Superstitious customs with regard to good or bad omens—Yule boys—The
rumbling well in Galloway—-Marrying days in Galloway—Michaelmas custom
in Argyleshire—Saint Cowie and Saint Couslan—The lucky well of Beothaig—The
bridge of one hair in Kincardineshire—The old custom of Rig and Rennel—Some
old customs of the Sinclairs.
REGARDING GOOD OR BAD OMENS.
THERE used to be numerous
superstitious observances with respect to good or bad omens, such as the
shoes being twisted off the hoofs of asses before
they hail foals. A horseshoe passed thrice beneath the stomach and over
the back of a cow supposed to have the elfshot (a disease with cows),
then elfsgirse (a kind of grass given to cows believed to be injured by
the elves) given to this cow, and a burning peat laid down on the
threshold of the byre door, she is set free from her stake and driven
out. If she walks quietly over the peat she remains uncured ; but if she
first smells, then springs over it, she is cured. If, at a funeral, one
of the handspoke-bearers turned his foot and fell beneath the bier, he
would soon be in a coffin himself. If on the way to execute an errand
but had forgot something, we should have no luck that day. Should a hare
have crossed our path that was a bad omen. If a knife was found lying
open on the ground few would dare to lift it. Even a pin, should the
point be turned towards oneself, would not be touched. A broom was
thrown after curlers when they left a house, for good luck. There was
also an omen of the
blue dead lights
which were supposed to be seen before death, these lights were seen in
the air about the height at which a corpse was carried. If seen to leave
the house where the person was to die, and go to the spot in the
churchyard where he should be buried, to stop these lights was thought
first three days of April are called “borrowing days,” and the
regarding them run so—
“March, borrows frae April,
Three days and they are ill.
The first of them is wind and weet,
The second it is snow and sleet,
The third of them is peel-a-bane
And freezes the wee birds nebs tae the stane.”
Magpies caused other curious
according to the number of them seen at one time together.
sorrow, two’s mirth,
Three’s a burial, four’s a birth.
Five’s a wedding, six brings scaith,
Seven’s money, eight’s death,”
mist about the last day of the moon’s decline always brought with It a
auld moon’s mist
Never dies o’ thirst.”
said of February—
“February fills the dyke
Either wi’ black or white.”
of Candlemas day—
Candlemas day be fair and clear
We’ll have two winters in that year.
gin the laverock (lark) sings before Candlemas she’ll mourn as long
Boys who rambled through
the country during the Christmas holidays were called Yule Boys. They
were all dressed in white save one, the Beelzebub of the party. They had
a singular rhyme which they repeated before the people, and so received
money and cake. This rhyme is now so sadly shorn of its original
proportions that its real meaning can scarcely be arrived at. It
evidently, however, is of ancient origin. In old Scottish books some
notice is taken of the quhite boys of Yule. The plot of the doggerel
seems to be that two knights dispute about a lady and fight. One of them
falls and sings out—
“A doctor! a doctor! or I
"A doctor, doctor, here am
The wounded knight sayeth,
“What can you cure?”
“All disorders to be sure,
From the cramp to the gout.
Cut off legs and arms,
Join them to again,’’ etc. etc.
THE RUMBLING WELL IN
In the parish of Bootle,
Galloway, is a well called the Rumbling well, which was formerly
frequented by crowds of sick people on the first Sunday in May. They lay
by its side all Saturday night and drank of it early in the morning.
There is also another well about a quarter of a mile distant towards the
east. This well was made use of by the people when their cattle were
attacked by a disease called Connach. This water they came from distant
parts to obtain. They carried it away :n vessels, washed their cows in
it, and then gave it them to drink. At both wells they left
thank-offerings, money at the former, and at the latter the bands and
shackles wherewith beasts are usually bound.
MARRYING DAYS IN GALLOWAY.
Marriages in Galloway in
olden times were commonly celebrated on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The Rev.
Dr. Simpson, of Sanquhar, asserted that out of 450 marriages which he
himself celebrated, all, except seven, took place on these days.
MICHAELMAS CUSTOM IN
The following singular
custom at one time existed at Canway, Argyllshire. On Michaelmas day
every man mounted his horse, unfurnished with saddle, and took behind
him either some young girl or his neighbour’s wife, and they rode
backwards anil forwards from the village to a certain cross, without any
of them being able to account for the origin of this custom. After the
procession was over, they alighted at some public-house, where, strange
to say, the females entertained the companions of their ride. After
their return to their houses an entertainment of primeval simplicity was
prepared. The chief part consisted of a great oat-cake called Struan
Michael, or St. Michael’s Cake, composed of two pecks of meal, and
formed like the quadrant of a circle. It wras daubed over with milk and
eggs, and then placed to harden before the fire.
