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History of the Island of Mull
Chapter IX - Superstitions


Superstition covers an extensive field. It is a field that carries back in intellectual man to his known earliest existence. Its various forms represent ragged steps in his efforts to account for the origin of causes. Man saw and then wanted to know the reason thereof. His vision was limited and the field for observation was restricted. He staggered in his process of thought. His conclusions did not bear analysis. It was a struggle of primitive thought; a beginning of wisdom. To-day this labor arrests the attention of the savant, who seizes all the forces, and then points out a track in the development of human attainments. To him the perspective is not a superstition but a progressive step for the better. The full meaning flashes upon him, and that toleration for the better discloses what has long been a hidden theme. But superstition does not belong wholly to the past, for the strain for the mysterious, or unknown, or uncertain leads to the conclusions that ultimately vanish under competent scrutiny.

In their superstitions the people of Mull partook of the same mental food as guided all Highlanders of Scotland. Essentially there was no variation. The harper, the piper, the seanachaidh, or recorder of history, would transmit knowledge from one tribe to another, which also would receive an impulse by marriages, by broken men, and other elements always active.

Witches:  From time immemorial Mull was famed as the nursery and home of a race of witches, some of whom were singled out as possessing wonderful powers. The times were favorable for the belief in witchcraft, for such views were entertained from the king down to the humblest peasant, and it also entered Into the laws of the nation,—as in fact into the laws of all nations. The witches of the Highlands had their unhallowed powers, but being little of the repulsive or horrible. No mention is made of their midnight meetings and dances with the devil, nor riding through the air on a broomstick. Those usually regarded as witches were old women, destitute of friends and means of support, and some of them did cater to the idea in order to eke out a living, and even worked upon the fears of those more prosperous. They were supposed to inflict their punishment by means of types, the usual method being the preparation of a clay or wax image of the person or object to be acted upon; and when the witches prick or punch these images, said persons experience extreme torment.

Rising out of the myths of Mull are two witches, who in power and in personage tower above all others of that isle. One of these is called Cailleach Bheur, whose home was in the Ross of Mull> near a point on the southwest, close to the sear shore, where a huge natural quadrangle formed of immense granite rocks, in a wild rocky place, exposed to the full force of the western gale, with the ceaseless roar of the ocean. She closed her career of thousands of years in Grulin, on the banks of Loch Ba. At intervals of a hundred years she would immerse herself in the waters of that loch, in order to obtain newness of life. But if she should fail to bathe in this, to her, elixir of life, in the morning before the birds or beasts greeted the early day, then the charm would lose its potency. One morning, just as the cycle was about to close she descended the slopes beyond the loch, and just as she had gained the bank, and was in the act of "taking the plunge, which would have changed her haggard form into a handsome maid, the distant bark of a shephefd dog welcomed the first gray streaks along the eastern sky, and re-echoed among the mountains and hills. The charm was broken. The witch stood, listened, reeled, staggered, and dropped dead. Back in the ages a Mull bard put into Cailleach Bheur’s mouth at the last moment a lament, in which was this expression which was her favorite:

“Crulochan, deep, dark, and gloomy,
The deepest lake in all the Universe;
The Sound of Mull would only reach my knees,
But Crulochan would reach my thighs.”

The other of the two most famous of the witches, and reputed to be the most powerful was called Doideag Mhuileach, and made her home on lofty Ben More. She is quite prominent during the latter part of the sixteenth century. The most celebrated story concerning her relates to a Spanish princess. It is mixed up with the destruction of the Florida, belonging to the Spanish Armada! Similiar to nearly all other tales it has many variants. One rendering states that Bheola, daughter of the king of Spain, dreamed of a remarkably handsome man, and made a vow she would find him. She fitted out a ship, and in the course of her inquiries, sailed into Tobermory harbor. Here she saw Sir Lachlan Mor MacLean, who proved to be the man she had seen in her dream. Although knowing he was married, yet she fell violently in love with him. His wife, in a jealous rage caused the vessel to be blown up, the agent making his escape and reaching Pennygown, a distance of ten miles, before the actual explosion. The cook was blown to Srongarbe, near Tobermory, where there is a cleft, still called Cook’s Cave. The princess fell in the Sound, from whence she was taken and interred in Lochaline burying-ground, Morvern. Upon the news of this disaster reaching Spain, another vessel was dispatched to seek vengeance by taking the right breast of every Mull woman. When this ship arrived the Lady of Duard sent for Doideag, and by her means, with assistance procured from neighboring witches, the ship was sunk before the following morning. Doideag shut herself up in a house alone at Ruth'a Ghuirmein, near Duard Castle, and there made her incantations. A rope was put through a hole in a rafter, and all night long the hand-mill was hoisted up to the beam, lowered and hoisted again. To this a native of Tyree added:

