isle of Man is the hare, whose shape is oftener assumed by the' witches than any other. The details of these transformations do not differ much from those in other countries. Though no creature figures so conspicuously in Manx folk-lore, the instances are seldom attached to specified localities. Of the Towl ny Mwaagh, the " Hole of the Hare," near the circle of cists between Port Erin and the Sound, I have heard no stories natural or supernatural, neither does Roeder, to whom I am indebted for the name, record any; and I know no other place-name containing the word. If such an indefatigable seeker of marvels as Roeder found nothing to report of Towl ny Mwaagh, its name may be due to an abundance of perfectly normal hares, which are probably as plentiful in the Island as the other sort. To the true nature of these latter the folk-lore books testify freely. A lady wrote to the Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould in the latter part of the 19th century complaining that she could not get her servants to eat hare, because it might be some old woman in a transformed state.1 Evans Wentz also touches upon the subject in the Manx section of his Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries.
To distinguish between the two species of hare at sight may perplex the most practised observer. A friend of mine tells me that a friend of hers, a poacher and church-organist, being dutifully apprehensive of killing one of the wrong kind (which might have turned out to be a living or dead relative, or at the least some elderly woman well able to avenge herself) has devised a test by food. If he notices in the course of his chief vocation that a hare neglects an aliment favoured by its kinda ridge of carrots in a field, for example he gives it the benefit of the doubt and releases it if it happens to get entangled in one of his snares.2
Two youths were poaching on a Glen Aldyn farm with an acetylene bicycle-lamp, a common method by which dazzled creatures can be knocked over or netted silently. In the course of their proceedings they were startled by the appearance before them of a black mass having the shape of a gigantic hare. They made off down the hill, and gave up their little games for a time at least. During their repentant period they confided their adventure to the farmer, who confided it to me as a first-rate joke.
A white or conspicuously light-coloured hare is regarded as especially significant. If one is seen near dwelling-houses it foretokens fire. The fat of any hare, rendered down over a slow fire, is useful in divination, inducing particularly that kind of clear-sightedness which reveals the identity of an ill-wishing or ill-working neighbour.
The ubiquitous anecdote of the shooting of a hare with a silver bullet, or of its being worried by dogs, and the subsequent discovery of a suspected witch with corresponding injuries, is heard as often in the Island as everywhere else. The use of a special form of silver for this purpose is referred to on page 201.3
This feeling of respect for the hare has many minor ramifications. It is even carried so far that a doctrine obtains among conservative thinkers that a hare-lip is the vestige of the hare-shape assumed either voluntarily or through bewitchment, whether in the possessor's lifetime or in that of a progenitor. The shoulder-bone of a hare, even more infallibly than that of a sheep, when looked steadily into, in the proper circumstances, rendered visible the invisible and brought the future into the present. A hare's foot is a lucky thing to carry concealed on one's person, but the less it is shown, or even spoken of, the stronger is its power for good. It is also a specific against rheumatism, and has in the past been carried by fishermen, but whether for luck in fishing or for protection against danger and bad weather I am not sure. Neither perhaps were they.
Three-legged hares of sinister potency, as known in Wales, Lincolnshire, Scandinavia and the Teutonic countries, might have been expected to thrive on Manx soil, but if they do they have eluded me hitherto.
Though a less romantic creature than the hare, the pig has made his influence felt in the folk-lore of the Island. It would be surprising if he had not, for his eye has the most human expression of any animal's, and his intelligence, though purely self-centred, does not belie his countenance, to say nothing of the human look of his skin. In the remoter parts there seems to linger a prejudice against eating pig-flesh. A member of the Manx Executive Council once told me that he had tried in vain to persuade his farm-servants and their families, for their own benefit in cold weather, to eat bacon. I cannot say with certainty that this reluctance had a superstitious cause, but it is difficult to find any other, since the bacon was home-fed and to be had cheaply.
There is a Manx notion, which is not peculiar to the Island, that pigs have a tendency to grow fatter or leaner, or at all events to fatten more or less rapidly, according as the moon is waxing or waning. A relation is also understood to exist between the age of the moon when the pig is killed and the degree to which its fatin bacon form, presumablywill run in the frying thereof. Exactly how far pigs respect the calendar in these ways I am unable to say ; but one of the race resident in Maughold which I had the privilege of studying during a couple of years, on and off, certainly corroborated the first-mentioned belief. Having attained respectable proportions in the course of a short life, in a waning moon he began to dwindle until he was a mere anatomy of a pig, and observed an eclipse of the next moon by dyingwithout assistance.
Black pigs can see the wind. No doubt this was once a belief; now it is merely a saying. Possibly it arose from the study of pigs as weather-prophets. When they run about vivaciously, especially if in a homeward direction, or with straws or grass hanging out of their jaws, it is taken as a sign of coming storm.
The half-wild pigs called " purrs " which were formerly allowed to roam about the hills, particularly in the North, picking up a living for themselves, are honoured with a place in the early Statute Laws of the Island. In the lack of any other undomesticated animals of appropriate size they were adopted into tales which must originally have been inspired by some more formidable creature, conceivably the wolf, for the wolf still stalks and howls in vestiges of legends saved from total extinction by Waldron and Train.4 I have already dealt with several strange narratives of which a more or less supernatural purr is the subject ;5 the present chapter is limited to ordinary animals about which there are extraordinary beliefs.
