Manual The Popular Religion and Folk-Lore of Northern India, Vol. I of II

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The theory of the blot of imperfection again appears in the custom of not washing the face of a little boy till he is six years old. Nor do they care to expose their bodies to the public gaze, but wear a light shawl of a gaudy colour, even in the warmest season of the year. Should such a youth, if sufficiently conceited about his personal appearance, detect a suspicious person looking at him, he will immediately pretend to limp, or contort his face and spasmodically grasp his ankle or his elbow as if he were in pain, to distract and divert the attention he fears.

So, all natives dread being stared at, particularly by Europeans; and you will often see a witness cast his eyes on the ground when the magistrate looks him full in the face, sometimes because he knows he is lying and fears the consequences, but it is often done through fear of fascination. A European, in fact, is to the rustic a strange inscrutable personage, gifted with many occult powers both for good and evil, and there are numerous extraordinary legends current about him.

Here it may be noted that he has control over the Jinn. A European officer poured a bottle of brandy on the spot and no Jinn has been seen there ever since. A few other examples illustrating the same principle may be given here. When a man is copying a manuscript, he will sometimes make an intentional blot. A favourite trick is to fold the paper back before the ink of the last line has time to dry, so as to blot and at the same time make it appear the result of chance.

We have noticed the same idea in the case of carpet patterns. A similar irregularity is introduced in printing chintzes and like handicrafts, and this goes a long way to explain the occasional and almost unaccountable defects to be found in some native work. In fact the two conceptions meet and overlap all through the theory of these protectives. Another plan is to paint up some hideous figure on the posts or arch of the door. The figure of a Churel or the caricature of a European with his gun is often delineated in this way. So in Italy Mania was a most frightful spirit. This is quite identical with the old Assyrian observance recorded by Lenormant of placing the images of evil or dreaded deities in places to scare away the demons themselves.

Confectioners, when one of their vessels of milk is exposed to view, put a little charcoal in it, as careful Scotch mothers do in the water in which they wash their babies. A mother while dressing her baby makes a black mark on its cheek, and before a man eats betel he pinches off the corner of the leaf as a safeguard. When food is taken to the labourer in the field, a piece of charcoal or copper coin is placed in the basket as a preservative; and when horses while feeding throw a little grain on the ground, it is not replaced, because the horse is believed to do this to avoid fascination.

Grooms, with the same object, throw a dirty duster over the withers of a horse while it is feeding, and they are the more particular to do this when it is new moon or moonlight, when spirits are abroad. In the same way, when a man purchases food in the open market, he throws a little into the fire, and when a man is having a specially good dinner, he should select an auspicious moment and do the same. The same idea accounts for various customs of grace-giving at meals. We now come to consider the various articles which are believed to have the power of scaring spirits, and counteracting demoniacal influence of various kinds.

First among these is iron. Why iron has been regarded as a scarer of demons has been much debated. Natives of India will tell you that it is the material out of which [ 12 ] weapons are made, and that an armed man should fear nothing. Others say that its virtues depend on its black colour, which, as we shall see, is obnoxious to evil spirits. Campbell 22 thinks the explanation may be that in all cases of swooning and seizures iron is of great value, either applied in the form of the cautery or used as a lancet to let blood.

The real reason is probably a very interesting survival of folk-thought. We know that in many places the stone axe and arrow head of the Age of Stone are invested with magic qualities, and Mr. Macritchie has gone so far as to assume that the various so-called fairy houses and fairy hills which abound in Europe are really the abodes of a primitive pigmy race, which survive to our days as the fairies. The belief in the fairies would thus go back to a time anterior to the use of metals, and these supernatural beings would naturally feel an abhorrence for iron, a new discovery and one of the greatest ever made by man.

There is good evidence in custom that the Age of Stone existed in many places up to comparatively modern times. The Hebrews used a stone knife for circumcision, their altars were forbidden to be hewn, and even Solomon ordered that neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron should be heard while his Temple was building. The same idea appears in many cases in India. The Magahiya Doms, who are certainly one of the most primitive races in the country, place iron under a stringent taboo, and any Magahiya who breaks into a house with an iron implement is not only put out of caste, but it is believed that some day or other he will lose his eyesight.

This idea appears in many various forms. We have already noticed the use of iron as a charm against hail. In the same way a sword or knife is placed in the bed of the young mother. This is now done in Sicily, with the object of absorbing every noise which might be injurious to the chickens. The magic sword constantly appears in folk-lore.

We have Excalibur and Balmung; in the tales of Somadeva it confers the power of making the wearer fly through the air and renders him invincible; the snake demon obtains from the wars of the Gods and the Asuras the magic sword Vaiduryakanti. While a house is being built, an iron pot, or a pot painted black, which is good enough to scare the demon, is always kept on the works, and when it is finished the young daughter of the owner ties to the lintel a charm, which is also used on other occasions, the principal virtue of which consists in a small iron ring.

