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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.1
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:
Before the drooping flock toll'd forth her knell.
1 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, § 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 adferebat 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 heed 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 gnats, 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
hymeneal pleasure, as some have fancied." The above formal account will not be ill contrasted with the following fanciful and witty one of Dean Swift, in his invective against wood. It furnishes us, too, with a charm to avert the omen: "A wood worm
That lies in old wood, like a hare in her form,
With teeth or with claws it will bite, or will scratch,
For as sure as a gun they will give up the ghost,
If the maggot cries click, when it scratches the post.
Infallibly cures the timber affected;
The omen is broken, the danger is over,
The maggot will die, and the sick will recover.'
Grose tells us that: "The clicking of a death-watch is an omen of the death of some one in the house wherein it is heard."
Baxter, in his World of Spirits, p. 203, most sensibly observes that: "There are many things that ignorance causeth multitudes to take for prodigies. I have had many discreet friends that have been affrighted with the noise called a deathwatch, whereas I have since, near three years ago, oft found by trial, that it is a noise made upon paper, by a little, nimble, running worm, just like a louse, but whiter, and quicker; and it is most usually behind a paper pasted to a wall, especially to wainscot; and it is rarely if ever heard but in the heat of summer." Our author, however, relapses immediately into his honest credulity, adding: “But he who can deny it to be a prodigy, which is recorded by Melchior Adamus, of a great and good man, who had a clock-watch that had layen in a chest many years unused; and when he lay dying, at eleven o'clock, of itself, in that chest, it struck eleven in the hearing of many."
In the British Apollo, 1710, ii. No. 86, is the following query: "Why death-watches, crickets, and weasels do come more common against death than at any other time? 4. We look upon all such things as idle superstitions, for were anything in them, bakers, brewers, inhabitants of old houses, &c., were in a melancholy condition.”
To an inquiry, ibid. vol. ii. No. 70, "concerning a death
watch, whether you suppose it to be a living creature," answer
DEATH OMENS PECULIAR TO FAMILIES.
GROSE tells us that, besides general notices of death, many families have particular warnings or notices; some by the appearance of a bird, and others by the figure of a tall woman, dressed all in white, who goes shrieking about the house. This apparition is common in Ireland, where it is called Benshea, and the Shrieking Woman.
Pennant says, that many of the great families in Scotland had their demon or genius, who gave them monitions of future events. Thus the family of Rothmurchas had the Bodac au Dun, or the Ghost of the Hill; Kinchardines, the Spectre of the Bloody Hand. Gartinbeg House was haunted by Bodach Gartin and Tulloch Gorms by Maug Monlach, or the Girl with the Hairy Left Hand. The synod gave frequent orders that inquiry should be made into the truth of this apparition; and one or two declared that they had seen one that answered the description.'
Pennant, in describing the customs of the Highlanders, tells us that in certain places the death of people is supposed to be foretold by the cries and shrieks of Benshi, or the Fairies'
In the Living Library, 1621, p. 284, we read: "There bee some princes of Germanie that have particular and apparent presages and tokens, full of noise, before or about the day of their death, as extraordinarie roaring of lions and barking of dogs, fearful noises and bustlings by night in castles, striking of clocks, and tolling of bels at undue times and howres, and other warnings, whereof none could give any reason." Delrio, in his Disquisitiones Magicæ, p. 592, has the following: "In Bohemia spectrum fœmineum vestitu lugubri apparere solet in arce quadam illustris familiæ, antequam una ex conjugibus dominorum illorum e vita decedat."