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terrible fate. Down came two bluejays, a gorbey and took The mortal remains of that ignorant cook. Now its young folk take warning of the birds be aware; of bluejays and gorbies that pepper the air. When you go out a-walking, be armed and keep look for the damndable critters That haunt Beaver Brook Anon1 "The Man Who Plucked the Gorbey" has been the most common tale brought back from the woods-camps of New Brunswick and Maine. Folklorist Edward Ives collected more than one hundred variants of the legend, each attested to be the truth, with the human culprit named. The word "gorbey" is no longer much used, but the Anglo-Normans of Britain understood "gorb" to describe any fledgling bird; one which had not yet developed its flight-feathers. Alternately, a gorb was an adult bird whose feathers had been plucked. We would guess that the word came to England with the Normans, the Old French form being "corbel", from the Latin "corvus". Since Roman times, birds have had an important place in augury, the forecasting of the future through observation of the interactions of flocks, with black birds being the preferred focus of this art.
another version, see Edith Fouke, Explorations In Canadian Folklore, p. 176.
The blackest of birds (figuratively speaking) comprise the family still known as the "Corvidae". These are: the Gray or Canada Jay, the Blue Jay, the Raven and the Crow. Robie W. Tufts has said that the Gray Jay has no peers for boldness and impudence. "It is a common practice for it to enter a camp to steal food when the camper's back is turned. The fur trapper hates it whole-heartedly, for the very good reason that it steals the bait from his trap lines, often before he is out of sight when making his rounds..."2 This explains the designation "camp-robber". Described as "a magnified chickadee" this bird "will eat absolutely anything. It will peck at a deer carcass...make off with soap and candles that have been left around the camp, and the Indians claim it will eat mocassins and fur caps. 3 Among them, this bird was the "wiskidjak", which the white men interpreted as "whisky jack". The wiskidjak coveted moose-meat as much as stale buscuits and whisky, and was always willing to guide people to this animal in exchange for meat from the carcass. In the elder days, the Abenaki hunters said that a powerful spirit lived within this bird, and when they hunted they listened for his cries of "Gee! Gee! Hungrrry!" Following them through the woods they would ultimately spot game. At other times, they did not welcome his company, and Fannie Eckstrom, said that the natives "hated Whisky Jack, and a bullet was their usual greeting (for him). 4 In my grandfathers day, white men followed the gorbie in the same belief, but they claimed his cry was "Jesus, Jesus, cold!" In any event, neither group of hunters made serious attempts to shoot these birds (unless the shot was silver). When Eckstrom offered two dollars each for specimens of eggs, she was surprised that there was no rush at her door, and concluded that, "there may be some superstition connected
W. Tufts, The Birds of Nova Scotia, Halifax, 1961, p.
308. D. Ives, "the Man Who Plucked the Gorbey, as quoted by Foukes, Foukes, from "Concerning the Bad REpute of Whiskey John", 1902, quoted in Edith Foukes book, p. 186.
with (it)." 5 It was in fact frequently suggested that gorbies might house the departed souls of dead woodsmen, but there were worse suppositions. In a typical run-in, a Gray Jay watched while lumbermen gathered wood, built a noon-day fire, melted snow for tea and popped open the tops of lard-buckets, which contained their lunches. Instantly, there was a whirl of gray and a biscuit snatched between hand and mouth. All of the jays were universally fearless, and after they fed, would harass woodsmen, dashing under a coat-tail or up a sleeve or pant-leg. Most men laughed at these antics, and gladly parted with a bit of food in exchange for the show, and these referred to the jays as the woodsman's friend. Others insisted it be called a moose-bird, meat-bird, grease-bird, or venison hawk, because of its seemingly bottomless stomach and thievery. Ives claimed that one camp cook threw out stale doughnuts, and watched aghast as a bird looped one over his left foot, another over the right, and flew away with a third in his beak. In Britain men, who were voracious or greedy in their eating, or other habits, were once called gorbs after similar black birds. A man with an expanded waist-line was called a gorbelly. Gorbies never seemed to tire of feeding, earning them the local nickname "greedy gorbeys". In every lumber camp, there seems to have been at least one thin, puritanical man, who disliked their gluttony. Gorbeys were not easy to catch but according to legend they might be entrapped by soaking a buscuit in whisky and offering it to them. The greediest of the lot became intoxicated and so drunk he could no longer fly. A humane woodsworker might tie a shoe-lace or baloney wrapping about the neck of a gorbey as chastisement, but ill-humoured men plucked the feathers from such birds and left them to the elements. This was considered ill- omened since most lumbermen knew that any injury done to a gorbey reflected on the person who did the damage. Those who plucked the gorbey often lost their hair if the bird survived. Those who injured the wing or leg of this black bird soon suffered damage to an arm or a leg, and those who killed a gorbey had a short life-expectancy. Charles Sibley of Argle, Maine told Harold Ives that Archie Stackhouse was one man who denuded a gorbey: "...he picked him, all but his wings. In February. Picked him all off...and he said, "Go you you son of a bitch and get a new coat." And they said the next morning he woke up,
and his hair laid right on the pillow, every Goddamned bit..." 6 Ravens, Robie suggests, "possess uncanny powers, not only in the matter of detecting the location of food, but in being able to pass the word along to other members of the tribe, even though widely separated from one another. This is borne out by the following incident...After dressing a deer that had been killed the first morning out (a hunter) hung it ona clump of thick spruces, and boughs from the same were draped over the carcass in order that it might be concealed completely from any Raven that might be passing that way, though none was seen during the operation. Returning to pick it up two days later, he found the carcass was picked almost clean, and perched on the boulders and trees in close proximity were 40 to 50 heavily glutted Ravens." 7 Ravens are not fastidious eaters and neither is the common crow. Tufts says that "few persons have anything good to say of this bird. Its call note is discordant; in spring it is known to steal eggs and young from the nests of valuable songbirds; it plagues the farmer by pulling up newly sprouted corn, and it has been found guilty of pecking holes in ripening pears and apples...Crows are not protected in Canada, but they require no protection, being well able to fend for themselves despite men's hostility..." 8 Tufts recalled that a crow once aborted a duck hunting expedition he was taking part in by voicing "caws", which were correctly interpreted by ducks on a pond as a signal of danger. He also noted their tendancy to gang up on solitary owls, "cawing" to attract members of their tribe and mobbing their common enemy. The word "crawe" (crow) originated with the Anglo-Saxon people who displaced the Celtic-speaking Gaels, Gauls and Cymrians of Britain. Imitative of the sound made by this black bird, it is from "crawan", to crow. Akin to the Danish "kraai" and the German "kraahe" it referred to the crowing of a cock as well as the voice of the crow. The cock has almost as bad a reputation as the crow, its voice constituting a bad omen when
6Edith 7Ibid, 8Ibid,
Foukes, p. 177.
p. 311. p.. 313.
heard at an uncharacteristic time. In the Victorian era, to "have a crow to pluck" was still understood as being under the necessity of having a disagreeable conversation, or being faced with having to settle an embaraasing matter.
