« AnteriorContinuar »
Gebelin, before cited, in his Allegories Orientales, accounts in the following Manner for the Custom of making on Fires on Midsummer Eve, * « can one, fays he, overlook here the St. John Fires, those sacred Fires kindled about Midnight, on the very Moment of the Solstice by the greatest Part both of antient and modern Nations ? A religious Ceremony, which goes backwards thus to the most remote Antiquity, and which was observed for the Prosperity of States and People, and to dispel every Kind of Evil.
The Origin of this Fire, still retained by so many Nations, and which loses itself in Antiquity, is very simple. It was a Feu de joie, (Fire of Joy) .* “ Peut-on méconnoître ici les Feux de la S. Jean, ces Feux “ sacrés allumés à minuit au moment du Solstice chez la plûpart “ des Nations anciennes & modernes? Cérémonie religieuse, qui
remonte ainsi à la plus haute Antiquité, & qu’on observoit pour la “ prospérité des Etats & des peuples, & pour écarter, tous les maux,
“L'origine de ce Feu que tant de Nations conservent encore, &
qui se perd dans l'antiguité, eft tres simple. C'étoit un Feu de joie " allumé au moment où l'année commençoit; car la premiere de “ toutes les Années, la plus ancienne donc on ait quelque connois“ fance, s'ouvroit au mois de Juin. De-là le nom même de ce “mois, Junior, le plus jeune, qui fe renouvelle ; tandis que celui “ qui le précéde est le mois de Mai, ou Major, l'ancien : aussi l'un 6 étoit le mois des Jeunes Gens, & l'autre celui des Vieillards.
“ Ces Feux-de-joie étoient accompagnés en même tems de Væux " & de Sacrifices pour la prospérité des Peuples & des biens de la « Terre: on dansoit aussi autour de ce Feu; car y a-t-il quelque “ Fête fans danse? & les plus agiles fautoient par-desus. En fe “ retirant, chacun emportoit un tison plus on moins grand, et le “ reite étoit jetté au vent, afin qu'il emportât tout malheur comme “il emportoit ces cendres.
"Lorsqu'après une longue suite d'années, le Solstice n'en fit plus “ l'ouverture, on continua cependant également l'usage des feux “ dans le même tems, par une suite de l'habitude, & des idées “ superstitieuses qu'on y avoit attachées ; d'ailleurs, il eût été triste " d'anéantir un jour de joie, dans des tems où il y en avoit peu; “ aussi cet usage s'est-il maintenu jusqu'à nous.”
Hist. d'Hercule. p. 203.
kindled the very Moment the Year began; for the first of all Years, and the most antient that we know of, began at the Month of June. Thence the very Name of this Month, Junior, the youngest, which is renewed; while that of the preceding one is May, Major, the antient: Thus the one was the Month of young people, the other that of old Men.
These Feux de joie were accompanied at the same Time with Vows and Sacrifices for the Profperity of the People and the Fruits of the Earth; they danced also round this Fire, for what Feast is there without a Dance? And the most active leaped over it.* Each at their Departure took away a greater or lefs Firebrand, and the Remains were scattered to the Wind, which was to drive away every Evil as it dispersed the Ashes.
When after a long I'rain of Years, the Solstice ceased to be the Beginning of them, the Custom of making these Fires was still continued at the same Time, through a Train of Use and of superstitious Ideas, which were annexed to it. Besides it would have been a fad Thing to annihilate a Day of Joy in Times when there were but few of them: Thus has the Custom been continued and handed down to us.”
So far our learned and ingenious Foreigner. But I by no Means acquiesce with him in thinking that the leaping over these Fires, was only a Trial of Agility. A great deal of Learning might be produced here, further to shew that this was as much a religious Act as the making them on.
