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Popular Superstitions of the Highlands
Of the Ghost in his Co-existent State


Having, in the preceding chapter, endeavoured, as briefly as possible, to throw some light upon the general character of the primitive race of Highland ghosts, in order to enable the reader to judge of the difference of manners which distinguish them from the modern ghosts, we shall now proceed to the consideration of the laster during the interval betwixt the birth and the eve of the death of the mortal, and which, for the sake of illustration, we shall call his co-existent state.

From the birth of the mortal to the eve of his death, the ghost, in point of similitude, is a perfect counterpart or representative of his earthly yoke-fellow. As the child grows towards manhood, his ghost keeps pace with him, and so exactly do they resemble each other in the features, complexions, and aspect, when seen by a third party, that, without the use of prescribed spells, no human observer can distinguish the mortal from the immortal. Nor is this resemblance confined to personal appearance alone—it is likewise extended to the habiliments. Whether the mortal equips himself in the Highland garb or Lowland costume, the imitative ghost instantly assumes the same attire. The bonnet or the hat, the philibeg or the trews, are equally convenient and agreeable to him; for in this solitary particular he has never been known to dissent from his human partner.

During this period the ghost is supposed either to accompany or precede, at some distance, his human partner (of course invisible to those not possessing the Second-sight) in all those multifarious journeys and duties which the mortal performs throughout the course of his eventful life, and the moral utility of the ghost is supposed to consist in propitiating the mortal's undertakings, by guarding them from the influence of evil spirits. But, however this may be, it is a well-known fact, that all ghosts do not devote the whole of their time to the discharge of this commendable duty. Common fame errs much if those capricious beings do not love their own pleasures more than their partner’s interest; and this their negligence is a subject of still deeper regret, when we consider the nature of those practices in which they employ their time.

If the appetites of the modern ghost are better restrained than those of his predecessors were in the "greedy times" we have written of, the mischievous habits he has acquired in lieu of his predecessor’s social accomplishments; are to some far more calamitous than even Clashnichd’s practices. It is true, a dose of Highland crow-die would but ill agree with the refined delicacy of the stomach of the former. Such squeamish appetites must look out for more delicate and savoury food. But if the modern ghost does not possess those keen digestive powers which distinguished " Clashnichd," he inherits all the ill nature of "Ben-Baynac," without one-third of his might; and we question much if his regard for the fair sex is a bit more tender.

Instead of being the peaceable and industrious associate of his yoke-fellow, it is a common practice with the ghost of the present day to prowl about the country with the laudable intention of committing all the mischief in his power to the friends and acquaintances of his partner. Planting himself in some wild and convenient position, he will open on the ears of the slumbering inhabitants, or the more unfortunate traveller, his wild and unearthly cries, highly gratified, no doubt, at the paralyzing effect they produce on his audience. Of the hideousness of these cries nothing short of auric demonstration can convey an adequate conception. Partaking at once of all that is horrid and unnatural, if any resernblance to them can be figured, we are told, it is the "expiring shrieks of a goat under the butcher’s knife, or the howling of a dog in a solitary cavern." Proportioned to the strength of the ghost, the cry is loud or faint, and has something so peculiar in it, that ‘the least note never fails to give the hearer a temporary palsy.

But were his practices confined to those cornparatively harmless proceedings, the conduct of the ghost would be far less intolerable than it is. His vocal entertainments, however hurtful they sometimes prove to those unfortunate enough to hear them, are not sufficiently iniquitous to satisfy the extent of his malice. Being, no doubt, well disciplined in the noble and fashionable art of pugilism by long experience and practice among his kindred species, never remarkable for their social harmony, he is, perhaps, the best bruiser in the universe, and will never be backward in showing those people who come in his way his expertness in this science. As, however, the greatest part of his human contemporaries are, perhaps, too strikingly convinced of his decided superiority, few of them are disposed to hazard a set-to with so pithy a combatant, and it is consequently no easy matter for the ghost to fall in with those who are inclined to fight merely for fighting's sake. Finding, therefore, so few willing to quarrel with him in that open and gentleman like manner usual in those countries, the fertility of his noddle suggests to him the more indirect or Irish mode of proceeding, and it is to this ingenious mode of raising a row, that the Modern Ghost owes the most of his laurels. Presenting himself before the unsuspecting traveller in the servile appearance of a scabbed colt, or some such equally contemptible. animal, he will in this guise place himself in the passenger’s way, as if to graze by the road’s side. Raising his staff, the passenger will very aptly apply it to the colt’s back to clear his way, when the malicious animal will instantly retort, and a conflict ensues, in which the unwary transgressor is severely punished for his indiscretion.