Our "rude forefathers" believed in the spirit world as much as the Micmacs and the Woolastooks. The Gaels of Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man referred to their carrion crow as a "bhaobh", or "baobh", but this word may also identify a human hag, a witch, a wizard, or "several other female supernaturals of very evil omen." A favourite saying among them, used to descibe a "sticky" situation was "eadar a 'bhaobh 's a'bhuarach." Roughly, this indicates a person caught "between the Devil and the deep blue sea," but more literally, between a gorbey and a "fettered cow". The Celtic speakers were never a literary people. As a result, their spellings used to vary with regional pronunciations; thus, bhaobh, or baobh is also seen written as maobh, mebd, or maeve. Capitalized, the last form recognized one of the Gaelic goddesses of battle. This "carrion crow" had the uncanny habit of appearing on the battlefield before men who were destined to die, thus destroying their lust for battle and hastening their end. She was allied with the peoples of southern Ireland and seems to have had a human counterpart in Queen Maeve. At the pass to Ulster this mature warrior-woman met the northern hero Cuchulain, shape-changed into an eel which wound itself about his legs trying to overthrow him. Failing this she turned into a snarling rabid wolf, frightening herds of cattle which nearly trampled him. This is one of the few cases where the crow-wolf queen failed, perhaps because Cuchulain had invisible protectors, who were of the warrior-magician clan known as the Daoine sidh (little people). The raven was the totem-symbol of the viking Scandanavian peoples, especially the Danes, who commenced to ravage England and Scotland starting with 793 A.D. They used this black bird as a symbol on their pennants, wore black armour, sailed black-hulled ships and declared themselves "the messengers of Odin." The Anglish, or English, understood this symbolism, their ancestors having been devoted to this same god Wuotan. They remembered that "the king of the gods" could become a gigantic eagle, but more often sent two ravens, from his shoulders to seek information of the wider world. When Hugin (thought) and Munin (memory) returned at
nighfall, they whispered into Odin's ears news of all they had heard and seen in their daytime travels. Interestingly, Odin also kept two hunting wolves, which were considered a good omen to this people, as they once were with the southern Irish. As we will see, totem-animals were once considered more than simple symbols. The troubles that various European peoples had with the viking Norsemen (among other things) led to their association with evil creatures in medieval mythology. Caym, "the grand-master of hell" was described as a great trickster, "the cleverist sophist in hell, who through the astuteness of his arguments, can make the most skilled logician despair... Martin Luther had a famed encounter with him (and said that) Caym understands the songs of birds, the bellowing of oxen, the barking of dogs, and the sound of the waves. He knows the future. At times he has revealled himself as a man adorned by a tuft and a peacock's tail, but he generally reveals himself as a black crow." 9 Malphas, "the president of hell" often appeared as a conventional man, but he often preferred to appear as a crow. His voice had the rasping sound of the latter animal. Further, Pierre Delancre is supposed to have noted that when sorcerer-priests elevated the black host and black chalice at the sabbat of the witch they called out: "Black crow! Black crow!" Many of the people of Atlantic Canada are descendants of those who opposed the various "crow or raven-folk", which explains the fact that fishermen will return to port if one of these birds crosses their bow on an outward voyage. Some feel that spitting will avoid harm, or turning the boat in three circles in the direction of the sun, but others consider this a sure omen of heavy weather at sea or a loss of life. We are not sure of the reasoning behind the verse that begins: "One crow sorrow..." but spitting was perhaps considered a remedy because this was the traditional means of concluding a Norse treaty. Where former enemies gathered, they spit into a common container. It was believed that something of the spirit of each participant intermingled with the saliva, making it magically impossible to break solemn vows. We know of a few people who are still bothered when they return home and find a crow perched on the ridge pole. In ancient times, that crow was probably a crow-standard, or flag, and
de Plancey, Dictionary of Witchcraft, p. 37.
indicated that the household had fallen into the hands of dangerous people. There is a connection between witches and the Norsemen, and our folk probably feared the "familiars" of witches, who travelled as crows, after the viking peoples were long forgotten.
The crow-spirit could be a tangible force, as Helen Creighton makes evident in a tale of witchcraft said to have taken place at French Village, Nova Scotia in 1870: Samuel B. Culaw was referred to as "the father of witches" because he was a "witch-master", the patriarch of a witch-clan in Cape Breton, an individual available for hire, where his neighbours were unable to fend off the effects of bewitchment. In that year, he agreed to assist Daniel H. who had refused a witch bread and milk. Afterwards Daniel noticed that his cattle suffered night-sweats, appearing so wet in the morning they seemed to have spent the night in a lake. This would now be deduced as caused by bacterial or viral fever, but in those days animals were thought to have been "hag" or "fairy-ridden". In Romeo And Juliet, Shakespeare refers to: ...that very Mab (from Mebd) That plats the manes of horses in the night; And bakes the elf-locks in foul slutish hairs, Which once entangled, much misfortune bode. This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs, That presses them... Thus the crow and the hag are related in the lore which Shakespeare borrowed from the folk of Middle England. In The Mad Pranks and Merry Jests of Robin Goodfellow, which predates Shakespeare, an anonymous writer had a charcter named Gull, the fairy, say: "Many times, I get on men and women, and so lie on their stomachs, that I cause them great pain; for which they call me by the name of Hagge or Night Mare." 10
Anon, The Mad Pranks And Merry Jests of Robin Goodfellow, ed J.P. Collyer, 1841, p. 42. Said first between 1584 and 1588, although references in it to the use of tobacco (which was not yet in use) suggest that the second part is of later date.
The night elf, or fairy, or hag was said to sit on the chest or back of the sleeper and ride thim through interminable dreams, his hands gripping his "mount's" hair as if they were reins. "Night-Elves also ride animals, leaving their hair so tangled and matted that it is impossible to comb out." In Acadian parts, this creature was the lutin: Ou il y a belle fille et bon vin La aussi haute le lutin. Anon. proverb A house goblin, he was said to be equally fond of children and horses, and to give both good things to eat, but "to whip and pinch them if they were naughty." Although he generally cared for the farm horses, he was known to gallop them at times and lutinize their manes, "i.e. plait or twist them in an inexplicable manner." It was never suggested that the horses or cattle were liberated from their stalls when they were galloped, but rather that their "spirits" were taken for night-rides by these night mares. Prespiration was not the only sign of such abuse; cattle were sometimes found displaced in their stalls, turned front to back in confines which would not allow them such movement without supernatural intervention. In the worst cases of witch, or fairy-craft, an animal might be found upside down in its stall, the legs pointing roofward. There have been reports, in Atlantic Canada, of nightrides which have supposedly left animals with broken legs or even a broken neck. Daniel H's hag-ridden cows were not this severely tormented, but he was forced to wipe them down in the morning before turning them out into the pasture. On the second day, he found the entire herd liberated, their ties remained unknotted in the barn. Assured by this that something uncanny was afoot, he went to visit Mrs. W., the local "crow-woman", and promised her that counter-action would be taken unless she stopped her "troubling". The cows were not bothered for ten more days, but on the eleventh night they were again at liberty. Hearing them at large in the dark, he tried to round them up he found them entirely spooked, running about the land as if the devil persued. He finally got control over the two most docile animals and the rest followed back into the barn. The next morning he asked for the help of Sammy Culaw.
Sammy recommended that the counter-measure should be a "witchbottle". As Gillian Tindall has noted: "These illustrate most clearly the fact that no qualitative distinction can be drawn between witchcraft and the anti-witch devices ordinary people employed when they thought they had been overlooked."11 In medieval times Tindall noted that it was suggested that one should take, "three small-necked stone-jars; place in each the liver of a frog stuck full of new pins and the heart of a toad stuck full of thorns from the holy thornbush. Cork and seal each jar. Bury in three different churchyard paths seven inches from the surface and seven inches from the porch. While in the act of burying each repeat the Lord's Prayer backwards. As the hearts and livers decay, so will the witch's power vanish." 12 The witch-master intended something more potent; most of his kind considered that a proper witch-bottle would reflect the powers directed against men or cattle back at the witch. Often some of the victim's blood or urine, together with hair or nail parings, was substituted for frog parts. The inclusion of urine might be intended to "stop up" the witch, making it painfully difficult for her to pass water. Sometimes the urine was buried, boiled, or sunk in the ocean, hoping for equally drastic results. In the most extreme situation the witch was expected to drown, swell to bursting, suffocate or die of a raging fever, but before that happened she usually appealed to her victim for mercy. Culaw told Daniel that he should go to the barn and draw off a half pint of urine from an ailing animal. He then told him to place this in a wooden chest and leave it to evaporate: "As it dries up, she'll dry up, and when it's gone she'll be done and you'll be free of her." Daniel was in the habit of driving to Halifax, always stopping on the way at Fourteen Mile House, near present day Bedford. One morning, he took Culaw along for company and at sunset, the two of them spotted a huge black bird silhoutted against the sun near this watering-hole. In those days ravens and crows were shot on sight, so Culaw was suspicious
Tindall, Handbook On Witches, p. 115.
