The Northern Way

Popular Tales From the Norse

p. cvi

We hear of him again in "The Complaynt of Scotland," that curious composition attributed by some to Sir David Lyndsay of the Mount in Fife, and of Gilmerton in East Lothian, pp. 97, 98, where he says--

Arthur knycht, he raid on nycht,

With gyldin spur and candil lycht."

Nor should we forget, when considering this legend, that story of Herne the Hunter, who,

"Sometime a keeper here in Windsor Forest,

Doth all the winter time, at still midnight,

Walk round about an oak, with great ragg'd horns;

And there he blasts the trees, and takes the cattle,

And makes milch-kine yield blood, and shakes a chain

In a most hideous and dreadful manner." 1

And even yet, in various parts of England, the story of some great man, generally a member of one of the county families, who drives about the country at night, is common. Thus, in Warwickshire, it is the "One-handed Boughton," who drives about in his coach and six, and makes the benighted traveller hold gates open for him; or it is "Lady Skipwith," who passes through the country at night in the same manner, This subject might be pursued to much greater length, for popular tradition is full of such stories; but enough has been said to show bow the awful presence of a glorious God can be converted into a gloomy superstition; and, at the same time, how the majesty of the old belief strives to rescue itself by clinging, in the popular consciousness, to some king or hero, as Arthur or Waldemar, or, failing that, to some squire's family, as Hackelberend,

1. Merry Wives of Windsor, Act iv. sc. 4.

p. cvii

or the "one-handed Boughton," or even to the Keeper Herne.

Odin and the Æsir then were dispossessed and degraded by our Saviour and his Apostles, just as they had of old thrown out the Frost Giants, and the two are mingled together, in mediæval Norse tradition, as Trolls and Giants, hostile alike to Christianity and man. Christianity had taken possession" indeed, but it was beyond her power to kill. To this half-result the swift corruption of the Church of Rome lent no small aid. Her doctrines, as taught by Augustine and Boniface, by Anschar and Sigfrid, were comparatively mild and pure; but she had scarce swallowed the heathendom of the North, much in the same way as the Wolf was to swallow Odin at the "Twilight of the Gods," than she fell into a deadly lethargy of faith, which put it out of her power to digest her meal. Gregory the Seventh, elected Pope in 1073, tore the clergy from the ties of domestic life with a grasp that wounded every fibre of natural affection, and made it bleed to the very root. With the celibacy of the clergy he established the hierarchy of the Church, but her labours as a missionary church were over. Henceforth she worked not by missionaries and apostles, but by crusades and bulls. Now she raised mighty armaments to recover the barren soil of the Holy Sepulchre, or to annihilate heretic Albigenses. Now she established great orders, Templars and Hospitallers, whose pride and luxury and pomp brought swift destruction on one at least of those fraternities. Now she became feudal--she owned land instead of hearts, and forgot that the true patrimony of St. Peter was the souls of men. No wonder that, with the barbarism of the times, she soon

p. cviii

fulfilled the Apostle's words, "She that liveth in luxury is dead while she liveth," and became filled with idle superstitions and vain beliefs. No wonder, then, that instead of completing her conquest over the heathen, and carrying out their conversion, she became half heathen herself; that she adopted the tales and traditions of the old mythology, which she had never been able to extirpate, and related them of our Lord and his Apostles. No wonder, then, that having abandoned her mission of being the first power of intelligence on earth, she fell like Lucifer when the mist of medieval feudalism rolled away, and the light of learning and education returned--fell before the indignation of enlightened men, working upon popular opinion. Since which day, though she has changed her plans, and remodelled her superstitions to suit the times, she has never regained the supremacy which, if she had been wise in a true sense, she seemed destined to hold for ever.

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