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Popular Superstitions of the Highlands
Of the Highland Ghosts in General


OF whatever country, station, or character the reader may be, we presume it will be unnecessary for us, on this our outset, to intrude upon his time by entering into a logical definition of the term Ghost. There is perhaps no nation or clime, from California to Japan, where that very ancient and fantastic race of beings called Ghosts is not, under different terms, and different characters, more or less familiar to the inhabitants. We do not mean, however, to follow this fleeting race of patriarchs throughout their wide course of wandering and colonization from the beginning of time to the present day—as, in all likelihood, our research would turn out equally arduous and unprofitable; we confine our lucubrations to the colony of the tribe, which, from time immemorial, have settled themselves among the inhabitants of the Highland Mountains.

Be it known then to the reader, that, so early as the days of Ossian, the son of Fingal, and ever since, ghosts have been, at all times, a plentiful commodity among the hills of Caledonia. Every native Highlander has allied to him, from his birth, one of those airy beings, in the character of an auxiliary or helpmate, who continues his companion, not only during all the days of the Highlander’s life, but also for an indefinite period of time after his decease: It will be readily believed, that this ancient class of our mountaineers cannot have descended through so many changeful ages of the world, without sharing, in some measure, those revolutions of manners and habits, to which all classes and communities of people are equally liable. Accordingly, the ghost has suffered as great a degeneracy from that majesty of person, and chivalry of habits, which anciently distinguished the primitive inhabitants of Caledonia, as his mortal contemporary, man. Unlike the present puny, green, worm-eaten effigies that now-a-days stalk about our premises, and, like the cameleon, feed upon the air, the ancient race of Highland ghosts were a set of stout, lusty, sociable ghosts, "as tall as a pine, and as broad as a house." Differing widely in his habits from those of his posterity, the ghost of antiquity would enter the habitation of man, descant a lee-long night upon the news of the times, until the long-wished-for supper was once prepared, when this pattern of frankness and good living would invite himself to the table, and do as much justice to a bicker of Highland crowdie as his earthly contemporaries. Indeed, if all tales be true, many centuries are not elapsed since these social practices of the ghosts of the day proved an eminent pest to society. With voracious appetites, those greedy gormandizers were in the habit of visiting the humble hamlets, where superabundance of store seldom resided, and of ravishing from the grasp of a starving progeny the meagre fare allotted to their support.

Beyond their personal attractions, however, it is believed, they displayed few enviable qualities—for, besides their continual depredations on the goods and chattels of the adjacent hamlets, they were ill-natured and cruel, and cared not a spittle for woman or child. The truth of this remark is well exemplified in the history of two celebrated ghosts, who "once upon a time" lived, or rather existed, in the Wilds of Craig-Aulnaic, a romantic place in the district of Strathdown, Banffshire. The one was a male and the other a female. The male was called Fhua Mhoir Bein Baynac, after one of the mountains of Glenavon, where at one time he resided; and the female was called Clashnichd Aulnaic, from her having had her abode in Craig-Aulnaic. But, although the great ghost of Ben-Baynac was bound, by the common ties of nature and of honour, to protect and cherish his weaker cornpanion, Clashnichd Aulnaic, yet he often treated her in the most cruel and unfeeling manner. In the dead of night, when the surrounding hamlets were buried in deep repose, and when no-thing else disturbed the solemn stillness of the midnight scene, "oft," says our narrator, "would the shrill shrieks of poor Clashnichd burst upon the slumberers' ears, and awake him to any thing but pleasant reflections."

But of all those who were incommoded by the noisy and unseemly quarrels of these two ghosts, James Owre or Gray, the tenant of the farm of Balbig of Delnabo, was the greatest sufferer. From the proximity of his abode to their haunts, it was the misfortune of himself and family to be the nightly audience of Clashnichd’s cries and lamentations, which they considered any thing but agreeable entertainment.

One day; as James Gray was on his rounds poking after his sheep, he happened to fall in with Clashnichd, the Ghost of Aulnaic, with whom he entered into a long conversation. In the course of this conversation he took occasion to remonstrate with her on the very disagreeable disturbance she caused himself and family, by her wild and unearthly cries,—cries which, he said, fee mortals could relish in the dreary hours of midnight. Poor Clashnichd, by way of apology for her conduct, gave James Gray a sad account of her usage detailing at full length the series of cruelties committed upon her by Ben-Baynac. From this account, it appeared that her cohabitation with the hitter was by no means a matter of choice with Clashnichd; on the contrary, it appeared that she had, for a long time, led a life of celibacy with much comfort; residing in a snug dwelling, as already mentioned, in the wilds of Craig-Ailnac; but Ben- Baynac having unfortunately taken it into his head to pay her a visit, he took a fancy, not to herself, but her dwelling, of which; in his own name and authority, he took immediate possession, and soon after expelled poor Clashnichd, with many stripes, from her natural inheritance; while not satisfied with invading and depriving her of her just rights, he was in the habit of following her into her private haunts; not with the view of offering her any endearments, but for the purpose of inflicting on her person every degrading torment which his brain could invent.

Such a moving relation could not fail to affect the generous heart of James Gray, who determined from that moment to risk life and limb in order to vindicate the rights and revenge the wrongs of poor Clashnichd the Ghost of Craig-Aulnac. He, therefore, took good care to interrogate his new protege touching the nature of her oppressor’s constitution, whether he was of that killable species of ghost that could be shot with a silver sixpence, or if there was any other weapon that could possibly accomplish his annihilation. Clashnichd informed him that she had occasion to know that Ben-Baynac was wholly invulnerable to all the weapons of man, with the exception of a large mole on his left breast, which was no doubt penetrable by silver or steel; but that, froth the specimens she had of his personal prowess and strength, it were vain for mere man to attempt to combat Ben-Baynac the great ghost. Confiding, however, in his expertness as an archer—for he was allowed to be the best marksman of his age—James Gray told Clashnichd he did not fear him with all his might,— that he was his man; and desired her, moreover, next time he chose to repeat his incivilities to her, to apply to him, James Gray, for redress.

