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


IT might, no doubt, be readily supposed by the ingenious reader, that the mortal’s decease should be the term of dissolution assigned to the copartnery connection subsisting between the mortal and his ghost, as it generally terminates every other engagement into which the people of this world enter. The event, however, only serves to blend their interests still more strictly together. Whatever doubt may exist as to the ghost’s attention to his partner’s worldly interests in his lifetime, his solicitude for his spiritual interest, after the mortal’s death, is universally acknowledged. He then becomes the sole means of remedying past errors, and obtaining redress for past injuries. To enable one fully to appreciate a ghost’s utility in the "land of the leal," he must acquaint himself with the nature of the life which the defunct led, whether regular in his habits, and moral in his life, or otherwise, and the particular situation of his affairs at death. If, for instance, a man falls suddenly like a tree in a storm, whatever may be the situation or circumstances in which he happens to drop, so be must lie. In this respect, then, the peculiar advantage of the Highlander over his Lowland neighbour becomes perfectly apparent. Through the medium of a faithful ghost and a confidential friend, transactions, as intricate and ravelled as those of the Laird of Coul, can be easily simplified and assorted.

No man should, therefore, be surprised, if the ghost of some departed friend should take an opportunity of saluting him, and for his own sake he should also lose no time in enabling the awful emissary to declare the purpose of his mission; whoever will defer doing so only increases his own misery, and it is a task, however uncomfortable, that is sacredly due to departed friendship; for how many, by yielding to the influence of cowardly fear, have exposed. themselves and their household to those nocturnal rackets sometimes raised by those disappointed ambassadors, whereas a little resolution would not only have averted it, but have also greatly conduced to the repose and quietude of an old and esteemed acquaintance. The following statement of a circumstance which, we are told, happened in Strathspey not a great many years ago, will best enforce this counsel.

"Not many years ago there lived in Kincardine of Strathspey, a poor man, who contracted a severe and sudden illness, which, to the great grief of his family, terminated, in his death. From the suddenness of the honest man’s call, he had not time to settle his affairs, and this circumstance, it seems, as might have been supposed, caused him no small disquietude in the eternal world. He wished, in particular, to have had an axe and a whisky barrel, which he had borrow-ed of a friend, restored to him; for iron, you must know, in such cases, is very bad. In order, therefore, to have this matter adjusted, the dead man commissioned his ghost to wait on a particular friend to disclose to him the circumstance, not doubting in the least but the friend would have bestowed his best attention on the subject. The faithful ghost lost no time in proceeding to get the object of his mission accomplished, which, however, turned out rather a difficult undertaking, for it was no easy matter for the ghost to procure a conference with the friend on the business. One glimpse of the former never failed to communicate to the latter the feet of a roe, nor could all his dexterity bring the matter to a bearing. At length, exasperated by a long course of night watching, and useless travelling, the wily commissioner had recourse to an expedient which ultimately effected his purpose. As soon as the sun went down every evening, the ghost opened a cannonade of bricks and stones upon the unhappy friend, and the inmates of his house, which did not terminate till cock-crowing in the morning, and so expert an archer was this pawky ghost, that he scarcely ever missed an aim, while every stroke would kill a bullock. Smarting under the effect of this unseasonable bastisement, the friend and his family raised the most outrageous clamour at their unaccountable misfortune, which induced some of their neighbours nightly to assemble in considerable bodies to protect them from this nocturnal warfare. But the wily ghost, far from relaxing his operations on that account, only plied them with additional vigour, sparing neither sex nor age in his sweeping career. All sorts of missiles announced themselves rebounding on the shoulders of the protectors as well as the protected, the pithy weight of which, and the unaccountable manner in which they were flung, convinced the sufferers they were not flung by mortal hand. All the acquaintances of the friend, therefore, urged on him to challenge the invisible demon who thus savagely persecuted him at the hour of midnight, in order to afford the latter an opportunity of explaining his business, and the reason of his cruel and unchristian conduct. But this advice the friend of the deceased was disposed to consider a dernier resort, and one that required some cool consideration. At length, rendered quite desperate by a series of unparalleled persecutions, which rendered him as thin in body as a silver sixpence, the goodman came to a final determination to call the ghost to account the very first opportunity, for his mean and pusillanimous attacks on himself and poor family. Accordingly, one night, on receiving a tart pill on the cheek, which gave him an earach, and which wonderfully improved his courage, the goodman marched forth, with a mixture of rage and fear, demanding of the unfeeling ghost, in a voice resembling the falling notes of the gamut, "Wha-a-t i-i-s you-r bus-n-es wi' rn-my ho-use a-and fa-fa-fa-mi-ly? The ghost instantly appeared happy to answer the question; but, ere he could do so, it was necessary to go through a ceremony, which is no less curious than it is disagreeable to the feelings of the parties concerned. This ceremony consists in the mortal's embracing the ghost, and raising his feet from the ground, so as to allow the wind to pass between the soles of his feet and the ground, which enables the tongue-tied ghost to speak a volume. What was then to be done in this particular case? Encouraged by the eloquent cheers and arguments held forth to him, through the crevices of his house, by his anxious family, he made several attempts to encircle the awful emissary in his arms, which, by a sort of mechanical motion, receded from the embrace; and it was not without great difficulty he could persuade himself to give a friendly embrace to this mischievous ghost; this, however, he did at last,—seizing him as he would a bush of thorns. The ghost’s long locked jaws now began to speak in so sepulchral a tone as to palsy all who heard it. The friend of the deceased promised strict attention to all the ghost’s injunctions, upon which he evanished in a flame of fire, leaving the unhappy man scarce able to totter to his chair. A minute compliance with all his instructions rendered a second visit from the ghost unnecessary —and this was no small matter of comfort to the friend."

