Popular Superstitions - Treasure Finding
( Originally Published 1884 )
In Dunsford's " Memoirs of Tiverton" (4to, Exeter, 1790, p. 285, note 50), is the following very extraordinary tale :
" Many attempts have been made by poor workmen, who frequently left their daily employ, to discover money supposed to be hid near this chapel, without success; it was therefore proposed, that some person should lodge in the chapel, for a night, to obtain preternatural direction respecting it. Two farmers, at length, complied with MY wishes, and ventured one night, about nine, aided by strong beer, to approach the hallowed walls : they trembled exceedingly at the sudden appearance of a white owl, that flew from a broken window of the building, with the solemn message, that considerable treasures lay hid in certain fields of the barton; that if they would carefully dig there, and diligently attend the labourers, to prevent purloining, they would undoubtedly find them. The farmers attended to the important notice, instantly employed many workmen in the fields described, and I was lately informed had discovered the valuable deposit."
The folly and superstition which so strongly mark this story should have passed unnoticed, had not the author affected, in other parts of the work, to possess a mind superior to the prejudices which influence the great hulk of mankind. For instance, in a note at p. 103, he says :
" The light of the present age hath shewn us, that all men are born equal ; that two sorts of distinctions only can exist between them, a natural, and acquired one, proceeding from talents and virtue, and from the rank which those qualities procure them in society ; and the other an absurd one, which depends upon opinion and prejudice, and which has very little weight now but with those who are interested in such an opinion."
Surely he who can believe that owls are employed as solemn messengers for the discovery of hidden treasure, has no great right to ridicule the OPINION and prejudices of others, however absurd they may be.