In former times, however, and even in recent times, we have heard of some instances where those.wanton pugilists proceeded upon more honourable and systematic principles than they do at present. Instead of the dastardly mode of cajoling his adversary into a fight by stratagem, and conquering him by surprise, the warlike bogle of the last century carried about with him flails, cudgels, and such other pithy weapons as were suitable to the spirit of the times,—and on his meeting with a human adventurer who had no objection to become his antagonist, his choice of weapons was left with the latter. Hence it followed, that this equitable and impartial mode of proceeding ended not unfrequently to the ghost’s great disadvantage. For, the human bullies of those days were so diligently trained up to the handling of a flail or the wielding of a cudgel, that their ghostly combatants, with all their might and. dexterity, have often been the first to propose an armistice. To multiply details of such encounters would be as tedious as they are numerous and similar; a single narrative, communicated to the compiler by the grand-nephew of the person concerned, will, we suppose, be sufficient to confirm our statements.

"Late one night, as my grand-uncle Lachlan Dhu Macpherson, who was well known as the best fiddler of his day, was returning home from a ball, at which he had acted as a musician, he had occasion to pass through the once haunted Bog of Torrans. Now, it happened at that time that that Bog was frequented by a huge bogle or ghost, who was of a most mischievous disposition, and took particular pleasure in abusing every traveller who had occasion to pass through the place betwixt the twilight at night and cock-crowing in the morning. Suspecting much that he would also come in for a share of his abuse, my grand-uncle made up his mind, in the course of his progress, to return him any civilities which he might think meet to offer him. On arriving on the spot, he found his suspicions were too well grounded; for, whom did he see but the Ghost of Bogandoran apparently ready waiting him, and seeming by his ghastly grin not a little overjoyed at the meeting? Then marching up to my grand-uncle, the bogle clapt a huge club into his hand, and furnishing himself with one of the same dimensions, he put a spittle in his hand, and deliberately commenced the combat. My granduncle returned the salute with equal spirit, and so ably did both parties ply their batons, that for a while the issue of the combat was extremely doubtful. At length, however, the fiddler could easily discover that his opponent’s vigour was much in the fagging order. Picking up renewed courage in consequence, my granduncle, the fiddler, plied the ghost with renovated vigour, and after a stout resistance, in the course of which both parties were seriously handled, the Ghost of Bogandoran thought it prudent to give up the night

"At same time, filled, no doubt, with great indignation at this signal defeat, it seems the ghost resolved to re-engage my granduncle on some other occasion, under more favourable circumstances. Not long after, as my granduncle was returning home quite unattended from another ball in the Braes of the country, he had just entered the hollow of Auldichoish, well known for its ‘eery' properties, when, lo! who presented himself to his view on the adjacent eminence, but his old friend of Bogandoran, advancing as large as the gable of a house, putting himself in the most threatening and fighting attitudes.

"Looking on the very dangerous nature of the ground in which they were met, and feeling no anxiety for a second encounter with a combatant of his weight, in a situation so little desirable, the fiddler would have willingly deferred the settlement of their differences till a more convenient season. He, accordingly, assuming the most submissive aspect in the world, endeavoured to pass by his champion in peace, but in vain. Longing, no doubt, to retrieve the disgrace of his late discomfiture, the bogle instantly seized the fiddler, and attempted with all his might to pull the latter down the precipice, with the diabolical intention, it is supposed, of drowning him in the river Avon below. In this pious design the bogle was happily frustrated by the intervention of some trees, which grew in the precipice, and to which my unhappy grand-uncle clung with the zeal of a drowning man. The enraged ghost, finding it impossible to extricate him from those friendly trees, and resolving, at all events, to be revenged of him, he fell upon maltreating the fiddler with his hands and feet in the most inhuman manner.

"Such gross indignities my worthy grand-uncle was not accustomed to, and being incensed beyond all measure at the liberties taken by Bogandoran, he resolved again to try his mettle, whether life or death should be the consequence. Having no other weapon wherewith to defend himself but his biodag, which, considering the nature of his opponent’s constitution, he suspected much would be of little avail to him—I say, in the absence of any other weapon, he sheathed the biodag three times in the Ghost of Hogandoran’s belly. And what was the consequence? why, to the great astonishment of my courageous forefather, the ghost fell down cold-dead at his feet, and was never more seen or heard of."

Thus it will be seen, that in those chivalrous days, the stout and energetic sons of Caledonia had courage and prowess enough to cope with those powerful warriors however unequally matched, with spirit and even with success. In the present effeminate times, we hear of none that will even contend with those miserable scare-crows of the present day. Overcome, more by fear than by force, at the first encounter, they throw themselves down, and, like the lamb beneath the fox, tamely submit to the most abusive treatment. Hence, encouraged by those servile submissions, it is almost incredible to what extent those invincible corps sometimes carry their audacity. We have heard of not a few of them, who having, in the first place, intruded their company on peaceable travellers on the public road,— in the next place, offered them the most provoking indignities,—one time piping their unearthly cries into the passenger’s ears, at another time tripping him by the heels, and even cornmitting indecencies, which delicacy forbids us to repeat, while the fears and agitation manifested by the traveller constituted a subject of great merriment to the mischievous ghost.


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