The practice, formerly current in other parts of the Kingdom also, of letting a goat accompany flocks and herds at pasture, was favoured in the Isle of Man. It is said to be followed still on a few farms, but I have not noticed it anywhere in recent years. The goat's presence was believed to have a beneficial effect on the general health of cows and sheep, and, especially, to promote their fertility and successful calving and lambing.6 As it is wiser than the beasts, it knew before they did when bad weather was coming, and led them to shelter. That the running of a goat with sheep is an old custom is suggested by a note in Folk-lore, vol. xxvi., relating to a different subject :
" It appears to be a convention, at least from the 13th century, to represent pastoral scenes with sheep feeding on the ground, and a goat on his hind legs craning up to browse on a tree."
" In the good old times, the Manx law permitted a native of the Isle of Man to kill a Scotchman, provided he afterwards went over to Scotland and stole a white skin (meaning a white goat), and so giving the Scotch an opportunity of retaliating (by killing him)."7
By an obsolete Manx law, which was no doubt traditional in some form or other for ages before it was put into writing, all the livestock and corn forfeited by a conviction for felony were divided between the Lord of the Isle and the Coroner (presumably the Coroner of the parish to which the criminal belonged, the duties of whose office differ from those of an English Coroner). The goats, exceptionally, became the property of " the Queen of this Land." This ruling was brought to light, together with other unwritten customary-laws, in a judicial inquiry held in 1504, the year of the fifth Earl of Derby's succession to the Lordship. Although he was nominally King of Man his usual title was " the Lord," and the disparity here between the terms Lord and Queen suggests that the expropriation of the goats for the benefit of the Countess of Derby was a survival from a code of even greater antiquity than the rest of the customs sworn to on this occasion.
" In the Isle of Man it was believed that to pasture sheep on ground which was marked by a stone circle would surely bring disease to the flock."8
Horses were liable, as has often been noted, to be ridden o' nights by the fairies, with results disastrous to their condition and usefulness next day. A fairy saddle has fortunately been preserved for us, by instantaneous petrifaction, near Kirk Braddan. Once horses were broken to this nocturnal sport, they were always inclined to run away with their human riders and follow the fairy hunt.
The fairy call was not the only one they were obliged to answer ; a witch, or anyone knowing the necessary charm, or even the right pronunciation of the word giense, " dance ! ", could, as easily as the ringmaster in the circus, make a horse rear up and revolve on his hind legs.
Among the many curious Statute Laws of the Island is one enacted in 1629 that " whosoever shall be found or detected to pull Horse Tayles shall be punished upon the Wooden Horse, thereon to continue for the Space of two Hours, and to be whipped naked from the Waist upwards." Are these horse-tails to be understood literally ? The plant now called " horses' tails," which grows in uncultivated places, may possibly have been valued for the same purpose as the bent-grass which checks the inroads of sand from the sea - shores. The enactment follows immediately upon one which decrees a fine of ten shillings for cutting trees, plants or hedges on another man's land, with the alternative, if the offender cannot pay, of being whipped through all the market-towns of the Island. The reason for pulling " horses' tails " might be that which prompted the gathering of so many herbs , indeed, a decoction of them is still recommended for rheumatism, though I am not sure that it is an old Manx specific.
It is more probable, however, that the Act referred to the tails of living horses. Horsehair, especially the long hairs from tail and mane, must have been extremely useful for making snares for hares and rabbits, and for other purposes. It is not unlikely that it was employed in charms, as it was in England and Scotland.9 The abstraction of the hairs from other men's horses, which the Statute seems to imply, would be explicable by the rule that, to be thoroughly efficacious in spell-working, an object ought to be stolen.
That the long hairs from horses' tails were intertwined to make fishing-lines may explain why the offence of plucking them was one in which fishermen were sometimes implicated. In an inquiry into an affair of the kind made in the year 1717, " A Jury of Enquisition [was] impanelled by the Lockman of Kirk Christ Rusher by vertue of the Hon. Govr.'s authority in the suit of William. Gell, Thos. Waterson, and Jo. Carran, to swear [and] Inquire all the fishermen thereabout for pulling and cutting of horses' teals. John Caran, being charged, by the said Lockman, did come before us the said Jury and refused for to swear for to clear himself, therefore we leave him layable to a fine to the discretion of the Court ... (four signatures). 24 February, 1717. Fined 3s. 4d."10
In the Isle of Man as in England it was, and still is, firmly believed that hairs from the tail of a horse, if left for a time in water, turn into thin eels, the bulbous root becoming the eel's head. I have been assured of this by men who have made the experiment when they were boys. The eels of slender dimensions found wriggling in the troughs and other places where horses drink are pointed out as ocular evidence of the transformation, which is regarded as quite natural, like that of caterpillars into butterflies and nonentities into members of the House of Keys. The widely-spread abhorrence of eels as an article of food may have been strengthened by this belief in the origin of some of them. J. G. Campbell tells a fantastic tale of a man who was found fighting with a horse, and who had been driven mad because some eels he had eaten were transformed horse-hairs.11 Still, the creature which is supposed to be an animated horse-hair is not really an eel, but the Hair-worm or Gordius Aquaticus, which never grows any thicker.
In former times it was always possible that the Manxman numbered among his cattle one or more cows which were not what they appeared to be to a casual eye. These were " sea-cows," or grey seals, which had assumed the shape of ordinary cows and come ashore for a lengthy period. They were luckbringing visitors to the herd, for they promoted fertility and insured health and vigour in the calves, much as the supernumerary goat did. In this there seems to be a reflection from the belief in the freshwater Tarroo-ushtey or water-bull. Raun, " seal," is a word still used occasionally, I am told, as an adjective with the meaning of " lucky," especially in farm-yard matters.
