Pagan Beliefs of New Year’s (1844)



NEW-YEAR’S tide, has been the fertile occasion of many a goodly superstition, and time-worn observance. And in fruitful vale, village double-rowed, and brown moorland seclusion; nay even within the vaunted precincts of the emporia of commerce—amid the “fumum et opes strepitumque Romae” such still resist every aggressive influence. The radicle shoots retain their vitality long after the gigantic trunk has crumbled to its elements. One is deserving of record as the fragment of an original at once remote and vajst, and for its ramified connection with various systems of the light ” that led astray

To request a light on the morning of the New Year, is held by those retentive of old scruples, as a most portentous omen. Several, will not for any consideration, even allow a borrowed fire to proceed from their dwellings. And to justify their firm persuasion, they will adduce such connections of premises and conclusion, as the following.

At a farm house, a careless servant, neglecting to perform the curfew duties to the fire on the old-year’s night, had to be obliged to her neighbours, before it would kindle in the morning. Her master apprised of the fatal omission, predicted some unforseen evil would be the consequence, and accordingly, some time after, two valuable cows perished,—strangled at the stake !

About A. D. 746, it appears from a letter of St. Boniface to Popo Zachary, condemnatory of the sanction given to pagan festivities, that “at Rome on New year’s day, no one would suffer a neighbour to take fire out of her house, or any thing of iron, or lend any thing.” (Hospinian, apud Brand. Pop. Antiq. I. 9.)

Boniface has written epistles, and Zachary fulminated in vain as regards this practice in Northumberland, and we are informed, that the good dames of Lanarkshire in Scotland persist with equal pertinacity to oppose the long-recorded dicta and decrees of that illustrious diumvirate.

A portion of a kindred creed appears likewise to flourish in that hilarious wakefulness, which some lovers of good cheer account requisite to the right celebration of the eve of the departing year, when circling the festive bowl, as honest Barnabe Googe expresses it,

” A good beginning of the yeare they wishe and wishe againe,

According to the auncient guise of heathen people vaine.”

Among the Celtic tribes, the great festival of La Bealtine, was annually celebrated with solemn pomp, at the vernal equinox,— the commencement of their year.

On that eventful eve, the fires on every hearth throughout the land were quenched, and not until the lurid fire of Baal glared from the sacred mountain, were they permitted to be rekindled with fire derived exclusively from that pure flame, of which the Druids were the consecrated guardians. If any individual repaired not to the hallowed circle, but was indebted for a supply to the embers of his neighbour, the awful doom of excommunication awaited him—devotion to the undying element whose efficacy he had contemned.

It might be that deeply fixed impressions of that night of bondage, may have left traces that still endure, in the superstitious dread of strange or Borrowed fire.From J. Hardy’s Col.

Source: The local historian’s table book, of remarkable occurences, historical facts, traditions,legendary and descriptive ballads, 1844

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