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Popular Superstitions of the Highlands
Origin and History of Witchcraft


Safeguards from Witchcraft

As witchcraft is in itself by far the greatest calamity the Highlander is subject to, so Providence, in its wise economy, has afforded him the amplest means of guarding against its effects. And if a radical remedy has not yet been discovered for the evil in all its bearings, it is only because mankind have not been equally solicitous for the discovery of it, Adverse to a murmuring discontented spirit, the Highlander is satisfied with the removal of a share of his grievances. Having obtained a knowledge of a certain remedy for those practices of the craft which weigh most heavily on his temporal interests, he is not so presumptuous as to suppose, that Providence is so partial in its favours, as to grant him a remedy for those that affect his immortal interests also. Satisfied with the benefit he enjoys, he is not clamorous for an extension of them, leaving the concerns of another world for a season of more convenience and leisure.

As a sovereign protection for goods and chattels of every description from the machination of those despicable agents, the rowan cross, of invaluable excellence, has never been known to prove ineffectual. Its salutary influence on every species of supernatural agents is well known and there are none to whom the smell of the rowan is more obnoxious than the " Ban Buchichd." As a proof of its efficacy, we can produce no better authority than the following affecting story:

"There is, in the vicinity of Forres, an old decayed edifice, called ‘Castle Boorgie,’ in which once lived a rich Laird, who had a beautiful daughter. Seemingly possessed of every engaging accomplishment, and apparently endowed with the most amiable disposition, she was the darling of her aged father, whose hopes and joys were wholly centered in her. One spring morning, as her father and herself were surveying the delightful prospects which the castle commanded, the immense number of ploughs at work within the compass of their vision happened to attract their attention. ‘Father,’ says this ill-fated, unconscious child, ‘do we not behold a vast number of ploughs in the widely-extended district now in our view?‘—‘ Yes, my love, we do,’ replied the father, ‘and it is a pleasant thing to look at them.’—’ What reward will you give me,’ added she, ‘if, by a single word, I shall cause them all stand as immoveable as if the cattle were transformed into stones?‘—‘ On that condition,’ replied the astonished father, ‘the most superb and costly gown in the town of Forres shall be yours.’~’ It is done,’ says the daughter. Raising her hand, she muttered an unintelligible sound, and, lo! all the ploughs in the district, with the exception of a single one, stood stock still and immoveable.—’ Indeeed!‘ exclaims her father, ‘you are a rare conjuror, my dear ; but how is that plough in the adjacent park exempted from the magical effect of your powerful charm?‘—‘The cause I can easily guess,’ says she; ‘there is, in one of the oxen’s bows, a pin of the rowan tree, the virtue of which defeats all attempts at preternatural fascination.’. ’Aye, aye,’ says he, ‘all those things are wonderfully pretty; pray who taught them to you?’—’ My old nurse taught me those fine things, and am not I greatly obliged to her, Sir ?‘-.--‘ You are, undoubtedly; he replies, ‘and she shall soon have her reward. Oh! my dear, my only child—support and comfort of my aged head, would to God you had never been born.’

"Summoning immediately a council of his friends, the broken-hearted parent revealed to them the whole circumstance; and craved their opinion as to the measures that should be adopted in this deeply to be deplored case. After due consultation, the council gave it as their decided opinion, that, concluding that she was irrecoverably lost to all good in this world, the extension of her life would be only productive of eternal disgrace and infamy to her friends, while her spiritual interests would every day be destroyed by accumulating guilt. Therefore, that her life should be instantly terminated by a private death; and that the old hag, the author of her ruin, should be publicly burned under every ignominious circumstance. To this hard decision the agonised father was persuaded to assent; and a, doctor was immediately dispatched for to Forres, to point out the easiest mode of taking her life. Bleeding the temporal arteries was the mode of death agreed on, and the poor innocent victim of the old hag’s depravity was introduced into a private apartment, in order to undergo the awful operation. On entering the apartment, her unhappy father burst out into a flood of tears. Observing his distress, his affectionate little daughter also fell a crying. ‘What is the matter with you, my dear father?’ says she. ‘Have you received any bad news? Oh! tell me what is the matter with you, that I may share your sorrows and dry your tears. Fearing that the father’s courage might naturally fail him under so signal a trial, the friends present instantly seized the astonished dear girl, bound her hand and foot, and placed her in a vat, and the surgeon inflicted on her two brows, fair and beautiful as those of an angel, the fatal wounds. As the blood flowed, the poor aifrighted victim perpetually exclaimed, ‘Do not kill me, do not kill me; what have I done to offend my dearest father? I am sure I did no harm. For the sake of my dear mother, who is no more, and for whose sake you loved me so well, do not let them kill me, my dear father.’ The unhappy father sunk senseless on the floor, and his expiring child soon closed her eye on this world, sighing, with her last breath, ‘ My dearest father, do not kill me.’