“Having come that evening to Doideag’s house, was compelled by her to hoist and lower and hoist and lower the millstone all night without rest or refreshment, while the witch went her way to Tyree and elsewhere for help. On her return she said that when in Tyree she had been detained a little in extinguishing a fire, which had been caused by a spark falling among the fodder in the stirk-house belonging to the man who was her unwilling assistant. As the quern was raised a gale sprang up, and increased in fury as the-operation went on. At the same time gulls (others say hooded-crows, others black cats) appeared on the yard-arms of the devoted ship. The captain knew the Black Art himself and went below. As the word was brought him that another gull had appeared in the rigging, he said, ‘I will suffice for this one yet.’ He could keep the ship against some say eight, others nine, witches, but ‘ere a’ the play was play’d’ there were sixteen, some say, eighteen, on the yards. All the Mull witches were there, and the most powerful of the sisterhood from the surrounding districts. Nic-ill’-Domhnuich from Tyree is commonly mentioned. All accounts agree that when Big Blue-eye from Mey, the powerful Lochaber witch, came, the ship sank. Shortly before the captain told a sailor to look up and see how many gulls were on the yards. On being told eighteen, he said, ‘We are lost.’ In the morning Doideag was told her house had been unroofed in the gale, but she was comforted by being told the dreaded ship had gone down.”

It was Doideag who destroyed the ill-fated Spanish Armada. When she discovered that this fleet was about to swoop down upon England, she determined to thwart its purpose and to accomplish its destruction. When it was announced that the fleet had entered the British waters, she raised a great storm at sea, and then taking with her the clay image of a ship, she went to the sea-shore, and placing her model on the water, she kept whirling it about, and as often as it sank, down went one of Philip’s invincible men of war. Doideag was ever faithful to the MacLeans. Among her last acts was the protection of the clan in 1675. In that year the earl of Argyle set out with two thousand men to invade Mull. The army embarked and set sail for Mull; but Doideag raised a dreadful storm which raged for two days, driving back the fleet and disabled some of the vessels. She had promised the Chief of Mac Lean that as long as she lived the earl should not enter Mull.

Sir Lachlan Mor MacLean, just before the battle of Gruin-nart consulted Doideag, who advised him not to land in Islay on a Thursday; not to drink water from a certain spring, and lastly that one MacLean should be killed at Gruinnart. The MacLeans, before starting on an expedition were in the habit of walking sunwise, three times around a small- island in Loch Spelve. Sir Lachlan, to give ridicule to this practice, walked three times around the island in the opposite direction. The more superstitious were disheartened by this act.

Tales of Witchcraft: A farmer of Mull with his daughter was walking along an eminence overlooking the Sound, at a time when a number of ships were passing. The girl asked, “What will you give me, father, if I sink all these ships?” Thinking she was not in earnest, he asked her how she would do it. She turned her back towards the ships, stooped down and looked backward between her legs at one of the vessels, which at once whirled round and sank. After this manner she sank all the ships but one. The father asked why this one did not sink; answering which she said there was rowan-tree wood on board, and that she could not touch.- On being interrogated she said she had been taught the art by her mother. The father being a good man, and heretofore ignorant of his wife dabbling in witchcraft, gathered his neighbors and burned his wife and daughter.

A Tyree boatman bringing a load of peat from the Ross of Mull, when near the Treshinish Isles was met by two rats sailing along on dry cowsherds. He threw a piece of peat at the rats, and upset their frail bark. Immediately a storm sprang up, and with great difficulty got to land. The rats were witches.

The mother of Allan na Sop (Allan MacLean) was a servant maid and became with child by a married man. When the report came to the man’s wife, she got a bone from a witch, which, she was advised would delay the birth so long as it was kept. Owing to this the birth of Allan was delayed fifteen months beyond the proper time. The husband, divining the cause, sought to circumvent his wife. He caused a servant to return home on a given day and act as though “he was drunk, and to stagger about and demolish the furniture. Being called to task, he said he had been down to the house where the maid lived, and that a child had just been born, and a dram had been given him that went to his head. The wife, believing that the witch had deceived her, threw the bone into the fire, where it disappeared in blue smoke, and knocked down the chimney. At that moment Allan was born, ' with large teeth.

