Sir James George Frazer > The Golden Bough > Page 641
Sir James George Frazer (1854–1941).  The Golden Bough.  1922.

Page 641
a pot full of water was set on it, and the water thus heated was afterwards sprinkled upon the people infected with the plague or upon the cattle that were tainted by the murrain. Special virtue was attributed to the smoke of the bonfire; in Sweden fruit-trees and nets were fumigated with it, in order that the trees might bear fruit and the nets catch fish. In the Highlands of Scotland the need-fire was accounted a sovereign remedy for witchcraft. In the island of Mull, when the fire was kindled as a cure for the murrain, we hear of the rite being accompanied by the sacrifice of a sick heifer, which was cut in pieces and burnt. Slavonian and Bulgarian peasants conceive cattle-plague as a foul fiend or vampyre which can be kept at bay by interposing a barrier of fire between it and the herds. A similar conception may perhaps have originally everywhere underlain the use of the need-fire as a remedy for the murrain. It appears that in some parts of Germany the people did not wait for an outbreak of cattleplague, but, taking time by the forelock, kindled a need-fire annually to prevent the calamity. Similarly in Poland the peasants are said to kindle fires in the village streets every year on St. Rochus’s day and to drive the cattle thrice through them in order to protect the beasts against the murrain. We have seen that in the Hebrides the cattle were in like manner driven annually round the Beltane fires for the same purpose. In some cantons of Switzerland children still kindle a need-fire by the friction of wood for the sake of dispelling a mist.

LXIII.  The Interpretation of the Fire-Festivals
1. On the Fire-festivals in general
  THE FOREGOING survey of the popular fire-festivals of Europe suggests some general observations. In the first place we can hardly help being struck by the resemblance which the ceremonies bear to each other, at whatever time of the year and in whatever part of Europe they are celebrated. The custom of kindling great bonfires, leaping over them, and driving cattle through or round them would seem to have been practically universal throughout Europe, and the same may be said of the processions or races with blazing torches round fields, orchards, pastures, or cattle-stalls. Less widespread are the customs of hurling lighted discs into the air and trundling a burning wheel down hill. The ceremonial of the Yule log is distinguished from that of the other fire-festivals by the privacy and domesticity which characterise it; but this distinction may well be due simply to the rough weather of midwinter, which is apt not only to render a public assembly in the open air disagreeable, but also at any moment to defeat the object of the assembly by extinguishing the all-important fire under a downpour of rain or a fall of snow. Apart from these local or seasonal differences, the general resemblance between


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