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Numa Pompilius was chosen second King of Rome by Aying of fowles. So Tarquinius Priscus, an eagle tooke his cappe from his head and fled up on high to the skies, and after descended, and let his cappe fall on his head againe, signifying thereby that he should be King of Rome.”
Ibid. p. 289: "The Arabians, Carians, Phrygians, and Cilicians, do most religiously observe the chirping and flying of birds, assuring themselves good or bad events in their warres.” Ibid. p. 290 : “So superstitious grew the Gentils, with such abominable idolatry, that in Persia by a cock, in Egypt by a bull, in Æthiope by a dog, they tooke soothsaying; in Beotia by a beech tree, in Epyre by an oake, in Delos by a dragon, in Lycia by a wolfe, in Ammon by a ramme, they received their oracles, as their warrant to commence any warre, to enter any battell, or to attempt any enterprize.”
The Earl of Northampton's Defensative against the Poison of supposed Prophecies, 1583, says: “The Romaines tooke the crowing of a cocke for an abode of victory, though no philosopher be ignorant that this proceedeth of a gallant lustinesse uppon the first digestion.”
In Morier's Journey through Persia, 1810, p. 62, we read : "Among the superstitions in Persia, that which depends on the crowing of a cock is not the least remarkable. If the cock crows at a proper hour, they esteem it a good omen; if at an improper season, they kill him. I am told that the favorable hours are at nine, both in the morning and in the evening, at noon, and at midnight."
Pennant, in his Zoology, i. 258, speaking of the hoopoe, tells us that the country people in Sweden look on the appearance of this bird as a presage of war: “Facies armata videtur.” And formerly the vulgar in our country esteemed it a forerunner of some calamity. The same writer, ii. 508, tells us : “That the great auk is a bird observed by seamen never to wander beyond soundings, and according to its appearance they direct their measures, being then assured that land is not very remote.” Thus the modern sailors pay respect to auguries in the same manner as Aristophanes tells us those of Greece did above two thousand years ago.
See Aves, 1. 597 :
Προερεί τιστ αεί τω ορνίθων μαντευομένη περι του πλού,
Thus translated :
“ From birds in sailing men instructions take,
Now lie in port, now sail and profit make.” Pennant further observes, ibid. p. 554, that the stormy petrel presages bad weather, and cautions the seamen of the approach of a tempest, by collecting under the sterns of the ships. Halcyon,” says Willsford, ut supra, p. 134, "at the time of breeding, which is about fourteen days before the winter solstice, foreshows a quiet and tranquil time, as it is observed about the coast of Sicily, from whence the proverb is transported, the Halcyon Days. Pliny."
Dallaway, in his Constantinople, Ancient and Modern, 1797, p. 137, speaking of the Bosphorus, says: “Scarcely a minute passes but flocks of aquatic birds, resembling swallows, may be observed flying in a lengthened train from one sea to the other. As they are never known to rest, they are called halcyons, and by the French 'ames damnées.' They are superstitiously considered by all the inhabitants."
In Smith's Travels, 1792, p. li, it is said : “On sailing along the coasts of Corsica and Sardinia, June 9, we saw a sea monster, which (or others of the same kind) appeared several times the same day, spouting water from its nose to a great height. It is called caldelia, and is said to appear frequently before a storm. A storm came on next morning, which continued four days.”
In Lloyd's Stratagems of Jerusalem, p. 290, we read : “ Aristander the soothsayer, in the battell at Arbela, being the last against Darius, was then on horsebacke hard by Alexander, appareiled all in white, and a crowne of golde upon his head, encouraging Alexander, by the flight of an eagle, the victory should be his over Darius. Both the Greekes, the Romaines, and the Lacedemonians, had theyr soothsayers hard by them in their warres.” Bishop Hall, in his Characters of Vertues and Vices, speaking of the superstitions man, says: “ If a bittourn fly over his head by night, he makes his will." In Wild's Iter Boreale, p. 19, we read :
“The peaceful king-fishers are met together
About the decks, and prophesie calm weather."
SPIDERS, SNAKES, EMMETS, &c. It is vulgarly thought unlucky to kill spiders. It would be ridiculous to suppose that this has been invented to support the Scottish proverb, that “ dirt bodes luck;" it is, however, certain that this notion serves, in many instances, among the vulgar, as an apology for the laziness of housewives in not destroying their cobwebs. It has rather been transmitted from the magicians of ancient Rome, by whom, according to Pliny's Natural History, presages and prognostications were made from their manner of weaving their webs.
Willsford, in his Nature's Secrets, p. 131, tells us : "Spiders creep out of their holes and narrow receptacles against wind or rain ; Minerva having made them sensible of an approaching storm.” He adds : “ The commonwealth of emmets, when busied with their eggs, and in ordering their state affairs at home, it presages a storm at hand, or some foul weather ; but when nature seems to stupifie their little bodies, and disposes them to rest, causing them to withdraw into their caverns, least their industry should engage them by the inconveniency of the season, expect then some foul and winterly weather.”
