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Popular Superstitions of the Highlands
Of the Ghost in his Intermediate State


A SHORT time previous to the mortal’s death, and when just on the eve of dissolution, the ghost undergoes a striking revolution in his appearance and habits. Seized with the locked jaw, and all the other disabilities common to the dead, he then becomes the awful emblem of death in all its similitudes. Attired in a shroud, and all the ensigns of the grave, the ghost nocturnally proceeds to the, narrow house of his future residence, and there disappears. He is lighted on his way by a pale azure-coloured light of the size of that emitted by a tallow candle, which is of a flickering unsteady nature, sometimes vivid, and sometimes faint, as the mortal inhales and respires his breath; and, in his course towards the grave, he will follow minutely the line of march destined to be followed by his earthly partner’s approaching funeral. His pace is slow, and his footsteps imperceptible even to a passenger; who, although he sees clearly all his trappings, cannot discern his mode of travelling. To the naked eye the ghost’s visage is not discernible by reason of the face-cloth.. There is a very simple process, however, which has been discovered for enabling a spectator to discern whose ghost he is, although we never heard of more than one person who had the hardihood to put the experiment in practice.

It is an admitted fact, in those countries, that a ghost may be recognised, in the appearance of his human partner, on his passing a spectator, by the latter’s reversing the cuff of his own coat, or any other part of his raiment, which puts an instant stop to the ghost’s career, and clearly exposes him to the recognition of the courageous experimenter.

A sage philosopher, who had long desired an opportunity of practising this bold experiment, found, "late one night," when returning home from a market, a very convenient one. Observing a stout lusty ghost stalking very majestically along the public road, this bold adventurer hesitated not a moment. Clapping himself into a defensive attitude, he reversed his cuff—when, lo! his next-door neighbour’s wife was instantly confronted to his face—clad in death’s awful apparel—.the death-candle lowing in her throats and mouth full distended. Such an exhibition was too appalling to wish for a long interview; and, accordingly, Donald Doul, the adventurer, made a motion to be off, but in vain. The unhappy man, as if transformed into a stone, could no more move than Lot’s wife, and was obliged to stand confronted to his loving companion, both equally sparing of their talk, until the crowing of the cock in the morning. Finding himself then released from his uncomfortable stance, he was about to make the best of his way home, to communicate the result of his experiment, when the friendly wife’s ghost thus addressed him: "Donald Doul—Donald Doul—.Donald Doul - hear me, and tremble. Great is the hindrance you have caused me this night,—a hindrance for which you should have been severely punished, but for the friendship which formerly subsisted between yourself and my partner. Dare not again to pry into the mysteries of the dead. The time will come when you’ll know those secrets." To this poetical harangue Donald Doul made no other reply than a profound obeisance. It is possible, however, the ghost would have proposed a rejoinder, had not a chanticleer, in the adjacent hamlet, emitted his third clarion, at the magic sound of which the wife’s ghost fairly-took to her heels, leaving Donald Doul to resume his course homewards without further advice. Satisfied of the interesting nature of the occurrence, and that his reputation for courage and veracity would suffer no diminution from the relation, Donald Doul made no secret of what happened. This clearly foretold what speedily took place, the dissolution of the neighbour’s wife, (who, by the way, was dangerously ill at the time,) to the great grief of her husband, and the credit of Donald Doul’s name.

A short time after the ghost, bearing the death-candle, has thus been seen, the house of the undertaker, who is to make the mortal's coffin, will be nightly disturbed by the sounds of saws, and knocking of hammers; no doubt, proceeding from the ghost of the undertaker and his assistants preparing the coffin of the ghost; while invisible messengers will parade the country for necessaries, for the ghost’s funeral, or foregoing. And a very imposing and interesting spectacle may be looked for.

The mortal resigns his breath, and is about to follow the course of the dead-candle to his new abode, when Taish via Tialedh, or the funeral foregoing, takes the road. This is not a paltry spectacle of one ghost, a sight so common in those countries, but a superb assemblage of them, all drest in their best attire, each reflecting lustre on the other. On this occasion, the ghost of every man, who is destined to accompany the mortal’s funeral, will attend, dressed in apparel of the same colour, and mounted on a horse of the same appearance, (if he is to have one,) as his mortal companion on the day of the corporeal interment. On this occasion, too, their characteristic austerity of manners is dispensed with. Mellowed, no doubt, by the generous qualities of the Usquebaugh, the jocund laugh, the jest, and repartee, go slapping round, responsive to some mournful dirge proceeding from the defunct’s immediate friends and relations.

In the motley group, the ghost of a father or brother is easily recognised by his well-known voice and Sabbath vestment. Nay, the spectator may even recognise himself, if his senses enable him to discriminate, joyous or sorry, as occasion suggests, mingled in the throng. In the middle of the procession the coffin is seen, containing, we presume, the dead ghost, circled by mourning relatives; and on the front, flanks, and rear of the burden, the company are likewise seen approaching and retiring, relieving each other by turns. At length, the noise of horses and tongues, horsemen and footmen,’ mingled indiscriminately together, closes the procession.

The following account of the foregoing of the funeral of an illustrious chief, who died some few score of years ago, (witnessed by a man whose veracity was a perfect proverb,) will not, we trust, be unacceptable:

"A smith, who had a large family to provide for, was often necessitated to occupy his smithy till rather a late hour. One night, in particular, as he was turning the key of his smithy door, his notice was attracted to the public road, which lay contiguous to the smithy, by a confusion of sounds, indicative of the approach of a great concourse of people. Immediately there appeared the advanced ranks of a procession, marching four men deep, in tolerable good order, unless occasionally some unaccountable circumstance occasioned the fall of a lusty fellow, as if he had been shot by a twenty-four pounder. Thunderstruck at the nature and number of the marvellous procession, the smith, honest man, reclined his back to the door, witnessing a continuation of the same procession for nearly an hour, without discovering any thing further of the character of those who composed it, than that they betokened a repletion of the Usquebaugh. At length, the appearance of the hearse, and its awful ensigns, together with the succeeding line of coaches, developed the nature of the concern. It was then that the smith’s knees began to smite each other, and his hair to stand on an end. The recent demise of his venerable chieftain confirmed his conviction of its being a Taish, and a very formidable one too. Not choosing to see the rear, he directed his face homewards, whither he fled with the swiftness of younger years, and was not backward in favouring his numerous acquaintances with a full and particular account of the whole scene. This induced many honest people to assume the smithy door as their stance of observation on the day of the funeral, which took place a few days after; and, to his honour be it told, every circumstance detailed by the smith in his relation accurately happened, even to the decanting of two dogs, and this established the smith’s veracity in all time thereafter."

Akin to this are all the relations of those good people, whose evil destiny it has been to fall in with those ghostly processions, some of whom having inadvertently involved themselves into the crowd, were repulsed in every attempt to extricate themselves, until carried along, nobody knows how far, by the tumultuous rabble, who seemed to enjoy themselves vastly at the standing hair, protruding eyes, and awry visage of the unconscious intruder.

In concluding this part of our subject, it is hardly necessary to add, that in two or three days after the ghostly procession, the human or corporeal procession will succeed it, following most minutely and accurately every course, winding, and turn taken by the foregoing, while the dress, conversation, and every other incident attending the company will be precisely the same.


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