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“'Tis a custom among country girls to put the Bible under their pillows at night, with sixpence clapt in the book of Ruth, in order to dream of the men destined to be their husbands." See Poems by Nobody, 8vo. Lond. 1770, p. 199, note.
Various are the popular superstitions, or at least the faint traces of them, that still are made use of to procure dreams of divination, such as fasting St. Agnes' Fast ; laying a piece of the first cut of a cheese at a lying-in, called vulgarly in the North the groaning cheese, under the pillow, to cause young persons to dream of their lovers ; and putting a Bible in the like situation, with a sixpence clapped in the book of Ruth, &c. Various also are the interpretations of dreams given by old women, but of which the regard is insensibly wearing away.
[If you would wish to be revenged on a lover by tormenting him with hideous dreams, take a bird's heart and at twelve o'clock at night stick it full of pins, and a semblance of him will appear before you in great agony.')
Strutt, describing the manners of the English, Manners and Customs, iii. 180, says: “Writing their name on a paper at twelve o'clock, burning the same, then carefully gathering up the ashes, and laying them close wrapp'd in a paper upon a looking-glass, marked with a cross, under their pillows, this should make them dream of their love."
The Moon, the ancient object of idolatrous worship, has in later times composed an article in the creed of popular superstition. The ancient Druids had their superstitious rites at the changes of the moon. This planet, as Dr. Johnson tells us, has great influence in vulgar philosophy. In his memory, he observes, it was a precept annually given in one of
[' Obligingly communicated to the publisher by Mr. Robert Bond, of Gloucester, with several other superstitions of that locality, which will be found under their respective heads. The one given above is not confined to the neighbourhood of Gloucester, but is more or less prevalent in every county in England.]
the English almanacs, to kill hogs when the moon was increasing, and the bacon would prove the better in boiling.
In the Husbandman's Practice or Prognostication for ever, 8vo. Lond. 1664, p. 108, we are told to “Kill swine in or neer the full of the moon, and flesh will the better prove in boiling;” and that (p. 111), “Kill fat swine for bacon (the better to keep their fat in boiling) about the full moon.” Also (p. 110), “Shear sheep at the moon's increase : fell hand timber from the full to the change. Fell frith, copice, and fuel at the first quarter. Lib or geld cattle, the moon in Aries, Sagittarius, or in Capricorn.”
The following is in Curiosities, or the Cabinet of Nature, 12mo. Lond. 1637, p. 231: “Q. Wherefore is it that we gather those fruits which we desire should be faultlesse in the wane of the moone, and gueld cattle more safely in the wane than in the increase ? An. Because in that season bodies have lesse humour and heate, which an innated putrefaction is wont to make them faulty and unsound.”
[The influence of the moon over mental and corporeal diseases, its virtue in all magical rites, its appearances as predictive of evil and good, and its power over the weather and over many of the minor concerns of life, such as the gathering of herbs, the killing of animals for the table, and other matters of a like nature, were almost universally confided in as matters of useful and necessary belief in the sixteenth century; and it is stated on reasonable authority that the relics of this belief are still to be traced among our rural population.
Shakespeare has many allusions to these impressions, but they have not been quite so fully illustrated by the commentators as might have been anticipated from the extent of their researches. Perhaps we are in some measure indebted for them to the poet's own imagination. He alludes to the moon as the “sovereign mistress of true melancholy;" informs us that she makes men insane when “she comes more near to the earth than she was wont;" and that, when “pale in her anger, rheumatic diseases do abound.” Hecate tells the witches
Upon the corner of the moon
There hangs a vaporous drop profound,” efficacious in the invocation of spirits. The great dramatist also alludes to its eclipses and sanguine colour as positive indications of coming disasters.
With respect to the passage just cited from Macbeth, it may be observed that the moisture of the moon is constantly alluded to. In Newton's Directions for Health, 1574, we are told that “the moone is ladie of moysture ;” and in Hamlet, she is called the moist star. Shakespeare, indeed, in the Midsummer Night's Dream, appears to have imitated a passage to this effect in Lydgate's Storie of Thebes,
“Of Lucina the moone, moist and pale,
That many showre fro heaven made availe." The power of witches over this planet is often mentioned, and Prospero describes one “so strong that could control the moon.” The notion is of great antiquity, and the reader will call to mind the clouds of Aristophanes, where Strepsiades proposes the hiring of a Thessalian witch to bring down the moon, and shut her in a box, that he might thus evade pay. ing his debts by the month!]
The subsequent very singular superstitions respecting the moon may be found in the Husbandman's Practice or Prognostication, above quoted, p. 110: “Good to purge with electuaries, the moon in Cancer; with pills, the moon in Pisces; with potions, the moon in Virgo.
