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BOOK wherever they wandered over the earth, have in many cases II.
undergone more violent mutations than the corruption of the appellation Anak into Nick or Neck; and the Scandinavians, in assigning to this deity or sprite an influence over the waters of the ocean, preserved to him in the north the attributes which he enjoyed in the east; nor is it singular to find that he gives denomination to the river Neckar, in Suabia, and to several towns and villages in the west of Germany. As the argonautic Anak, a chief, bore a secondary rank among the mythological divinities, being of the class of heroes, we find the Scandinavian Neck or Nick correspondently designated Hold Nick-ar. This term was imported by the Danish vikingr, kings of the sea, or pirates, when they effected a settlement in this country. The subjugated Saxons applied the title hold, which was in
one sense equivalent to their own hæle, to any Danish ou Nick. chieftain; but Hold Neck-ar or Hold Nikke, in time dege
nerated into the ludicrous expression, Old Nick. Whether St. Nicholas ever existed or not, the resemblance in the sound of his name to that of Nikke is sufficient to account for his reception among the mariners of the middle ages as their tutelary saint, and for the substitution of his name in the place of Neptune by the seamen of modern Greece. In short, we seem to be warranted in concluding, that the festival of St. Nicholas is a perpetuation of the Neptunalia, and affords another, and not the least remarkable instance of the adaptation of ethnical superstitions to the prejudices of early Christians.
In the mythology of Scandinavia, which is the foundation The horse, of all our popular creeds, Nickar is represented as “a
dangerous water-sprite, who appears as a horse, a mermaid, sprite, and
or a beautiful girl, to entice people to their destruction. emblem.
He is supposed by some, however, not to do it out of ill will, but in order to procure companions in the spirits of those who are drowned.”* The mermaid and girl seem to
* Leigh Hunt, on Fairies, London Journ., Vol. I., p. 209.
be modern embellishments, but the horse, which was one of BOOK the emblems of the sun, bore a part equally conspicuous in the mythological systems of the north and the east. From St: the sacred Hipha, the designation of an emblem of the sun, the Greeks formed their Hippa, [a mare,] who, as well as Isis, was the nurse of Bacchus. Mercury is sometimes denominated Hipparcheus, and under the appellation of Odin, the northern nations feigned him to possess a wonderful horse, Sleipner, produced with eight legs,* the number of the Cabiric deities, when the gods were endangered by the giants, the Titans of the eastern system.t Among the transformations of the Indian Devi, or Nature, she appeared as Prabha, or Light, and assuming the shape of Aswini, a Mare, which, says the Nasatya Sanhita, is the first of the lunar mansions, she was approached by the sun in the form of a horse. She gave birth to twins, the Castor and Pollux of India, who, when represented as an individual, seem to be Esculapius, or Aswiculapa, the chief of the race of Aswi ;£ and Esculapius, as well as Apollo, was a form of the sun.
In like manner Adonis is said to have embraced Dia, (the Devi of India,) in the form of a horse. It should also be noticed that Vishnou, the sun, was feigned to assume the form of this animal.
The Danish peasantry, in the time of Olaus Wormius, describes the Nökke (Nikke) as a monster with a human head, dwelling both in fresh and salt water. Where any one was drowned, they said Nökken tag ham bort; the Nökke took him away.||
The Icelandic Neck, kelpie, or water spirit, is called Nickur, and Hnikar, one of the names of Odin in the Edda. He always appears in the
* Edda Islandorum, Dæmesaga 14, 35 and 36.
Capt. Wilford, Asiat. Res., Vol. III., p. 168.
|| Keightley, Fairy Mythology, Vol. I., p. 235 note.
BOOK form of a fine horse, on the sea shore. If any one is so II.
foolish as to mount him, he gallops off, and plunges into St.
the sea with his burden. * O'Donoghue, the water sprite, Nicholas. O'Donog
who rides on horseback upon the lake of Killarney, appears hue of Ire- to be no other than Odon Nökke Hybernicised. He still land, the northern exists, though Stagnelii, a Swedish poet, quoted by Mr. Neck.
Keightley, states that:
“ Ei Necken mer i flodens vaagor quäder,
Paa böljans rygg i milda solars glans."