Park has the following note in his copy of Bourne and Brand's Popular Antiquities, p. 93: “Small spiders, termed money spinners, are held by many to prognosticate good luck, if they are not destroyed or injured, or removed from the person on whom they are first observed.”
In the Secret Memoirs of Mr. Duncan Campbell, p. 60, in the chapter of omens, we read that—"Others have thought themselves secure of receiving money, if by chance a little spider fell upon their cloaths.”
White, in his Natural History of Selborne, p. 191, tells us : “The remark that I shall make on the cobweb-like
appearances called gossamer, is, that strange and superstitious as the notions about them were formerly, nobody in these days doubts but that they are the real production of small spiders,
'In Bartholomæus, De Proprietatibus Rerum (printed by Th. Berthelet, 27th Hen. VIII.), lib. xviii. fol. 314, speaking of Pliny, we read : “Also he saythe, spynners (spiders) ben tokens of divynation and of knowing what wether shal fal, for oft by weders that shal fal, some spin and weve higher or lower. Also he saythe, that multytute of spynners is token of moche reyne.”
which swarm in the fields in fine weather in autumn, and have a power of shooting out webs from their tails, so as to render themselves buoyant, and lighter than air."
Bishop Hall, in his Characters of Vertues and Vices, speaking of a superstitious man, says: “If he see a snake unkilled, he fears a mischief.”[
Alexander Ross, in his appendix to the Arcana Microcosmi, p. 219, tells us : “I have heard of skirmishes between water and land serpents premonstrating future calamities among men."
The same author, ibid., tells us : “That the cruel battels between the Venetians and Insubrians, and that also between the Liegeois and the Burgundians, in which about thirty thousand men were slain, were presignified by a great combat between two swarms of emmets.”
[Pigs.—When pigs are taken from the sow, they must be drawn backwards, if they are expected to do well : the sow will then go to boar before Saturday night. Not to be killed when the moon is in the wane, if they are, the bacon when cooked, will waste away.” Linc.]
Gray mentions, among rustic omens, the wether's-bell, and the lambkin; as also bees :
“ The weather's-bell
! Cicero, in his second book on Divination, § 28, observes : "Quidam et interpres portentorum non inscité respondisse dicitur ei, qui cum ad eum retulisset quasi ostentum, quod anguis domi vectem circumjectus fuisset. Tum esset, inquit, ostentum, si anguem vectis circumplicavisset. Hoc ille responso satis aperté declaravit, nihil habendum esse portentum quod fieri posset.” He adds, s 29: “C. Gracchus ad M, Pomponium scripsit, duobus anguibus domi comprehensis, haruspices a patre convocatos. Quî magis anguibus, quam lacertis, quam muribus ? Quia sunt hæc quotidiana, angues non item. Quasi vero referat, quod fieri potest quam id sæpe fiat ? Ego tamen miror, si emissio feminæ anguis mortem ad. ferebat Ti. Graccho, emissio autem maris anguis erat mortifera Corneliæ, cur alteram utram emiserit: nihil enim scribit respondisse haruspices, si neuter anguis emissus esset, quid esset futurum. At mors insecuta Gracchum est. Causa quidem, credo, aliqua morbi gravioris, non emissione serpentis : neque enim tanta est infelicitas haruspicum, ut ne casu quidem unquam fiat, quod futurum illi esse dixerint.”
In Tusser's Five Hundred Points of Husbandry, under the month of May, are these lines :
“ Take beed to thy bees, that are ready to swarme,
The losse thereof now is a crown's worth of harme." On which is the following observation in Tusser Redivivus, 1744, p. 62: “ The tinkling after them with a warming-pan, frying-pan, kettle, is of good use to let the neighbours know you have a swarm in the air, which you claim wherever it lights; but I believe of very little purpose to the reclaiming of the bees, who are thought to delight in no noise but their own."
Borlase, in his Antiquities of Cornwall, p. 168, tells us : “ The Cornish to this day invoke the spirit Browny, when their bees swarm; and think that their crying Browny, Browny, will prevent their returning into their former hive, and make them pitch and form a new colony."
Willsford, in his Nature's Secrets, p. 134, says: “Bees, in fair weather, not wandering far from their hives, presages the approach of some stormy weather. ... Wasps, hornets, and guats, biting more eagerly than they use to do, is a sign of rainy weather.”
Wallis, in his History of Northumberland, i. 367, gives the following account of the insect so called, whose ticking has been thought, by ancient superstition, to forebode death in a family: "The small scarab called the death-watch (Scarabæus galeatus pulsator) is frequent among dust and in decayed rotten wood, lonely and retired. It is one of the smallest of the vagipennia, of a dark brown, with irregular light-brown spots, the belly plicated, and the wings under the cases pellucid ; like other beetles, the helmet turned up, as is supposed for hearing; the upper lip hard and shining. By its regular pulsations, like the ticking of a watch, it sometimes surprises those that are strangers to its nature and properties, who fancy its beating portends a family change, and the shortening of the thread of life. Put into a box, it may be heard and seen in the act of pulsation, with a small proboscis, against the side of it, for food more probably than for INI.