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Aubrey, in his Miscellanies, 2d edit. 8vo. p. 45, having mentioned the last battle fought in the north of Ireland between the Protestants and the Papists, in Glinsuly, in the county of Donegal says: “Near the same place a party of the Protestants had been surprised sleeping by the Popish Irish, were it not for several wrens that just wakened them by dancing and pecking on the drums as the enemy were approaching. For this reason the wild Irish mortally hate these birds to this day, calling them the devil's servants, and killing them wherever they can catch them; they teach their children to thrust them full of thorns; you'll see sometimes on holidays a whole parish running like madmen from hedge to hedge a wren-hunting."
In Sonnini's Travels in Upper and Lower Egypt, translated from the French, 4to. Lond. 1800, pp. 11, 12, we have the following account of Hunting the Wren : - While I was at La Ciotat, near Marseilles, in France, the particulars of a sin. gular ceremony were related to me, which takes place every year at the beginning of Nivôse (the latter end of December); a numerous body of men, armed with swords and pistols, set off in search of a very small bird which the ancients call Troglodytes (Motacella Troglodytes, L. Syst. Nat, edit. 13, Anglice the common wren), a denomination retained by Guénau de Montbellard, in his Natural History of Birds. When they have found it (a thing not difficult, because they always take
have one ready), it is suspended on the middle of a pole, which two men carry on their shoulders, as if it were a heavy burthen. This whimsical procession parades round the town; the bird is weighed in a great pair of scales, and the company then sits down to table and makes merry. The name they give to the Troglodytes is not less curious than the kind of festival to which it gives occasion. They call it at La Ciotat, the Pole-cat, or père de la bécasse (father of the woodcock), on account of the resemblance of its plumage to that of the woodcock, supposed by them to be engendered by the polecat, which is a great destroyer of birds, but which certainly produces none.
["Hunting the wren has been a pastime in the Isle of Man from time immemorial. In Waldron's time it was observed on the 24th December, which I have adopted, though for a century past it has been observed on St. Stephen's day. This sin
gular ceremony is founded on a tradition, that in former times, a fairy, of uncommon beauty, exerted such undue influence over the male population, that she, at various times, induced by her sweet voice numbers to follow her footsteps, till by degrees she led them into the sea, where they perished. This barbarous exercise of power had continued for a great length of time, till it was apprehended that the island would be exhausted of its defenders, when a knight-errant sprung up, who discovered some means of countervailing the charms used by this syren, and even laid a plot for her destruction, which she only escaped at the moment of extreme hazard, by taking the form of a wren. But, though she evaded instant annihilation, a spell was cast upon her by which she was condemned, on every succeeding New Year's day, to reanimate the same form with the definitive sentence, that she must ultimately perish by human hand. In consequence of this wellauthenticated legend, on the specified anniversary, every man and boy in the island (except those who have thrown off the trammels of superstition) devote the hours between sunrise and sunset to the hope of extirpating the fairy, and woe be to the individual birds of this species who show themselves on this fatal day to the active enemies of the race ; they are pursued, pelted, fired at, and destroyed, without mercy, and their feathers preserved with religious care, it being an article of belief, that every one of the relics gathered in this laudable pursuit is an effectual preservative from shipwreck for one year, and that fisherman would be considered as extremely foolhardy, who should enter upon his occupation without such a safeguard.” When the chase ceases, one of the little victims is affixed to the top of a long pole with its wings extended, and carried in front of the hunters, who
[Mac Taggart makes the following characteristic allusion to this belief. “CUTTY WRAN.—The wren, the nimble little bird; how quick it will peep out of the hole of an old foggy dyke, and catch a passing butterfly. Manks herring-fishers dare not go to sea without one of these birds taken dead with them, for fear of disasters and storms. Their tradition is of a sea sprit that hunted the herring tack, attended always by storms, and at last it assumed the figure of a wren and flew away. So they think when they have a dead wren with them, all is snug. The poor bird has a sad life of it in that singular island. When one is seen at any time, scores of Manksmen start and hunt it down."-Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopædia, p. 157.]
march in procession to every house, chanting the following rhyme:
• We hunted the wren for Robbin the Bobbin,
We hunted the wren for every one.' “After making the usual circuit and collecting all the money they could obtain, they laid the wren on a bier and carried it, in procession, to the parish churchyard, where, with a whimsical kind of solemnity, they made a grave, buried it, and sung dirges over it in the Manks language, which they called her knell. After the obsequies were performed, the company, outside the churchyard wall, formed a circle, and danced to music which they had provided for the occasion.
“At present there is no particular day for pursuing the wren; it is captured by boys alone, who follow the old custom, principally for amusement. On St. Stephen's day a group of boys' go from door to door with a wren suspended by the legs, in the centre of two hoops, crossing each other at right angles, decorated with evergreens and ribands, singing lines called Hunt the Wren.