“ The Neck no more upon the river sings,
Upon the waves in the mild solar ray."
Among the Normans of the twelfth century, St. Nicholas
was regarded as the peculiar patron of spinsters, and the patron of maidens of Bayeux have yet a proverbial distich, by which spinsters.
they invoke him to procure them a speedy marriage :
“ Patron des filles, Saint Nicolas
The same opinion of his capability in this way, prevailed in England in the fifteenth century, and we learn from a curious passage in bishop Fisher's Sermon on the Months MindE of Margaret, countess of Richmond, that she “ praied to S. Nicholas, the patron and helper of all true maydens,” when she was nine years old, about the choice of a husband; and that the saint appeared in a vision, and
announced the earl of Richmond. I Origin of
This notion originated in a legend, quoted by Hospinian, the notion. who remarks, that it was common for parents, on the eve
of St. Nicholas, to convey secretly presents to their children, who were taught to believe that they owed them to the
* Ibid, Vol. I., 234.
Warton, Hist. Engl. Poetry, Vol. III., p. 323 note.
kindness of St. Nicholas and his train. This custom, he says, is owing to the legend of that saint's having given portions to three daughters of a poor citizen, whose necessities had driven him to an intention of prostituting them; which the saint prevented, by privately throwing, at night, a purse through the father's bed-chamber window, to enable him to apportion them honestly.
In a Norman-French life of St. Nicholas, it would seem that the father, who could contemplate the prostitution of his children, was enriched by the unscrupulous, but benevolent saint:
“ Sein Nicholas sen ua a taunt,
Naogeorgus has noticed both the legend and the custom:
“ Saint Nicholas monie vsde to give to maydens secretlie,
St. Nicholas, for some reason not very obvious, was also the patron of the parish clerks of London, who were incorporated into a guild about 1240, by Henry the Third. Uniting the performance of Mysteries, or sacred plays, Mysteries with their proper avocations, they were formerly of higher performed importance than they are at present; and the parish of enwell. Clerkenwell, a name compounded of the old English plural of clerk and well is so called, history informs us, from the spring there situated, round which the parish clerks of London, in olden time, enacted their mysteries.
• Vita S. Nicolai, apud Hickes, Thesaur., Tom. I., p. 154.
BOOK The election and investment of the Boy Bishop, on St. II.
Nicholas Day, and also on the Holy Innocents, or ChilderSt.
mas, certainly proceeded from the festival of subdeacons.* Nicholas. Boy “ It does not appear,” says Strutt, speaking of the former, Bishop
at what period this idle ceremony was first established, but probably it was ancient, at least we can trace it back to the fourteenth century [thirteenth century]. In all the collegiate churches, it was customary for one of the children of the choir, completely apparelled in the episcopal vestments, with a mitre and crosier, to bear the title and state of a bishop. He exacted a ceremonial obedience from his fellow3, who, dressed like priests, took possession of the church, and performed all the ceremonies and offices which might have been celebrated by a bishop and his prebendaries: Warton, and the author of the MS. which he has followed, add, 'the mass excepted;' but the proclamation of Henry VIII.t for the abolition of this custom, proves they did 'singe masse.'”+ As St. Nicholas was the patron of scholars, it was customary in many places for the scholars on the feast day of this saint to elect one of their number to play the boy-bishop, with two others for his deacons. He was escorted in his mitre by a solemn procession of the other boys to church, where he presided at the worship, and afterwards he and his deacons went about singing from door to door, and collecting money; not begging, but demanding it as a subsidy. In 1274 the council of Nice prohibited this mock election, though so late as the
time of Hospinian, who wrote in the seventeenth century, Mock pope it was customary at schools, dedicated to Pope Gregory
the Great, who was a patron of scholars, for one of the boys to be his representative on the occasion, and to act as pope,
* Gloss. of Dates, Festum Hypodiaconorum; it is also called Festum Fatuorum ; Festum Stultorum; Fête des Fous; Festiral of Fools; Libertas Decembrica, &c. + Vide suprà, St. Clement's Day, p. 61.
Glig-Gamena Angel-Theod, or Sports and Pastimes, B. IV., ch, 3 sect. Io.