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An Introduction to Mythology

Page: 104

Some twenty years afterward a beggar unacquainted with the local traditions was taking shelter among the ruins of the Warlock's house when he stumbled upon a small iron-bound chest, in which were the titles of the properties in Broad Wynd. With these he immediately absconded, and returning some six months afterward posed as the Warlock's heir and assumed possession of the property; but a curse seemed to rest upon it. The tale says that the dreadful visions by which he was haunted drove him to seek refuge in intoxication, although the converse is more probably true! He drank heavily, and was found dead one morning with his throat cut. So, in this very commonplace manner, the legend ends. The date of it cannot be ascertained, but it is probable that it may be placed somewhere about the end of the seventeenth or the beginning of the eighteenth century.

The manner in which the legend ends bears a strong resemblance to at least one version of the Faust story—that given by Wierus or Wier, the great demonologist, who in his De præstigiis dæmonum (Basel, 1563) tells how Faust was found with his neck wrung after the house had been shaken by a terrific din. Some students who occupied a chamber near by said that between twelve and one o'clock at midnight there blew a mighty storm of wind against the house as though it would[Pg 233] have shaken the foundations out of their place. The students, alarmed, leapt from their beds, and then they became aware of a hissing in the hall as of thousands of snakes and adders. With that the hall door flew open and Dr Faustus rushed out, crying, "Murder, murder!" but after a little they heard him no more. Next day they found his mangled remains in the hall where the Devil had destroyed him.

There can be very little doubt that the Leith legend was based, in part at least, upon the German one. The story of Faust was commonly known in Britain by the end of the sixteenth century, and so had plenty of time to take on local colour and evolve under local superstition into the shape in which it is here given.

THE 'COMPLEMENTARY' PROCESS

One process in use among folklorists is of interest to students of myth because of its application to mythic material. This process I will call the 'complementary' process for want of a better name. It consists in building up or restoring a ritual act or tale from a number of fragmentary examples, perhaps scattered all over the world. For example, if we find a certain custom in England and an analogous custom in India plus some ritual circumstance which the English custom does not possess, we are justified in believing that the English custom once included it. Or if we find a certain tale in Africa, we may discover another closely resembling it in Ireland and possessing features which explain some break in the African story. The comparative and complementary methods are necessary to both folklorists and mythologists, because an isolated instance is of little use in the study of either science. These must be restored to association with all the known examples of their kind, and the earliest and most complete form may thus be discovered.


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