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Human Animals Part 23

A daring cat-story is of French origin and bears distinctive national characteristics on the face of it. On the 26th of March, 1782, a gentleman of wealth who was jealous of his wife's honour, decided he would consult Count Cagliostro, in order to find out whether his wife, who was young and beautiful, had always been faithful to him. He told the Count the reason of his visit and begged him to assist him in discovering the truth. Cagliostro said that this was quite an easy matter, and that he would give him a small phial containing a certain liquid which he was to drink when he reached home and just before he went to bed. "If your wife has been unfaithful to you," said Cagliostro, "you will be transformed into a cat."

The husband went home and told his wife how clever the Count was. She asked him the reason of his journey. At first he refused to tell her, but when she insisted he told her the exact means by which he was going to test her fidelity. She laughed at his credulity, but he swallowed the draught and they went to bed. The wife rose early to attend to her household duties, leaving her husband asleep. At ten o'clock, as he did not appear, she went up to wake him, and to her intense astonishment, she found a huge black cat in the bed in place of her husband. She screamed, called her dear husband's name, and bent over the cat to kiss it, but without avail. _Her husband had vanished!_ Then, in her despair, she knelt beside the bed and prayed for pardon, saying that she had committed a sin and that a handsome young soldier had cajoled her, by means of vows, of tears, and stories of heroic battles, to forget her marriage vows.

Black cocks and hens--like the cat--appear to have affinity with ghosts and sorcery. Among the fauna of La Franche Comte black hens are found, gifted with supernatural powers, which are so much like the ordinary ones that it is difficult to tell them apart. Yet they are magicians well versed in sorcery. In the courtyard they are served before their companions, and when they become broody and sit on the nest, a piece of money is slipped beneath them. If they are pleased, other coins are added, but it is very difficult to please them. At Mouthe in the Jura mountains, there are said to be witch-hens that frighten eagles.[128] Cocks are also thought to have power over lions.

Proches gives an example of a spirit which was wont to appear in the form of a lion, but by setting of a cock before it, it was made to disappear, because there is a contrariety between a cock and a lion.

If an unexpected fortune is left to a poor peasant the French say that "he has a black hen," and the black hen which brings treasure is given by the devil to those who have sold their soul to him. A black cock is regarded as lucky,[129] and use is made of it in ceremonial magic.

Oromasis, father of Zoroaster, possessed a gold-finding hen which was hatched in the following manner. "Take aromatic woods, such as aloes, cedar, orange, citron laurel, iris-root, with rose leaves dried in the sun. Place them in a golden chafing-dish, pour balsamic oil over them: add the finest incense and clear gum. Next say: _Athas_, _Solinain_, _Erminatos_, _Pasaim_: set a glass over the chafing dish: direct the rays of the sun thereon, and the wood will kindle, the glass will melt, a sweet odour will fill the place, and the compost will burn speedily to ashes. Place these ashes in a golden egg while still red-hot: lay the egg upon a black cushion; cover it with a bell-glass of faceted rock-crystal; then lift up your eyes and stretch your arms towards heaven and cry: _O Sanataper_, _Isma_, _Nontapilus_, _Ertivaler_, _Canopistus_. Expose the glass to the most fierce rays of the sun till it seems enveloped in flame, the egg ceases to be visible and a slight vapour rises. Presently you will discern a black pullet just beginning to move, when, if you say: _Binusas_, _Testipas_, it will take wing and nestle in your bosom."[130]

An alternative method provided by the Grimoire is to take an unspotted egg, and expose it to the meridian rays of the sun. Then select the blackest hen you can get, and shut it in a box lined with black. Place the box in a darkened room and let the hen sit till it hatches the chicken, which should be as black as the hen's outlook. The black pullet should have gold-finding proclivities. Another method altogether is to secure a virgin black hen, which must be seized without causing it to cackle. Repair to the highroad, walk till you come to a cross-way, and there, on the stroke of midnight, describe a circle with a cypress rod, place yourself in the middle, tear the bird in twain, and pronounce thrice the words _Elom_, _Essaim_, _frugativi et appellavi_. Next turn to the east, kneel down, recite a prayer, and conclude it with the Grand Appellation, when the Unclean Spirit will appear to you in a scarlet surcoat, a yellow vest, and breeches of pale green. His head will resemble that of a dog, but his ears will be those of an ass, with two horns above them; he will have the legs and hoofs of a calf. He will ask for your orders, which you will give as you please, and as he cannot do otherwise than obey you, you may become rich on the spot, and thus the happiest of men. Such at least is the judgment of the Grimoire.[131]

Samuel Bernard, the Jewish banker who died in 1789, left an enormous fortune. It was said that he possessed a favourite black cock as a mascot, which was thought by many to have supernatural powers and to be connected in the diabolical manner indicated with the amassing of his wealth. The bird died a day or two before his master.