Here is combined the virtue of the iron and the ring, which is a sacred circle. In India iron rings are constantly worn as an amulet against disease, as in Ireland an iron ring on the fourth finger cures rheumatism. The mourner, during the period of ceremonial impurity, carries a knife or a piece of iron to drive off the [ 14 ] ghost of the dead man, and the bridegroom in the marriage procession wears a sword as a protection; if he cannot procure a licence from a magistrate to carry a real sword, he gets one made of lath, which is good enough to frighten the evil spirit.

In this case he fastens an iron spike to the point. The Romans used to drive large nails into the side posts of the door with the same object. We have already noticed the value of iron nails for the purpose of laying the ghost of the Churel, and such nails are in India very commonly driven into the door-post or into the legs of the bed, with the object of resisting evil spirits. The horse-shoe is one special form of the charm. The wild Irish, we are told, used to hang round the necks of children the beginning of St.

Farrer thinks it may be connected with the respect paid to the horse in folk-lore. One thing is clear, that the element of luck largely enters into the matter; the shoe must have been found by chance on the road. The custom is common in India. The great Chandra Varma, who was born of the embraces of Chandrama, the Moon god, possessed the power of converting iron into gold. Laliya, on looking at it, found that the blade had been turned into gold.

At last he was obliged to throw the stone into the Bhadar river, where it still lies, but once some iron chains were let down into the water, and when they touched it the links were converted into gold. Gold, and in a less degree silver, have a similar protective influence. The idea is apparently based on their scarcity and value, and on their colour—yellow and white being obnoxious to evil spirits. These metals are particularly effective in the form of ornaments, many of which are images of the gods, or have some mystic significance, or are made in imitation of some sacred leaf, flower, or animal.

This is one main cause of the recklessness with which rich natives load their children with masses of costly jewellery, though they are well aware that the practice often leads to robbery and murder. Next come copper and brass. The use of copper in the [ 16 ] form of rings and amulet cases is very common. Many of the vessels used in the daily service of the gods, such as the Argha, with which the daily oblations are made, are made of this metal.

So with brass and various kinds of alloy used for bells, drinking and cooking utensils. The common brass Lota is always carried about by a man during the period of mourning as a preservative against the evil spirits which surround him until the ghost of the dead man is finally laid. Copper rings are specially worn as an antidote to pimples and boils, while those of iron are supposed to weaken the influence of the planet Sani or Saturn, which is proverbially unlucky and malignant. Next in value to these metals come coral and other marine products, which in the case of the Hindus probably derive their virtue from being strange to an inland-dwelling people, and as connected with the great ocean, the final home of the sainted dead.

Coral is particularly valued in the form of a necklace by those who cannot afford the costlier metals, and its ashes are constantly used in various rustic remedies and stimulants. According to the old belief in England, coral guarded off lightning, whirlwind, tempests and storms from ships and houses, and was hung round the necks of children to assist teething and keep off the falling sickness. It is blown at his temples when the deity [ 17 ] receives his daily meal, in order to wake him and scare off vagrant spirits, who would otherwise consume or defile the offering.

Krishna plunged into the water, killed him, took the shell, which constituted his bones, and afterwards used it for a horn. When sounded it fills the demon hosts with dismay, animates the gods, and annihilates unrighteousness. All these shells appear to derive part of their virtue from the fact that they are perforated. The cowry shell, which is worn round the neck by children as an antidote to the Evil Eye and diabolical influence, is supposed to have such sympathy with the wearer that it cracks when the evil glance falls upon it, as in England coral was thought to change colour and grow pale when its owner was sick.

The cowry shell is, with the same object, tied round the neck or pasterns of a valued horse, or on a cow or buffalo. The shell armlet worn by Bengal women has the same protective influence. Precious stones possess similar value. Put it on and I shall die. Many of the precious stones have tales and qualities of their own. Once upon a time a holy man came and settled at Panna who had a diamond as large as a cart-wheel.

The Muhammadans say that all the diamonds found since, in these famous mines, were fragments of the wheel. For this reason, the wearer tries it for three days, that is, he wears it on Saturday, which is sacred to Saturn, and keeps it on till Tuesday. If you bathe wearing a turquoise, the water touched by it protects the wearer from boils, and snakes will not approach him.

With poorer people beads take the place of gems, and in particular the curious enamelled bead, which probably came from China and is still found in old deserted sites, mostly of Buddhistic origin, enjoys special repute. We have already met with the parturition bead, and in Kolhapur there is a much-valued Arabic stone which, when any woman is in labour, is washed and the water given to her to drink. In Scotland the amber bead cures inflamed eyes and sprains, as in Italy looking through amber beads strengthens the sight.