of the brazeness of the bird. Daniel fired two rounds of shot at the animal, but it remained on its branch silhouetted against the sun. Finally, sensing the nature of the black bird, the witch-master took his jacknife, shaved silver from a coin and added it to the shot, saying: "I'll fire the next load!" This time, the crow tumbled from its perch into the brush. When they searched for the body nothing was found, so they went on their way. At Halifax Sammy turned to Daniel and said, "That was old Mother W. presenting herself here this morning in the shape of a crow. All the bullets from here to Jericho would never have any effect upon her, but when she got that load I fired she dropped...When you go home yopu'll find her in bed sick...she'll be sending (to you) for a loaf of bread or a quart of milk...Don't give her one thing. She'll come every day begging and starving to death. The very minute you give her a loaf of bread or a quart of milk...she'll be all right again and she'll have you just where she want's you!" True to the prediction, Mother W. sent one of her boys to Daniel asking him to visit. At her home she asked for milk and bread, but Daniel put her off. When she was back on her feet she came looking for potatoes, but the farmer said: "...I might as well be plain with you. I'm determined you're in the place where I want you and you're staying there. Never come to me or my wife or none of my family again. Beg from somone else for a while." Afterwards, the witch commenced to lose weight and Daniel looked periodically at the evaporating urine in the witch-bottle. When the contents stood at a spoonful, Mrs. W. sent for him one last time. "She had dried up almost like a stick" but her imperious voice was firm as she warned him that the counter-charm had to be removed if she was to live more than a forenight. When he explained that he had not set the spells but that it was one placed by Samuel Culaw, she was appalled and knew that her end was near since she expected no favours of "that old scorpion". When the bottle went dry it was said that she dried out with it. Samuel came to see her buried, and afterwards commented: "Now Dan'l to you warrant I can handle these fellers?" An explanation of these events cannot be found in Christian theology, but can be worked out in terms of the pagan "Dawn Religions" of western Europe and America. Contrary to popular belief, monotheism was not the
sole property of Christians. At the earliest stage, most men seem to have been too busy to have time for more than one creator-god. Among the eastern woodlands Indians he was Kjikinap, a great spirit who some claimed rested within the oldest trees of the forest. Among the Innuit, he was Kaila. The Celts named this god Nathir, the Scandinavians, Alfadur, and the English the Allfather. The last three names are complete synonyms, and when the Christian missionaries came to the north they translated the Hebrew "Jahweh", or Jehovah, as "Father". In Atlantic Canada, Creighton was repeatedly told that the words "Father, Son and Holy Ghost" were the "holiest" in the Bible. In the elder theology, the "breath of life" was considered the gift of this prime-spirit to his creations, each sharing a small fraction of that belonging to the Allfather or creator-god. The Anglo-Saxons called this animating force "gast", and later it was called "ghost". It will be noticed that the "Holy Ghost" is one third of the Christian trinity, each fraction having (by the old rationale) one third the power of the "One God". After the Normans conquered England in 1066, their word "spirit" was substituted for "ghost", so that reference is now also made to the "Holy Spirit". The prime business of ghosts or spirits was to cause movement, and it was observed that all animals and plants moved, thus the pagans theorized that they must be spirited, those that moved least having less spirit than those that were far-ranging in their activities. It was also noticed that the air, fire and water were rarely at rest, leading to suggestion that their were elemental-gods. Usually these pagan gods were named for the elements they controlled, thus in Europe, one notes the Teutonic gods, Kari, Hler and Loki, whose names are synonyms for wind, water and fire. In England these had counterparts in Carey, Eagor and Lauger and in Scotland and Ireland, they were Myrddin, Ler and Lugh. Perhaps a little later, it was observed that the earth was not an unmoving entity and a fourth goddess evolved, variously called Urth, Wyrd or Danu in Scandinavia, England and Celtic regions. In every case these elemental or earth-deities were understood to be immortal divisions of the ultimate creator-god. As such, they reacted without interest to the prayers, supplications, bribes and threats of mankind, enveloping them in lava, wind-storms and flood, earthquakes and mud-slides according to their own whims and time-tables. After men became agriculturalists, they had more time to consider the supernatural and religions evolved from the rites directed at the
elemental-gods. In the older situation people shot flaming arrows into the overcast sky hoping to catch the eye of the sun. Similarly, they sprinkled the earth with water hoping to encourage the water god to take the clue. If they wanted wind they snapped a cloth in the air, hopung that this minor disturbance might lead to something more widespread. The spirit of Urth (earth) was suspected to dwell in all animals and plants since they "fed" upon the soil of her being. It was widely held as late as the 17th century that corpses, and the ashes of animals and plants contained reproductive "seeds"; that a dead frog could engender living frogs and that the ashes of roses falling on the ground produced new roses. This was all sympathetic magic, based on the idea that like affects like, a concept now largely (but not totally) discredited. The earliest communities were busy places but every individual took time to dabble in private magic, seeing himself as a shareholder in the spirit of the ultimate god. These were rites of personal use to the farmer, fisherman or hunter, more general rites to benefit the community being finally given to professional magicians, who came to be known as priests. The skills of this class might be directed towards healing diseases, forecasting the weather, the future or the results of battle. However impotent they were, they were relieved of the usual drudgery of earning a living and became a pool out of which chiefs and kings developed. Their place in society was extremely hazardous as old age, and failure at magic, was seen as a diminishment of their spirit. Either event usually resulted in their being burned to ash, their spirit thus being returned to the earth. An especially lucky, or skilled, priest-king was often elevated to the status of mortal-god, a position undiminished by his death. Christianity had its own mortal-god so it was not a new departure in this repect. C.S. Lewis has argued that Jehovah differed from the pagan gods in not being a nature-god, like Mother Urth, or the various barleymothers, corn-fathers, cailleachs, winter-hags, and harvest-wolves that developed out of her rites. He has described the One God as one who "is not the soul of Nature nor any part of Nature. He inhabits eternity: He dwells in the high and holy place: heaven is His throne not His vehicle, earth His footstool not his vesture. One day he will dismantle all and make a new heaven and earth. He is not to be identified with the "divine spark" (spirit) in man. He is God and not man..."13 Unfortunately for his
Lewis, Miracles, London, 1988, p. 119.
argument he was comparing apples with oranges, and the above is an accurate portrayal of any of the earlier creator-gods, such as the Allfather, the Orlog who commenced the movement of the heavenly bodies and time itself and has promised to harvest all the spirits of the universe at the end of time. The chief differences between the old religions and the new was the latter's rejection of the idea of reincarnation of the soul, and the concept of everyman harbouring a minute fraction of godspirit. In the older theology men might aspire to god-hood in the current life, or a future reincarnation. In the new, they might only look to union with God after death. The soul was once considered a physical embodiment of the spirit, and in the Bible there is no suggestion that it might be expected to survive following death. This concept was entirely pagan, adopted by Church theologians who disliked the idea of personal identity being swallowed in the God-entity. The Abenaki Indians spoke of the "skitekmuj", or ghost body, "a black shadow of a man or woman. It has hands and feet, a mouth, a head, and all the other parts of a human body. It drinks and eats, it puts on clothes, it hunts and fishes and amuses itself." Since all things were animate and incarnate, animals also possessed individual ghosts or spirits: "With a moose or beaver, it looks like a black shadow of the animal." Fire, water, air, earth, and its subdivisions were all seen to possess occasional volition and therefore known to have immortal life. Their failure to move was thought due to spells which limited them, but it was said that, "the various bodies of nature are verily living tombs of diverse spirits." Snowshoes, cooking pots and sleeping mats all possessed shadow-counterparts. A man who had been to ghost-world said that the "skitekmujk" (ghost people) were punished if they acted badly in earth-world: They are made to eat only rotten bark. They are made to dance and leap without stopping, for as many moons as the Guardian may decide. I have seen also the "skitekumjk" who have conducted themselves as they should. Life is good to them in Ghost World. They have canoes, snowshoes, they have bows and clubs and sleeping-mats. The sun shines on their wigwams twice a day. The fir boughs and cedar boughs in their wigwams are always fresh and green...the Guardian watches over them, and they always have
meat to eat...Their chins are always dripping with fat." 14 The Innu also believed that "the soul exhibits the same shape as the body it belongs to, but is of a more subtle and etherreal nature." According to the Nootkas, "the soul has the shape of a tiny man; its seat in the crown of the head. So long as it stands erect, its owner is hale and hearty; but when from any cause it loses its upright position, he loses his senses..."15 The soul-mannikin is a part of European legend, thus the Icelandic Eddas mention the "flygiar", the attendant-spirit of every child that is born. In the prose Eddas we are told that the "guardians" who come to earth "to shape the life of the men and the gods" are of the race of the (elemental) gods, who they called the Nornir. Norn was originally a single goddess, corresponding with Urth and Wyrd, but in late mythology her duties were divided bewtween Urth, Verdhandi and Skulld, symbolizing the past, present and future. The destiny of men was admitted to be "shaped very unequally." "Some have a good life and rich, but some have little wealth and praise, some long life, some short...The good Nornir, and welldescended shape a good life; but as for those who meet with misfortune, it is caused by the malignant Nornir." 16 In England this same invisble little man was known as a shadowman, follower, runner, cowalker or fetch, and these designations are still used in Atlantic Canada. On both sides of the Atlantic, a person born with a caul, or "fylgie" (the amniotic sac present over the head at birth) was considered blesssed by a powerful attendant spirit. The sac was considered to have magical properties in its own right and in medieval times midwives sometimes removed it and sold it magicians. In the latter case, the shadow-man no longer protected his human double, who beacme
Holmes Whitehead, Stories From The Six Worlds, Halifax, 1988, pp. 207-208. James George Fraser, The Golden Bough, NY, 1951, all quotes in this paragraph from p. 207. Keightley, The World Guide To Gnomes, Fairies, Elves And Other Little People, quoting the prose Edda, pp 65-65.