At Basle, in 1474, a cock was tried for having laid an egg. After a long examination the cock was condemned to death, not as a cock but as a sorcerer or devil in the form of a cock. The bird was burned with its egg at the stake! In former times all animals were regarded as amenable to the laws of the country and the whole proceedings of the trial, sentence, and execution were conducted with the strictest formalities of justice. Ninety-two processes against animals were tried in the French courts between 1120 and 1740, when the last trial and execution of a cow took place.

At Lavegny, in 1457, a sow and her six young ones were tried for having murdered and partly eaten a child. The sow was found guilty and executed, but the pigs were acquitted on account of their youth and the bad example of their mother.

Such instances might be multiplied in number, but they have no real place here, as the victims of justice were not regarded in the light of human animals, but as animals which had broken the standard of conduct laid down for the so-called superior race.

Chanticleer is the name of the cock in the great beast epic of the Middle Ages, Reynard the Fox, and Chanticleer, as everyone knows, has been humanised and immortalised in recent years by the famous French dramatist, Rostand. The cock, the hawk, and the eagle, among birds, appear to attract wizards or male sorcerers for transformation purposes, while the more graceful and docile feathered beings, such as the nightingale, the wren, and above all the swan, appeal more frequently to the witch or maiden as a suitable form in which to appear.

Admirers of William Blake's work will remember the curious conception of a woman with a swan's head depicted in his "Jerusalem."

After the classic swan-maidens and Valkyries, perhaps the owl-woman comes next in popularity, made famous no doubt by the transformation of Pamphile in "The Metamorphosis, or Golden Ass of Apuleius."

FOOTNOTES:

[123] "The Gentlemen's Magazine," 1882, Vol. I, p. 60.

[124] "Superstitions et Survivances," 1896, Vol. V, p. 33.

[125] "A Varied Life," 1906, pp. 56-7.

[126] Berenger-Feraud, L. J. B., "Superstitions et Survivances," 1896, Vol. V, pp. 21-22.

[127] "The London Magazine," January, 1911, pp. 552-63.

[128] Beauquier, Ch., "Faune et Flore Populaires de la Franche Comte,"

1910, Vol. I, p. 24.

[129] _Ibid._, p. 228.

[130] Waite, A. E., "The Book of Black Magic," 1898, p. 104.

[131] _Ibid._, pp. 106-7.

CHAPTER XIX

BIRD WOMEN

A beautiful girl of about twenty years of age lived in a Provencal village. Her figure was good, she had an engaging carriage, fine hair, lovely eyes and teeth, and, in short, she was very attractive, but none of the young men of the village ever attempted to make love to her, and she had never had an offer of marriage. Whenever she met a young man who was new to the neighbourhood, he said, "Oh, what a pretty girl!" But his friends whispered in his ear, "Yes, she's lovely but she's a witch," and the mere suspicion of such a thing was so unpleasant that the young man knew it was quite impossible to give the lady a second sympathetic thought.

A few courageous young men, it is true, were anxious to hear further details about her sad story, and their friends gave them the following account as soon as they were out of earshot of any curious listener.

The young girl's mother, it appeared, had become a witch in her early youth, because, finding herself at the bedside of an old neighbour who lay at death's door and who was a notorious witch, she had been imprudent enough to take hold of her hand. Her indiscretion had not at the time become public property, and she had no difficulty in getting a husband, but a very short time after the marriage had taken place, the man had fallen ill, and died soon afterwards in a mysterious decline.

Under these circumstances there could be no doubt that the daughter was a witch as well as the mother, and it was equally certain that any bold gentleman who might venture to marry her would be condemned to an early death.

Whether the young lady in question was pleased at the prospect of being laid on the shelf is very doubtful. Most girls of twenty have not an idea in the world beyond getting married, and she did not seem to be an exception to the rule.

One day a nice-looking young man who had recently come to the district to take up a position of some importance, was much struck by the young lady's good looks. When a friend told him she was undoubtedly a witch he shrugged his shoulders in contemptuous incredulity and continued to glance at her with interest and even tenderness in his gaze.

He was specially favoured by the girl, who received his attentions with pleasure and returned his glances. They soon made one another's acquaintance and, before long, an engagement was arranged between them.

The young man's family looked upon the forthcoming marriage with anything but good-will. But the young lover was obstinate, and as the girl and her mother did their best to keep him to his intentions, the arrangements were settled and the wedding-day fixed.