As an antidote to the Evil Eye blue beads are specially valued, and are hung round the necks and pasterns of horses and other valuable animals. The belief in the efficacy of beads is at the basis of the use of rosaries, which, as used in Europe, are almost certainly of Eastern origin, imported in the Middle Ages in imitation of those worn by Buddhistic or Hindu ascetics, who ascribe to them manifold virtue. Blood is naturally closely connected with life. In [ 20 ] Cornwall, the burning of blood from the body of a dead animal is a very common method of appeasing the spirits of disease, 45 and the blood sacrifices so prevalent all over the world are performed with the same object.

Thinking that this was due to fascination, she put a piece of the cloth used at her confinement down a well, having previously enclosed in it two leaves of betel, some cloves, and a piece of the castor-oil plant. We have elsewhere noticed the special character attached to menstrual or parturition blood. But blood itself is most effectual against demoniacal influence. There are many cases where blood is rubbed on the body as an antidote to disease. Others use the blood of the great lizard in cases of snake-bite.

We shall meet with instances of the same rite when [ 21 ] dealing with the blood covenant and human sacrifice. On the same analogy many Indian tribes mark the forehead of the bride with blood or vermilion, and red paint is smeared on the image of the village godling in lieu of a regular sacrifice. Similarly, incense is largely used in religious rites, partly to please with the sweet savour the deity which is being worshipped, and partly to drive away demons who would steal or defile the offerings. In Ireland, if a child be sick, they take a piece of the cloth worn by the person supposed to have overlooked the infant and burn it near him.

If he sneezes, he expels the spirit and the spell is broken, or the cloth is burned to ashes and given to the patient, while his forehead is rubbed with spittle. In Northern India, if a child be sick, a little bran, pounded chillies, mustard, and sometimes the eyelashes of the child are passed round its head and burned. If the burning mixture does not smell very badly, which it is needless to say is hardly ever the case, it is a sign that the child is still under the evil influence; if the odour be abominable, that the attack has been obviated.

We have just met with an instance of the use of spittle for the scaring of the disease demon or the Evil Eye. This is a very common form of charm for this purpose. In one of the Italian charms the performer is directed to spit behind himself thrice and not to look back. And she must have abstained from sexual union and stimulating food for three days. Then, if her saliva be bright and clear, anoint your eyes with it and they will be cured. In Wicklow they spit on a child for good luck the first day it is brought out after birth. The habit of spitting on the handsell or first money taken in the morning is common.

In India, spittle is regarded as impure. Hence, too, the practice of spitting when any one who is feared or detested passes by. When women see a falling star they spit three times to scare the demon. In Bombay, spittle, especially fasting spittle, is used to rub on wounds as a remedy. It cures inflammation of the eyes, an idea which was familiar to the Jews.

It guards children against the Evil Eye. In the Konkan, when a person is affected by the Evil Eye, salt and mustard are waved round [ 23 ] his head, thrown into the fire, and he is told to spit. We have seen above that salt is also used in the same way. Salt, apparently from its power of checking decay, is regarded as possessing mystical powers. All over Europe the spilling of salt in the direction of a person was considered ominous. We have already seen that salt is given to children after they have eaten sweets.

Many classes of Hindu ascetics bury their dead in salt. It is waved round the head of the bride and bridegroom, and buried near the house door as a charm. In classical antiquity it was mixed with water and sprinkled on the worshippers. Another way of dispelling evil spirits is by the various forms of salutation, which generally consist in the invocation of some deity.

Hence a long series of customs known as Parachhan, performed at Hindu marriages in Upper India, when lights, a brass tray, grain, and household implements like the rice pounder or grindstone are waved round the head of the married pair as a protective. Hence, too, feathers have a mystic significance, though in some cases, as in those of the peacock and jay, the colour is the important part.

A woman carrying her child on her return from a strange village, lest she should bring the influence of some foreign evil spirit back with her, will, before entering her own homestead, pass seven little stones seven times round the head of the baby, and throw them in different directions, so as to pass away any evil that may have been contracted. The respect paid to the trade of the blacksmith is a curious survival from the time of the early handicrafts and the substitution of weapons of iron for those of stone.


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In all the mythologies the idea is widespread that the art of smithing was first discovered and practised by supernatural personages. We see this through the whole range of folk-lore, from the Cyclopes to Wayland Smith, who finally came to be connected with the Devil of Christianity. We have already referred to water as a protective against the influence of evil spirits. We see this principle in the rite of ceremonial bathing as a propitiation for sin. It also appears in the use of water which has been blown upon by a holy man as a remedy for spirit possession.

Among many menial tribes in the North-Western Provinces with the same object the bride is washed in the water in which the bridegroom has already taken his wedding bath. When the seeds are consumed the cup is upset, and the mother breaks it with her own foot. Next she sits with grain in her hand, while the household brass tray is beaten to scare demons and the midwife throws the child into the air. All this takes place in the open air in the courtyard of the house.