Good to take vomits, the moon being in Taurus, Virgo, or the latter part of Sagittarius ; to purge the head by sneezing, the moon being in Cancer, Leo, or Virgo; to stop fluxes and rheumes, the moone being in Taurus, Virgo, or Capricorne ; to bathe when the moone is in Cancer, Libra, Aquarius, or Pisces ; to cut the hair off the head or beard when the moon is in Libra, Sagittarius, Aquarius, or Pisces. Briefe Observations of Husbandry: Set, sow seeds, graft, and plant, the moone being in Taurus, Virgo, or in Capricorn, and all kind of corne in Cancer; graft in March at the moone's increase, she being in Taurus or Capricorne.”
Among the preposterous inventions of fancy in ancient superstition occurs the moon-calf, an inanimate shapeless mass, supposed by Pliny to be engendered of woman only. See his Natural History, B. x. c. 64.
“ They forbidde us, when the moone is in a fixed signe, to put on a newe garment; why so? Because it is lyke that it wyll be too longe in wearing, a small fault about this towne, where garments seldome last till they be payd for. But theyr meaning is, not that the garment shall continue long, in respect of any strength or goodnes in the stuffe; but by the duraunce or disease of him, that hath neyther leysure nor liberty to weare it.” Defensative against the Poyson of supposed Prophecies, by the Earl of Northampton, 4to. Lond. 1583.
In Tusser's Five Hundred Points of Husbandry, under February, are the following lines :
“ Sowe peason and beans in the wane of the moone
And flourish with bearing, most plentiful wise." On which is the following note in Tusser Redivivus, 8vo. Lond. 1744, p. 16: “Planetary influence, especially that of the moon, has commonly very much attributed to it in rural affairs, perhaps sometimes too much ; however, it must be granted the moon is an excellent clock, and, if not the cause of many surprising accidents, gives a just indication of them, whereof this of peas and beans may be one instance: for peas and beans, sown during the increase, do run more to hawm and straw, and, during the declension, more to cod, according to the common consent of countrymen. And I must own I have experienced it, but I will not aver it so that it is not liable to exceptions.”
Werenfels, in his Dissertation upon Superstition (transl. 8vo. Lond. 1748), p. 6, speaking of a superstitious man, says: " He will not commit his seed to the earth when the soil, but when the moon, requires it. He will have his hair cut when the moon is either in Leo, that his locks may stare like the lion's shag, or in Aries, that they may curl like a ram's horn. Whatever he would have to grow, he sets about it when she is in her increase; but for what he would have made less, he chooses her wane. When the moon is in Taurus, he never can be persuaded to take physic, lest that animal, which chews its cud, should make him cast it up again. If at any time he has a mind to be admitted into the presence of a prince, he will wait till the moon is in conjunction with the sun; for 'tis then the society of an inferior with a superior is salutary and successful.”
In the old play of the Witch of Edmonton, 4to. 1658, p. 14, young Banks observes : “When the moon's in the full, then wit's in the wane."
“It is said that to the influence of the moon is owing the increase and decrease of the marrow and brain in animals ; that she frets away stones, governs the cold and heat, the rain and wind. Did we make observations, we should find that the temperature of the air hath so little sympathy with the new or full moon, that we may count as many months of dry as wet weather when the return of the moon was wet, and contrariwise ; so true is it, that the changes of the weather are subject to no rule obvious to us.
'Twere easy to shew that the reason of the thing is directly against the popular opinion.” Gent. Mag. for Sept. 1734, iv. 489, from Bayle.
The hornedness of the new moon is still faintly considered by the vulgar as an omen with regard to the weather. They say, on that occasion, the new moon looks sharp. In Dekker's Match me in London, act i., the king says: “My lord, doe you see this change i’ the moone ? sharp hornes doe threaten windy weather.
[In Whimzies, or a New Cast of Characters, 12mo. Lond. 1631, p. 173, the author, speaking of a Xantippean, says: “A burre about the moone is not halfe so certaine a presage of a tempest as her brow is of a storme.”]
Dr. Jamieson, in his Etymolog. Dictionary of the Scottish Language, v. Mone, says that in Scotland “it is considered as an almost infallible presage of bad weather if the moon lies sair on her back, or when her horns are pointed towards the zenith. It is a similar prognostic when the new moon appears with the auld moon in her arms, or, in other words, when that part of the moon which is covered with the shadow of the earth is seen through it. A brugh, or hazy circle round the moon, is accounted a certain prognostic of rain. If the circle be wide, and at some distance from the body of that luminary, it is believed that the rain will be delayed for some time; if it be close, and as it were adhering to the disc of the moon, rain is expected very soon.” [One of these superstitions is thus alluded to in the ballad of Sir Patrick Spence,