An Introduction to Mythology

Page: 106

"There are in Italy great numbers of strege, fortune-tellers or witches, who divine by cards, perform strange ceremonies in which spirits are supposed to be invoked, make and sell amulets, and, in fact, comport themselves generally as their reputed kind are wont to do, be they Black Voodoos in America or sorceresses anywhere.

"But the Italian strega or sorceress is in certain respects a different character from these. In most cases she comes of a family in which her calling or art has been practised for many generations. I have no doubt that there are instances in which the ancestry remounts to mediæval, Roman, or it may be Etruscan times. The result has naturally been the accumulation in such families of much tradition. But in Northern Italy, as its literature indicates, though there has been some slight gathering of fairy tales and popular superstitions by scholars, there has never existed the least interest as regarded the strange lore of the witches, nor any suspicion that it embraced an incredible quantity of old Roman minor myths and legends, such as Ovid has recorded, but of which much escaped him and all other Latin writers.

"This ignorance was greatly aided by the wizards and witches themselves, in making a profound secret of all their traditions, urged thereto by fear of the priests. In fact, the latter all unconsciously actually contributed immensely to the preservation of such lore, since the charm of the forbidden is very great, and witchcraft, like the truffle, grows best and has its raciest flavour when most deeply hidden. However this may be, both priest and wizard are vanishing now with incredible rapidity.

"However, they die slowly, and even yet there are old people in the Romagna of the North who know the Etruscan[Pg 237] names of the Twelve Gods, and invocations to Bacchus, Jupiter, and Venus, Mercury, and the Lares or ancestral spirits, and in the cities are women who prepare strange amulets, over which they mutter spells, all known in the old Roman time, and who can astonish even the learned by their legends of Latin gods, mingled with lore which may be found in Cato or Theocritus. With one of these I became intimately acquainted in 1886, and have ever since employed her specially to collect among her sisters of the hidden spell in many places all the traditions of the olden time known to them. It is true that I have drawn from other sources, but this woman by long practice has perfectly learned what few understand, or just what I want, and how to extract it from those of her kind.

"For brief explanation I may say that witchcraft is known to its votaries as la vecchia religione, or the old religion, of which Diana is the Goddess, her daughter Aradia (or Herodias) the female Messiah, and that this little work sets forth how the latter was born, came down to earth, established witches and witchcraft, and then returned to Heaven. With it are given the ceremonies and invocations or incantations to be addressed to Diana and Aradia, the exorcism of Cain, and the spells of the holy-stone, rue, and verbena, constituting, as the text declares, the regular church-service, so to speak, which is to be chanted or pronounced at the witch-meetings. There are also included the very curious incantations or benedictions of the honey, meal, and salt, or cakes of the witch-supper, which is curiously classical, and evidently a relic of the Roman Mysteries."

[1] Magical Papyrus (Harris) 7, I et seq.

[2] Campbell's Superstitions of the Scottish Highlands, p. 152.

[Pg 238]



Ritual is worship organized, the detail and circumstance of adoration. The study of ritual is one of the branches of the science of comparative religion, but much light is often cast upon myth by its consideration, and here we have to discuss it only in its relationship to myth.

This almost resolves itself into an argument upon the vexed question whether myth is a product of ritual or not. As this question has been already fully discussed (pp. 62-64), there is no necessity to renew it here; but it possesses a pendent question. When the original reason for a certain ritual became forgotten and lost, a myth might arise to account for it. Such a myth would, of course, be 'secondary' in its nature, and is, properly speaking, more of the nature of folklore than myth. Ritual thus arises from an original myth and gives birth to secondary myth or folklore.

It is not essential that ritual should originate in a definite original myth—a concrete story having dramatis personæ, plot, and counterplot. The savage may conceive a deity without endowing it with any characteristics. "The sun-being lives up there," says the savage, or "I fear the wind. I will placate him." The only myth created is: "The supernatural wind-being lives on the earth." All the same this statement is myth; it is primitive theobiography.

Marett thinks that primitive religion was something "to be danced out." The religious dance of the savage is both myth and ritual; it combines myth, tale, and worship. Many myths were and are acted in dance, especially among the aborigines of Australia and America. The Eleusinian mysteries of Greece were almost certainly relics of mythic dances such as[Pg 239] Red Indians and Black-fellows still participate in. We have then a meeting-place for myth and ritual in the tribal dance, which at the same time as it represents the adventures of the gods chants their praises in psalm and hymn (that is, in ritual) and performs the mystic movements that are the most ancient ritual. Dance itself may be purely ritualistic rather than explanatory. When David "danced before the Lord" he did not 'dance out' a myth. He danced ritualistically, with ritual movements—probably traditional and unchangeable—to suit the cadence of his chant or psalm. It is such ritual movements that mechanics unconsciously employ when at work. The blacksmith when he strikes the anvil with his hammer in the intervals of shaping the shoe he holds between the tongs does not do so because he requires to. The blows are needless and he gives them because all other craftsmen give them; but they were not always unmeaning. Once, perchance, they filled in the lapses of a song (like that of Joe Gargery in