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convert Paganism into Christianity. Thus he supposes that these bonfires might be lighted to drive away the dragons, who at this time of the year are flying about in swarms, and who might else drop their spawn into the rivers to the great detriment of water-drinkers and the poisoning of the air in general-or it might be that such conflagrations were intended as a memorial that the heathens burnt the bones of Saint John at Sebaste-or it might signify that on the coming of the new law, the old should cease. Then again the torches are borne about to signify that John was a burning light himself,* and the preserver of the light that was to illuminate all, a mode of argument that is absolutely unanswerable.
I have quoted this learned trash merely because a portion of it has a shadowy-and perhaps accidental—allusion to the ancient myth. The notion of lighting fires to keep off the dragons bears, or seems to bear, a striking analogy to the old solstitial creed, as typified by Hercules slaying the dragons. This matter has been well explained by Gebelin.† The solstices were called the
This too was the opinion of the late Roman Catholic bishop, Dr. Milner, a man of considerable learning and ingenuity, but not over-scrupulous as to truth when it was opposed to his own peculiar tenets. In the teeth of all reason and sound argument he maintains that the Irish never worshipped Baal. See "An Inquiry into certain vulgar opinions concerning the Catholic Inhabitants and the Antiquities of Ireland." 8vo. London, 1808.
"Nous avons donc ici une allégorie fortement caracterisée par tous ces traits.
1° Deux Dragons étranglés par Hercule.
2° A'l'age de dix mois.
3o A minuit.
4° Et jettés dans un feu avec des ceremonies propitiatoires.
A ces characteres, on ne peut manquer le mot de l'enigme.
L'on se rapellera sans doute que le symbole de Mercure, le Caducée, est composé de deux Dragons etranglés par le milieu, l'un male
head and tail of the dragon, and the caduceus of Mercury is composed of two dragons strangled at the middle, the one male, the other female; the point of union was called Hercules, and Mercury was the inventor of astronomy. The strangling of the two dragons then by Hercules is an allegory relative to the caduceus, or the subject represented by it, and is intimately connected with the year of the agriculturist, of which it makes the commencement. Now if we adopt this ingenious solution of the classic allegory, we can not fail to see the connection between the old and the more modern superstition. The dragons of Hercules were but types of the solstices, and the dragons of popery, borrowed from the same fable, are but emblems of the same thing. fires of course were intended, as Gebelin well observes, to express the joy of the people at the commencement of the year, for June in the early times was considered to be its commencement. But I cannot agree with him that the custom, which prevailed of dancing about the fires and leaping over them was in early times * the
l'autre femelle; que leur point de réunion s'apelloit Hercule; et que Mercure fut l'inventeur de l'astronomie ou du Calendrier.
L'etranglement de deux dragons par Hercule n'est donc qu'une allegorie relative au Caducée, ou à l'objet qu'il peignoit, et lié étroitement avec l'année du laboureur dont il faisoit l'ouverture.
Mais à quel jour de l'année, à quel moment est attaché le Caducée ? Les anciens nous l'apprennent, en apellant les Solstices, Tete et quene de Dragon."-Monde Primitif par M. C. De Gebelin -Histoire D'Hercule, p. 203. 4to. Paris, 1773.
*I do not, however mean to dispute, that when the original signification of these bonfires had been forgotten, the custom was retained merely by way of a joyful festival. The proofs of this are abundant in our own country. The popular expression of "Dance round our coal-fire" is a vestige of it; and so late as 1733 the practice was observed at an entertainment in the Inner Temple Hall, as we read in Wynne's Eunomus (vol. iv. p. 107.)-"After the play, the Lord
result of joy, or merely to show agility. Still less can I agree with Moresin,* that this custom is a relic of the ordeal, according to which he who passed safely through the flames was held to be innocent; for the bonfires are a much more ancient observance than the ordeal. It is, I should rather imagine, a religious rite of very remote origin, such as I have already spoken of under the month of May, and I need now only add that a similar custom prevailed in the Cerealia, and is also mentioned in Ovid's Fasti, as being of the superstitious ceremonies used in the Palilia, or feasts of Pales the presiding Goddess of gardens.†
Chancellor, Master of the Temple, Judges, and Benchers, retired into their Parliament chamber; and in about half an hour afterwards, came into the hall again, and a large ring was formed round the fireplace, but no fire nor embers were on it. Then the master of the revels, who went first, took the Lord Chancellor by the right hand; and he with his left took Mr. J. Page, who, joined to the other judges, serjeants, and benchers, danced, or rather walked, round about the coal-fire, according to the old ceremony, three times, during which they were aided by Mr. George Cooke, the prothonotary, then upwards of 60; and all the time of the dance, the antient song, accompanied with music, was sung by one Toby Aston, dressed in a bar gown, whose father had been formerly master of the Plea Office in the King's Bench."