Here we have a series of antidotes to demoniacal [ 26 ] possession, the purport of which will be easily understood on principles which have been already explained. With this use of grain we meet with another valuable antidote. On the analogy of other races one object of the rite would seem to be to keep in the soul which is likely to depart at such a crisis in life as marriage. And, in general, at festivals in South Celebes rice is strewed on the head of the person in whose honour the festival is held, with the object of retaining his soul, which at such times is in especial danger of being lured away by envious demons.

This rite appears widely in Indian marriage customs. The grain acquires special efficacy if it be either parched, and thus purified by fire, or if it be stained in some lucky or demon-scaring colour. Rice stained yellow with turmeric is very often used for this purpose. Another device is to make a pile of rice, with a [ 27 ] knot of turmeric and a copper coin concealed in it.

This at a particular stage of the service the bride knocks down with her foot. All through Northern India the exorciser shakes grain in a fan, which is, as we shall see, a potent fetish, and by the number of grains which remain in the interstices calculates which particular ghost is worrying the patient. We are familiar in Roman literature with the use of beans at funerals, and at the Lemuria thrice every other night to pacify the ghosts of the dead beans were flung on the fire of the altar to drive the spirits out of the house.

The same idea appears in the Carlings or fried peas given away and eaten on the Sunday before Palm Sunday. Barley, another sacred grain, is rubbed over the corpse of a Hindu and sprinkled on the head before the cremation rite is performed. Til or black sesamum, again, has certain qualities of the same kind. Most grains in the ear have also mystic uses. So with the products of the sacred cow, which are, as might have been expected, most valuable for this purpose.

Hence the use of Ghilor or clarified butter in the public and domestic ritual. Milk for the same reason is used in offerings and sprinkled on the ground as an oblation. Cowdung, in particular, is regarded as efficacious. After the death or birth impurity the house is carefully plastered with a mixture of cowdung and clay. No cooking place is pure without it, and the corpse is cremated with cakes of cowdung fuel. Even the urine of the cow is valued as a medicine and a purificant. The cow guards the house from evil, and every rich man keeps a cow so that his glance may fall on her when he wakes from sleep, and he regards her as the guardian of the household.

Colours, again, are scarers of evil spirits. They particularly dread yellow, black, red, and white. The belief in the efficacy of yellow accounts for the use of turmeric in the [ 29 ] domestic ritual. The bride assumes a robe dyed in turmeric, which she wears until the wedding. The marriage letter of invitation is coloured with turmeric, and splashes of it are made on the wall and worshipped by the married pair.

The same principle probably explains the use of yellow clothes by certain classes of ascetics, and of Chandan or sandal-wood in making caste marks and for various ceremonial purposes. Black, again, is feared by evil spirits, and the husbandman hangs a black pot in his field to scare spirits and evade the Evil Eye, and young women and children have their eyelids marked with lampblack.

Next come special marks made on the body. Such are the marks branded on various parts of their bodies by many classes of ascetics, and the caste marks made in clay or ashes by most high-class Hindus. It has been suggested that many of these marks are of totemistic origin. That this is so among races beyond the Indian border is almost certainly the case. Among purely sectarial marks we have the forehead mark of the Saivas, composed of three curved lines like a half-moon, to which is added a round mark on the nose; it is made with the clay of the Ganges, or with sandal-wood, or the ashes of cowdung, the ashes being supposed to represent the disintegrating force of the deity.

The mark of the Vaishnavas is in the form of the foot of Vishnu, and consists of two lines rather oval drawn the whole length of the nose and carried forward in [ 31 ] straight lines across the forehead. It is generally made with the clay of the Ganges, sometimes with the powder of sandal-wood. They attach no meaning to the marks, have no ceremony in adopting them, and are ignorant of the origin of the practice. The Khariya women make three parallel marks on the forehead, the outer lines terminating at the ends in a crook, and two on each temple. The Ho women tattoo themselves in the form of an arrow, which they regard as their national emblem.

The Birhor women tattoo their chests, arms, and ankles, but not their faces. The young men burn marks on their fore-arms as part of the ordeal ceremony; girls, when adult, or nearly so, have themselves tattooed on the arms and back. Here we may have some faint indications of a tribal tattoo, but among most of the tribes which practise the custom it has become purely protective or ornamental. They are tattooed only on the breast and arms, not on the thighs. There are no ceremonies connected with it, nor any special pattern.

Any girl gets herself tattooed in any figure she approves for a small sum. Well-to-do women always get it done; but if a woman is not tatooed, it is not considered unlucky. The [ 32 ] men of the tribe are not tattooed.

The Ghasiya women tattoo themselves on the breasts, arms, thighs, and feet. They say that when a woman dies who is not tattooed, the Great Lord Parameswar is displeased and turns her out of heaven, or has her branded with the thorn of the acacia. At present among low-caste women the process of tattooing is regarded as a species of initiation, and usually marks the attainment of puberty. It thus corresponds with the rite of ear-piercing among males. This reminds us of the idea prevalent in Fiji, that women who are not tattooed are liable to special punishment in the land of the dead.