an easy subject for diabolical possession. Such individuals were called the jonahs, or joners, in the sea-ports of our provinces, while land-dwellers were referred to as jinxes, or jinkers, or as "rent-payers to hell". In a few Gaelic-speaking regions they were "droch-chromhalaichean" (adherents of the badly-twisted one; i.e. the Devil). The Scots and the Irish also knew of the "currac-rath" (cap of luck) and all Atlantic Canadians were wary of "the unlucky kind" particularly when they appeared while men were working: "If they were working with tools of any kind, whether it was a mill or whatever...when things would begin to go wrong - as often happened - they would order a certain man in the neighbourhood to journey over (vacate the premises). They believed strongly that everything would (soon) be in order again...they took it as a very bad sign altogether if the same man met them on the road...The first person to meet anyone starting out on a particular journey, they thought would bring them bad luck or not..." 17 In sea-port villages, Christian priests, ministers and women were excluded from ships as bringing bad luck but these were not full-fledged jonahs. The former were disliked as likely to attract the unwanted enmity of the elder gods of the sea, while women were suspected as potential witches. One of Helen Creighton's interviewees explained it as follows: "There is often one man who is known as "a bad luck man", he never seems to be able to get on to the fish. Boats are also sometimes known as bad luck boats (since they might possess bad-spirits in their own right)": "Some vessels don't make money though they've been tried by the best skippers known. There seems to be no reason for it, but I've seen it many times. (Port Medway, N.S.)" On the other had bad luck ships were often attached to a jonahed master-mariner. 18 Creighton has also recounted the misfortunes of an admitted jinx, who was trailed by the runner of her great-great grandmother, a woman who had a reputation for witchcraft: "If I went on the road sixty times a day I'd meet her. She'd always turn around and follow me with her eyes."
Neil MacNeil, Tales Told Until Dawn, Kingston and Montreal, 1987, p. 211.
Creighton, Bluenose Magic, Toronto, 1968, p. 125.
Alma J, interviewed at Eagle Head, Queen's County, Nova Scotia in 1947, claimed that she had had a spell placed on her as a child. The followers of children were considered impotent in the first year of birth and one robbed of a caul was defenseless. When she married and lived at Lake Centre in 1927, she was no longer pursued by the shadow woman of her grandparent, but met a neighbour who bragged that he was a witch. It is a tenant of the craft that those who have been a prey to bewitchment remain open to its force, just as those who have been hypnotized are less able to resist later attempts at hypnosis. While her husband was busy with work in the winter-woods, Alma became the victim of this male hagge, witch or lutin: "There was a knothole in our front door and every night after I'd go to bed I'd hear a "cat" slide down through the hole and it would jump on my breast. When I'd leave the lamp burning it wouldn't bother me." This made it difficult to sleep and in time, "I began to get sick and couldn't work." One of the common symptoms of being hag-ridden was the advent of a dream-state: "...no matter how hard the dreamers try, they can't move a finger or even scream. It is, as one writer has put it, like having tetanus: a man is saved only if he can succeed in moving some part of his body..." 19 Sexual liberties were supposed taken with sleepers, which explained their legarthy during daylight hours. Frightened by the experience , Alma went to the woods to get help from her husband. Fortunately, he had some knowledge of witchcraft, and knew that that there were rites of prevention and expulsion which could be used against night-riders. In the middle ages various plants were hung about the room, or the sleeper wore amulets made of coral, diamonds, jets, jasper, dried menstrual blood or a wolf's hide. More recently, knifes have been driven into door and window frames, a horseshoe or cross placed at entrances, a red cloth sew to clothing covering the chest, or the arms and legs held crossed throughout the night. In their case it seemed more practical to entrap the witch. Once a "night-elf" had made an entry there were numerous ways to divert him, but the experts agree that "the most effective method is to catch him."
Arrowsmith, A Field Guide To The Little People, New York, 1977, p. 123.
Because of his shape-changing abilities, this can be difficult unless his escape routes are cut off. "If all the holes in the room are blocked, the Night-Elf will be forced to remain, since he must always enter and leave through the same hole...A curious method of catching him is to stopper a bottle very loudly. Partly out of curiosity and partly out of an overwhelming desire to urinate, (he) must open the bottle, making it very easy to close him inside." 20 Thinking to exclude the witch, the husband patched and filled minor openings in the home ending with the knothole in the door. As he was pounding a "cork" into this opening, their neighbour suddenly materialized in the bedroom. "What are you doing in there the wife called out? Come out in the kitchen!" The witch did he was told, but pushed past the woman in a manner that suggested annoyance. When they had him seated on the flop-couch in the kitchen they could see that he had bruises on his arm, representing every hammer blow the husband had taken against the bung. They suspected that he had been an invisible presence within the house, but had reacted too slowly to escape through his entry hole. When they asked him how he had managed the injuries, he said that they had resulted from injuries suffered while he was working in the woods. Captured, the witch could have been bled, or pricked, for it was part of the lore that he would be powerless to return if he lost nine drops of blood. Some families passed down "handling gloves" which were supposed to keep the witch at bay once he was ejected with them. It also used to be thought that the power of a witch was resident in his, or her, hair, so they might have given this witch a shearing, or simply grasped him by the hair, naming it "horsehair", thus cutting their relationship with the night-rider. The witch could also have been banished by locating one of his footprints in the earth, and nailing his spirit to the ground with an iron spike driven into the print. The couple opted for a warning, and Alma was left untroubled for two weeks. One evening while she and her husband were in bed, a piece of scrap iron fell out of the air and rolled three times on the floor. They had just put it to one side, and begun to sleep, when the same object fell with more accuracy on the bed. The next night Alma was alone and this happened twice more. When it fell a third time, she was braced for action,
and took a swing at the falling object which materialized on the floor as a dog-like animal. It scurried away, and the next night the malevolence of the witch centred on the family pig, which finally died under the constant torment. Completely annoyed by these happenings, the woman paid another neighbour to butcher the pig. She then took the heart and stuck it full of new pins. She placed the organ on a pan in the oven and stoked the woodstove, baking it slowly over a three day period. On this day, she was pleased to haer that her enemy had succumbed to a mysterious fever and was barely alive. She kept the heart in the heat for three additional days and by week-end, the witch was a corpse. "I had just enough heat on to make him suffer good and well; after he died I burned the heart in the stove." This last act followed the general suspicion that some of the witch-spirit remained resident in the counter-charm, which had to be completely destroyed for fear the magic-maker might use it as a focal point for regeneration and rebirth. Because Alma had been jinxed as a child, her troubles were not put to flight by this action. Two years later she found herself visited by another night-rider, who began to torment their heifer. That Christmas she was given a crocheted pot-holder by a young female neighbour, and for two months after found that she could not eat, sleep or work in any reasonable manner. When the witch came to gloat over her handcraft, she said: "Why, Alma, you look just like a witch. Somebody must have put a spell on you." At this she replied, "There was a spell put on me when I was a little girl. It was never taken off, so anyone can witch me." Made suspicious of the nature of her illness, Alma slept with a Bible beneath her pillow for three nights with little helpful effect. After that she burned the pot-holder over the fire while making a "wish". A week after this, she found herself forced to go "to the kettle" (thunder-jug, chamber pot; these days the bathroom) three times. "I thought everything in me was coming out. That was the spell coming out..." Nevertheless she was again assaulted by a night mare three days later. This time she opened the Bible to appropriate verse treating witchcraft and placed it squarely before her bedroom door. She heard an invisible creature attempt to pass bult it made an aborted sound, which she said sounded like "waalk". Alma cried out: "You son of a bitch, you