This frigid display of a Highlandman’s courage will appear very contemptible when compared to the undaunted resolution of the female alluded to in the following story:

"About forty or fifty years ago, a native of Strathdown, whose manner of living (like that of other folks) did not qualify him for a sudden death, was unfortunately drowned in the following manner: While in the act of cutting down a tree, in a steep precipice bending over the river Avon, he slipped his footing—fell headlong into the abyss below, and rose no more. His lamentable fate was speedily discovered—his body interred, and his affairs arranged in the best possible order. Time, the parent of oblivion, soon rendered his name extinct among the living, and he was no longer heard of; when, on a certain day, in the height of it, the deceased appeared in his human likeness at the window of a female friend. On the woman’s exhibiting some surprise and terror at his appearance, the drowned man called to her to fear nothing, but to come forth and speak with him,—for it seems he had been enabled to speak without the "dead-ljft." The honest woman suspecting, no doubt, that, if she did not go out to him, he would make the best of his way to her, obeyed his summons; and, in the course of a long convoy she gave him, he divulged to her several acts of misconduct he had been guilty of towards an old master and some others, which disturbed much his repose. Anxious, no doubt, to get rid of his company, she promised to exert the best of her endeavours to atone for his misconduct, on condition he would leave her, and never again renew his visit,—a promise which she faithfully performed, and the dead gave her no farther trouble."

But the settlement of unassorted affairs, after death, is not the only thing in which the ghost is extremely useful. As an ambassador ever ready to discharge any piece of useful service—such as appeasing the unavailing grief of lamenting relatives—he is ever ready and expert, and the delicate manner in which the ghost sometimes executes this commission, indicates that he is far more friendly and conciliatory in his behaviour when dead than he was when alive. Sometimes, but very rarely, he leaves his abode to benefit an old acquaintance or friend of his partner; but it will no doubt be done at the instigation of the devoted latter. We present the particulars of a favour of this sort conferred on an inhabitant of Strathspey, no doubt a long time ago, which deserted a better return than what the ghost at first met with.

"Engaged one night in the arrangement of his farming affairs, a certain farmer, living in the parish of Abernethy, was a good deal surprised at seeing an old acquaintance, who had a considerable time previously departed this life, entering quite coolly at his dwelling-house door. Instead of following his old acquaintance into his house, to receive an explanation from himself of the marvellous circumstance, his curiosity led him into the church-yard where his friend was buried, and which was near by, to see if he had actually risen from the dead. On examination, he not only found the grave, but also the coffin wide open, which left no doubt on his mind of the reality of the vision which he thought had deluded his sight. Making the sign of the cross on the grave, he returned to his house, not caring whether he found his friend before him or not. He was not, however, to be seen; but, in the course of a short time, he turned, and upbraided the farmer for his improper interference with his grave, explaining to him the cause of his resurrection. It appeared, that a scabbed stirk, which had a greedy custorn of prowling about the doors, seeking what he might devour, thief-like entered the dwelling house in the absence of the family, and, finding no better subject of entertainment, attacked the straw in the cradle which stood by the fire-side, and in which his only child was sleeping at the time. The tugging of the stirk at the straw would have inevitably overturned the cradle and the child into the fire but for the generous interposition of the ghost. The farmer expressed his most grateful acknowledgments for so signal an instance of his kindness; and immediately retraced his steps to the grave, on which he made a counter-sign to that which he formerly made, and the good-hearted ghost obtained admission into his dreary abode."