Maclan Ghiarr, an Ardnamurchan thief, stole so many cattle from MacLean of Duard, that the chief became an enemy. On one of his roving expeditions he passed at midnight the chapel of Pennygown, in Mull, and seeing a light in the church, he entered, and witnessed three witches sticking pins in a clay body, intended to represent the Chief of Mac Lean. As each pin was stuck in, MacLean would be seized with a pain in that part of the body which corresponded to the injured place. Only one pin remained and that was intended for the heart, and would cause death. Maclan scattered the witches, took with him the clay body, and made his way to MacLean, whom he found at death’s door. In the presence of MacLean, one by one he took out the pins, and when the last one was withdrawn MacLean jumped up a hale man, and ever after remained a warm friend of Maclan Ghiarr.

While witches for the most part were evil spirits in old women, yet they could assume the form of a sheep, hare, cat, rat, gull, cormorant, or a whale. Witches could be detected by going early in the morning on the first Monday of the four quarters of the year, and observing the direction of the smoke passing from the houses. If the direction is against the wind, then that is the home of a witch.

Fairies: The mythical creation known as fairy occupies a prominent position in Scottish Highland superstition. It is known under the name of sitli. In popular belief the fairies were a race of beings, the counter parts of mankind in person, occupation, and pleasure, though ordinarily invisible, noiseless, and having their dwellings underground, in hills, and green mounds. Their nature was such that man must be on his guard against them. Generally the fairies had some personal defect. Those in Mull had but one nostril, the other being imperforate. Everywhere the red deer arc associated with them, and in Mull were said to be their only cattle. They lived in colonies or communities, and in Mull these were located near the extreme headland of Bourg, a green mound near Pennygown, in the parish of Salen, and one on a hillock near Duard Castle. All these colonies were active in their dealings with their human neighbors, and many tales are still current concerning them. A fairy tale of Bourg states itlhat an industrious housewife had collected a quantity of wool to be manufactured into cloth for the family. According to custom she invited her neighbors to bring their spinning-wheels and help spin the wool for the weaver, and she jocularly remarked that she “wished the people of the hill, would come and.take part in the labor.” Immediately every corner was filled with these little beings who began to sing in Gaelic:

“Combing, mixing,
Carding, spinning,
A weaving loom quickly
And the waulking water on the fire.”

The words uttered represented the different .stages of the manufacturing process from “combing” to “waulking” of the cloth. Simultaneously with the pronouncing of the word that process was completed. Then the fairies crowded around the table expecting the customary meal. For this the woman was wholly unprepared. She desired them to go, but they refused. She went to the door and called an old man and made known her trouble. The old man said, “Stand outside the door and cry as loud as you can ‘Dun Bhuruig ri thein,idh„ Dun Bhuruig ri theinidh,’ which is Burg is on fire! burg is on fire! No sooner had the woman cried out the warning than the fairies rushed out, all crying and yelling in great distress, “M’ruird is m’inneinean, mo chlann bheag’s mo mhuirichean, obh! obh! obh! obh! Dun Bhuruig ri theinidh,” which meansi, “My hammers and my anvils; my little children and my offspring; Burg in on fire. Alas! alas!” They disappeared at the entrance of their home, and the woman saw them no more. Another Burg story, called “The men of the laird of Tapoll,” is thus told: The laird had dismissed two men for uselessly spending their time. Some months later, while walking in a field where the newly cut crop had been shocked, he saw a stranger approaching. When near, the stranger asked for a bundle of the harvest, which was granted. A rope was spread upon the ground, and both began to pile bundle after bundle on it, without increasing its size. When the laird saw that the whole field was being swept away by the magic of the stranger, he repeated the following prayer:

“On Tuesday I sowed,
On Tuesday I reaped,
And on Tuesday I stuck
My plow in the soil,
And Thou, who hast given us those three days,
Let not my corn in one bundle away.”

The bundle and stranger vanished, and not a sheaf was wanting in the field. The two men dismissed were fairiets; one of whom returned to take vengeance and carry off the entire harvest.

The fairies at Pennygown were disposed to be benevolent, and the inhabitants need only leave on the hillock at night the material for any work they wanted done, and telling what was wanted. One night a wag left the wood of a fishing-net buoy, a short thick piece of wood, with a request to have it made into a ship’s mast. All night long the fairies were heard singing, “Short life and ill-luck attend the man who asked us to make a long ship’s big mast from the wood of a fishing-net buoy.” In the morning the work was not done, and these fairies ceased their benevolent labors ever after.

