Sir James George Frazer > The Golden Bough > Page 613
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Sir James George Frazer (1854–1941).  The Golden Bough.  1922.

Page 613
 
called the “witch” or the “old wife” or “winter’s grandmother” is made up of clothes and fastened to a pole. This is stuck in the middle of a pile of wood, to which fire is applied. While the “witch” is burning, the young people throw blazing discs into the air. The discs are thin round pieces of wood, a few inches in diameter, with notched edges to imitate the rays of the sun or stars. They have a hole in the middle, by which they are attached to the end of a wand. Before the disc is thrown it is set on fire, the wand is swung to and fro, and the impetus thus communicated to the disc is augmented by dashing the rod sharply against a sloping board. The burning disc is thus thrown off, and mounting high into the air, describes a long fiery curve before it reaches the ground. The charred embers of the burned “witch” and discs are taken home and planted in the flax-fields the same night, in the belief that they will keep vermin from the fields. In the Rhön Mountains, situated on the borders of Hesse and Bavaria, the people used to march to the top of a hill or eminence on the first Sunday in Lent. Children and lads carried torches, brooms daubed with tar, and poles swathed in straw. A wheel, wrapt in combustibles, was kindled and rolled down the hill; and the young people rushed about the fields with their burning torches and brooms, till at last they flung them in a heap, and standing round them, struck up a hymn or a popular song. The object of running about the fields with the blazing torches was to “drive away the wicked sower.” Or it was done in honour of the Virgin, that she might preserve the fruits of the earth throughout the year and bless them. In neighbouring villages of Hesse, between the Rhön and the Vogel Mountains, it is thought that wherever the burning wheels roll, the fields will be safe from hail and strom.
  In Switzerland, also, it is or used to be customary to kindle bonfires on high places on the evening of the first Sunday in Lent, and the day is therefore popularly known as Spark Sunday. The custom prevailed, for example, throughout the canton of Lucerne. Boys went about from house to house begging for wood and straw, then piled the fuel on a conspicuous mountain or hill round about a pole, which bore a straw effigy called “the witch.” At nightfall the pile was set on fire, and the young folks danced wildly round it, some of them cracking whips or ringing bells; and when the fire burned low enough, they leaped over it. This was called “burning the witch.” In some parts of the canton also they used to wrap old wheels in straw and thorns, put a light to them, and send them rolling and blazing down hill. The more bonfires could be seen sparkling and flaring in the darkness, the more fruitful was the year expected to be; and the higher the dancers leaped beside or over the fire, the higher, it was thought, would grow the flax. In some districts it was the last married man or woman who must kindle the bonfire.
  It seems hardly possible to separate from these bonfires, kindled on the first Sunday in Lent, the fires in which, about the same season, the effigy called Death is burned as part of the ceremony of “carrying

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