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The Golden Bough A study of magic and religion

Page: 59

The reader may smile at the meteorology of the Far East; but precisely similar modes of procuring rain have been resorted to in Christian Europe within our own lifetime. By the end of April 1893 there was great distress in Sicily for lack of water. The drought had lasted six months. Every day the sun rose and set in a sky of cloudless blue. The gardens of the Conca d’Oro, which surround Palermo with a magnificent belt of verdure, were withering. Food was becoming scarce. The people were in great alarm. All the most approved methods of procuring rain had been tried without effect. Processions had traversed the streets and the fields. Men, women, and children, telling their beads, had lain whole nights before the holy images. Consecrated candles had burned day and night in the churches. Palm branches, blessed on Palm Sunday, had been hung on the trees. At Solaparuta, in accordance with a very old custom, the dust swept from the churches on Palm Sunday had been spread on the fields. In ordinary years these holy sweepings preserve the crops; but that year, if you will believe me, they had no effect whatever. At Nicosia the inhabitants, bare-headed and bare-foot, carried the crucifixes through all the wards of the town and scourged each other with iron whips. It was all in vain. Even the great St. Francis of Paolo himself, who annually performs the miracle of rain and is carried every spring through the market-gardens, either could not or would not help. Masses, vespers, concerts, illuminations, fire-works—nothing could move him. At last the peasants began to lose patience. Most of the saints were banished. At Palermo they dumped St. Joseph in a garden to see the state of things for himself, and they swore to leave him there in the sun till rain fell. Other saints were turned, like naughty children, with their faces to the wall. Others again, stripped of their beautiful robes, were exiled far from their parishes, threatened, grossly insulted, ducked in horse-ponds. At Caltanisetta the golden wings of St. Michael the Archangel were torn from his shoulders and replaced with wings of pasteboard; his purple mantle was taken away and a clout wrapt about him instead. At Licata the patron saint, St. Angelo, fared even worse, for he was left without any garments at all; he was reviled, he was put in irons, he was threatened with drowning or hanging. “Rain or the rope!” roared the angry people at him, as they shook their fists in his face.

Sometimes an appeal is made to the pity of the gods. When their corn is being burnt up by the sun, the Zulus look out for a “heaven bird,” kill it, and throw it into a pool. Then the heaven melts with tenderness for the death of the bird; “it wails for it by raining, wailing a funeral wail.” In Zululand women sometimes bury their children up to the neck in the ground, and then retiring to a distance keep up a dismal howl for a long time. The sky is supposed to melt with pity at the sight. Then the women dig the children out and feel sure that rain will soon follow. They say that they call to “the lord above” and ask him to send rain. If it comes they declare that “Usondo rains.” In times of drought the Guanches of Teneriffe led their sheep to sacred ground, and there they separated the lambs from their dams, that their plaintive bleating might touch the heart of the god. In Kumaon a way of stopping rain is to pour hot oil in the left ear of a dog. The animal howls with pain, his howls are heard by Indra, and out of pity for the beast’s sufferings the god stops the rain. Sometimes the Toradjas attempt to procure rain as follows. They place the stalks of certain plants in water, saying, “Go and ask for rain, and so long as no rain falls I will not plant you again, but there shall you die.” Also they string some fresh-water snails on a cord, and hang the cord on a tree, and say to the snails, “Go and ask for rain, and so long as no rain comes, I will not take you back to the water.” Then the snails go and weep, and the gods take pity and send rain. However, the foregoing ceremonies are religious rather than magical, since they involve an appeal to the compassion of higher powers.


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