Hearing this, Vishnu took his weapons and stamped them on her body, saying that the marks of his weapons would save her from evil. Hence women in Bombay tattoo themselves with the figures of the lotus, conch shell, and discus, and from this the present custom is said to have originated. In Upper India the forms of the tattoo marks fall into [ 33 ] various classes. Some are rude or conventionalized representations of animals, plants, and flowers. The operators carry round with them sketches of the different kinds of ornament, and the girl selects these according to taste.

The peacock, the horse, the serpent, the scorpion, tortoise, centipede, appear constantly in various forms. Others, again, are representations of jewellery actually worn—necklaces, bracelets, armlets, or rings. In Bengal tattooing is used as a cure for goitre. We may close this long catalogue of devices intended to scare spirits, with a number of miscellaneous examples.

It seems to be a well-established principle that evil spirits fear leather. On this is perhaps based the idea of the shoe being a mode of repelling the Evil Eye and the influence of demons. We find this constantly appearing in the folk-lore of the West. Maidens in Europe ascertain whether they will be married and who will be their future husbands by throwing the slipper at the new year. The throwing of old shoes at an English wedding seems on the same principle to be based on the idea of scaring the demon of barrenness. According to Mr.

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Hartland, 81 the gipsies of Transylvania throw old shoes and boots on a newly married pair when they enter their tent, expressly to enhance the fertility of the union. In the same way in India, people who are too poor to afford another protective place on the top of their houses a shoe heel upwards.

This seems to give some additional efficacy to the charm, because we find the same rule in force elsewhere. Thus, in Cornwall, a slipper with the point turned up placed near the bed cures cramp. We shall see that this is one way of punishing and repelling the power of witches. At the same time it is said in Persia and Arabia that the dread of a flagellation with the slipper is [ 35 ] based on the idea that while a flogging with the regular scourge involves little discredit, a beating with anything not originally intended for the purpose, such as a shoe or knotted cloth, is disgraceful. The same feeling for the power of leather possibly explains the use as a seat of various kinds of skins, such as those of the tiger and antelope, by many kinds of ascetics, and in the old ritual the wife with her husband sat on the hide of a bull to promote the fertility of their union.

Garlic, again, from its pungency, is valued in the same way. Garlic was one of the substances used by Danish mothers to keep evil from children. Garlic was an early English cure for a fiend-struck patient. The same idea may account for the very common prejudice among some castes against eating onions. Glass in the form of beads, which seem to derive some of their efficacy from being perforated, is also very useful in this way. Mirrors from time immemorial have been held to possess the same quality.

Pieces of horn, especially that which is said to come from the jackal, and that of the antelope, are also efficacious. Garlands of flowers possess the same quality, and so do various fruits, such as dates, cocoanuts, betel-nuts, and plantains, which are placed in the lap of the bride or pregnant woman to scare the evil spirits which cause barrenness, and sugar is distributed at marriages. The bones of the camel are very useful for driving off insects from a sugar-cane field, and buried under the threshold keep ghosts out of the house.

Lastly, the demon may be trapped by physical means. There are certain persons who are naturally protected from the Evil Eye and demoniacal agency, or who have control over evil spirits. Such is a man born by the foot presentation, who can cure rheumatism and various other diseases by merely rubbing the part affected.

Men with double thumbs are considered safe against the Evil Eye, and so is a bald man, apparently because no one thinks it worth his while to envy such people. According to English belief, children born after midnight have power all through their lives of seeing the spirits of the departed. In India, people who are born within the period of the Salono festival in August are not only protected from, but possess the power of casting, the Evil Eye.

The same is the case of those who have accidentally eaten ordure in childhood. We have already noticed the mystic power of cowdung. Dung generally is [ 37 ] offensive to spirits. It was believed in Europe that horsedung placed before the house or behind the door brought good luck. A man with only one eye is dreaded because he is naturally envious of those with good sight, and he is proverbially a scoundrel. The giant with one eye is familiar in folk-lore, and he is generally vicious and malignant.

We have the black man of Celtic folk-lore who has only one eye and one leg. Sindbad in his third voyage encounters a monster of the same kind. Laplanders have a one-eyed giant Stalo, and in one of the modern versions of the Perseus myth there are two hags who have only a single eye between them. The same idea appears in Indian folk-lore. The planet Sukra is said to have only one eye. The Gonds have a special procedure in cases of deaths which they believe to have occurred through fascination.

The burning of the body is postponed till it is made to point out the delinquent. The relations solemnly call upon the corpse to do this, and the theory is that if there has been foul play of any kind, the body on being taken up, will force the bearers to convey it to the house of the person by whom the spell was cast. If this be three times repeated, the owner of the house is condemned, his property is destroyed, and he is expelled from the neighbourhood. In ordinary cases most people find it advisable to carry an [ 38 ] amulet of some kind as a preservative.