There is a story that twelve men of Clan Fingan set out to explore Mackinnon’s Cave, headed by a piper. Another party walked on the surface, keeping pace with the music. When the party in the cave reached the extreme limit, the fact was to be signalled by a bar of music, and the party above was to mark the spot. After travelling some distance the explorers encountered a fairy woman, who made an attack and, slew the party one by one, save the piper, whose music so charmed her that she offered to spare him so long as he did not cease to play on the pipes. The piper retraced his steps to the entrance of the cave, closely followed by the fairy. She agreed that when he saw the light, he could go in peace. He staggered along in the dark, almost overcome by exhaustion, but bravely pouring out his breath, in hopes of reaching his haven. The notes became harsh and discordant, the drones began to groan and the chantes to screech. In spite of the struggle, the contest was too great. The music ceased, and then the fairy attacked and slew him. The harsh notes of the pipe warned the party over the cave that some calamity had befallen the explorers, and unsheathing their swords they rushed to the rescue. Just as they gained the entrance the piper finished his last bar. They found the mangled body of the piper beyond which were the bodies of his companions.

Donald, who carried the mail from Tobermory to Grass Point Terry, was much given to drink,,and would loiter by the way. One day he laid down to have a sleep near a fairy-haunted rock above Drimfin. The rock opened and a flood of light poured out of the cavity. A little man came out and said to Donald in English, “Come in to the ball, Donald,” but Donald was soon far away and did not slack his speed until he reached Tobermory. He said he heard the whiz and rustling of the fairies after him the whole distance. It was known to Donald that fairies who spoke English were the most dangerous.

A weaver at the Bridge of Awe was left a widower with three or four children, and labored with great industry to maintain his helpless family. One clear moonlight night, while repairing the roof of his hut, he heard the rushing sound of a high wind, and there came a multitude of fairies, settling on the house top and on the ground. He was ordered to go with them to Glencanne, in Mull, where they were going after a woman. He refused unless he received what was foraged. On arriving at Glencannel an arrow was given to him to throw. Pretending to aim at the woman he threw it through the window and killed a pet lamb. He was told that this would not suffice, and he must throw again. He did so and the woman was taken, and a log of alderwood was left In her place. The weaver claimed his agreement, and the fairies left the woman with him at the Bridge of Awe, but averring they would never again make the same bargain with any man. She lived happily with him, and by him had three children.

One day a beggar came and staid that night. The whole evening the beggar stared at the wife and in a manner.that made the host take notice, and at last asked what was meant. In reply the beggar said he had at one time been a farmer in Glencannel, Mull, and was then in comfortable circumstances, but his wife having died, he had fallen into poverty, and became a beggar, and that the weaver’s wife could be none other than his own. Explanations followed, and the beggar got his choice of either the woman or the children. He took the former, and again became prosperous.

One of the Chiefs of MacLean was hurried with his harvest; and in danger of losing his crop through lack of shearers; so he sent word for assistance throughout all Mull. A little old man offered himself, and for wages, asked only the full of a straw-rope. As the work was urgent, and the pay trifling the services were accepted. He was placed along with another old man and an old woman on a ridge to themselves, with instructions not to fatigue themselves. The little man set the other two by themselves to make sheaf-bands, and soon finished the ridge. His work was so well done that MacLean offered larger wages if he would continue to the end of the harvest, but refused to take more than required by the bargain. Then he began by putting the crop in the rope; and then all that was in the field; then all that was in the stackyard, and finally all that was in the barn; and then tightened the rope, and lifted the burden to his back. He set off* with his burden, when MacLean cried out in dispair, “Tuesday I ploughed, Tuesday I sowed, Tuesday I reaped; Thou who didst ordain the three Tuesdays, suffer not all that is in the rope to leave me.” “The hand of your father and grandfather be upon you!” cried the little man, “it is well that you spoke.”

A man in the Ross of Mull, about to sow his land, filled a sheet with seed oats, and commenced. He went on sowing but the sheet remained full. A neighbor took notice, and said, “The face of your evil and iniquity be upon you, is the sheet never to be empty?” When this was said a little brown bird leapt out of the sheet, and the supply of seed ceased. The bird was called “Tore Sona”, or happy hog, and when the man’s descendants meet with good luck they are reminded that Tore Sona still follows the family.

