Balder the Beautiful, Volume I. eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 545 pages of information about Balder the Beautiful, Volume I..
by extinguishing the all-important fire under a downpour of rain or a fall of snow.  Apart from these local or seasonal differences, the general resemblance between the fire-festivals at all times of the year and in all places is tolerably close.  And as the ceremonies themselves resemble each other, so do the benefits which the people expect to reap from them.  Whether applied in the form of bonfires blazing at fixed points, or of torches carried about from place to place, or of embers and ashes taken from the smouldering heap of fuel, the fire is believed to promote the growth of the crops and the welfare of man and beast, either positively by stimulating them, or negatively by averting the dangers and calamities which threaten them from such causes as thunder and lightning, conflagration, blight, mildew, vermin, sterility, disease, and not least of all witchcraft.

[Two explanations suggested of the fire-festivals.  According to W. Mannhardt, they are charms to secure a supply of sunshine; according to Dr. E. Westermarck they are purificatory, being intended to burn and destroy all harmful influences.]

But we naturally ask, How did it come about that benefits so great and manifold were supposed to be attained by means so simple?  In what way did people imagine that they could procure so many goods or avoid so many ills by the application of fire and smoke, of embers and ashes?  In short, what theory underlay and prompted the practice of these customs?  For that the institution of the festivals was the outcome of a definite train of reasoning may be taken for granted; the view that primitive man acted first and invented his reasons to suit his actions afterwards, is not borne out by what we know of his nearest living representatives, the savage and the peasant.  Two different explanations of the fire-festivals have been given by modern enquirers.  On the one hand it has been held that they are sun-charms or magical ceremonies intended, on the principle of imitative magic, to ensure a needful supply of sunshine for men, animals, and plants by kindling fires which mimic on earth the great source of light and heat in the sky.  This was the view of Wilhelm Mannhardt.[798] It may be called the solar theory.  On the other hand it has been maintained that the ceremonial fires have no necessary reference to the sun but are simply purificatory in intention, being designed to burn up and destroy all harmful influences, whether these are conceived in a personal form as witches, demons, and monsters, or in an impersonal form as a sort of pervading taint or corruption of the air.  This is the view of Dr. Edward Westermarck[799] and apparently of Professor Eugen Mogk.[800] It may be called the purificatory theory.  Obviously the two theories postulate two very different conceptions of the fire which plays the principal part in the rites.  On the one view, the fire, like sunshine in our latitude, is a genial creative power which fosters the growth

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Balder the Beautiful, Volume I. from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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