Old Marriage Customs in Perthshire—Superstitions regarding the cure of
disease—Scottish customs regarding the observance of Hallow e’en—General
description of this festival—Pulling the Green Kail —Eating the
Apple—Burning Nuts—Sowing Hemp Seed—Winnowing Corn — Measuring the Bean
Stack—Eating the Herring—Dipping the Shirt Sleeve—The Three
Plates—Throwing the Clue— Illustrative Anecdote—Pricking the Egg—The
Summons of Death.
IN the parish of
Logierait, Perthshire, and its neighbourhood, a variety of superstitious
customs formerly prevailed amongst the vulgar. Lucky and unlucky days
were by many annually observed. That day of the week upon which the 14th
of May happened to follow was esteemed unlucky throughout the remainder
of the year. None got married or began any serious business upon it.
None chose to marry in January or May; or to have their banns proclaimed
in the end of one quarter of the year and to marry in the beginning of
the next. Some things were to be done before the full moon, others
after. In fevers the patient was expected to be worse on Sundays than on
the other days of the week; did he, however, prove to be better on that
day a relapse was dreaded.
Immediately before the
celebration of the marriage ceremony, every knot about the bride and
bridegroom’s dress, garters, shoe-strings, petticoat-strings, etc., were
carefully loosed. After leaving the church the whole company walked
round it keeping the church walls carefully on their right hand. The
bridegroom, however, first retired one way with some young men to tie
the knots that were loosed about him; while the bride in the same manner
withdrew to put her array in order.
When a child was baptised
privately it was formerly the custom to put the child into a clean
basket, having over it a cloth containing bread and cheese. The basket
was then moved three times successively round the iron crook which hangs
suspended from the roof, over the fire for the purpose of supporting the
pot, in which water is boiled and food prepared. It is supposed that
this custom was originally intended to counteract the malignant arts
which witches and evil spirits were supposed to practise against new
THE CURE OF DISEASE.
Recourse was often had to
charms for the cure of diseases of horses and cows as well as those of
the human race. In the case of various diseases in this parish a
pilgrimage was performed to a place called Strathfillan, forty miles
distant from Logierait. Here the patient bathed in a certain pool and
performed some other rites in a chapel close at hand. It is chiefly in
cases of madness that a pilgrimage to Strathfillan was considered
salutary. The afflicted person was first bathed in the pool, then left
bound all night in the chapel. If found loose in the morning he was
expected to recover.
There was a disease
called Claeach by the Highlanders, which, as it affected the chest and
lungs, was evidently of a consumptive nature. It was also called the
“Macdonald disease,” because there were particular tribes of the
Macdonalds who were believed to cure it with the charms of their touch
and a certain form of words. No fee was given. The Highlanders’ faith in
the touch of a Macdonald was very great.
ALL HALLOW'S EVE
One of the former four
great Fire festivals in Britain, is supposed, as previously stated, to
have taken place on the 1st of November, when all fires save those of
the Druids were extinguished, and, from whose altars only, the holy fire
must be purchased by the householders for a certain price. The festival
is still known in Ireland, as Samhein, or La Samon, i.e., the Feast of
the Sun ; while in Scotland, it has assumed the name of Hallowe’en.
“The night is Hallowe’en,
The morn is Hallowes day,
And gin ye dare your true love win
Ye hae nae time to stay.
“The night it is good
When fairy folk will ride,
And they that wad their true love win
At Miles Cross they must bide.”
All Hallow’s Eve, as
observed in the Church of Rome, corresponds with the Feralia of the
ancient Romans, when they sacrificed in honour of the dead offered up
prayers for them, and made oblations to them. In ancient times, this
festival was celebrated on the twenty-first of February, but the Romish
Church transferred it in her Calendar to the first of November. It was
originally designed to give rest and peace to the souls of the departed.
