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The Golden Bough A study of magic and religion

Page: 445

Grannas-mias. A granno-mio is a torch of straw fastened to the top of a pole. When the pyre is half consumed, the bystanders kindle the torches at the expiring flames and carry them into the neighbouring orchards, fields, and gardens, wherever there are fruit-trees. As they march they sing at the top of their voices, “Granno my friend, Granno my father, Granno my mother.” Then they pass the burning torches under the branches of every tree, singing.

Brando, brandounci tsaque brantso, in plan panei!

that is, “Firebrand burn; every branch a basketful!” In some villages the people also run across the sown fields and shake the ashes of the torches on the ground; also they put some of the ashes in the fowls’ nests, in order that the hens may lay plenty of eggs throughout the year. When all these ceremonies have been performed, everybody goes home and feasts; the special dishes of the evening are fritters and pancakes. Here the application of the fire to the fruit-trees, to the sown fields, and to the nests of the poultry is clearly a charm intended to ensure fertility; and the Granno to whom the invocations are addressed, and who gives his name to the torches, may possibly be, as Dr. Pommerol suggests, no other than the ancient Celtic god Grannus, whom the Romans identified with Apollo, and whose worship is attested by inscriptions found not only in France but in Scotland and on the Danube.

The custom of carrying lighted torches of straw (brandons) about the orchards and fields to fertilise them on the first Sunday of Lent seems to have been common in France, whether it was accompanied with the practice of kindling bonfires or not. Thus in the province of Picardy “on the first Sunday of Lent people carried torches through the fields, exorcising the field-mice, the darnel, and the smut. They imagined that they did much good to the gardens and caused the onions to grow large. Children ran about the fields, torch in hand, to make the land more fertile.” At Verges, a village between the Jura and the Combe d’Ain, the torches at this season were kindled on the top of a mountain, and the bearers went to every house in the village, demanding roasted peas and obliging all couples who had been married within the year to dance. In Berry, a district of Central France, it appears that bonfires are not lighted on this day, but when the sun has set the whole population of the villages, armed with blazing torches of straw, disperse over the country and scour the fields, the vineyards, and the orchards. Seen from afar, the multitude of moving lights, twinkling in the darkness, appear like will-o’-the-wisps chasing each other across the plains, along the hillsides, and down the valleys. While the men wave their flambeaus about the branches of the fruit-trees, the women and children tie bands of wheaten-straw round the tree-trunks. The effect of the ceremony is supposed to be to avert the various plagues from which the fruits of the earth are apt to suffer; and the bands of straw fastened round the stems of the trees are believed to render them fruitful.

In Germany, Austria, and Switzerland at the same season similar customs have prevailed. Thus in the Eifel Mountains, Rhenish Prussia, on the first Sunday in Lent young people used to collect straw and brushwood from house to house. These they carried to an eminence and piled up round a tall, slim beech-tree, to which a piece of wood was fastened at right angles to form a cross. The structure was known as the “hut” or “castle.” Fire was set to it and the young people marched round the blazing “castle” bareheaded, each carrying a lighted torch and praying aloud. Sometimes a straw-man was burned in the “hut.” People observed the direction in which the smoke blew from the fire. If it blew towards the corn-fields, it was a sign that the harvest would be abundant. On the same day, in some parts of the Eifel, a great wheel was made of straw and dragged by three horses to the top of the hill. Thither the village boys marched at nightfall, set fire to the wheel, and sent it rolling down the slope. At Oberstattfeld the wheel had to be provided by the young man who was last married. About Echternach in Luxemburg the same ceremony is called “burning the witch.” At Voralberg in the Tyrol, on the first Sunday in Lent, a slender young fir-tree is surrounded with a pile of straw and firewood. To the top of the tree is fastened a human figure called the “witch,” made of old clothes and stuffed with gunpowder. At night the whole is set on fire and boys and girls dance round it, swinging torches and singing rhymes in which the words “corn in the winnowing-basket, the plough in the earth” may be distinguished. In Swabia on the first Sunday in Lent a figure called the “witch” or the “old wife” or “winter’s grandmother” is made up of clothes and fastened to a pole. This is stuck in the middle of a pile of wood, to which fire is applied. While the “witch” is burning, the young people throw blazing discs into the air. The discs are thin round pieces of wood, a few inches in diameter, with notched edges to imitate the rays of the sun or stars. They have a hole in the middle, by which they are attached to the end of a wand. Before the disc is thrown it is set on fire, the wand is swung to and fro, and the impetus thus communicated to the disc is augmented by dashing the rod sharply against a sloping board. The burning disc is thus thrown off, and mounting high into the air, describes a long fiery curve before it reaches the ground. The charred embers of the burned “witch” and discs are taken home and planted in the flax-fields the same night, in the belief that they will keep vermin from the fields. In the Rhön Mountains, situated on the borders of Hesse and Bavaria, the people used to march to the top of a hill or eminence on the first Sunday in Lent. Children and lads carried torches, brooms daubed with tar, and poles swathed in straw. A wheel, wrapt in combustibles, was kindled and rolled down the hill; and the young people rushed about the fields with their burning torches and brooms, till at last they flung them in a heap, and standing round them, struck up a hymn or a popular song. The object of running about the fields with the blazing torches was to “drive away the wicked sower.” Or it was done in honour of the Virgin, that she might preserve the fruits of the earth throughout the year and bless them. In neighbouring villages of Hesse, between the Rhön and the Vogel Mountains, it is thought that wherever the burning wheels roll, the fields will be safe from hail and strom.


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