It is almost needless to say that cats, particularly black cats, have suffered unjustly in reputation from their presumed partnership with witches. One version of the Hop-to-naa song has a line " I met a witch-cat " ; in others it is only a polecat or a wild-cat. There was a feeling among the old-time Manx folk that cats were connected in some way with the sea ; that as they came from the sea (or from water) in the beginning, so they must go back to it in the end. The ground for this doctrine is hidden from me, but an underlying animal myth is plainly indicated. The idea cannot be entirely obsolete, for it was put forward by a woman a little time ago as the obvious explanation for her drowning of an unwanted cat in the sea, instead of putting it to death more mercifully.
The shrew-mouse is disliked because it is supposed to cause a local numbness, which may reach the degree of paralysis, if it runs over the limb of a human being or animal, especially if the victim is asleep at the time. For this reason a countryman will kill a shrew-mouse with a vindictiveness which is not warranted by its size and natural habits.
The corr-ny-hastan,[? coor-ny-hastan]" crane of the eels," is surrounded by a supernatural atmosphere, as he is in Irish legends and his brother the stork on the Continent. In the Isle of Man it is no more than an atmosphere, which is vaguely felt but out of which comes nothing tangible. Since we see in old engravings the stork depicted as flying with sticks in his beak, it may be that-as a friend has suggested to me-it was in the form of a corr-ny-hastan that the Calliagh ny Faa'ag flew with sticks in her mouth on St. Bride's Day, the 1st of February, in prediction of the year's weather.12
Much lore about the crane must have been forgotten. Perhaps it will be pardonable if in the lack of anything immediately local I refer to the Irish myth of the mysterious " Crane-Bag " of Manannan mac Lir. The fullest account of it is scattered through the seventh poem of the Middle-Irish Duanaire Finn, translated by Professor Eoin MacNeill. 13 From this piece the following circumstances may be collected. The magic crane from whose skin the bag was made had belonged while alive to Manannan, and was a transformation of his partner Aoife while she was imprisoned in Manannan's house for two hundred years. The bag held all his wonder-working treasures his shirt,14 his knife, the belt of Gobniu, a smith's hook, the shears of the King of Alban, the helmet of the King of Lochlann, the bones of Asal's pig, and a girdle of the skin of the Great Whale's back. At high-tide these fetishes could be seen inside the bag ; at the ebb it appeared to be empty. From Manannan the bag passed to Lugh of the Long Arm, from him to the sons of Cearmaid Honeymouth, and from them when slain Manannan carried it off again, and kept it until he bestowed it on Conaire in his sleep. It belonged also at one time to Cumhal, the ancestor of Finn. And that is all we are told about it in this poem. But the Crane-bag can be recognized, though not under that name, as the property of Manannan, (who is also using an alias), in the story called " O'Donnell's Kern."15" Out of his conjuring-bag he drew a herb that he had, rubbed it to the palate of each man of them, and successively they rose up whole." The story of the Kern is, as a whole, a comparatively modern composition, but it embodies mythic elements. What the Crane-bag myth suggests to me is the shamanistic magic of Central Asia and North America 16 with its magicians' conjuring-bags containing the implements of their profession ; the system extended into Finland and Scandinavia. In the latter part of the world they became " weather-bags " out of which the wizard produced the weather which he or his clients wanted-mostly gales. The giant " Old Windand-Weather " of the Norse folk-tales was doubtless a weather-maker ; in Denmark he was called Finn. Manannan's reputation as a weather-prophet in medieval Irish lore suggests very strongly that in earlier or unrationalized versions of this attribute he was in the best possible position to forecast the weather because he caused or controlled it.
Of birds as omens some examples have been given in Chapter IV. The Wren will have a chapter to itself.
I have to thank a Manx friend for the following account of the deliberate sacrifice of the small black outdoor beetle, called a caraig or Greg, to bring rain. I have deleted only the names of the farmers and their farms, in order to conceal the locality ; for a similar reason the valued correspondent must remain anonymous.
". . . . I never dreamt of it being done as a ceremony until I actually saw it a few years ago. It all grew out of a conversation between the local farmers outside the chapel one Sunday night. A__ started it by observing that they had prayed for rain for five weeks now and there was no sign at all; he thought he would kill a creg, and see would it do any better for them. One or two of the others thought it mightn't be a bad idea, might do a little help for the rain anyway, and then no more was said. But the following evening the five farmers from the five farms met at a certain spot on the road ; X__, a manservant of one of them, brought a creg in a matchbox, and A__ put it down and crushed it with his foot while the rest looked on. There were some facetious remarks after the deed was done, and I believe most of the men did the thing in more or less of a joking spirit, but still it was done-and the next day the rain came."
In parts of Europe the killing of a frog is the essential feature of a charm to cause rain ; in other parts a black creature is preferred, the colour symbolizing. it has been suggested, that of the desired rain-clouds. Or perhaps its blackness marks it as a fitting messagebearer to the infernal powers, like that of the black cock or hen, black goat, black cat, and other dusky sacrificial victims. Some of these reptiles and insects may be the modern representatives of the human victims of another age or continent. A man was sacrificed to the Rain-goddess, conformably with custom, in Rhodesia in 1923 ; the desired rain fell immediately afterwards. The trial of the principal actors, which occurred near the end of May in that year, was fully reported in The Times.