can't come any further because you see what stands before the door." The next night the witch, and her cohorts, were heard beyond the door, and they made further attempts, but each night the sounds of visitation were more distant and finally vanished. After that Alma found that an opened Bible served to protect her from the dark world. Jinxes and jonahs were not held personally responsible for the damage which sometimes fell on mates, family or neighbours, the problem being credited to the lack of a guardian. Infrequently, they were happy to have this infliction: "This is what happened to a man whose wife died and who married again and had one daughter from the first marriage. The daughter and stepmother did not get along very well at all. They were not very friendly. And one day as her stepmother was going to the store or somewhere, the daughter met her at the door. She said to the daughter, "Won't it be too bad for you unless I have good luck, since you are the first one met on my journey." But said the girl, "I am known to be drochchomhalichen. They don't consider me lucky for anyone to meet!" "Indeed," replied the stepmother (in an unbelieving voice). "Oh yes indeed," said the daughter, "I was (after all) the first one to meet my father the day that he was going to fetch you, and he was indeed, unlucky!" 21 The concept of humans being followed through life by a guardian is very ancient. Cuchulain, the great hero of the northern province of Ulster once defended the pass from the south from "Monday before Samhainn (Hallowe'en until Wednesday after spring-beginning," with nothing more than the assistance of his two invisible alter-egos (especially important individuals were allowed up to three guardians). In this action he was opposed by Queen Meb, who as a last resort called for the help of Cuchulain's foster-brother Ferdiad, who had "horn-skin armour", which was considered impenetrable. The two had trained together under Scathach, a witch-woman, who gave her name to the Isle of Skye. In an unguarded moment Cuchulain was wounded in the chest with "a tuck-hilted blade". Hard-pressed he called upon Dolb and Indolb to support him. "One of them went on either side of him and they smote Ferdiad, the three of them, and Ferdiad did not perceive the men from the fairy-mound. Ferdiad felt the increased weight of attack on his shield and cried out: "Not alike was our foster-brotherhood, O Cuchulain!" "How so?" asked the antagonist. "Thy friends of the fairy-folk have succored thee, and thou didst not
Neil MacNeil, Tales Until Dawn, Kingston, 1978, p. 211.
disclose them to me before,"complained Ferdiad. Nevertheless, Ferdiad maintained his advantage and Cuchulain noted; "Why complainist thou...thou hast the horned-skin whereby to multiply feats and deeds of arms on me..." In the end, Cuchulain was only able to win be calling for the "gae bulga" a many bladed weapon, which he threw beneath Ferdiad's "iron apron", sending barbs into every part of his body. Dolb and Indolb were the Celtic equivalent of the Scandinavian Nornir. The Eddas said: "(Some) are of the race of the gods; but others are of the race of the Alfs (elfs); and the third of the race of dwarfs." They assisted at the birth of eminent people, bestowing gifts of good or evil, and sometimes foretelling the future of the new-born. The word elf exists in most northern languages. The Danes render it as "elv (plural elve); the Swedes as elf (plural elfvar m, elfvor, f.). Oaf and Olof are based on it, the word originally identifying a youthful, inexperienced elf. This race corresponds with the "sidh" of Celtic regions. The elf has faded from German mythology, but they retain "alp" to distinguish the creature we call the hagge or night mare. Of additional interest is the fact that "engel", or angel, was used to replace "alp" in most proper names after the coming of Christianity to northern Europe. Thus "Alphart" was transformed into "Engelhart" and "Alprich" became "Engelrich". This did not end the important functions of "guardian angels". On the Island of Iona, the Christain saint named Columba retired to pray at "the hill of visions" near Port-na-Curiach. Until recent times the villagers said this was a dwelling-place of the little people, "and at certain seasons the farmers would gallop their horses three times about it for luck..." 22 The Gaels called it "Sidhchaillinn", the hall of the sidh. More significantly, Saint Patrick is supposed to have been allowed two guardian angels, who he consulted on every important career move. In 432, Patrick founded a mission at St. David's Head in Wales, a place central to the Gaelic kingdoms, but he moved from here when his angel explained that this place had been reserved for David, who would be born in thirty years' time. "When Patrick showed signs of sulkiness, the angel
Houghton, In The Steps of the Anglo-Saxons, London, nd, p. 168.
appeased him with the promise of Ireland instead." 23 The guardian, or follower, continues to have a place in the affairs of men. The folklorist Helen Creighton has expressed belief in "a guiding spirit": "One day in Halifax I knew I should cross to the other side of the street. There was no apparent reason and the side I was on was less congested and more pleasant. Nevertheless the urge was strong and...I obeyed. The reason was given immediately, when a friend got off the tram and upon seeing me looked greatly relieved and said, "I've been trying all day to get you on the telephone." The message was important. Since then, Creighton claims to have reacted to all "hunches". "If I go my own stubborn way I soon see my mistake." She has described this "gift" as a "fortudinous thought", or sense of advisibility, rather than a directing voice or vision. She says the experience have been rare, and that obedience to an implanted suggerstion, does not mean that one no longer thinks for oneself, but is, instead, reacting to "advice from a higher source", working "with this guiding spirit as a team." In 1917, Creighton's spirit-guide strongly suggested that she duck under the bedclothes. There was a tremendous noise, and the breaking of glass, and she emerged to find the window casing on her pillow, nails ripped into the cloth where her head had been a few moments before. A munition's ship had collided with another in Halifax Harbour and the Great Explosion had taken place. FORERUNNERS AND HINDRUNNERS Among the Anglo-Saxons sight was "gesihd", the Gaelic form being "selladh". From early times, those with foresight, were said to have the second sight, which the Scots identified as "an dara sealladh". In the pagan philosophy, each man possessed a guardian, or runner, so called for his abilities to protect people and to run into either the past or the future on their behalf. By implication, the "first sight" was an ability to have visions of the past. We still use the word foresight, but it is no longer credited as a function involving the spirit-guide called the forerunner. Backsight is an unused word, as is aftsight, but hindsight is occasionally heard although it is not credited to the hind or backrunner, who makes
forays into times past. The forerunner and hindrunner were not separate spirits, but the same "fetch" (using another local name) sent out on separate missions. It was considered that the strength of the runner was reflection of the spirit of his human. Those who had low spirits were unlikely to perceive anything unusual in a lifetime shared with their invisible companion. If the runner attempted to communicate useful information concerning either the past or the future, the average citizen detected what should have been seen or heard as faint "static", which took the form of hunches or feelings of impending disaster. Highly spirited people were identified by being born with a caul, eyes of different colours, which melded into a single colour before the first year; the "devil's peak" in their hairline, a "cow-lick" or double-parts of the hair. The devil's peak was a downward pointed triangle of hair growing between the eyes. A cow-lick was any unmanageable outgrowth of hair, which refused to lay flat when combed. All these geneticconditions were once thought to relate the possessors to the magical seagiants of western Europe, cannibalistic shape-changers, who were the overseers of the elfs and the sidh. These Fomors (undersea-dwellers), or Vana, have become stand-ins for Satan, the Hebrew Prince of Darkness, the antagonist of men and God, or at best are now identified as "demons". Those with powerful guardians were considered to be protected against drowning, death by fire or lightning, and had some capacity to see their runner. Creighton has noted that babies born with the caul were subject to convulsions and that these might be alleviated by giving it colt's tongue tea. Aside from this minor inconvenience, there was the fact that "caulpeople" were subject to involuntary visions, often centering around cataclysmic events, such as the death of a loved one. Creighton has questioned whether the ability to see the past or future should be termed a "gift" since the gift-bearer was emotionally entrapped in a vision and was always left exhausted by the process. The gift has been described as belonging to "the double sighted" since it was observed in two dimensions, the ethereal past or future being seen as an overlay on the present. Those with foresight usually saw the events of their perception acted out in every detail within a short time, but there are tales of Maritimers who observed events many decades in the future. Many individuals have had a single exposure to one of the two sights, but
there have been noted seers, who have been able to summon their runners at will. While most people observed events directly related to their own lives, others saw panoramic visions of unrelated happenings from the past or the future. In either case, it has been noticed that the visions were of short duration, and could be pre-empted by refusing to look directly at them. It was assumed that views of other times were managed through the "second-soul" of the runner. If there was an invisible humanoid counterpart for all living men and women it was reasoned that it must have an independent, or external soul, of its own. The internal soul, in the body of a man, was suspected to be inextricably linked with that of the runner, doppelganger, or shadow-man, the death or damage done to one quickly reflecting on the other. Men slept, fell into comas and died, and these events were seen as the temporary, or permanent, absence of the internal soul. Such disengagements were thought dangerous since the wandering soul left the body the prey of hostile disembodied spirits which might enter, as the soul had left; through the nose, mouth, ears or any other body opening. On the other hand, certain pagan magicians deliberately united their internal soul with its external counterpart and hid both in a safe place assuming this would protect the body against death, which might not occur without the loss of one of the souls. Visions were thought to take place when the internal soul projected itself upon the runner in either the past or the future. If the phenomena lasted long it left the man or woman in a stage of minimal, or soulless, disfunction. Some researchers have suggested that witches were never physically present at sabatts, their souls travelling through the air to distant gathering places within disembodied spirit-guides, or runners. While this occurred, their physical bodies may have been home in bed. The object of deliberate "running" was fortune-telling, which the Anglo-Normans referred to as divination. In some cases the "clairvoyant" observed events but there were other possibilities: "There was a woman in Mira (Cape Breton) who could see a funeral ahead of time, even sometimes before the person had taken sick, and she knew whose funeral it was. When it happened she would be walking along the road and would be pushed to one side by the crowd following the hearse..." 24