An amulet is primarily a portion of a dead man or animal, by which hostile spirits are coerced or their good offices secured. Hence the claws of the tiger, which represent in themselves the innate strength and bravery of the animal, are greatly esteemed for this purpose, and the sportsman, when he shoots a tiger, has to count over the claws carefully to the coolies in charge of the dead animal, or they will certainly misappropriate them. In the same way a portion of the umbilical cord is placed among the clothes of the mother and infant to avert the Evil Eye and scare the demons which are then particularly active.

Ferguson may be correct in his opinion that in India, prior to the distribution of the remains of the Buddha at Kusinagara, we have no historical record of the worship of relics; 95 still the idea must have prevailed widely among the Hindu races, out of whom the votaries of the new faith were recruited. Another form of amulet is a piece of metal, stone, bone, or similar substance worn on the person, with an invocation inscribed on it to some special god. These are very commonly used among Muhammadans.

An enemy may be killed or removed to some other place, or a whole army destroyed, or salvation and [ 39 ] supreme felicity obtained by drawing a six-sided or eight-sided diagram and writing a particular Mantra underneath. The equilateral triangle is another favourite mystic sign. According to the Christian ideas, the figure of three triangles intersected and containing five lines, is called the pentangle of Solomon, and when it is delineated on the body of a man, it marks the five places in which our Saviour was wounded; it was, therefore, regarded as a fuga demonum , or a means of frightening demons.

The diamond shape is also approved because it contains two equilateral triangles base to base. Another form of mystic sign is the mark of the spread hand with the fingers extended. This is made by the women of the family on the outer wall and round the door-post, and is considered to be particularly efficacious. Campbell suggests that the custom is based on the belief in the hand being a spirit entry. However this may be, the custom is very generally prevalent.

The Bloody Hand of Ulster, worn as a crest by the Baronets of one creation, is well known. There are numerous varieties of these protective amulets. One purpose which they serve is the procuring of offspring. Children naturally require special protection. In the Konkan, in order that a child may not suffer from the Evil Eye, a necklace of marking nuts is put round its neck.

These five articles are necessaries, but as an extra precaution the amulet contained some crude gold, a whorled shell, an ancient copper coin, some ashes from the fire of a Jogi ascetic, and the five ingredients of the sacred incense. The owner admitted that it would have been improved had it also contained a magic square.

In old times in England such charms were called Characts, and one found with a criminal contained an invocation to the three holy kings, Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar. One of the most valuable of these protectives is the magic circle, which appears in various forms through the whole range of folk-lore.

The idea is that no evil spirit can cross the sacred line. Thus, in Mirzapur they make a circle of grain round the circular pile of corn on the threshing-floor to guard it from evil. Among some castes the circle round [ 42 ] which the bride and bridegroom revolve at marriage is guarded by a circular line of string hung on the necks of a number of water-pots surrounding it.

We have seen how the Baiga perambulates his village and drops a line of spirits round the boundary to repel foreign ghosts. This accounts for the stone circles which are found both in Europe and in India, and in Ireland are considered to be the resort of the fairies. We have constant references to the same custom in the folk-tales. We have many references to the circle within which the ascetic or magician sits when he is performing his sorceries.

The same idea appears in the magic circle used as an ordeal, or to compel payment of a debt. If he in any other case presume to pass the circle, he is punished with death, as a transgressor against right and justice. If money is in dispute, the amount claimed is placed in the water vessel by the defendant.

The narrator tells a story to prove the efficacy of the rite:—. Within an hour his boy, while playing behind the house, was carried off by a wolf. He was rescued, but he was under the curse of the Gaurua, and shortly after he put his finger into a rat hole, was bitten by a snake, and died within the hour.

From the same principle arises the belief in the magic virtue of the ring, the bracelet, and the knotted cord. To begin with rings—we have in Plato the story of Gyges, who by means of the ring of invisibility introduced himself to the wife of Candaules, King of Lycia, murdered the latter and got possession of his kingdom. This is like the cloak or cap which appears so constantly in folk-lore.

In the Indian tales invisibility is generally obtained by means of a magic ointment, to which there are many parallels in Western stories. Among Muhammadans, Shiah women remove their nose-rings during the Muharram as a sign of mourning. The custom appears in the folk-tales. The ring represents an imperishable bond between the giver and the receiver, and is a symbol of the original blood covenant, which is an important element in the belief of all primitive people.

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The idea of the magic ring constantly appears in folk-lore. Thus, we have the ring placed in a sacred square and sprinkled with butter-milk, which immediately gives whatever the owner demands. The same idea attaches to the bracelet, which is in close connection with the soul of the wearer. Let it, therefore, be guarded with the utmost care; for if it were taken off and worn by another person, she would die.

The same idea shows itself in the use of strings and knots. If possible, a bit of Ashtara root should be fastened in the knot, and before tying it an oblation of butter is burnt before it. Lastly, the cord itself has powers in folk-lore, and we meet with the magic cord, which, tied round the neck of the hero by a witch, makes him turn into a ram or an ape. The belief in the efficacy of the magic circle accounts for a variety of other customs.