"The old hag was then brought out to the lawn in front of the castle, and thrown into a huge furnace of tar and other combustibles, amidst the general execration of the assembled multitude. And it is said, that while the witch was burning, every crack she gave was as loud as the report of a war cannon."

When, by the neglect of the prescribed safe guards, the seeds of iniquity have taken root, and a person’s means are decaying in consequence, the only alternative, in this case, is to resort to that grand remedy, the " Tein Econuch" or" Forlorn Fire," which seldom fails of being productive of the best effects. The cure for witchcraft, called " Tein Econuch" ‘is wrought in the following manner:

A consultation being held by the unhappy sufferer and his friends as to the most advisable measures of effecting a cure, if this process is adopted, notice is privately communicated to all those householders who reside within the nearest two running streams, to extinguish their lights and fires on some appointed morning. On its being ascertained that this notice has been duly observed, a spinning-wheel, or some other convenient instrument, calculated to produce fire by friction, is set to work with the most furious earnestness by the unfortunate sufferer, and all who wish well to his cause. Relieving each other by turns, they drive on with such persevering diligence, that at length the spindle of the wheel, ignited by excessive friction, emits "Forlorn Fire" in abundance, which, by the application of tow, or some other combustible material, is widely extended over the whole neighbourhood. Communicating the fire to the tow, the tow communicates it to a candle, the candle to a fir-torch, the torch to a cartful of peats, which the master of the ceremonies, with pious ejaculations for the success of the experiment, distributes to messengers, who will proceed with portions of it to the different houses within the said two running streams, to kindle the different fires. By the influence of this operation, the machinations and spells of witchcraft "are rendered null and void," and, in the language of Scots law, "of no avail, force, strength, or effect, with all that has followed, or may follow thereupon."

But should the evil prove so obstinate and deep-rooted, as to triumph over this most comonly efficacious remedy, the dernier resort is an application to that arch enemy of Satan, Mr Grigor Willox Macgrigor, Emperor of all the Conjurors.

The name of this gentleman is well known to the inhabitants of the northern counties of Scotland, as the happy proprietor of that invaluable and wonderful relic, which the vulgar are sometimes pleased to denominate "Clach Ghrigair Willock," alias "aach Ban na Buchuchd," but which, in our opinion, deserves a far more dignified, if not a more appropriate appellation. We humbly submit it should be called the Philosopher’s Stone, not so much out of compliment to its learned and elegant proprietor, although, by the bye, he is wonderfully philosophic, as out of pure justice to the stone itself, for it certainly is the best substitute for the grand object of the chemist’s research, that has hitherto been discovered. If the philosopher’s stone will convert metal into gold, the "warlock’s stone" will convert water into Silver by a process perhaps more round-about, but equally certain.

The history of such a precious curiosity as this would, no doubt, prove highly interesting to the "curious reader ;" and the writer has to blame the shortness of his memory for not gratifying him to the utmost of his wish, Mr Willox having more than once personally favoured him with a very eloquent account of it. Suffice it to say, that this stone was originally extorted by a very ancient ancestor of Mr Willox from an amorous slut of a mermaid, who, unfortunately for her, happened to take a fancy to him, and no wonder, too, if he possessed in anydegree the personal attractions of his lineal posterity. It happened, then, that this silly fool, of mermaid once thought it proper to throw herself in this gentleman’s way, expecting, no doubt, very different treatment from that which she experienced,—when her unnatural sweetheart, in. stead of offering her any endearments, most ungraciously chained her to a post, until she redeemed her liberty by this precious ransom. This was, no doubt, long, long ago, nobody knows how long, and the stone has necessarily seen many revolutions of times, and masters in the course of its day. It graced for a long time the warlike standard of the brave clan Gregor, combining, as the upholsterer says, "great ornament with much utility;" for, while it served to set off not a little those splendid banners, it invariably secured their followers victory over their contending foes. It afterwards returned to the Willox family, with whom it has continued to the present day. It could not descend to a race of gentlemen who could do greater justice to its excellent qualities, and certainly the fault cannot be traced to the present proprietor, if, during his liferent use of it, the stone has lost an iota of its former celebrity.