"Flammam transiliendi mos videtur etiam priscis Græciæ temporibus usurpatus fuisse, deque eo versus Sophoclis in Antigone quidam intelligendos putant. Cum enim rex Creon Polynicis cadaver humare prohibuisset, Antigone autem ipsius soror illud humo contexisset, custodes, ut mortis pænam à rege constitutam vitarent, dicebant se paratos esse ferrum candens manibus contrectare et per pyram incedere. Hotoman. Disput. De Feudis, cap. 44. Hic mos Gallis, Germanis, et post Christianismum remansit etiam pontificibus ; et adulteria uxorum ferro candente probant Germani.-Moresini Papatus, p. 61.
+"Moxque per ardentes stipulæ crepitantis acervos
Trajicias celeri strenua membra pede."
Ovidii Fastorum, lib. iv. 1. 781.
These bonfires, however they may have originated, have been common on St. John the Baptist's Eve at all times and in all countries. They blazed equally in India and Egypt, in the north and amongst the Druids, from the last of whom the custom was in all probability more immediately derived to us. In Cornwall the day was anciently called Goluan, a word, as Borlase tells us, expressive both of light and joy, while in other parts of the west they had the name of Blessing Fires, a tolerably plain hint of their religious origin.† That this has at all times been the notion of the Christian world is plain from the interdictions of the Roman Catholics and the comments of the more rigid dissenters. Prynne in his Histriomastix (p. 585), quotes the sixty-fifth canon of the sixth Council of Constantinople, wherein we read, "Those bonfires that are kindled by certaine people on New Moones before their shops and houses, over which also they use ridiculously and foolishly to leape, by a certaine antient custome, we command them from henceforth to cease. Whoever therefore shall doe any such thing, if he be a clergyman, let him be deposed; if a layman, let him be excommunicated. For in the fourth Booke of the Kings it is thus written: 'And Manasses built an altar to all the hoast of heaven, in the two courts of the Lord's house, and made his children to passe through the fire, &c., and walked in it that he might doe evill in the sight of the Lord to provoke him
* Borlase's Antiquities of Cornwall, p. 130.
"Neddy that was wont to make
Such great feasting at the wake
And the blessing-fire."
Shepherd's Pipe-W. Browne's Works, vol. iii. p. 53. London,
A note appended to this says, "the Midsummer fires are termed so in the west parts of England."
to wrath." In the marginal note to this translation of the Latin version from the original Greek canon, Prynne austerely observes "bonefires therefore had their originall from this idolatrous custome as this generall Councell hath defined; therefore all Christians should avoid them." But how differently does the same observance read when told in the pleasant language of Stow.-"In the months of June and July," says the cheerful old man, on the vigils of festival days, and on the same festival days in the evenings after the sun setting, there were usually made bonfires in the streets, every man bestowing wood or labour towards them; the wealthier sort also, before their doors near to the said bonfires, would set out tables on the vigils, furnished with sweet bread and good drink, and on the festival days with meats and drinks plentifully, whereunto they would invite their neighbours and passengers also to sit and be merry with them in great familiarity, praising God for his benefits bestowed on them. These were called bonfires "-(another derivation of the word!) "as well of good amity amongst neighbours that, being before at controversy, were there by the labour of others reconciled and made of bitter enemies loving friends; and also for the virtue that a great fire hath to purge the infection of the air. On the vigil of St. John the Baptist, and on St. Peter and St. Paul, the Apostles, every man's door being shadowed with green birch, long fennel, St. John's wort, orpin, white lilies, and such like, garnished upon with garlands of beautiful flowers, had also lamps of glass, with oil burning in them all the night; some hung out branches of iron curiously wrought containing hundreds of lamps alight at once,
* i.e. garlands of with or willow, upon which the flowers were wreathed.