But these are not all the ghost’s useful qualities. He possesses another very important one in this unchristian and uncharitable age, in which the repositories of the dead are exposed to the nocturnal spoiliation of the ruthless resurrectionist. It is vain for the church-sexton to plant steel-traps and spring-guns in the field of his labours,—the wily depredator will contrive to elude them all when this vigilant watchman is wanted to direct them. To show the vigilance of this agent’s attention to his own interest, and that of his friends, on such occasions, take the following narration :—

"There was at one time a woman, who lived in Camp-del-more of Strathavon, whose cattle were seized with a murrain, or some such fell disease, which ravaged the neighbourhood at the time, carrying off great numbers of them daily. All the forlorn fires and hallowed waters failed of their customary effects; and she was at length told by the wise people whom she consulted on the occasion, that it was evidently the effect of some infernal agency, the power of which could not be destroyed by any other means than the never-failing specific - the juice of a dead head from the church-yard, - a nostrum certainly very difficult to be procured, considering the head must needs be abstracted from a grave in the hour of midnight. Being, however, a woman of a stout heart and strong faith, native feelings of delicacy towards the blessed sanctuary of the dead had more weight in restraining her for some time from resorting to this desperate remedy than those of fear. At length, seeing that her bestial stock would soon be completely annihilated by the destructive career of the disease, the wife of Campdel resolved to put the experiment in practice, whatever the result might be. Accordingly, having, with considerable’ difficulty, engaged a neighbouring woman to be her companion in this hazardous expedition, they set out, about midnight, for the parish church-yard, distant about a mile and a half from her residence, to execute her determination. On arriving at the churchyard, her companion, whose courage was not so notable, appalled by the gloomy prospect before her, refused to enter among the habitations of the dead. She, however, agreed to remain at the gate till her friend’s business was accomplished. This circumstance, however, did not stagger our heroine’s resolution. She, with the greatest coolness and intrepidity, proceeded towards what she supposed an old grave, - took down her spade, and commenced her operations. After a good deal of toil she arrived at the object of her labour. Raising the first head, or rather skull, that came her way, she was about to make it her own property, when, lo! a hollow wild sepulchral voice exclaimed, "That is my head—let it alone!" Not wishing to dispute the claimant’s title to this head, and supposing she could be otherwise provided, she very good naturedly returned it, and took up another. "That is my father’s head;" bellowed the same voice. Wishing, if possible, to avoid disputes, the wife of Camp-del-more took up another head, when the same voice instantly started a claim to it as his grandfather’s head. "Well," replied the wife, nettled at her disappointments," although it were your grandmother's head, you shan’t get it till I am done with it."—" What do you say, you limmer?" says the ghost, starting up in his awry habilments; "What do you say, you limmer?" repeated he in a great rage. "By the great oath you had better leave my grandfather’s head." Upon matters coming this length, the wily wife of Camp-del-more thought it proper to assume a more conciliatory aspect. Telling the claimant the whole particulars of the predicament in which she was placed by the foresaid calamity, she promised faithfully, that, if his Honour would only allow her to carry off his grandfather’s skull, or head, in a peaceable manner, she would restore it again when done with it. Here, after some communing, they came to an understanding, and she was allowed to take the head along with her, on condition she should restore it before cock-crowing, under the heaviest penalties.

"On coming out of the church-yard, and looking for her companion, she had the mortification to find her ‘without a mouthful of breath in her body;’ for, on hearing the dispute between her friend and the guardian of the grave, and suspecting much that she was likely to share the unpleasant punishments with which he threatened her friend, at the bare recital of them she fell down in a faint, from which it was no easy matter to recover her. This proved no small inconvenience to Camp-del-more’s wife, as there were not above two hours to elapse ere she had to return the head in terms of her agreement. Taking her friend upon her back, she carried her up a steep acclivity to the nearest adjoining house, where she left her for the night; then repaired home with the utmost speed—made dead bree of the dead head, and ere the appointed time had expired, she restored the head to its guardian, and placed the grave in its former condition. It is needless to add, that, as a reward for her exemplary courage, the ‘bree’ had its desired effect—the cattle speedily recovered—and, so long as she retained any of it, all sorts of diseases were of short duration."

Safeguards from Ghosts.

HAVING now briefly described the leading features of a ghost’s character in those countries, we shall close our account of him by annexing a few of those safeguards which protect us from those wanton encounters and impertinent interferences which we have related, and which must be far from being palatable to the more effeminate inhabitants of the Highland mountains at the present day.

One simple plan of obtaining perfect security from supernatural agents of any kind is, (whenever we apprehend the approach or presence of a ghost,) to repeat certain words, which can be taught by any wise patriarch or matron, the powerful charm of which instantly repercusses the ghost back to his own proper abode, and, for the time, defeats all his machinations. Note - If in the house, the words must be repeated three times behind the door. A ghost then can neither enter at the door, window, nor any other crevice of the house. The operation of the words is like that of an infeftment, which, taken on one part of the property, affects the whole. Were it not for this grand discovery, vain would be the attempt of any man to bar out a ghost as he might do a mortal. A ghost can enter in at the key-hole---nay, even through the wall of the house, if there is no other caveat to arrest him in his career.

Another safeguard consists in forming a piece of the rowan-tree into the shape of a cross with a red. thread. This cross you will insert between the lining and cloth of your garment, and, so long as it lasts, neither ghost nor witch shall ever interfere with you.


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