Creighton, Bluenose Ghosts, Toronto, 1976, pp. 69-
It is for this reason that Maritime Gaels avoided walking the centre of country roads. "In such cases everybody (on the road) might feel what was passing but only one could see it. That one would tell the others to step to one side as he did" and all would bow their heads or raise their hats in respect for the dead.25 What the runner felt was frequently relayed to the human. Thus a Cape Bretoner might say, "I feel the itch of a kiss (or a dram of whisky) today." Another might note an itchy right palm, which was taken as an omen that he would soon shake hands with a stranger. If the left palm reacted to a future event, this meant that money would come to hand. The quivering of the left eye in sympathy with that of the shadow man indicated good news, but the left foreshadowed bad news. A heating of the left ear was another poor augury which suggested people were making excuses for the person who suffered in this way. In contrast to clairvoyance, men used to speak of clairaudience, hearing sounds which had been, or were yet to be: "On Cape Breton's north shore, tools have been heard rattling before death just before they would be required to make the coffin..."26 Men who had never seen their runner in life were said destined to see and hear him immediately prior to death. Occassionally, the shadow man appeared briefly either going before or following his human. There was no harm in this but when he turned, so that his face was clearly seen, this was considered a certain indication of immediate death. Further, a person due to die by violence was often seen to have a bloodied double, and banshee screams preceded his death. The "gifted" often heard a shrill sound "like a bagpipe but within the ear", and knew they might soon expect news of a death in the village. In other times, it was considered bad-mannered to shut the door hastily, for fear of parting shadow men from their humans. People who are extremely awkward are still described as capable of "tripping over their own shadows." This is now dismissed as a figure of speech, but those with the two sights insisted that this actually happened. It was the
p. 70. Creighton, Bluenose Ghosts, p. 7l.
duty of runners to travel before their counterparts into strange places to assess potential dangers: "And people might hear a sound as if somebody were on the threshold. (There was no one) hitting the door at all you understand; there was no knock on the door, but you would hear the stamping as if somebody put his foot on the threshold though no one was there. And they would say, "It won't be long before a stranger comes to the house. Did you hear that footfall?" 27 Infrequently, the doppelganger materialized as a full-blooded double, explaining curious legends of people being seen in two places at the same time. More often, the shadow took the form of a totem animal which might cry at the door for admittance; thus, in Cape Breton, a rooster crowing at the threshold was considered to presage the arrival of a stranger. The forerunners who brought back sounds of the future often prevented disaster: "At Jordon Falls the story is told of a vessel that was supposed to sail out of Shelburne with a crew of eighteen or twenty men. One Ephraim Doane was lying in his berth when he heard the mainmast fall. He got up to investigate and found the mainmast intact, so he took this as a warning, and the vessel sailed to Boston without him. It was December of 1888 and there was a great gale. The ship was lost off New England with all hands... 28 Playful runners sometimes opened and swung on doors, while others knocked violently on the inner or outer walls of houses. Then there were the "knocky balls" of Maritime Canada, invisible callers who came to announce a death. The name is a corruption of the English knocky bohs (the latter word corresponding with "boo", an interjection meant to startle). This variety of runner always knocked three times on the door: Harold G. Bond was fifteen years of age when he hosted a friend name Ned Dixon at their farmstead on Belleisle Bay, New Brunswick. His parents were in Saint John attending his mother's brother, Charles Odell who was hospitalized. The boys had been in bed an hour when theyu heard theree sharp knocks, "the kind if you heard them at your door, you'd say someone was in trouble." Half a minute later this was repeated and then, a third time. "I looked from the upstairs window - even took the screen off and
Neil MacNeil, Tales Until Dawn, p. 210. Bluenose Ghosts, p. 13.
looked down -but there was nobody. Ned happened to glance at his watch and said it was exactly eleven o'clock. Next day, when my parents returned, we learned that Charlie Odell had died at that hour." Significantly, such happenings are still called "forerunners". 29 The runner had one other duty, and that was to supply telescopic sight of present-day events for gifted individuals. Sir Kay, the seneschal of King Arthur was mentioned in the medieval romances as one of those who could live for many hours under water, and observe the activities of his enemies although they were many miles distant. There have been numerous cases of people in our provinces describing approaching visitors in great detail before they actually knocked at the door, and these have been taken as instances where distant scenes have been viewed through the superior eyes of the runner. When people died the internal soul was supposed to leave. Some suggested it returned to the sea, the prime source of all spirits; others said that it united with the external soul and went to Valhalla, or Hell, or some other appropriate afterworld. One departure has actually been described: "Tancook Island, where the people are largely of German descent, reported this amazing phenomenon, "When Sebastian died, when his last breath came, the whole shape of him came out his mouth like he was a young man, no longer old and wrinkled, and it went out the door. Just before he died, three little taps came to the door, just a couple of minutes before...""30 In the elder days, death was never oblivion and spirits did not wait for a Christian ressurection at the end of time. Most of our pagan ancestors seemed to have agreed that the prime law of the universe said, "everything is eternal, but nothing is constant. They expected that men would turn to dust, and dust reconstitute itself as men. The Abenaki actually possessed an absentive case-ending, to be applied to the dead, those who were out of sight of the speaker, but still capable of animation. The second law of the elder universe insisted that, "any portion of being encapsulates the whole." Men knew that where any fraction of their
Trueman, Ghosts, Pirates and Treasure Trove, Toronto, 1975, p. 11.
Bluenose Ghosts, p. 79.
person survived death, the whole might be reborn from it. Thus, when the warrior Kikwaju was in danger of being crushed by a rock he shouted out, "Let my backbone be preserved1" In all, this Abenaki warrior was killed four times, but willed himself back to life, remaining in the spirit world only as long as rest and recreation demanded. "This ability for the part to become the whole...underlies the Micmac teaching that all the bones of animals must be treated with respect and preserved. Thus not only will the animal wish to re-inflesh itself...but will be able to do so, because the bone is there - a channel through which it can come once more into matter. The converse of this is that every part of an enemy must be obliterated. Kikwaju tries to eradicate permanently his foe the Rock Person. He burns that stone (which is Rock Person's shadow-man), cracks and crushes it to powder. Even then there is life in it, but by flinging the grit into the air and transforming it to blackflies Kikwaju preventys this Person from reassembling himself. In the same way, Kitpusiaqnaw grinds up the bones of his dead Kuwkwes (giant) father, to deny him further life." 31 Since all animals harboured gast or spirit it was universally agreed that they might reanimate themselves and reconstitute a soul. The North American Indians were never alone in respecting the bones of their ancestors and game animals. The Lapps regularly laid aside the bones, eyes, ears, heart, lungs, sexual organs, and flesh from each limb. "Then, after eating the remainder of the flesh, they laid the bones and the rest in anatomical order in a coffin and buried them with the usual (death) rites, believing that the gods to whom the animal was sacrificed would reclothe the bones with flesh and restore the animal to life in Jabme-Aimo, the subterranean world of the dead." 32 Primitive men had no means of distinguishing ash from seeds and throughout Europe, during the seventeenth century, it was still held that the ashes of animals and burned plants were reproductive seeds. Dead frogs were thus thought capable of reconstituting themselves, while the ash of a rose could lead directly to the growth of a new plant. Collin de
Whitehead, Ibid, p. 11. Fraser, Ibid, p. 613.