In some parts of Scotland, it is still customary for young people to
kindle fires on the tops of hills and rising grounds, and fire of this
description goes by the name of a Hallowe’en bleeze. Formerly it was
customary to surround these bonfires with a circular trench symbolical
of the sun. Sheriff Barclay tells us that about fifty years ago while
travells from Dunkeld to Aberfeldy on Hallowe’en, he counted thirty
fires blazing on the bill tops, with the phantom figures of persons
dancing round the flames.
In Perthshire the
Hallowe’en bleeze is made in the following picturesque fashion. Heath,
broom, and dressings of flax are tied upon a pole. The faggot is then
kindled ; a youth takes it upon his shoulders and carries it about. When
the faggot is burned out a second is tied to the pole and kindled in the
same manner as the former one. Several of these blazing faggots are
often carried through the villages at the same time. Should the night be
dnrk they form a fine illumination.
Hallowe’en is believed by
the superstitious in Scotland to be a night on which the invisible world
has peculiar power. His Satanic Majesty is supposed to have great
latitude allowed him on this anniversary, in common with that oft
malignant class of beings known as witches ; some of whom, it is said,
may be seen cleaving the air on broomsticks, in a manner wondrous to
behold. Others again less aerially disposed jog comfortably along over
by-road and heath, seated on the back of such sleek tabby cats as have
kindly allowed themselves to be transformed—pro tem.-—into coal-black
steeds for the accommodation of these capricious old ladies.
The green-robed fays are
also said to hold special festive meetings at their favourite haunts :—
“Tis Hallow masses e’en
And round the holy green
The fairy elves are seen
The ignorant believe that
there is no such night in all the year for obtaining an insight into
futurity. The following are the customs pertaining to this eve of mystic
ceremonies: —The youths and maidens, who engage in the ceremony of
Pulling the Green Kail go hand in hand, with shut eyes, into a
bachelor’s or spinster’s garden, and pull up the hist “kail stalks’’
which come in their way. Should the stalks thus secured prove to be of
stately growth, straight in stem, and with a goodly supply of earth at
their roots, the future husbands (or wives) u ill be young,
good-looking, and rich in proportion. Put if the stalks be stunted,
crooked, and hence little or no earth at their roots, the future spouses
will be found lacking in good looks and fortune. According as the heart
or stem proves sweet or sour to the taste so will be the temper of the
future partner. The stalks thus tasted are afterwards placed above the
doors of the respective houses, and the Christian names of those persons
who first pass underneath will correspond with those of the future
husbands or wives.
There is also the custom
of Eating the Apple at the Glass. Provide yourself with an apple,, and,
as the clock strikes twelve, go alone into a room where there is a
looking-glass. Cut the apple into small pieces ; throw one of them over
your left shoulder, and advancing to the mirror without looking back,
proceed to eat the remainder, combing your hair carefully the while
before the glass. While thus engaged, it is said, that the face of the
person you are to marry will be seen peeping over your left shoulder.
This Hallowe’en game is supposed to be a relic of that form of
divinations with mirrors which was condemned as sorcery by the former
Likewise that of Burning
Nuts. Take two nuts and place them in the fire, bestowing on one of them
your own name ; on the other that of the object of your affections.
Should they burn quietly away side by side, then the issue of your love
affair will be prosperous; but if one starts away from the other, the
result will be unfavourable.
Aud for the Sowing Hemp
Seed, steal forth alone towards midnight and sow a handful of hemp seed,
repeating the following rhyme :—
“Hemp seed, I sow thee,
hemp seed I sow thee;
And he that is my true love come behind and harrow me,”
Then look over your left
shoulder and you will see the person thus adjured in the act of
The ceremony of Winnowing
Com must also be gone through in solitude. Go to the bam and open both
doors, taking them off the hinges if possible, lest the being you expect
to appear, may close them and do you some injury. Then take the
instrument used in winnowing com, and go through all the attitudes of
letting it down against the wind. Repeat the operation three times, and
the figure of your future partner will appear passing in at one door and
out at the other. Should those engaging in this ceremony be fated to die
young it is believed that a coffin, followed by mourners, will enter and
pursue the too adventurous youth or maiden, who thus wishes to pry into
the hidden things of the future, round the barn.