This the bridegroom holds in his hand, while the bride attempts to snatch it from him. Her success in the attempt is considered to be a good omen of the happiness of the marriage. Connected with this is the belief in the forming a connection by knotting the magic string. We have the European true love-knot, an emblem of fidelity between the pair betrothed.

So in Italy interlaced serpents and all kinds of interweaving, braiding, and interlacing cords are valuable as protectives because they attract the eyes of witches. Another device to avoid fascination or other dangerous influence is to cover the face so as to prevent the evil glance reaching the victim for whom it is intended.


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The same belief is almost certainly at the root of much of the customs of Pardah and the seclusion of women. It is as much through fear of fascination as modesty that women draw their sheet across the face when they meet a stranger in the streets. We thus reach by another route the cycle of Godiva legends. Closely connected with the class of ideas which we have [ 48 ] been discussing is the belief in omens. This constitutes a very important branch of folk-lore both in the West and in the East. The success of a journey or enterprise is believed in a great measure to depend on the object which was first seen in the morning, or observed on the road at an early period of the march.

And the ground of the conceit was probably no greater than this, that a fearful animal passing by us portended unto us something to be feared; as upon the like consideration, the meeting of a fox presaged some future imposture. The face of a Teli or oilman, perhaps from the dirt which accompanies his business, is about the worst which can be seen in the early morning; but, with the curious inconsistency which crops up everywhere in phases of similar belief, that of a sweeper is lucky. The Thags, like all criminal tribes of the present day, were great believers in what Dr.

Tylor calls Angang or meeting omens. The call of the wolf was considered ominous; if heard during the day, the gang had immediately to leave the neighbourhood. It was also considered very unlucky if a member of the gang had his turban knocked off by accidentally touching a branch. The jungle tribes have a strong belief in such omens. The Korwas of Mirzapur abandon a journey if a jackal cross the road from the left, or if a little bird, known as the Suiya or small parrot, calls in the same direction.

All natives have more or less the same feeling, and scientific treatises have been written on the subject. Mentioning a monkey in the morning brings starvation for the rest of the day; though looking on its face is considered lucky. If a dog flaps its ears and shakes its head while any business is going on, disaster is sure to follow, and people careful in such matters will stop the work if they can.

The baying of a dog indicates death and misfortune, an idea common in British folk-lore. The hare is always a bad omen. He is a god among the Kalmucs, who call him Sakya Muni, or the Buddha, and say that on earth he allowed himself to be eaten by a starving man, for which gracious act he was raised to domineer over the moon, where they profess to see him.

There are traces of the same idea in Upper India. The hare is detested by the agricultural and fishing population of the Hebrides, and it is one of the ordinary disguises of the witch in European folk-lore. Black is, of course, unlucky, and if a man, when digging the foundations of a new house, turns up a piece of charcoal, it is advisable to change the site.

Owls are naturally of evil omen. To see a Dhobi, or washerman, who is associated with foul raiment, is exceedingly dangerous. I once had a bearer who was sadly afflicted because on tour he had to sleep in the same tent with a Dhobi. The old man was constantly bruising his shins over the ropes and pegs, because he was in the habit of stumbling out before dawn with his hands [ 51 ] pressed over his eyes to protect himself from the sight of his ill-omened companion.

A one-eyed man is, as we have already said, very unlucky. When it was impossible to provide any other accommodation for him, they insisted that he should cover the obnoxious organ with a handkerchief when he had to work in their neighbourhood. One of the last of the Anglo-Indians, who had become thoroughly orientalized, used to insist on his valet, when he came to wake him, holding in his hand a tray containing some milk and a gold coin, so that his first glance on waking might fall on these lucky articles.

There are mystic qualities attached to numbers. Thus, when Hindus have removed the ashes from a burning ground they write the figures 49 on the spot where the corpse was cremated. The Pandits explain this by saying that when written in Hindi the figures resemble the conch-shell and wheel of Vishnu, or that it is an invocation to the forty-nine winds of heaven to come and purify the ground. It is more probably based on the idea that the number seven, as is the case all over the world, has some mystic application.

So in the folk-tales the number three has a special application to the tests of the hero who endures the assaults of demons or witches for three successive nights. The idea of luck in odd numbers is universal, and the seventh son of a seventh son is gifted with powers of healing. The functions of the body supply many omens. He supposes it to have proceeded from the notion of a signifying Genius, or Universal Mercury, that conducted sounds to their distant subjects, and taught to hear by touch.

So, there are days which are lucky and unlucky. A Persian couplet lays down that one should not go east on Saturday and Monday; west on Friday and Sunday; north on Tuesday and Wednesday; south on Thursday. Even Lord Burghley advised his son to be cautious as regards the first Monday in April, when Cain was born and Abel slain; the second Monday in August, when Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed; the last Monday in December, which was the birthday of Judas.

