Myths and Myth-Makers: Old Tales and Superstitions Interpreted by Comparative Mythology

By John Fiske | Go to book overview

II
THE DESCENT OF FIRE

IN the course of my last summer's vacation, which was spent at a small inland village, I came upon an unexpected illustration of the tenacity with which conceptions descended from prehistoric antiquity have now and then kept their hold upon life. While sitting one evening under the trees by the roadside, my attention was called to the unusual conduct of half a dozen men and boys who were standing opposite. An elderly man was moving slowly up and down the road, holding with both hands a forked twig of hazel, shaped like the letter Y inverted. With his palms, turned upward, he held in each hand a branch of the twig in such a way that the shank pointed upward; but every few moments, as he halted over a certain spot, the twig would gradually bend downwards until it had assumed the likeness of a Y in its natural position, where it would remain pointing to something in the ground beneath. One by one the bystanders proceeded to try the experiment, but with no variation in the result. Something in the ground seemed to fascinate the bit of hazel, for it could not pass over that spot without bending down and pointing to it.

My thoughts reverted at once to Jacques Aymar and Dousterswivel, as I perceived that these men were engaged in sorcery. During the long drought more than half the wells in the village had become dry, and here was an attempt to make good the loss by the aid of the

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