Another is Measuring the
Bean Stack. Go three times round a bean stack with outstretched arms, as
if measuring it, and the third time you will clasp in your arms the
shade of your future partner.
As also' Eating the
Herring. Just before retiring to rest eat a raw or roasted salt herring;
and in your dreams your husband (or wife) that is to be, will come and
offer you a drink of water to quench your thirst.
For Dipping the Shirt
Sleeve. Go alone, or in company with others, to a stream where “three
lairds’ lands meet,” and dip in the left sleeve of a shirt; after this
is done not one word must be spoken, otherwise the spell is broken. Then
put your sleeve to dry before your bed-room fire. Go to bed, but be
careful to remain awake, and you will see the form of your future
help-mate enter and turn the sleeve in order that the other side may get
Likewise the Three
Plates. Place three plates in a row on a table. In one of these put
clean water, in another foul, and leave the third empty. Blindfold the
person wishing to try his or her fortune, and lead them up to the table.
The left hand must be put forward. Should it come in contact with the
clean water, then the future spouse will be young, handsome, and a
bachelor or maid. The foul signifies a widower or a widow ; and the
empty dish, single blessedness. This ceremony is repeated three times,
and the plates must be differently arranged after each attempt.
Also Throwing the Glue.
Steal forth alone and at night, to the nearest lime-kiln, and throw in a
clue of blue yarn, winding it off on to a fresh clue. As you come near
the end some one will grasp hold of the thread lying in the kiln. You
then ask, “Who holds?” when the name of your future partner will be
uttered from beneath.
The following truthful
anecdote will serve to illustrate the implicit belief our simple— need
we add, credulous—Scottish maidens used to place in the mystic rite. In
the parish in which the editor of this volume at one time resided, there
lived a very pretty girl called Mary Shirley. Mary had two lovers,
respectively named Robert Laurie and William Fleming. The former of
these youths was the favoured one. In his despair, for he was devotedly
attached to the fair maiden, Fleming repaired to her most intimate
friend and implored her by every means in her power to further his suit.
Feeling deeply for the poor youth, and esteeming him, as indeed ho was,
the most worthy of the lovers, this girl informed him, in the strictest
confidence, that Mary Shirley intended on the coming Hallowe’en to throw
the blue clue into the kiln nearest her father’s house. Fleming obeyed
the hint thus kindly given him. On the night in question, he hid himself
in the kiln, and seized hold of the clue which his agitated Mary threw
in. In answer to her faltering “Who holds?” he gave his own name.
Hastily dropping the thread, the terrified girl fled homewards. Ere many
days had elapsed, Fleming proposed to, and was accepted by the pretty
Mary, to the nosmall surprise and anger of his rival.
When congratulated on the
wisdom of her choice the blushing maiden replied, “it was na me wha made
the choice. I myself was a’ for Robert, but fate had it I was tae get
the ither, and wha can gang again fate?’ The marriage thus strangely
brought about proved a very happy one for both parties. Fleming,
however, wisely preserved silence as to the Hallowe’en trick which won
him his bride.
Still another custom is
Pricking the Egg. Take an egg, prick it with a pin and allow the white
to drop into a wine-glass nearly filled with water. Take some of this in
your mouth and go out for a walk. The first name you hear called aloud
will be that of your future partner. An old woman solemnly assured the
editor she had in her youthful days engaged in this Hallowe’en frolic,
and the name of Archibald (her husband’s name) “came up as it were from
the very ground.” In addition to the foregoing, all of them connected
with the Hallowe’en ceremonies, the Highlanders have the following
decidedly eerie custom, which may be termed the summons of death. An
individual goes to a public road which branches in three different
directions. At the junction of these roads he seats himself on a
three-legged stool on the eve of twelve o’clock; and as the hour strikes
he hears proclaimed aloud the names of the several persons who will die
in the parish before the next anniversary. Should the person carry along
with him articles of wearing apparel, and throw an article away on the
proclamation of each person’s name, it will rescue that individual from