The catalogue of superstitions of this class might be almost indefinitely extended. The principles on which most of them depend are clear enough. They rest on a sort of sympathetic magic. Things which are good-looking, people who are healthy or prosperous, give favourable omens, while those that are ugly, or of low caste, or associated with menial or unpleasant duties, and so on, are ominous. Europeans in India usually quite fail to realize the influence which such ideas exercise over the minds of the people.

Most of us have been struck by the almost unaccountable [ 53 ] failure of natives to attend a summons from the Courts, to keep an appointment to meet a European officer for the inspection of a school or market. If inquiries are made it will often be found that some idea of this kind explains the matter. The same idea of good or evil omen attaches to many places and persons. Its modern appellation of Barnagar has its origin in a strange, vulgar superstition of names of ill omen, which must not be pronounced before the morning meal.

The city is called either Nolai or Barnagar, according to the hour at which the mention becomes necessary. So, there is hardly a village in which it is not considered ominous to name before breakfast some one who, from his misery, rascality, or some other reason, is considered unlucky.

The Popular Religion and Folk-Lore of Northern India, Vol. 1 (of 2) by Crooke

The ban lies particularly heavy on Ross. Coull also bears it, but not to such a degree. The folks of that village talk of spitting out the bad name. A similar euphemistic form of expression is often used in regard to animals. If you are civil and do not abuse the house rats, they will not damage your goods. It is, of course, easy to avoid the effect of evil omens by the use of a little tact and wit, as was the case with William the Conqueror, and there are many natives who are noted for their cleverness in this way. We now come to consider the various means adopted to facilitate the journey of the departing soul, and to prevent it from returning as a malignant ghost to bring trouble, disease, or death on the survivors.

First comes the custom of placing the dying man on the ground at the moment of dissolution. This is done partly, as we have seen, through some feeling of the sanctity of Mother earth and that anyone resting on her bosom is safe from demoniacal agency, and partly that the spirit may meet with no obstruction in its passage through the air. This last idea prevails very generally. Thus, in Great Britain, death is believed to be retarded and the dying person kept in a state of suffering by having any lock closed or any bolt shut in the dwelling.

The tortures which the soul undergoes in its journey to the land of the dead are vividly pictured in some of the sacred writings. So, when a Hindu dies, a lamp made of flour is placed in his hands to light his ghost to the realm of Yama. Devout people believe that the spirit takes three hundred and sixty days to accomplish the journey, so an offering of that number of lamps is made. The lamps are lighted facing the south, and this is the only occasion on which this is done, because the south is the realm of death, and no one will sleep or have their house door opening towards that ill-omened quarter of the sky.

With the same intention of aiding the spirit on his way, the relations howl during the funeral rites, like the keeners [ 56 ] at an Irish wake, in order to scare the evil spirits who would obstruct the passage of the soul to its final rest. Another plan is to carry out the corpse by a special way, which is then barred up, so that it may not be able to find its way back. The same end is attained by carrying out the corpse feet foremost.

They move their huts after a death, and make a special entrance instead of the ordinary door, which is supposed to be polluted by the passage of the spirit of the dead. When the friends return from the cremation ground, if it is the master of the house who has died, the ladder leading up to the house is thrown down, and they must effect an entrance by cutting a hole in the back wall and so creeping up.

We have the same idea in the European custom of saluting a corpse which is being carried past. Grose distinctly states that the homage was really offered to the attendant evil spirits. The most elaborate precautions are, however, devoted to barring out the ghost and preventing its return to its former home. The first of these consist of rules to prevent the [ 57 ] breach of the curiosity taboo.

This is the reason why Hindu mourners do not look back when they are returning from the cremation ground, and so we find that in Naxos it is a rule that none of the women who follow the bier must look back, for if she do she will die on the spot, or else one of her relations will die. Another means is to bar the return of the ghost in a physical way. Thus, when the Aheriyas of the North-Western Provinces burn the corpse, they fling pebbles in the direction of the pyre to prevent the spirit accompanying them.

On his return, he places a thorny bush on the road wherever it is crossed by another path, and the nearest male relative of the deceased, on seeing this, puts a stone on it, and pressing it down with his feet, prays the spirit of the dead man not to trouble him. Practically the same custom still prevails in Ireland. When a corpse is carried to the grave, it is the rule for the bearers to stop half-way while the nearest relatives build up a small monument of loose stones, and no hand would dare to disturb this monument while the world lasts.

After they have buried the corpse they return to the house of the dead man, kill a hog, and after separating the limbs, which are cooked for the funeral feast, they bury the trunk in the courtyard of the house, making an invocation to it as the representative of the dead man, and ordering him to rest there in peace and not worry his descendants. In the grave in which they bury this they pile stones and thorns to keep the ghost down. Popular Features. New Releases. Notify me. Official religion of the Hindu; but, as far as I am aware, this is the first attempt to bring together some of the information available on the popular beliefs of the races of Upper India.

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