Another Manx way of persuading the rain to fall may be mentioned here, although it has nothing to do with insects. A man whose garden is suffering from drought will water a small portion of it, and leave the rest alone in the expectation of a downfall attracted by his partial watering. The time-hallowed comment on the appearance of a water-cart in a British street, " now we shall have rain," though intended as a gentle sarcasm on the natural perversity of things, may have had its origin in the same notion of sympathetic or homoeopathic magic.
Concerning the long, black, diabolical-looking insect which Manx people call a tarroo-deyll and English people the Devil's Coach-horse and the Bull-beetle, the feeling in the Island is that it has a connexion with the darker powers ; hence it is regarded with a mixture of fear and superstitious respect. This feeling is crystallized in a couple of traditional stories. One runs to the effect that a man came across two tarroo-deylls (or a tarroo-deyll and a caraig-accounts vary), engaged in a bitter struggle in the middle of the road. The onlooker, sympathizing with the one which was getting the worst of the fight, killed its opponent. The surviving tarroo-deyll came to him later in a human shape, but a black one, and told him that his timely aid would be rewarded by good luck during the rest of his life. And so it befell.
The second story says that the spectator of the battle noticed that one of the two combatants renewed its vigour from time to time by going to the side of the road and feeding on a herb which was growing there, and thereby won the fight. This led the man to the discovery that the herb was equally medicinal for human beings. He made use of it to cure weak chests and lungs, and got the name of a "fairy doctor." Miss Sophia Morrison published a slightly different version of this anecdote, in which the herb eaten by the tarroo-deyll is the slane-luss, a styptic.
The tarroo-deyll is further believed to prefer the scraas-the sods under the thatch of a roof-to reside in, and to be capable of setting the thatch on fire by means of his erectile tail. I heard this old belief reaffirmed in Malew so recently as 1929. A good deal of gossip about this insect's affairs must have been forgotten, or else I have not met with it ; but the extra - insular folk - lore concerning him, and the etymology of his Manx name, will be found to shed light on each other.
First as to the name. Under Tarroo-deyll and Deyll Kelly gives the definition of " a rove-beetle, the horned beetle, the beetle tribe," and derives the term from the Irish tarbh daol, which, as spelt, would mean " blind bull." The other Manx dictionary-maker, Cregeen, has it as " Taroo-deyill, the bull-worm." Under " Caraig or Carrage, the clock-beetle," he cites a proverbial comparison for a pair of sworn enemies " myr y tarroo deyill as y charrage, like the tarroo deyill and the carrage." The modern Manx pronunciation of the second half of the name wavers between " dale " and " deel," and my impression is that the inclination is towards " dale " in the South and " deel " in the North. The first half is a perversion of something else, as we shall discover in tracing the name and its associated folk-lore beyond the limits of the Island.
In Ireland as in Man the creature is surrounded with an atmosphere of dread. " Dubh Dael, Dara Dael, the Forfecula Olens, a black insect of the earwig class [sic]. No reptile has been so much abhorred or dreaded by the peasantry of Ireland, as it is popularly believed that it betrayed to the Jews the way the Lord went when they were in search of him, and that whoever kills it seven sins are taken off the soul of the slayer." The remainder of the article17 may be summarized as follows. When the dara dael is seen in a house they always put a coal of fire on it (i.e., a piece of burning turf) and carefully sweep out the ashes afterwards, because fire is thought to exterminate evil spirits. It is never trodden under-foot or killed with a stick, for its demoniacal essence would penetrate the leather or wood and reach the foot or hand with grievous results ; but it may safely be killed with an iron spade. Among the many stories about the insect, the most remarkable is that of a young man who displayed superhuman strength and energy in threshing, and was afterwards found to have a dara dael hidden in the handle of his flail. He confessed that the Devil, with whom he had a compact, had told him to put it there.
A Galway tale credits the same trick to no lesser a personage than the Cailleach. After she has outrivalled a young man in a reaping contest, her daughter tells him that there is a cockchafer hidden in the handle of her mother's sickle, and that so long as the insect is there no one in the world can keep up with her at the reaping. Next day, before resuming the competition, he takes off the handle, the cockchafer drops out, and the Cailleach is done for.18
In a satire by Dallan, a 6th-century Chief Bard of Ireland, the immediate predecessor of that Senchan Torpeist who was fabled to have brought his company of poets to the Isle of Man, occurs the phrase " a airbhe in duibh daeil ! " " O keep off the black beetle ! " Thus the Irish people's dislike to the creature reaches back at least thirteen hundred years.
The opening scene of " The Fate of the Children of Tuireann " shows us King Nuadha of the Silver Arm lying sick in his palace. A pair of wandering herbdoctors hear him groaning. " Féach nach osnadh os cionn daoil ? "19 "See now, is not that a groan on account of a beetle ? " diagnoses one of them ; and a daol was indeed blackening the King's side. When they examine him it runs out among the benches, and the company jumps up as one man and puts it to deathin what manner is regrettably not stated.