The fiance was allowed to pay court to his lady-love every evening, and he made good use of this privilege. Autumn was approaching and the evenings were drawing in, and as the wedding was to be in November, there were many things to arrange and discuss every day, which made long visits a matter of course.

Time and time again one of the young man's friends pointed out the danger into which he was running by marrying a witch, but all advice was useless. It had an effect in one way, however, as it made the young man anxious to know whether the accusation could possibly be true. After a long time, in which his friend's suggestions had slowly made an impression, the young man decided to take steps to make sure what sort of a woman he was about to marry.

It is a well-known fact that the witches' Sabbath begins exactly at midnight, and once or twice when it grew very late whilst he was visiting his fiancee, her mother had suggested it was time he took his leave as it was close on midnight. This occurrence had made him slightly suspicious, and he decided to resort to a ruse.

One evening, having arrived at the usual hour, he complained of fatigue and pretended to fall asleep. Being Friday, the meeting of the witches was a specially solemn one, and not a single witch could afford to be absent. As time wore on, mother and daughter tried to wake the young man, but this was impossible, as he was sleeping too heavily, even snoring in a marked fashion, although all the time he was prepared to glance out of one eye if anything extraordinary went on in the room.

Presently, finding all their efforts in vain, the two women began talking in whispers, and were seemingly in great trouble. Then, as time pressed on, they took a mighty resolution. They put out the light, so that the room was in utter darkness save for the glowing embers on the hearth, then they took from a hidden press a jar of ointment which they placed on the table. They quickly divested themselves of their clothes and, dipping their fingers into the jar, rubbed themselves all over very carefully with the ointment. Every time they rubbed a limb they cried out, "Supra fueillo--above the foliage!"

As soon as they had finished this ritual they suddenly became owls, flew up the chimney, uttering the lugubrious hoot of the night-bird, and leaving behind them no signs of their presence except their discarded clothes on a chair in the room which had been the stage of this strange transformation.

As soon as he was left alone, the young man opened his eyes in a state of indescribable stupefaction. He rose, lit the lamp, looked carefully all round the room, touching many of the things to make sure that he was really awake and that he had not been the subject of an hallucination. When he came to the clothes, which still felt warm from their owners' bodies, and saw on the table the jar of black ointment which smelt as though it had been made of burnt animal fat, he knew he was not dreaming.

Just then a clock close by struck the hour of twelve, and the young man, shaking and quaking with the strangeness of what had taken place, looked round in fear lest some awful apparition should greet his eyes. But nothing happened, for all the witches were at the Sabbath by that time.

Then a mad idea entered his head! Why should not he, too, transform himself into an owl and go to join his future wife and her mother, who had effected the transformation without apparently the slightest difficulty. The idea had no sooner struck him than he prepared to carry it out. In the twinkling of an eye he slipped off his clothes, dipped his fingers into the magic jar and rubbed himself exactly as the women had done. Unfortunately, however, he could not remember the exact phrase they had used, and instead of crying "Supra fueillo," he said, "Souto fueillo--under the foliage," with every rub.

Scarcely had he completed his exercises, and said "Souto fueillo" for the last time, than he was immediately changed into an owl and flew towards the chimney.

Scarcely had he reached the grate, however, when he knocked against the smouldering green faggots and burnt himself.

He attributed this misadventure to his want of address, not being accustomed to the shape and movements of a bird, and he assured himself that as soon as he was free of the house he would manage better. But when he reached the open country he began to suffer tortures. Where the fields were bare he found himself easily able to fly, just like any ordinary owl, but as soon as he came to the smallest hedge or thicket, he was obliged to pass through it instead of clearing it from above, and every branch, twig or thorn hit and stung him like a whip.

He wished to stop flying, for every moment his suffering grew more unendurable, but it was impossible to stop, for he was induced by some superior power to go straight ahead, and however much he tried, he could not avoid the shrubs and trees which lay in his path. The words "souto fueillo--under the foliage" which he had used were literally true, in the most cruel sense. He was bruised and torn all over, and felt as though he were at the point of death and that his last moment had come, when suddenly he heard a cock crow and the first ray of light appeared in the sky, heralding the dawn. The witches' Sabbath ended, he fell heavily to earth, finding himself lying naked on the wet soil. Bruised and bleeding, and smarting from a hundred scratches, his condition was pitiable, but he took heart when he realised that his experiment, so foolishly attempted, had not turned out even worse. He stood up, and limping and sore, hastened to his own house, slinking into bed, where he developed a serious fever which kept him there for many weeks. No one ever guessed the real cause of his illness, but as soon as he had recovered his ordinary state of health he went to live in another town and never even called on his ex-fiancee and her mother to ask them for the clothes which he had left on a chair in their sitting-room.

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