An Introduction to Mythology

Page: 9

Myths showing fetishistic belief are few and obscure, but the writer recently unearthed, in the fishing village of Newhaven, near Edinburgh, one which is a good example of the survival of a fetish myth and of the rise of a fetish to godhead.

[Pg 26]


Perusing an old book entitled Tales and Traditions of Leith, the writer read of one Brounger, "an old fisherman who at one time resided at Newhaven, and who, when unable to go to sea himself, used to ask his neighbours for a few oysters or fish on their return from fishing," and curse those churlish enough to refuse. The curse was invariably effective, so that in the end the fishing community became anxious to propitiate an individual whose spoken word carried such weight, and regarded his demands in the light of an established claim. According to tradition, Brounger passed away, but his name remained a 'thing to conjure with'—literally. For a Newhaven fisherman to be told "Brounger's in your head-sheets" meant that the speaker cast on his vessel and all who sailed therein an evil spell, only to be broken by making the boat describe a circle in the water three separate times.

The student of myth will regard this 'old fisherman' with an eye of professional suspicion. Why should the mariners of Newhaven fear and mistrust the mere mention of one who in days more or less distant levied a petty toll of oysters or flounders from their fathers? He will find the scent grow hot when he is informed (and this is the point) that Brounger was 'a flint, and the son of a flint.' For the flint is the fetishistic emblem of the thunder-god, and Brounger was a deity of the storm.

Among many peoples the flint-stone symbolizes thunder, for from the flint comes fire. In America, for example, Tohil, who gave the Kiches of Central America fire, was represented by a flint-stone. Such a stone in the beginning of things fell from Heaven to earth, and broke into a myriad pieces, from each of which sprang a god—an ancient Mexican legend which shadows forth the subjection of all things to him who gathers the clouds together in thunder. This is the germ of the adoration of fetish stones as emblems of the fertilizing rains. The rain-charms of the Navaho Indians are hung round stones supposed to fall from the clouds when it thunders. With the Algonquin Indians a certain rain-god has a body of flint[Pg 27] which, broken, is changed into fruitful vines. The blood of Tawiscara, another Indian deity, turns to flint as it falls from his wounds. Hathor, the sky-goddess of Egypt, was the 'Lady of Turquoise,' as was the Mexican water-goddess. Is not the 'elf-arrow' (the flint arrow-head) a 'thunderbolt' to peasants of all countries, Britain not excepted? So we begin to see why Brounger was a 'flint,' and the 'son of a flint.' In days when the first Teutonic fishermen settled on the coast of Midlothian they brought with them a thunder-god, the root of whose name may perhaps be found in the old Gothic word brinnan, to burn; hence BrĂ¼nger, 'the burner,' 'the devastator,' 'the wielder of lightnings,' worshipped in the flint and placated by gifts from that sea-harvest which he had power to give or to withhold.

From the Hebridean Isle of Fladdahuan comes a similar story. On the altar of the chapel of that isle, says Martin in his Western Isles, lay a round bluish stone, always moist. Wind-bound fishermen walked sunways round the chapel and then poured water on the stone, whereupon a powerful breeze was sure to spring up. Solemn oaths were also sworn upon the stone. A similar stone was possessed by the Isle of Arran, kept in the custody of a woman (the hereditary priestess of its cult?), and "wrapped up in fair linen cloth." In Inniskea, an island off the Irish coast, a stone wrapped up in flannel is brought out at certain periods to be adored by the inhabitants. It is kept in a private dwelling, and is called in the Irish Neevougi. It is prayed to in times of sickness and is requested to send wrecks upon the coast.[27] All this is within the ritual of rain-making, but Brounger, though a thunder- and rain-god, was requested not to visit his folk with tempest for the reason that their business lay in the furrows made by the keel and not in those of the plough.

One certain proof that Brounger was a supernatural being exists in a folk-poem to be found in the above-mentioned work on Leith traditions. A wedding ceremony is in progress, when Brounger glares through the window at the merrymakers. At[Pg 28] once a cry arises that he must be placated. Sings one fisherman:

"Let ilka body gie 'm a corse [copper piece],
And Jock may gie him twa,
An' the chiel will sune hae in his maut [drink],
Syne he'll forget it a'.
And when he's at the land o' Nod,
To make the matter tight,
I'll score the loon aboon the breath,
An' syne we'll be a' richt."