Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Pious Woodcutters

J. Theodore Bent, The Cyclades, or Life among the Insular Greeks (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1885), p.27:
The genii loci, too, haunt certain well-known trees and cliffs, and are like our old friends the Hamadryads. Woodcutters fear to lie or sleep under a big old olive tree called Megdanos; and when they have to cut down a tree that they suppose to be possessed they are exceedingly careful when it falls to prostrate themselves humbly and in silence lest the spirit should chastise them as it escapes; and sometimes they put a stone on the trunk of the tree so as to prevent its egress.
Rennell Rodd, The Customs and Lore of Modern Greece (London: David Stott, 1892), p. 171:
Trees of great age and size are also supposed to be inhabited by a guardian genius, a reminiscence perhaps of the Dryad. The woodsmen avoid lying under them; and if they are obliged to cut down such a haunted tree, they will watch carefully for the moment when it is about to fall, and lie down flat on the ground keeping religious silence, in order to avoid the wrath of the stoicheion, which will issue from the trunk at the moment of severance.
Walter Woodburn Hyde, Greek Religion and Its Survivals (New York: Cooper Square, 1963) pp.140-141:
Now the name Nereid has become generalized and includes all that has survived of the various nymphs,—whether those benevolent spirits who used to dwell on hill-tops (Oreads), in groves and trees (Dryads), in fresh water springs and fountains (Naiads), or in Ocean stream (Oceanids and Nereids). But all are nowadays indiscriminately called Nereids, and the old word "nymph" has completely disappeared in the mythological sense, and now is used only of a bride. Just as in the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite lofty pines and oaks were the homes of the "deep-breasted mountain nymphs," and "men hew them not with the axe," so to-day no peasant will knowingly cut down a tree supposed to be haunted by a Nereid; if compelled to do so, he will take all needful precautions, such as praying to the Panaghia and making the sign of the cross, or lying prone on the ground in order not to see the spirit as it emerges. Otherwise he may be smitten dumb.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson (fautor studiorum meorum).


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