Sir James George Frazer > The Golden Bough > Page 625
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Sir James George Frazer (1854–1941).  The Golden Bough.  1922.

Page 625
 
was hung from it by a chain which reached to the ground. The barrel was then set on fire and swung round the pole amid shouts of joy.
  In Denmark and Norway also midsummer fires were kindled on St. John’s Eve on roads, open spaces, and hills. People in Norway thought that the fires banished sickness from among the cattle. Even yet the fires are said to be lighted all over Norway on Midsummer Eve. They are kindled in order to keep off the witches, who are said to be flying from all parts that night to the Blocksberg, where the big witch lives. In Sweden the Eve of St. John (St. Hans) is the most joyous night of the whole year. Throughout some parts of the country, especially in the provinces of Bohus and Scania and in districts bordering on Norway, it is celebrated by the frequent discharge of firearms and by huge bonfires, formerly called Balder’s Balefires (Balder’s Ba˘lar), which are kindled at dusk on hills and eminences and throw a glare of light over the surrounding landscape. The people dance round the fires and leap over or through them. In parts of Norrland on St. John’s Eve the bonfires are lit at the cross-roads. The fuel consists of nine different sorts of wood, and the spectators cast into the flames a kind of toad-stool (Bäran) in order to counteract the power of the Trolls and other evil spirits, who are believed to be abroad that night; for at that mystic season the mountains open and from their cavernous depths the uncanny crew pours forth to dance and disport themselves for a time. The peasants believe that should any of the Trolls be in the vicinity they will show themselves; and if an animal, for example a he or she goat, happens to be seen near the blazing, crackling pile, the peasants are firmly persuaded that it is no other than the Evil One in person. Further, it deserves to be remarked that in Sweden St. John’s Eve is a festival of water as well as of fire; for certain holy springs are then supposed to be endowed with wonderful medicinal virtues, and many sick people resort to them for the healing of their infirmities.
  In Austria the midsummer customs and superstitions resemble those of Germany. Thus in some parts of the Tyrol bonfires are kindled and burning discs hurled into the air. In the lower valley of the Inn a tatterdemalion effigy is carted about the village on Midsummer Day and then burned. He is called the Lotter, which has been corrupted into Luther. At Ambras, one of the villages where Martin Luther is thus burned in effigy, they say that if you go through the village between eleven and twelve on St. John’s Night and wash yourself in three wells, you will see all who are to die in the following year. At Gratz on St. John’s Eve (the twenty-third of June) the common people used to make a puppet called the Tatermann, which they dragged to the bleaching ground, and pelted with burning besoms till it took fire. At Reutte, in the Tyrol, people believed that the flax would grow as high as they leaped over the midsummer bonfire, and they took pieces of charred wood from the fire and stuck them in their flax-fields the same night, leaving them there till the flax harvest had been got in. In Lower Austria bonfires are kindled on the heights,

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