Sir James George Frazer (18541941). The Golden Bough. 1922.
seems to have been common in France, whether it was accompanied with the practice of kindling bonfires or not. Thus in the province of Picardy on the first Sunday of Lent people carried torches through the fields, exorcising the field-mice, the darnel, and the smut. They imagined that they did much good to the gardens and caused the onions to grow large. Children ran about the fields, torch in hand, to make the land more fertile. At Verges, a village between the Jura and the Combe dAin, the torches at this season were kindled on the top of a mountain, and the bearers went to every house in the village, demanding roasted peas and obliging all couples who had been married within the year to dance. In Berry, a district of Central France, it appears that bonfires are not lighted on this day, but when the sun has set the whole population of the villages, armed with blazing torches of straw, disperse over the country and scour the fields, the vineyards, and the orchards. Seen from afar, the multitude of moving lights, twinkling in the darkness, appear like will-o-the-wisps chasing each other across the plains, along the hillsides, and down the valleys. While the men wave their flambeaus about the branches of the fruit-trees, the women and children tie bands of wheaten-straw round the tree-trunks. The effect of the ceremony is supposed to be to avert the various plagues from which the fruits of the earth are apt to suffer; and the bands of straw fastened round the stems of the trees are believed to render them fruitful.
In Germany, Austria, and Switzerland at the same season similar customs have prevailed. Thus in the Eifel Mountains, Rhenish Prussia, on the first Sunday in Lent young people used to collect straw and brushwood from house to house. These they carried to an eminence and piled up round a tall, slim beech-tree, to which a piece of wood was fastened at right angles to form a cross. The structure was known as the hut or castle. Fire was set to it and the young people marched round the blazing castle bareheaded, each carrying a lighted torch and praying aloud. Sometimes a straw-man was burned in the hut. People observed the direction in which the smoke blew from the fire. If it blew towards the corn-fields, it was a sign that the harvest would be abundant. On the same day, in some parts of the Eifel, a great wheel was made of straw and dragged by three horses to the top of the hill. Thither the village boys marched at nightfall, set fire to the wheel, and sent it rolling down the slope. At Oberstattfeld the wheel had to be provided by the young man who was last married. About Echternach in Luxemburg the same ceremony is called burning the witch. At Voralberg in the Tyrol, on the first Sunday in Lent, a slender young fir-tree is surrounded with a pile of straw and firewood. To the top of the tree is fastened a human figure called the witch, made of old clothes and stuffed with gunpowder. At night the whole is set on fire and boys and girls dance round it, swinging torches and singing rhymes in which the words corn in the winnowing-basket, the plough in the earth may be distinguished. In Swabia on the first Sunday in Lent a figure