Plancey noted that French peasants believed that a Christian who had eaten seven bushels of ashes might ascend directly to heaven without passing Go. This relates directly to the idea that these remains were imbued with spirits of the dead. Diviners, or fortune-tellers, were not unknown in the North American wilderness. They Abenaki called them "nikani-kjijitekewinu", those who know in advance. According to Whitehead there were many classes of Indian magicians capable of forseeing coming events, warning of dangers yet to be: "Precognition plays a part in many tales, and various methods of divination are depicted. When Plawej falls on his face by the bowl of water, he enters a trance, empowering the water to speak to him. And it does. It becomes blood. The appearance of blood - in a bowl, in a tobacco pipe, or on a Power-robe - is a frequent device in Micmac stories. It is always an announcement of death." 33 Divination of death or good fortune was also the chief occupation of the witch or baobh, and it is notworthy that the former corresponds with the Latin word "video", to perceive or see. Witch derives more directly from the Anglo-Saxon verb "wit", to know or be wise. It is also a synonym for the Welsh "gwydd" which evolved through phoentic change from the earlier form "vid". The means of divination in every case was the creature known as the familiar. Properly, the runner of the witch was called a familiar spirit, the modifying word distinguishing it from the shadowmen generally gifted upon ordinary folk.
Stories From the Six Worlds, p. 9.
TOTEM ANIMALS AND FAMILIAR SPIRITS The totem animal is a North American invention that corresponds exactly with one of the materialized forms of the fylgiar or runner. The word "totem" is probably from the Ojibwa "odem", family mark. It appears to relate to "wutohtimouin", that which belongs to a person or place. The totem is defined as a natural class of beings, usually animals, having an intimate relationship with a group of human beings, typically a single clan. The word also describes symbols drawn or inscribed to represent
the animal. James G. Fraser, expanded these ideas by saying that the totem might be "a plant or animal, between which and himself the savage believes that a certain relationship exists...Whatever... (this) may be, it generally leads the savage to abstain from killing or eating his totem. Further, the group of persons who are knit to any particular totem by this mysterious tie commonly bear the name of the totem, believe themselves to be of one blood, and strictly refuse to sanction the marriage or cohabitation of members of the group with each other. This prohibition is now generally called exogamy. Thus totemism has been treated both as a system of society and religion." 34 By Fraser's definition, the ancient tree which "the Savages in the neighbourhood of Acadia (the Maritime Provinces)...loaded with offerings" was as much a totem as the animal familiars of the puoin: "The Sea having laid all its roots bare, it supported itself still a long Time against the Violence of the Winds and Waves, which confirmed the Savages in their Notion (that it was venerable); and the seat of some great Spirit; Its fall was not even capable of undeceiving them, and long as there appeared some Ends of the Branches out of the Water, they paid it the same Honours as the whole Tree had received while it was standing." 35 This is not different, in any essential, from the oak-worship of the Celts and the Germans. The latter considered this species the chief of their holy plants and it was dedicated to Donar or Thunar, the quivalent of the Norse god Thor. It was suggested that this god of thunder occassionally entered the largest trees when he was tired of dealing with the concerns of the gods and men. James George Fraser has noted that, "a god of the oak, thunder, and rain was worshipped of old by all the main branches of the Aryan stock in Europe." Lesser trees of the forest might
James G. Fraser, The Golden Bough, as quoted in Webster's New International Dictionary, Springfield, 1912, p. 2176. Pierre-Francois-Xavier de Charlevoix, Histoire st Description Generale de Nouvelle France, 1744, English translation of 1746.
not be treated to gifts, but all were considered animate and some were suspected of harbouring the souls of men. Fraser quoted E. Wyld Esq. as noting that felled oaks emitted "shriekes or groanes that may be heard a mile off." The Ojibwa had similar ideas and "very seldom cut down green or living trees, from the idea that it put them to pain." 36. Among the ancient Europeans, the interplay between men and the trees is suggested in a short prayer offered before cutting: "Oh tree, lend me thy limbs; for when I have returned to forest floor and tree thou shall have mine!" The Teutonic peoples said that men were created from driftwood; the man from ash and the woman from elm. This corresponds almost exactly with Abenaki Indian belief, the spirits of the people having been liberated from the brown ash trees when the bark was penetrated by Glooscap's magic arrows. The souls of the dead were said to return to these trees and indicate the pending death of one bearing their totem by tapping from within the bark. Since tree-spirits were the relatives of men they were usually considered beneficent and were offered libations of blood or liquor. The May-pole or May-tree was considered a symbol of human and crop fertility and the Germans used to "set up May-trees, or May-bushes at the doors of stables because they were thought to promote the fertility of farmanimals. The Irish-Celts had a similar fancy, fastening a May-bought against the farm-house to ensure "plenty of milk that season." If this appears too remote in place and time, it may be recalled that Maritime mummers, various called the Callithumpians, belsnickers, santy clawers, janneys, or first-footers, often left a sprig of greenery as their New Year's Eve calling card. Our more remote descendants, in Britain, were certain that the trees housed spirits and that the physique of the tree was reflected in its totem-people. Men of the oak were expected to be as gnarled and stout as their birth tree, while birch-people were invariably tall, thin and of pale complexion. In the very earliest days a tree seed was planted at the birth of children, and its success or failure was taken as an omen. The interrelationship between the two was considered a very close one, the death of one leading very quickly to the loss of the other. This being the case the mistreatment of trees was once regarded as a criminal act, and those
G. Fraser, The Golden Bough, both quotes in this paragraph from p. 130.
who debarked one, frequently found themselves flayed and their skin wound about the "wound". Aside from this, trees were suspected of being able to take their own revenge, blinding those they disliked through the whiplash of a branch. Sionce they could not make physical moves of revenge, the trees more often released their spirit against enemies, blighting their cattle, killing their chickens, and causing the illness of children. If a man suspected that the trees were attacking his offspring he would come to one with an offering of wool and bread, saying: "Here, I give to eat and spin, release thou my child!" As recently as the last century, a resident at Maugerville, N.B. openly told his neighbours that his prosperity was in the hands of "three green landies", a trio of elderly trees that stood on his property. At Midsummer Eve (June 21), he never failed to offer a nosegay to them. After his death his youngest son continued this strange tradition, but this oldest son disliked this paganism and chopped down one of the three trees on that evening. A third brother chopped a second tree in the next year, and both died shortly after. The surviving lad continued his practise and lived a long and prosperous life. Helen Creighton discovered a similar situation among people on Dalhousie Mountain, N.S.,who used to to consider it good luck to sing and make a wish while passing a certain venerable tree that once stood at the roadside. At nearby Scotsburn "on the Mackay property", there was an elm tree with seven crowns. Children of the district thought that wishes would be fulfilled it they climbed through and touched each trunk. There is also a local superstition that friends should never pass on opposite sides of a tree, in case the tree-spirit might cause them to quarrel. In Britain, a tree frequently associated with religious cults was the yew. Like the oak it had the capacity to live to a great age, and any group of people who considered themselves psychically attached to it, assumed that their adherents would endure longer than those who associated themselves with shorter-lived trees such as the elm or ash. It is noteworthy that the evidence against Jeanne d'Arc included the fact that she was supposed to have danced about a "fairy tree" after garlanding it with "ribbands". Jeanne admitted she had taken part in roundels, but insisted that the tree central to her worship had been one blessed by "Our Lady of Domremy. Obviously, some antique tree-cult had managed to survive the Christianizing influence in France.