Probably the most widely known fairy story of Mul,l relates to the battle of Tra-Gruinart. Just before the action a dark fairy called “Dubh-sith,” went to the camp of the MacLeans, and asked Sir Lachlan Mor MacLean, for arms land clothes for battle. The Chief of MacLean, viewing him contemptuously, said, “Even had you arms and clothes, I would not receive you among my men.” “Aye! Aye!” responded the fairy, and then turned to MacDonald’s camp, and there made the same request, MacDonald responding, “I will give you arms and clothes and a man’s place, and wish I had five hundred like you.” The fairy said, “I think that if you will do for the rest, I can manage to do for the Big Lachlan.” The fairy had possession of the only gun in camp, the armies being armed with bows, arrows and swords. He hid himself in the thick bushes of a rowan-tree. The tide of battle urged Sir Lachlan near the rowan-tree, and stooping exposed a joint in his armor, noticed by the fairy, who discharged his gun and the great warrior fell.

A wright, living in Mull, having finished his day’s work, in the evening started home, but became enveloped in a fog. He heard some one coming towards him whistling. He entered into conversation with the stranger and was informed that a legacy would be left him, which would continue for three generations in his direct line. This so continued.

A young man, named Callum, when crossing the rugged hills of Ardmeanoch, Mull, plucked some St. John’s wort (Acliisaii Clialluiichille), believed to possess magic powers, if found when neither sought nor wanted. He had small swelling below the toes, and on coming to a stream sat down and bathed them in water. Looking up he saw an ugly looking woman, having no nose, on the bank opposite, with her feet resting against his own. She asked for the plant, but was refused. She then asked him to make snuff of it and hand her some. Answering her, he said, “What could you want with snuff, when you have no nostril to put it in?” He left her and started home, but as he failed to arrive, his friends and neighbors next day went through the hills searching for him. He was found by his father on the side of a small hillock, and when awakened, thought he had slept only a few minutes. He had slept twenty-four hours, and when found his dog was sleeping between his shoulders, and destitute of all hair. It was believed that the dog lost his hair in protecting his master from the fairy.

Another story which may be a variant of the above says a herd-boy was sitting in the evening by a small stream bathing his feet. A beautiful woman appeared on the other side and asked him to pull a plant she pointed out, and make snuff of it for her. He refused stating she had no use of it as she had no nostrils. She then asked him to cross the stream, but was refused. When he returned home his step-mother gave him his food and milk as usual, all of which he gave to the dog, and it died from the effects.

A man in Mull, one night watching in the harvest field, saw a woman standing in the middle of a stream near by. He started after her, and at times appeared to gain on her, and then was as far as before. Losing his patience he swore himself to the devil that he would follow till he caught her. Upon this she allowed herself to be overtaken, and then gave him a sound threshing. Every night thereafter he was forced to meet her. Through fear he began to decline, and then consulted an old woman of the neighborhood, who advised him to go to the place of appointment with his brother John and take a plowshare, which would keep the woman away. The fairy woman, in a mumbling voice said to him, “You have tonight taken the plowshare with you, Donald, and big, pock-marked, dirty John your brother,” and then seizing him gave him a severer thrashing than before. Again he went to the old woman, who made for him a thread which he should wear about his neck. He put it on, and instead of going to the place of meeting, he remained by the fireside. The fairy came, dragged him out of the house and gave him a still severer thrashing. The old woman then made him a chain which she said would protect him against all the powers of darkness. This he put about his neck and remained by the fireside. He heard a voice calling down the chimney, “I cannot come near you tonight, Donald, when the pretty smooth white is about your neck.”

Macphie of Colonsay was cast ashore at Ormsaig, Brolas in Mull, clinging to a log of wood. There he stayed for some time hunting on the hill with a gun. He was met by a fairy woman who gave him a young dog, which she said would be of service to him, but for one day only. On his return home his seventeen foster brothers met him and invited him to go with them to shoot cormorants at the Paps of Jura. The dog, then grown very large, eagerly accompanied the hunters. Reaching Jura, a servant was left in charge of the boats, and the company betook to a cave to pass the night. The hunters reclining about the cave expressed their desire to have their sweethearts present. Macphie dissented saying he had no such wish, for it was better for his mistress to be home. A little later seventeen women in green dresses entered the cave, and went over to the beds of heather where Macphie’s foster brothers were, and then Macphie heard the crackling sound of breaking bones. The women then approached Macphie as though they would attack him. Afraid of their number, he called his black dog, “If you assist me not now I am a lost man.” The dog sprang at the women, drove them out of the cave, and started in persuit. Macphie fled to the boat, and he and the servant left in charge, quitted the shore with all possible speed. When well out to sea they saw a fiery ball approaching them. Macphie said it was his black dog, with its heart on fire. He made ready, and when the dog overtook them, cut off its head.

