Advent In Normandy
Source: William Hone, The Year Book of Daily Recreation and Information. London: Thomas Tegg, 1832. December 5.
A very singular spectacle presents itself to the stranger who, unacquainted with the customs of the country, finds himself alone, among the corn fields and pastures of the department of the Eure-et-Loire. On every side he can discover nothing but fire and flames running over the fields, and every now and then he hears a certain shrill but modulated noise. This phantasmagoria, which at first astonishes and even alarms him, arises from the practice of a very ancient custom, still in use in this country, and in certain cantons of Normandy. Every farmer fixes upon some day in advent for the purpose of exorcising such animals as prove injurious to his crops, and for this purpose he furnishes his youngest children with a prepared flambeaux, well dried in the oven, and provided with combustible materials. If he have no children his neighbours lend him theirs, for none but young and innocent children can command certain injurious animals to withdraw from his lands. After twelve years of age children are rendered unfit to perform the office of exorcists. These young children run over the country like so many little spirits, set fire to bundles of hay placed there for the purpose, go under the trees, and flourish their torches among the branches, burn the straw placed underneath, and continually cry out—
Taupes,cherrilles, et mulots,
Sortez, sortez, de mon clas,
Ouje vous brule la barbe et los os.
Donnez-moi des pomes a miriot.
“Mice, caterpillars, and moles, get out, get out of my field; I will burn your beard and your bones: trees and shrubs give me three bushels of apples.”
Many farmers, says M. Cochin, have given up this custom; but it is remarked that they have more vermin in their ground than those who follow it. The reason, however, is evident; it is quite true that fire and smoke will destroy the eggs of the caterpillar; but as to the mice and moles, I must confess, says M. Cochin, I have discovered no convincing proof of the power of our young exorcists; the good people of the country, however, believe the remedy infallible, and this must surely satisfy the most incredulous% Many accidents might be supposed to arise, from this assembly of juvenile torch-beares, scattering ‘their flames around them on every side; but there is a remedy for all dangers; this fire never burns or injures anything but the vermin against which it is directed: — such, at least, is the belief of the simple folks who inhabit the department of the Eure-et-Loire. (Citing Time's Telescope, 1828)