In a footnote O'Curry gives two other instances where the " gnawing " or mortification of human flesh is attributed to the daol. The first occurs in the Tripartite Life of St. Patrick, where St. Fiacc had his leg gnawed by one. The second is in the Felire Aengus, where a daol fed on St. Ite's or Mide's side until the insect grew to the size of a young pig. " It is certain," remarks O'Curry, " that, as far as our traditions and actual experience go, the dael, or darbh-dael, of our times, shows no disposition to come into contact with living human flesh ; but our satirical post-mortem elegies frequently represent the mortal remains of the satirized person as being torn by daels in the earth." He suggests that maggots have been magnified by the poets into daels. In a note to " The Children of Uisnech "20 he identifies the darbh-dael with the cockchafer, the Melolontha Vulgaris of naturalists, and gives the following piece of folk-lore, current in his day, concerning it. After the robin had covered with leaves the tracks of blood from the feet of the Virgin in her flight with the infant Jesus, the darbh-dael came along and removed them in order to betray the fugitives' course to their pursuers. Hence, traditionally, its persecution. He mentions instances of the occurrence of the word " dael " in Irish place-names, and the epithet " daeltenga," " dael-tongued," bestowed on a chief notorious for his bitterness of speech.
Shearman, in referring to the same legendary incident, says "the Daol is even in our times an insect of popular disrepute, and an object of aversion among the peasantry, who associate it with the betrayal of our Lord."21
In the Hebrides the " cearr-dubhan " beetle and the daol are also associated with the betrayal of Christ ; the former's fault is less heinous than that of the Irish beetle, but when he is seen he must be turned over on his back.22" Ceardfhiollan " and many other variants suggest that his name is not understood in current Gaelic.
Dr. Douglas Hyde has a good deal to say about the insect. Out of a dying woman's mouth (she was so indurated in miserliness that she had actually refused alms to a wandering angel) " there came a host of dardeels. Patrick let a screech and ran for fire to put on them. When he came back the woman was dead and the dardeels gone. . . . The reason the dardaol (pronounced in Mid-Connacht " dhardheel ") is burnt, is because if you stamp on it with your foot, or kill it with a stone or stick, the next time your foot or the stick or the stone strikes a person or an animal it will give rise to a mortal injury. That is the reason the dardaol is taken up on a shovel and put in the fire, or else destroyed by a hot coal. . . . In the South of Ireland the dardaol is generally known as dearg-a-daol, and in the AngloIrish of Connacht he is called a " crocodile."23
Its dull black colour and threatening movements have made the little creature an object of unmerited hatred and superstition in many other countries besides Ireland."24.
In a letter to Lady Wilde a friend of hers wrote " One day when out snipe-shooting I saw a horrid-looking insect staring up at me. I called to a man close by, and asked him the name of it. He told me it was called the Thordall, and was reckoned a great cure for the " chin-cough " ; for if anyone got it safe in a bottle and kept it prisoner till it died, the disease would go away from the patient. It was just the time to try the cure, for my child was laid up with the epidemic. So I bottled my friend and daily examined the state of his health. It lasted for a fortnight, and at the end of that time the child had quite recovered, and the horrible-looking insect lay dead."25
In a story from one of the Connaught islands the same creature (not actually named) is the shape taken by a witch for the purpose of stealing her neighbours' corn. 26
In what part of Ireland the name took the form of " thordall " is not stated, but it is likely that " thordael " was heard and written. In either case the spelling leads us to another variety of beetle which has beliefs associated with it similar to those existing in Man and Ireland about the Tarroo-deyll. In Sweden, says Thorpe, the Thorbagge (scarabaeus stercorarius, dung-beetle) was sacred to Thor.27" Relative to this beetle a superstition still exists . . . that if anyone in his path finds a Thorbagge lying helpless on its back, and turns it on its feet, he expiates seven sins ; because Thor in the time of heathenism was regarded as a mediator with a higher power or All-father. On the introduction of Christianity the priests strove to terrify the people from the worship of their old divinities, pronouncing both them and their adherents to be evil spirits and belonging to hell. On the poor Thorbagge the name was now bestowed of Thordjevul or Thordyfel (Thor-devil), by which it is still known in Sweden proper. No one now thinks of Thor, when he finds the helpless creature lying on its back ; but the good-natured countryman seldom passes it without setting it on its feet, and thinking of his sins' atonement."28
Grimm says, " Some traces of beetle-worship I am able to disclose " ; but he is less certain of this explanation of the Swedish name-Norwegian " tordivel," " torr " among the Jutlanders-without wholly rejecting it, observing that the Anglo-Saxon name for the insect was " tordwifel, plainly made up of ' tord,' dung, and ' wifel,' beetle." He instances the English " dumbledore," the Netherlandish " tor," beetle, and '' drektorre " for the dung-beetle or else for the devil's coach-horse (our Manx tarroo-deyll), and adds that the Icelanders have turned the Norse word into " torfdifill," turf-devil.29 Elsewhere he mentions German beliefs that " on his horns he carries red-hot coals into a roof, and sets it alight . . . lightning will strike a house into which this beetle is carried." The German people, he says, place the stag-beetle in close connexion with thunder and fire.30
In Old Icelandic the name was " tord-yfill " ; the Shetland name for " a large beetle " given in a list of Norse-derived words current there is " turdeill,"31 which has more resemblance to the Manx name. The resemblance may be accidental; in Gaeldom the superstitious beliefs have mostly been transferredso far as the various insects are identifiable-from the dung-beetle to a fellow beetle equally black and more sinister in looks and gestures. As we have seen, in Sweden seven sins are remitted for setting the one kind on its feet, in Ireland they are forgiven for killing the other kind. In Scotland the former must be turned on its back. In Germany and Man, and probably in Iceland, the tarroo-deyll takes to roofs and causes fires ; in Ireland it is to be killed with fire. In Man and Ireland it is associated with the cure of disease ; in Ireland it both cures and causes it. In all the countries it owns an infernal, or at all events a pagan, master, and behaves accordingly.