Whatever might have been the ornamental qualities of this wonderful stone in the days of yore, it has now no great ornaments to boast of. It is a plain-looking article, strongly resembling the knob or bottom of a crystal bottle; and were it not that Mr Willox solemnly assured us of his having been told by the great Lord Henderland himself, it must have at one time composed one of the Pleiades, we should have had much difficulty in believing it to consist of any other substance; but who could resist such respectable authority? Although Mr Willox informed us that a single collision with the ground would instantly divest it of all its wonderful virtues, the stone certainly bears exfacie marks of rough usage, and even such inauspicious accidents as coming into contact with the ground, or perhaps harder materials, in its time. However, the stone itself will tell no secrets, and on the subject of accidents of this sort, it is the proprietor's interest to be equally mute.

But whatever may be the nature and qualities of this stone, its virtues are sufficiently notorious. A single immersion of it into a hogs head of water, instantaneously communicates to it such inconceivable virtue, that one drop of it is sufficient to cure the most desperate case of witchcraft in the land. Nor do the prevention and cure of witchcraft alone constitute the stone’s sole line of business;—for a valuable reward, there is no secret nor calamity natural to that or beast in all this wide world, but it will reveal or prevent - Exernpli gratia, Should some miserable vagabond of a thief, residing within the pale of Mr Willox’s celebrity, be so fool-hardy as to lay his dishonest hands upon the goods or chattels of a neighbour, recovery of the goods, or at least an exposure of the thief, is the absolute consequence. The loser of the goods looks about him for his purse, and immediately proceeds to consult the GRAND ORACLE, Mr Grigor Willox, as to the person who had the effrontery to steal his goods. Mr Willox, willing to afford every information on reasonable terms, instantly produces the black stocking containing the stone, a single dip of which clearly developes the whole circumstance. After a long consultation, involving some inquiries as to suspected characters, the lynx-eyed Mr Willox easily recognizes some figures reflected on the vessel containing the water by the stone, conveying an exact representation of, some old hag not very reputable for her habits, residing in the complainant’s neighbourhood; and thus all doubt is removed as to his suspicions being too well founded.

It is no subject for wonder, then, that this Great Oracle should be so highly prized and suitably encouraged. With commendable regard to the good of his beloved countrymen, Mr Willox is in the habit of occasionally making a tour of pleasure through the countiea of Inverness, Ross, and Caithness, whence, after some weeks absence, he returns home, with the double satisfaction of thinking, that, while he has, in the course of his rambles, conferred the greatest benefit on suffering humanity, he has, at the same time, a good deal improved his own pecuniary resources. Those occasional peregrinations of this gentleman are now become absolutely necessary. Funds are not only very low in these bad times, but Mr Willox is convinced more and more, every day he rises, of the truth of that proverb, "A prophet has no honour in his own country;" and he therefore finds it no less his interest, than his duty, to take a trip, as occasion suggests, to see his friends in the Duigh Tua. For the most part, however, he resides at his seat of Gaulrig in Stratbavon, (usually called Strathdown,) where, like the late Doctor Samuel Solomon, inventor and proprietor of that renovating cordial the Balm of Gilead, he may be consulted, either personally or by letter post paid, on payment of the usual compliment of a pound note. Accordingly, there are pilgrimages made to Gaulrig as well as to Gilead House. It is no rare matter for the inhabitants of both sides of the Avon to fall in with unfortunate pilgrims, whose longitude of face and decrepitude of limbs indicate the extent of their misfortunes and the length of their journey, inquiring the way for Taigh Maishter Willack.


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