* Leaping over the Fires is mentioned among the superstitious Rites used at the Palilia in Ovid's Fasti:
“ Moxque per ardentes ftipula crepitantis acervos
I have nothing to observe here concerning Mr. Bourne's luftful Dragons, their spermatizing in the Wells or Fountains, as they flew through the Air, &c! I find in J. Boëmus Aubanus' Description of the Ceremonies of this Eve in Germany, that a Species of Fireworks was played off, which they, who had never seen it before, he says, * would take to be a Dragon of Fire flying."* This must have had some Meaning. The Dragon is one of those Shapes, which “ Fear has created to 66 itfelf:” They who gave it Life, have, it seems, furnished it also with the Feelings of animated Nature; but our modern Philosophers are wiser than to attribute any noxious Qualities in Water to Dragon's Sperm. · N. B. Stow tells us, that the Rites above described were used also on the Eve of St. Peter and St. Paul the Apostles (the 29th of June). Dr. Morefin informs us, that in Scotland they ufed on this Night to run about on the Mountains and higher Grounds with lighted Torches, like the Sicilian Women of old in Search of Proserpine.
I have been informed that something similar to this was pra&tised about half a Century ago in Northumberland on this Night; they carried fome Kind of Firebrands about the fields of their respective Villages : They made Encroachments on these Occasions upon the Bonefires of the neighbouring Towns, of which they took forcibly some of the Ashes; this they called “ carrying off the Flower (probably " the Flour) of the Wake.” Morefin thinks this a Vestige of the antient Cerealia.
* “ Ignis" fit, cui Orbiculi quidam lignei perforati imponuntur, " qui quum inflammantur, flexilibus virgis præfixi, arte et vi in “ aerem supra Moganum amnem excutiuntur: - Draconem igneum "volare putant, qui priùs non viderunt.” P. 270.
: CH A P. XXVIII. Of the Feast of Sheep-fhearing, an ancient
Custom. THE Feast of Sheep-Cheering, is generally
I a Time of Mirth and Joy, and more than ordinary Hospitality; indeed it is but little observed in these Northern Parts, but in the Southern it is pretty common. For on the Day they begin to sheer their Sheep, they provide a plentiful Dinner for the Sheerers, and for their friends who come to visit them on that Occasion ; a Table also, if the Weather permit, is spread in the open Village, for the young People and Children..
After what Manner soever this Custom reach'd us, it is certain it may boast of great Antiquity. It is mention’d in the Second Book of Samuel, as a Feast of great Magnificence, both for Grandeur of Entertainment and Greatness of Company. No less a Person than Absalom the King's Son was the Master of this Feast, and no less Persons were the Guests than the King's Sons, the Brethren of Absalom ; nay it was a Feast that might entertain the King himself, or surely the King would never have been so importun'd, never would have receiv'd the Compliment so kindly. For 'tis said, It came to pass after two full
Years, Years, that Absalom had Sheep-sheerers in Baalhazor, which is beside Ephraim, and Absalom invited all the King's Sons. And Abfalom came to the King, and said, Behold, now thy Servant hath Sheep-sheerers, let the King, I beseech thee, and his Servants, go with thy Servant. And the King said, Nay, my Son, let us not all go, left we be chargeable unto thee. Of this kind also was the Feast which Nabal made for his Sheerers, when David was driven to straits in the Wilderness, and sent his Servants to ask a Present of him. He calls the Day it was held on, a good Day ; that is, a Day of plentiful Eating and Drinking. And therefore Nabal answer'd the Servants of David, mall I then take my Bread and my Water, and my fieso that I have killed for my Sheerers, and give it unto Men, whom I know not whence they be? And further, it is said in the fame Chapter, that fo grand and magnificent was this Feast, that he had a Feast in his House, like the Feast of a King. We find also in the Book of Genesis, that Laban went to sheer his Sheep, in which Time Jacob made his Escape, which Laban heard 'not of till the third Day. Of such great Antiquity then is this Custom, and tho' its Antiquity is not of such force as to palliate Luxury and Profuseness in these Entertainments; yet no doubt it will vindicate the Harmlesness of a moderate Feast upon this Occasion.