Either there is an accidental similarity of the names in Norse and Irish, which is unlikely, or else one language has borrowed from the other. The Manx " tarroo " and the Irish " dara " and " dearga " probably owe their existence to the Irish doirbh or dairbh, a word for a water-insect which is believed from Donegal to Kerry to cause disease in a cow which swallows it. In the former county it is a worm, and the disease it causes can only be cured by persons named Cassidy ; in the South-West it is a beetle which makes the white hair fall off the cow, but the white hair only; if she has none she is immune. This of course is a superstition of a different type, and more akin to the Manx belief about the " man-creeper," or " man-keeper " as Professor Edward Forbes called it in his notes on Manx folk-lore contributed just a century ago to The Mirror.
That the first part of the name in the Isle of Man should have taken the form of " tarroo " and be understood to mean " bull " is not surprising, for there is everywhere a persistent association in folk-lore of horned beasts with beetles. Taurus, for example, is Pliny's name for scarabaeus terrester, and Grimm collected many other names of the same kind, including the significant Swedish " horntroll." In both Germany and France a beetle is a stag-" hirsch " and " cerf volant." The Lapps say that the sexton or dung beetle which entomologists call silpha lapponica is descended from the reindeer.32 Even the modest little Manx caraig and his brothers in England bring rain as the horned rain-gods of three continents used to do. So the threads cross and recross.
1 A Book of Folk-lore, chapter iii.; a work recently reprinted without the date of its first publication.
2 This cautious Manxman is well-advised, for when a brother of the poaching craft in the Netherlands was unlucky enough to shoot at a temporary hare the recoil of his gun knocked him down and twisted the barrel, while the hare, now a rapidly-swelling globe of blackness, chased him to the nearest tree, up which he clambered just 1n time to save himself. (Thorpe, Northern Mythology, iii., 289.) Somewhat similarly, a Galloway poacher who set a gin to catch a hare was surprised on the following morning to find his dog trapped in it ; next time it was his cat. After this he gave it up. (Gallovidian Encyclopedia, page 154.)
3 Used in other forms silver negatives equally the secret influences projected bywitch or fairy; an amulet worn on the person, as so many are still, should be set in no other metal. Cornwall has a humane modification of its employment as ammunition against witches ; instead of shooting it into the witch-hare, the Cornish induce the suspected culprit, when in her human shape, to give change for a silver coin, thereby depriving her of the power to harm the other party to the transaction. A Manx charm should be paid for in silver, if it is to be paid for at all ; just as a silver coin should cross the palm of the fortune-telling gypsy. Sometimes the silver cure is worked directly upon the actual sufferer instead of upon the originator of the trouble; all over Scotland water which has been in contact with silver is used to cure animals that have been bewitched or overlooked. The giving of silver-mounted playthings and a " christening-spoon " to children may be an unconscious tribute to the old sentiment about the metal. In the Isle of Man silver has the name of b°ing a favourite substance with the fairies, but its use against the powers of darkness is comprehensible enough; for magic must be met with magic, and is not the moon the cold fountain of all glamour ? And her symbolic metal is silver.
4 The purr stories, however, may have been brought from the Continent, and need not presuppose the existence of wolves on the island. Strabo (Bk. iv., ch. 4) says of the Gaulish swine that they lived out of doors and were of extreme size, strength and swiftness. " To persons unaccustomed to approach them they are almost as dangerous as wolves."
5 In A Manx Scrapbook, pages 105, 272-4, and 356.
6 In Germany, Grimenl says, " a white goat is reckoned wholesome in a horse's stable." (Teutonic Mythology, page 1484.)
7 Footnote to " A Manx Myth," in Mylcharane, " poems from the Manx by Elizabeth Cookson," a 12-page pamphlet printed at Douglas in 1858.
8 Johnson, Folk Memory, page 139, from Tyack, Lore and Legend, page 26.
9 A doctor in Cornwall has recently reported finding the finger of a baby patient bound tightly with a white horsehair, taken twice round and tied with a reef-knot. It is added that hairs from the tail of a horse are used in Gloucestershire for reducing a wen or a thick neck in females. (Cornish Folk-lore Notes, repr. from Jnl. Roy. Inst. Cornwall, 1915.) In the Northern Isles " a hair from the tail of each cow or other beast about the place, was pleated and fastened over the byre door " on Tulya's E'en, seven days before Yule Day. (Ork. and Shet. Records, Oct., 1913, page 26.) The horsehair buarach with which the cow's feet are tied at mincing-time is considered by the older Highlanders to be a holy and venerable thing. (Henderson, Survivals in belief, page 296.) In Carmarthen Museum there is a charm against witchcraft, made of horsehair, which eras acquired in 1921 after ha: ing been in use for centuries. On the other hand, in more countries than one, horsehair halters were used by witches to skim dew from their neighbours' pastures, and milk was afterwards extracted from them.
10 Enquest and Petition Files, Rolls Office,
11 Witchcraft and Superstition in Scotland, page 222. The belief in horse-hair eels was universal up to a century ago. Izaak Walton held it, so did William Cobbett. McAlpine in his Gaelic Dictionary founds his derivation of easgann, " eel," upon it " easg, a ditch where eels come alive, and faonn, a hair, the thing from which they breed."
12 A Manx Scrapbook, page 350.
13 Irish Texts Soc., vol. vii.
14 Leine, cloak ? i.e., the Cloak of Forgetting which he shook between Fand and Cuchullain. It is tempting to expatiate upon the various articles the bag contained, but the temptation must be resisted.