ST. COWIE AND ST. COUSLAN.
The parish of Campbeltown
formerly consisted of four distinct parishes, two of which were
respectively dedicated to St. Cowie and St. Couslan. These two saints,
who were pious, holy men, and who wrought equally for the improvement of
their respective parishes, held, it would seem, very different ideas in
respect to marriage. Couslan, for instance, inculcated in the strongest
manner the indissolubility of the marriage tie; and if lovers did not
find it convenient to go through the marriage ceremony, their joining
hands through a hole in a small pillar near his church was held an
interim tie of mutual fidelity so strong and sacred that it was firmly
believed in the country that no man ever broke it who did not soon after
break his neck or meet with some other fatal accident.
Cowie, in his district,
took quite a different course. He proposed that all who did not find
themselves happy and contented in the married state should be indulged
with an opportunity of parting and making a second choice. For that
purpose he instituted an annual solemnity, at which all the unhappy
couples in his parish were to assemble at his church; and at midnight
all present were blindfolded and ordered to run round the church at full
speed, with a view of mixing the Jots in the urn. The moment the
ceremony was over, without allowing an instant for the people present to
recover from their confusion, the word cabbay (seize quickly) was
pronounced, upon which every man laid hold of the first female he met
with. Whether old or young, handsome or ugly, good or bad, she was his
wife till the next anniversary of this strange custom, when an
opportunity was afforded him of getting a worse or a better bargain. In
this way the Saint soon brought his parishioners to understand that they
had reason to be satisfied with a condition there was little prospect of
mending by a change. This tradition has been handed down for centuries.
THE LUCKY WELL OF BEOTHAIG.
There is a well m the
parish of Gigha, in Argyllshire, called Tabarreth Blueathaig, i.e.,. the
Lucky Well of Beothaig, a well famous for having the command of the
wind. It is situated at the foot of a hill fronting the north-east, near
an isthmus called Tarbet. Six feet above where the water gushes out
there is a heap of stones which forms a cover to the sacred fount. When
a person wished for a fair wind, either to leave the land or to bring
home his absent friends, this part was opened with great solemnity, the
stones carefully removed, and the well cleaned out with a wooden dish or
clam shell. This being done, the water was thrown several times in the
direction from which the wished-for wind was to blow. This action was
accompanied by a certain form of words which the person repeated every
time he threw the water. When the ceremony was finished, the well was
again carefully covered up to prevent fatal consequences, it being
iirinlv believed that were the place left open a storm would inevitably
destroy the entire locality.
THE BRIDGE OF ONE HAIR.
In the month of May
numbers of the working classes came from the adjacent districts t) drink
out of a well in the Bay of Nigg, Kincardineshire, called Douny well,
and proceeding a little further, they went across a narrow pass called
the Brig o’ ae Hair—the bridge of one hair—to Douny Hill, a green island
in the sea, where young people carved their favourite names in tbe
sward. This custom seemed to be the remains of some superstitious
respect to the fountain and re---treat of a favourite saint. The bay,
probably from the corruption of his name, was formerly called St.
Fittick’s Bay. On the sudden deaths of their relations, or when in fear
of such catastrophe from the sea becoming' stormy, the fisher people,
especially the females, expressed their sorrow by exclamations-of voice
and gestures of body like the eastern nations.
THE, CUSTOM OF RIG AND
The somewhat peculiar
custom of Rig and Rennel, or run rig, i.e., that each tenant on a
particular farm or district had a ridge alternately with his neighbour,
formerly prevailed over the north, and lingered in Caithness till 1740.
This arrangement naturally caused confusion and disputes. It is believed
to have been instituted in barbarous times as a preservative against one
neighbour setting fire to the field of another if on bad terms with him,
and to make them all equally anxious to resist the foe in case of
SOME SINGULAR OLD CUSTOMS.
All gentlemen of the name
of Sinclair belonging to Conisbury, used carefully to avoid putting on
green attire or crossing the Ord upon a Monday. They were dressed in
green and they crossed the Ord upon a Monday when they marched to
Flodden, where they fought and fell. On this account both the day and
the dress were deemed "unlucky". If the Ord had to be got over on a
Monday the journey was performed by sea.