“If, at the close of this rhyme, they be fortunate enough to obtain a small coin, they gave in return a feather of the wren; and before the close of the day, the little bird may sometimes be seen hanging almost featherless. The ceremony of the interment of this bird in the church-yard, at the close of St. Stephen's day, has long since been abandoned ; and the seashore or some waste ground was substituted in its place."2]
' [In 1842, no less than four sets were observed in the town of Douglas, each party blowing a horn.]
? [From Train's Isle of Man, a most interesting work, of which we shall have more to say under the article Charms.]
HARE, WOLF, OR SOW,
CROSSING THE WAY, &c.
BISHOP Hall, in his Characters of Vertues and Vices, so often cited, speaks of this superstition when treating of the superstitious man, observing that “if but a hare crosse him in the way, he returnes.” Melton, too, in his Astrologaster, p. 45, informs us that “it is very ill lucke to have a hare cross one in the highway." Burton, also, in his Anatomy of Melancholy, edit. 4to. 1621, p. 214, observes : “There is a feare which is commonly caused by prodigies and dismall accidents, which much trouble many of us, as if a hare crosse the way at our going forth,” &c. The omen of the hare crossing the way occurs with others in the old play of the Dumb Knight, by Lewis Machin, act iv. sc. 1, in a passage already quoted. It is found also in Ellison's Trip to Benwell, lx.:
“ Nor did we meet, with nimble feet,
One little fearful lepus,
Of fortune bad to keep us.” Ramesey, in his Elminthologia, 8vo. Lond. 1668, p. 271, speaking of superstitious persons, says : “If an hare do but cross their way, they suspect they shall be rob’d or come to some mischance forthwith.” Mason, in the Anatomie of Sorcerie, 1612, p. 85, enumerates among the superstitious persons of his age those who prognosticate some misfortune if a hare do crosse a man.”
Sir Thomas Browne tells us : If a hare cross the highway there are few above three score years that are not per
1 Alex. ab Alexandro, lib. v. c, 13, p. 685, has the following passage : Lepus quoque occurrens in via, infortunatum iter præsagit et ominosum." In Bebelii Facetiæ, edit, 4to. 1516, sig. E iij., we read : “Vetus est supere stitio et falsa credulitas rusticorum, ut si cui mané lepus transverso itinere obvius venerit, malum aliquid illi hoe die portendi.” Gaule, in his Mag-astromancers Posed and Puzzel'd, p. 181, ranks among vain observa. tions and superstitious ominations thereupon, “ a hare crossing the way" -as also “the swine grunting."
plexed thereat, which, notwithstanding, is but an augurial terror, according to that received expression, 'Inauspicatum dat iter oblatus lepus.' And the ground of the conceit was probably no greater than this, that a fearful animal passing by us portended unto us something to be feared ; as, upon the like consideration, the meeting of a fox presaged some future imposture. These good or bad signs, sometimes succeeding according to fears or desires, have left impreasions and timorous expectations in credulous minds for ever.” perstitious notion of a hare crossing the road being an ill omen is prevalent in Hungary: see Dr. Townson's Travels in Hungary. He says: “This superstition is very ancient, and is mentioned in a very old Latin treatise called Lagrographie, 4to. Edinb. 1797."
Dr. Nathaniel Home, in his Dæmonologie, 8vo. Lond. 1650, p. 60, says: “If an hare, or the like creature, cross the way where one is going, it is (they say) a signe of very ill luck. In so much as some in company with a woman great with childe have, upon the crossing of such creatures, cut or torne some of the clothes off that woman with childe, to prevent (as they imagine) the ill luck that might befall her. I know I tell you most true; and I hope in such a subject as this, touching these superstitions, I shall not offend in acquainting you with these particulars." The ancient Britons made use of hares for the purpose
of divination. They were never killed for the table. It is perhaps from hence that they have been accounted ominous by the vulgar. See Cæsar's Commentaries, p. 89.
I find the following in a Help to Discourse, 1633, p. 340 : “Q. Wherefore hath it anciently beene accounted good lucke, if a wolfe crosse our way, but ill luck if a hare crosse it ?-A. Our ancestors, in times past, as they were merry conceited, so
· Borlase, in his Antiq. of Cornwall, p. 135, tells us of“ a remarkable way of divining related of Boadicea, Queen of the Britons—when she had harangued her soldiers to spirit them up against the Romans, she opened her bosom and let go a hare, which she had there concealed, that the augurs might thence proceed to divine. The frighted animal made such turnings and windings in her course, as, according to the then rules of judging, prognosticated happy success. The joyful multitude made loud huzzas ; Boadicea seized the opportunity, approved their ardour, led them straight to their enemies, and gained the victory.”