15 Silva Gadelica, ii., 323.
16 Among certain tribes of North Arnerican Indians " the bag is made of the skin of an animal (such as the otter, wild cat, serpent, bear, raccoon, wolf, owl, weasel), of which it roughly preserves the shape. Each member of the [secret religious] society has one of these bags, in which he keeps the odds and ends that make up his ' medicine' or charms." (Golden Bough, abridged edition, page 698.)
17 In the Tranactions of the Ossianic Society, vol. v.
18 J. G. Mackay in Scottish Gaelic Studies, iii., part i.
19 O'Curry's text, Atlantis, iv., i6o.
20 Atlantis, iii., 414.
21 Loca Patriciana, page 194, note.
22 Carmina Gadelica, ii., 188.
23 Evidently a corruption of the Western form of the Irish name, which Dinneen gives as " dearga-daol."
24 Collected from Religious Songs of Connaught and Legends of Saints and Sinners.
25 Ancient Legends of Ireland (edn. of 1902), page 193.
26 Ancient Cures, etc., of Ireland, page 149.
27" Bagge " is equivalent to the Celtic " mac " and " mab," hence Thorbagge means " Thor's attendant."
28 Northern Mythology, ii., 53.
29 A belief that it lived in the thatch and could set it on fire may have helped the Icelanders to turn " for " into " torf." Sound has similarly been adapted to sense in an English dialect variant of dumbledore-" tumble-dung," and in the first part of the Manx name, " tarroo-deyll."
30 Teutonic Mythology, pages 691-3, 183.
31Orkney and Shetland Old-lore Miscellany for 1909.
32 Folk-lore, xxix., 186. Of the stag-beetle Grimm in the supplementary volume of Teutonic Mythology says: "in the Hartz they wrap him up in moss, letting the horns stick out, and strike at him blindfold, one after the other, as elsewhere at the cock; whoever hits him takes him." Grimm does not specify the kind of moss used ; is it the staghorn moss ? Not only would that be appropriate, but it would form yet another link between the beetle and the greater horn-wearers (not forgetting Auld Hornie himself), through a Welsh fantasy which I heard not long ago: on a certain midnight in the year staghorn moss can be seen, by those who are gifted with visionary power, to take on the appearance of a great forest, in which herds of wild deer are roaming about. With this must be placed a belief held by old Exmoor people, that when stags die their life passes into that of the streams which they drink from and bathe in, and to which they often come when they feel their end drawing near; and that this is why the staghorn moss and the hart's-tongue fern grow so plentifully on the banks of Exmoor rivers.
The names of plants and flowers associated in various ways with superstitious doings or beliefs would make an extensive list, which would merge without any strict dividing-line into a list of herbs which were formerly used for medical purposes alone. The work is well worth doing, but it needs a botanical knowledge which I do not possess. The medicinal uses of a number of herbs are given in the two Manx dictionaries, and Yn Lioar Manninagh, iii., 311 and 312, has a list compiled by A. W. Moore.
Of the generic terms, luss, the commonest, seems, broadly speaking, to be given to low-growing plants, bollan and bossan to those having more stalk, although there are many exceptions, for plant-nomenclature is extremely fluid. The general name for grasses in Ireland, cuise, diminutive cuiseag, Scottish cuiseag, rye-grass, has become confined in Man to the ragweed, cushag, or in full, cushag-vooar. Contrariwise, the colloquial Irish name for ragweed, boholaun and booliaun, is used in Manx, in the form of bollan, for plants in general. The Manx bossan, similarly used, represents the Gaelic baddn, diminutive of bad, a tuft, bunch or cluster. Luss precedes or follows its adjectives; bollan and bossan precede only.
Things which are simply lucky or unlucky in a general way, to do, to see, to hear, or to wear, are almost innumerable, and probably very few, if any, are peculiar to the Island. Many have already been recorded in sundry publications, and others in my fourth chapter; but I have seen no mention of what is called the " even ash," a twig which bears, exceptionally, an even number of leaves. This is lucky to find by chance, and nearly as lucky if obtained by searching. It should be plucked and carried on the person, early in the day or at the beginning of an undertaking, and everything is then sure to go well. The same belief is current with regard to the " two-topped " ash-twig (which likewise has two leaves at the end instead of the usual single one), in England and in Cornwallif I may differentiate between the two regions as they deserve, especially in folk-lore matters.
The ash observance is not quite obsolete. And in the same way, but going back a generation, before a farmer went to a fair with something to sell or other business to transact, it was no uncommon thing, within the memory of middle-aged people, for him to search his land for a four-leaved clover ; sometimes he would spend an hour or more in looking for it. If he found it (which was probably not often the case) he would put it in his pocket and go off feeling sure of getting a good price for what he had to sell, or, if he wanted to buy something, sure of getting it cheap.
