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Custom and Myth

Page: 30

If our view be correct, then several rules of etiquette, and not one alone, will be illustrated in the stories which we suppose the rules to have suggested. In the case of Urvasi and Pururavas, the rule was, not to see the husband naked. In ‘Cupid and Psyche,’ the husband was not to be looked upon at all. In the well-known myth of Mélusine, the bride is not to be seen naked. Mélusine tells her lover that she will only abide with him dum ipsam nudam non viderit. {76a} The same taboo occurs in a Dutch Märchen. {76b}

We have now to examine a singular form of the myth, in which the strange bride is not a fairy, or spiritual being, but an animal. In this class of story the husband is usually forbidden to perform some act which will recall to the bride the associations of her old animal existence. The converse of the tale is the well-known legend of the Forsaken Merman. The king of the sea permits his human wife to go to church. The ancient sacred associations are revived, and the woman returns no more.

She will not come though you call all day
Come away, come away.

Now, in the tales of the animal bride, it is her associations with her former life among the beasts that are not to be revived, and when they are reawakened by the commission of some act which she has forbidden, or the neglect of some precaution which she has enjoined, she, like Urvasi, disappears.


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