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The Heather in Lore, Lyric and Lay
Heather Lore


FRIEND says: "Even the Heather itself, although from its covering their moors and mosses it has a certain obscure connection with elves and pixies, is without any definite story in tradition."

Nevertheless, the Muses have been kinder and wiser than their promise; and the cherished little flower of the Scottish Highlands has not lost its own dowry of this poetic renown, which national sentiment almost universally accords the popular flowers and plants of a country, for we find scattered throughout romantic literature quaint superstitious fancies, and even a number of brief, crudely wrought traditions and legends, inscribed to the Heather.

In Germany the Heath is believed to owe its origin to the blood of the slain heathen; for in that country the inhabitants of the uncultivated fields where the Heath (heide) grew came in time to be known as heathen (heiden).

In Scotland on Halloween the witches are supposed to ride over the Heather mounted on black tabby cats.

And also in the folk-lore of this country, "the Cailleach was a beanshith, or fairy, that often appeared to the hunters in the gloaming of summer evenings, gathering and milking the hinds on a hillside, while she sang some wild air, and her long gray locks waved over her shoulders. If any hunter saw the Cailleach he knew well it was useless for him to roam the heath that day."

Cailleach Bein-Y-Vreich

Weird wife of Bein-y-Vreich! horo! horo!
Aloft in the mist she dwells;
Vreich horo! Vreich horo! Vreich horo!
All alone by the lofty wells.

Weird, weird wife! with the long gray locks,
She follows her fleet-foot stags,
Noisily moving through splintered rocks,
And crashing the grisly crags.

"When hunter men round my dun deer prowl,
I will not let them nigh;
Through the rended cloud I cast one scowl,
They faint on the heath and die.

Then I mount the blast, and we ride full fast,
And we laugh as we stride the storm,
I, the witch of the Cruachan Ben,
And the scowling-eyed Seul-Gorm!"
—J. C. S. Shairp.

On receiving a present of a box of grouse, if the birds have been packed with a few sprays of Heather, it is stated that the receiver should wear in his hat one of the sprays, or he will never again receive a similar gift.

There was a superstition prevalent that if a sheep drag past a Heather bush and leave on it a portion of its wool, that bush must die with the year and day.

It was a common custom to present a nosegay of Heather to a bride and bridegroom as indicative of a wish for future happiness. The Queen tells of having greeted the Duchess of Connaught (Princess Louise Margaret of Prussia) on her arrival at Balmoral with the Duke in 1879, on their wedding trip, with "a nosegay of Heather. She had also received others."

In some localities the throwing of a bunch of Heather after a person is also understood to signify an expresston of good luck. "At Inversnaid," writes the Queen, "the people (quite a small crowd) threw bunches of Heather as we passed. Heather is everywhere the decoration, and there is indeed no lovelier, prettier ornament. It was in such full bloom."

Branches of the mountain ash, decorated with Heather and flowers which had been carried thrice around the fires kindled at Beltane, were reared above dwellings to remain until displaced by those of the succeeding season, or a portion of it cut and peeled and bound around with a thread, was put on the lintel of the byre, to avert the influence of the evil eye.

Beltane—means Baal's fire—an ancient British practice of lighting fires on the hill tops in honor of Baal, the sun god; hence the name Baaltein; in some districts celebrated on the third day of May.

In his Journey Through the Western Counties of Scotland, Heron tells the following story: "In the River of Fillan is a pool consecrated by the ancient superstition of the inhabitants. The pool is formed by the eddying of the stream around a rock. Its water was many hundred years since consecrated by Fillan, one of the saints who converted the ancient inhabitants of Caledonia from Paganism to the belief of Christianity. It should seem that he had perhaps resided in the vicinity for some time.

"Whether he consecrated this pool in compliance with some superstitious notions of its virtues which he found already prevalent among the neighboring inhabitants, I know not. But it has ever since been distinguished by his name, and esteemed of sovereign virtue in curing madness. About two hundred persons afflicted in this way are annually brought to try the benefits of its salutary influence. These patients are conducted by their friends, who first perform the ceremony of passing with them thrice round a neighboring cairn; on this cairn they then deposit a simple offering of clothes, or, perhaps, of a small bunch of Heather. More precious offerings used once to be brought, but these never being left long in the unmolested possession of the saint, it has become customary to make him presents which afford no temptation to theft. After these, such as they are, have been deposited, the patient is then thrice immersed in the sacred pool. After the immersion he is bound hand and foot and left for the night in the chapel which stands near. If the maniac is found loose in the morning good hopes are conceived for his full recovery. If he is still bound the cure remains doubtful. It sometimes happens that death relieves him during his confinement from the troubles of life."

Heather is made the emblem of solitude in the language of flowers; and thus when the fond swain presents his mistress with a bouquet of heath and pansies, she understands his heart would be at ease if his solitude were blessed by her society. Other flowers carry the expresssion "Think of me in solitude," while a hundred other woeful speeches are thus silently told.


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