It was not long ere he had an opportunity of fulfilling his promises. Ben-Baynac having one night, in the want of better amusement, entertained himself by inflicting an inhuman castigation on Clashnichd, she lost no time in waiting on James Gray, with a full and particular account of it. She found him smoking his cutty, and unbuttoning his habiliments for bed; but, notwithstanding the inconvenience of the hour, James needed no great persuasion to induce him to proceed directly along with Clashnichd to hold a communing with their friend Ben-Baynac the great ghost. Clashnichd was a stout sturdy hussey, who understood the nack of travelling much better than our women do. She expressed a wish, that, for the sake of expedition, James Gray would mount himself on her ample shoulders, a motion to which the latter agreed; and a few minutes brought them close to the scene of Ben-Baynac’s residence. As they approached his haunt, he came forth, to meet them, with looks and gestures which did not at all indicate a cordial welcome. It was a fine moonlight night, and they could easily observe his actions. Poor Clashnichd was now sorely afraid of the great ghost. Apprehending instant destruction from his fury, she exclaimed to James Gray, that they would be both dead people, and that immediately, unless James could hit with an arrow the mole which covered Ben-Baynac’s heart. This was not so difficult a task as James had hitherto apprehended it. The mole was as large as a common bonnet, and yet nowise disproportioned to the natural size of his body, for he certainly was a great and a mighty ghost. Ben-Baynac cried out to James Gray, that he would soon make eagle’s-meat of him; and certain it is, such was his intention had not James Gray so effectually stopped him from the execution of it. Raising his bow to his eye when within a few yards of Ben-Baynac, he took an important aim; the arrow flew---it hit— a yell from Ben-Baynac announced its fatality. A hideous howl re-echoed from the surrounding mountains, responsive to the groans of a thousand ghosts; and Ben-Baynac, like the smoke of a shot, evanished into air.

[Nothing can appear more surprising to the refined reader, than that any human being, possessing the rational faculties of human nature, could for a moment entertain a notion so preposterous, as that a ghost, which conveys the idea of an immortal spirit, could be killed, or rather annihilated, by an arrow, dirk, or sixpence. It was, however, the opinion of the darker ages, that such an exploit as killing a ghost was perfectly practicable. A spirit was supposed to be material in its nature, quite susceptible of mortal pain, and liable to death or annihilation from the weapons of man. Such an opinion is repeatedly expressed in several passages of the Poems of Ossian and in the doctrine of the Seanachy, down to the present day.]

Clashnichd, the Ghost of Aulnac, now found herself emancipated from the most abject state of slavery, and restored to freedom and liberty, through the invincible courage of James Gray. Overpowered with gratitude, she fell at James Gray’s feet, and vowed to devote the whole of her time and talents towards his service and prosperity. Meanwhile, being anxious to have her remaining goods and furniture removed to her former dwelling, whence she had been so iniquitously expelled by Ben-Baynac the great ghost, she requested of her new master the use of his horses to remove them. James observing on the adjacent hill a flock of deer, and wishing to have a trial of his new servant’s sagacity or expertness, told her those were his horses,—she was welcome to the use of them; desiring, when she was done with them, that she would inclose them in his stable. Clashnichd then proceeded to make use of. the horses, and James Gray returned home to enjoy his night’s rest.

"Scarce had he reached his arm-chair, and reclined his cheek on his hand, to ruminate over the bold adventure of the night, when the Clashnichd entered, with her ‘breath in her throat,’ and venting the bitterest complaints at the unruliness of his horses, which had broken one-half of her furniture, and caused more trouble in the stabling of them than their services were worth. ‘Oh! they are stabled, then?’ inquired James Gray. Clashnichd replied in the affirmative. ‘Very well,’ rejoined James, ‘they shall be tame enough to-morrow.’"

From this specimen of Clashnichd the Ghost of Craig-Ailnaig’s expertness, it will be seen what a valuable acquisition her service proved to James Gray and his young family; of which, however, they were too speedily deprived by a most unfortunate accident. From the sequel of the story, and of which the foregoing is but an extract, it appears, that poor Clashnichd was but too deeply addicted to those guzzling propensities, which at that time rendered her kin so obnoxious to their human neighbours. She was consequently in the habit of visiting her friends much oftener than she was invited, and, in the course of such visits, was never very scrupulous in making free with any eatables that fell within the circle of her observation.

One day, while engaged on a foraging expedition of this description, she happened to enter the Mill of Delnabo, which was inhabited in those days by the miller’s family. She found the miller’s wife engaged in roasting a large gridiron of fine savoury fish, the agreeable effluvia proceeding from which perhaps occasioned her visit. With the usual inquiries after the health of the miller and his family, Clashnichd proceeded, with the greatest familiarity and good humour, to make herself comfortable at the expence of their entertainment. But the miller’s wife, enraged at the loss of her fish, and not relishing such unwelcome familiarity, punished the unfortunate Clashnichd rather too severely for her freedom. It happened that there was at the time a large caldron of boiling water suspended over the fire, and this caldron the beldam of a miller’s wife overturned in Clashnichd’s bosom! Scalded beyond recovery, she fled up the wilds of Craig-Ailnaig, uttering the most melancholy lamentations, nor has she been ever since heard of to the present day.


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