Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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PAGAN SURVIVALS
host" or "wild hunt" of spirits, rushing howling through the air on stormy nights. In North Devon its name is " Yeth (heathen) hounds" ;4° elsewhere in the west of England it is called the "Wish hounds." 4i It is the train of the unhappy souls of those who died unbaptized, or by violent hands, or under a curse, and often Woden is their leader.42 At least since the seventeenth century this " raging host " {das wuthende Heer) has been particularly associated with Christmas in German folk-lore,43 and in Iceland it goes by the name of the " Yule host." 44
In Guernsey the powers of darkness are supposed to be more than usually active between St. Thomas's Day and New Year's Eve, and it is dangerous to be out after nightfall. People are led astray then by Will o' the Wisp, or are preceded or followed by large black dogs, or find their path beset by white rabbits that go hopping along just under their feet. 45
In England there are signs that supernatural visitors were formerly looked for during the Twelve Days. First there was a custom of cleansing the house and its implements with peculiar care. In Shropshire, for instance, " the pewter and brazen vessels had to be made so bright that the maids could see to put their caps on in them—otherwise the fairies would pinch them, but if all was perfect, the worker would find a coin in her shoe." Again in Shropshire special care was taken to put away any suds or " back-lee " for washing purposes, and no spinning might be done during the Twelve Days.46 It was said elsewhere that if any flax were left on the distaff, the Devil would come and cut it.47
The prohibition of spinning may be due to the Church's hallowing of the season and the idea that all work then was wrong. This churchly hallowing may lie also at the root of the Danish tradition that from Christmas till New Year's Day nothing that runs round should be set in motion,48 and of the German idea that no thrashing must be done.during the Twelve Days, or all the corn within hearing will spoil. The expectation of uncanny visitors in the English traditions calls, however, for special attention ; it is perhaps because of their coming that the house must be left spotlessly clean and with as little as possible about on which they can work mischief.49 Though I know of no distinct English belief in the
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