From the standpoint of mobility, trees and smaller plants, were not particularly useful as guardians. This explains why witches carried rods, staffs, or wands cut from their totem tree. It is reasoned that magic, divining, or witching wands operated by acting as focal points for the combined energies of her internal and external soul. The animal familiar, had the advantage of being able to act as a runner. James I of Scotland, who became king of England in 1604, passed the first act demanding death as a penalty for witchcraft, which was defined as necromancy (consulting spirits of the dead), the laming and wasting of men's goods and bodies and the harbouring of familiar spirits. One of his first victims was Isobel Gowdie of Morayshire, Scotland, who was hanged after admitting (among other things) the power of her coven members to shape-change into hares or cats. She said that she had once been chased by dogs and only barely escaped a bad mauling. In British legend, the black cat has traditionally been the most common familiar spirit, but in our country it was far less evident. The Abenaki spirit-masters employed local species, notably the black birds, owls, groundhogs, squirrels, chipmunks, wolves, foxes, or whatever happened to be their totem-animal. Typically they carried a skin of their familiar in their deer-hide pouch, animating it whenever it was needed. The creature might wander far afield gathering information for its master. When it had finished a task it was folded back into the medicinebag until it was again needed. The European witches who settled in Atlantic Canada often favoured local animals since farm settlements did not at first include pets. The crow or raven was preferred, not only because it was a traditional bird of death and augury, but because it was easy to tame and had the amusing ability of being able to imitate the sounds of other birds and animals. Sundry small rodents were never demanding of the food supply and were easily caged until tamed. Toads, or frogs, were popular because their spittle was useful as a component of many spells, and other body parts could be preserved for similar use if they became a nusiance, or died of fungal disease. Witches also liked snakes, and it was generally known that the cast skins were prophylactic against accidental fires. Although the witch had one familiar-spirit she sometimes kept a menagerie of attendant birds and animals, a source of suspicion in the colonial world, where most small animals were considered pests.
The word "familiar" comes ultimately from the Latin "famulus", a servant. This word is also basic to "family", although the relationship of the male "master" and his "servants" is now somewhat altered. Familiar still connotates an intimate relationship, sometimes one that is essentially unhealthy, unduly close, or dangerous. The question of what constitutes a familiar-spirit has been confused by the fact that medieval witches claimed that the Devil appeared before them as a dog, cat, ram, goat, wolf or crow. These apparitions were not familiars, and neither were animals sacrificed in the interest of creating spells. The familiarspirit was defined by the medieval Church (and some witches) as an imp, or small "d" devil, in the form of a domestic pet. The Anglo-Saxon "impa" at first designated a graft, scion, slip, bud, or shoot added to a plant in order to change its flowering and fruiting characteristics. Later, the word became attached to youthful people, children and inferior devils, all of which were related. A few witches claimed to have received their familiars as gifts from the Prince of Darkness himself, but most admitted that they were family pets, supposedly longer-lived than average, and often handed down from one generation of witches to the next. Jennet Dibble, one of a company of witches who lived at Fairfax, England in the seventeenth century had, "her spirit in the shape of a great black cat called Gibbe, which hath attended her now about forty years." Another of this same gang had, "a deformed thing with many feet, black of colour, rough with hair, about the bigness of a cat." 37 The cat, the swallow, and the cuckoo were sacred to Freya, the Norse goddess of love before she was ousted by the Christians about one thousand years ago. This lady was reputed to be the most beautiful and loving person in northwestern Europe; in fact, Loki once ruefully commented that she had "loved and wedded all the gods in turn." A fertility figure she sometimes travelled in the chariot of her brother Frey, the god of agriculture and the sun, but just as often she was pulled about the sky behind a coven of cats. These were her favourite animals, personifyinhg her own character, "emblems of caressing, fondness and sensuality, (as well as) fecundity." The Old Norse men toasted Freya's health along with that of Woden, Niord and Frey, but after she was demoted this toast was transferred to the Virgin Mary or Saint Gertrude. Having been declared a demoness, or possibly a powerful hagge, Freya was
Tindall, Ibid, p. 95.
banished to a mountain peak. In Germany, this peak is Brocken, the general trysting place for her followers, who flood out over the land on Walpurgist Night. Since the cat kept such questionable company they are sometimes still considered to have demoniacal attributes and to be suitable company for a witch. Whatever the species, the familiar-spirit was considered engrafted, a replacement for the guardian, which had been the individual's birthright. Christians said that the Devil confiscated the true soul and supplied this counterfeit, but the witch probably regarded it as gardenvariety runner. Pagan gods, giants, little people, and their human associates (including the witches) were often upbraided for being soulless, and thus interacting poorly with real men and women. In his Ecclesiastical History of Iceland, Finnus Johannaeus has noted the following of the "genii, or semi-gods, called in our language Alfa and alfafolk (elf-folk): "Authors vary respecting their essence and origin. Some bestow on them not merely a human body, but an immortal soul; others assign them merely mortal breath (spiritum) instead of a soul, whence a certain blockhead calls them our half-kyn." 38 It was also suggested that many of these people kept their souls at a distance, enabling them to gain long, if not eternal, life: "If the safety of the soul can be ensured during its absence, there is no reason why it should not remain absent for an indefinite time; indeed a man (or god, or giant, or witch) may, on a pure calculation of personal saftety, desire that his soul should never return to his body..." 39 This was suggested as an explanation for the long lives of giants, the gods, the little people, and successful witches. Since the soul was envisioned as a material thing it was thought capable of being stored in a box, jar, egg, hollow tree, or an other container,animating the living body from a distance. There was danger in this, since it was noticed that people long-separated from their souls were apt to become violent and cruel. In addition, there was always the possibility that an enemy might find the soul-container. If it was crushed, the soul was lost, and the death of the body occurred immediately.
Keightley, Ibid, p. 159. James G. Fraser, Ibid, p. 774.
The Witch of Mull River, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, was said to have been "a very bad old woman who died at the age of one hundred and eighteen. After she passed the century mark she grew two horns on her forehead, which increased a quarter of an inch each year. It was suspected that her soul might have been contained in "a large canvas bag bound with iron". After she was safely buried, the neighbours decided to burn down her hovel. Two men acting on their behalf entered her windowless one-room house and spied her "witch-bag" in a corner. They piled her furniture and other flammable materials in the centre of the floor, threw the bag on top, and torched it. To their horror "...a terrible explosion shook the hut and the bag shot out through the chimney and rose up into the sky. Then it descended to the earth intact. Since they could not burn it, they decided to bury it. As they left the country shortly afterwards, the knowledge of its location has been lost." 40 It was sometimes said that witches did not actually travel to their periodic meetings, their souls alone being transported instantly to the esbats and sabats while their bodies remained at home. When they were spiritually absent, their body was capable of incomplete animation, and was at risk, as the following makes clear: "I knew a woman who was a witch and I used to go to her house three or four times a week. She would
L. Fraser, Nova Scotian Folklore, pp. 65-66. Credited to "a man who spent his childhood and boyhood at Mull River." Although a curiosity human horns are not unknown in medical history. In 1588 Margaret Vergh Gryifith of England, who was sixty years of age, developed a horn in the centre of her forehead which grew to a length of four inches. The Widow Dimanche, a resident of Paris in the ninettenth century, sprouted a downward growing horn which ended several inches below the level of her chin. A seventy-eight year old Philadephia mariner had his case recorded in 1878. His doctor said that he sported gnarled, horny growths that periodically dropped off his face, to be replaced by new ones of a similar material. See Mike Parker, The World's Most Fantastic Freaks, p. 116.
be there herself but her soul would wandering. Well I was at her house one evening with two or three other men and her husband wasn't home. While she was sitting there she went to the stove for to make a fire. "My gosh", she said, "I've got an awful pain in my side", and she put her hand to her side...Half an hour afterwards her husband drove up and come to the house. He said to her, "I drove over you (i.e. her familiar) just beyond Sherses' place". The very time he said was the time she had the pain. She was a witch that woman." 41 THe use of runners in this way was never believed limited to witches. Malcolm Campbell said it was a bad business "to wish yourself in such and such a place...because sometimes people had done that and something had happened to them.
Creighton, Folklore of Lunenburg County, p. 47.
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