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The Folktale
Stith Thompson

Motif D1821.4

Magic sight by putting ointment into eye. (Cf. D1244.) England: Lang English Fairy Tales 220.

Part Two

The Folktale from Ireland to India

III – The Simple Tale

4. Legends and traditions

D. Marvelous Powers and Occurrences

2. Other Magic Powers

The ability to transform and disenchant is only one of the magic powers familiar in popular tradition and folktales. The world of magic is so well established a background of such tales that frequently magic powers of all kinds are assumed without much comment, and nearly always they are only subsidiary motifs quite incidental to the main action of the tale. [407]

Out of the undistinguished mass of material of this kind a few themes are of especial interest because they have become so well known either as popular traditions or as incidents in some important literary treatment. The wide spread notion that one can acquire magic wisdom from eating something, particularly from eating a part of a serpent (B161.3), like Siegfried, or like certain Irish heroes from biting upon one's own thumb (D1811.1.1); that the secret of one's strength may lie in his hair, as with Samson (D1831); and that one may acquire magic sight if only one puts the proper ointment into his eyes (D1821.4)—all these means of surpassing human limitations are common to the folklore of a good part of the world.

Witches and others who can bring about enchantments are much feared, for unwonted abilities like this may be used for harm as well as good. Hence the multitude of amulets used against the power of the Evil Eye (D2071), for it is very generally believed that certain persons can cast an evil spell on one through a malignant glance. Equally harmful are those who can shoot a person's or animal's body with small objects so that he sickens without apparent cause (D2066). And almost anyone, if he possesses the proper formulas, can, like Rossetti's "Sister Helen," make an image of an enemy and burn it or stick it full of pins and thus bring about torture or death (D2063.1.1).

All who have visited Salisbury Plain and have wondered at the enormous monoliths at Stonehenge will remember the belief that they were brought from afar through the power of Merlin. Giant rocks moved by magic power (D2136.1) are also found in Chaucer's Franklin's Tale, where the magician removes the stones from the coast of Brittany. Presumably these rocks were all moved in the twinkling of an eye, and such marvelous speed is a common occurrence in folk tradition (D2122). Sometimes the making of instantaneous journeys is a manifestation of unaided magic power, as when the hero is [p. 261] permitted to make a journey with speed as swift as thought, and sometimes it is performed through the use of seven league boots (D1521.1), or the like. [408]

[407] For a detailed listing of such motifs, see D1700 to D2199.

[408] Special magic powers attributed to animals have already been noticed in other connections; see pp. 228, 245, and 260, above.


B161.3, D1521.1, D1700-D2199, D1811.1.1, D1821.4, D1831, D2063.1.1, D2066, D2071, D2136.1, D2122