In these two charms from which similar results are expected there is a conflict between odd and even numbers. Doubtless it is the unusualness of the number in each case which makes it significant, though the ordinary clover is chewed to relieve toothache. Apart from that, odd numbers belong to the gods above, even numbers to the gods below, it has been observed. The latter seem to have the chief say in most men's lives and deaths. Nevertheless the number nine is potent above all other numbers in Manx superstition. " Manannan's house has nine doors," a saying which I have heard without fully understanding it, may be connected with the nine waves or the ninth wave, which have a mystic significance. To walk nine times round a little hill, a standing stone, or an old site, works wonders. Nine sips of water from a sacred well go far to restore the health. A drowned man will not come to the surface of the sea until the ninth day.1
In the vegetable kingdom the number nine operates in this way. After walking over a stretch of country for the first time in one's life a nine-fold plait should be made of grass, rushes, or other suitable material taken from the ground in question. It should be made as soon as possible-before sleeping, at any rate. Or better still, make it while walking and carry it till familiar ground is reached. Presumably this is done to bind the powers of the place - the earth-spirits-from doing mischief to a trespassing stranger. 2
As regards the contexture of the charm, the plaited strapwork ornamenting many of the Manx crosses ranges from threefold to the ninefold pattern on the shaft of a Kirk Michael cross. These interlaced patterns -Mediterranean via Norway-found on gravestones, crosses, swords, and elsewhere, have another humble descendant in the convolutions scrawled in whiting by the Manx housewife about her threshold ; the root idea being to intrigue the evil eye of the witch or other ill-wishing adversary and keep it out of mischief.
The house-leek (hiss y-thie) grown on a wall, especially close to or right over the door, though it is not known to have the fire-resisting quality it has in other countries, tends to avert a more dreaded evil, the entrance of witches, and even the entrance of their unseen ill-will. It has, in fact, exactly the same beneficial effect as in Italy.
The virtue of the vervain is so limitless that the herb lends itself to the use of magic both black and white. The Manx witches employed it in their mischief-making spells, just as Medea offered it up to Hecate ; and a couple of years ago a young singer at a Manx musical-guild competition held a leaf of it in her hand while singing, and won the first prize. Vervain may be heir to the magical properties of other plants, since verbenae was the classical name for branches of any sacred shrub-e.g., laurel, myrtle, olive.
In flowers, yellow is the most desirable colour. But although yellow flowers were scattered about the thresholds on May Eve and November Eve to keep out fairies and witches and any other unwelcome influences which might be active on those nights (just as three sunflowers are placed on North Italian windowsills against the spirit of nightmare), the broom-blossom is not on any account tolerated inside the houses of right-thinking people even to-day, at least in the parish of Patrick, and doubtless in other districts as well.
Lately I have learned from a Lezayre source that even the sprays of the kieran or mountain ash, the luckiest thing that grows, should never be brought into a room, though crosses made of its wood may advantageously be hung up. This may explain a puzzling incident related in A Manx Scrapbook, page 211, in which a kieran shoot was left planted in a house that was being vacated, to cause misfortune to the next-comers ; but the explanation only takes us a step further back. Why should thë growing leaves not be brought in ? The following rare exceptions to the witch-repelling power of the mountain-ash (to give it its English name) may be worth noting. In Finland, though sacred, it is one of the five trees not created by God, but by the principle of evil. In Italy witches have been seen eating its berries and riding through the air on its branches. In Friesland, also, they eat the berries at their gatherings on St. John's Eve.
Conversely, it is equally unaccountable, considering the whitethorn's intimate relations with unseen powers, that the presence of its blossoms in a house is not objected to, for aught I have heard to the contrary.
" Walking out with some friends in the neighbourhood of Douglas, Isle of Man, we met an old Manxwoman, who was carrying in her hand a large piece of ragwort. . . . We asked her what she used it for, and she replied that it was to prevent her from catching infectious diseases ; that when she visited anyone who was ill, she always smelled at a piece of ragwort before entering the room, which prevented her from taking the complaint. She told us she had used ragwort for the purpose ever since she was a girl."3
I do not recall having met with this use for the cushag plant or its flower; but it is boiled and drunk as a medicament in Ireland, according to " Lageniensis," and Mr. W. B. Yeats, in his Notes on Lady Gregory's Visions and Beliefs (page 284.), says he remembers it having been used to make a medicine for horses.
The sacredness of the trammon or elder-tree to the fairies is not often met with outside the Isle of Man, though the elder is generally associated with magic and witchery. A belief corresponding closely to the Manx one, however, existed among the old inhabitants of Prussia, who belonged to the Slavonic race. There the elder was not only connected with the fairies, it harboured the spirit who controlled them-Putscaet, the deity who protected trees and groves in general. He dwelt under the sambuc (elder) and offerings of food and drink were made to him. His devotees begged him to send the Barstuccae (underground sprites, earth-men) to live in their houses and bring them luck. For these food was placed every evening in the barns. If it was taken the omen was good, if left, bad.
Specific references to the material of superstition are so rare in T. E. Brown's writings outside " The Manx Witch," that the avowal he puts into the mouth of Tom Baynes in " Christmas Rose " concerning the queerness of trees in general and the sycamore in particular is noteworthy :
" Trees is very curious though !
If there's ghos'es takin' anywhere
It's in trees it is. Aw, they've got their share
Has churchyards and that-but mind you me,
I've seen funny things in a sycamore tree.
Aye, aye, my lads. Aw, lower down
All right of coorse, all right, I'll be bound
You can grip them there, and feel the stuff
That's in them-aw, all right enough.
But-up in the branches. I say!-they're about;
But never mind ! look out! look out! "4
1 In the case of a relation drowned off the Manx coast I have found this belief to be true.
2 Another use is made of the ninefold plait by German girls on St. John's Day ; they weave one of flowers and cast it backwards into a tree to find out how long they must wait for a husband. (Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, page 1825.)
3 G. H H., in Science Gossip for 1871, page 215.
4 Collected Poems (Macmillan), page 180.