On the lands of Scalasdale, Mull, a deer was killed, which afterwards turned out to be a woman.

Big Hugh, of Ardchyle, in the east end of Mull, a noted hunter, killed a deer at Torness, about seven miles away in Glen More, and carried it home at night. He had for a comrade a man named Sinclair, who asked him if the deer was heavy, and Big Hugh replied he felt as if he had a house on his back. Sinclair then stuck his knife in the deer, and then asked again if the burden was heavy. Big Hugh said it was so light that it appeared not at all to be a burden. The weight had been produced by the fairies.

A man in Mull was sent on a journey after nightfall, and about midnight, when crossing the hills from Loch Tuad and Loch Cuan, saw a light in the face of a hillock. He was accompanied by his dog, and soon heard the noise of dogs fighting, mixed with sounds of sweetest music. He fled from the place, and on arriving at the house of destination was offered supper, but was unable to take any. Before bed-time his dog arrived minus every hair. It smelt its master’s clothes all over, then laid down at his feet and soon expired.

Hector, son of Ferchar, a weaver by trade, in the Ross of Mull, was a kind-hearted, easy-going man, who would bestow all his goods to the aflicted. So improvident in this respect was he that his wife did not care to trust him with anything, for it was certain to go to the first poor person he met. Having occasion to go to the summer pastures in the hills, and to leave Hector alone in the house, she measured out to him enough meal to last for fifteen days, the time she expected to be away, and placed it in a skin bag. Returning she met a beggar, who said he got a handful of meal from her husband, and on questioning Hector, he informed her that he had given away sixteen handfuls, and yet the bag was still quite full.

In Mull, a person encountered a fairy who informed him that she was kept from doing him harm by the iron he had about him. The only iron he had was a ring round the point of his walking stick.

Tagliairini: This superstition was an awful ceremony and was generally known among old men as “giving his supper to the devil.” It was sometimes celebrated when an important question concerning futurity arose. It was then that a shrewd person was selected who was wrapped in the warm hide of a newly slain ox or cow, and then laid at full length in the wildest recess of some lonely waterfall. Here he lay for some hours, and whatever impression was made on his mind, was supposed to be the answer.. But the term also conveyed a different meaning and procedure, which consisted in roasting cats alive on spits till the arch-fiend himself appeared in bodily shape, and was then compelled to grant whatever wish the persons who had the courage to perform the ceremony preferred, or to explain whatever question was asked. Tradition has preserved three instances of this performance. Once it was performed by Allan, the cattle-lifter, in Lochaber; another time by the “children of Quithen,” a small sept in Skye, and the third and last'time was in the big barn at Pennygown, in Mull, towards the close of the six4-teenth century, the characters said to have been Allan MacLean, son of Hector, of the family of Loch Buy, joined by Lachlan MacLean, son of Donald, son of Neill, the first Mac^ Lean of Ross. Lachlan was an exceedingly daring and warlike man and governor of Duard Castle, under his chief Sir Lachlan Mor, and fought in all the battles of that chief. Allan and Lachlan were faithful companions. At the time of the celebration of the rite, both were young, unmarried, resolute, determined. The rite then consisted in roasting cats alive one after the other, as a sacrifice to the devil, during four days, without intermission or tasting of food, at the end of which time they were entitled to any two boons they might crave. The ceremony commenced between Friday and Saturday, and had not long continued, when infernal spirits, in the form of black cats, began to enter the barn in which the rite was being celebrated. When the first cat entered, it darted a furious look at the operator and exclaimed, “Lachlan Od-har, thou son of Neill, that is bad usage of a cat.” Allan, who was master of ceremonies, cautioned Lachlan that he must not fail to turn the spit, despite whatsoever he might see or hear. The cats continued to enter, and the yells of the cat on the spit, joined by the rest, were fearful. At last there appeared a cat of enormous size, and informed Lachlan if he did not desist before his great eared brother arrived, he never would see the face of God. Lachlan replied he would not flinch until his task was finished, even if all the devils of hell should make their appearance. By the end of the fourth day, there was a black cat at the extremity of every rafter on the roof of the barn, and their yells were distinctly heard beyond the Sound of Mull, in Morvern. At last the rites were finished, and the votaries should now demand on the spot their reward. Allan was agitated by the fearful sights he had witnessed but was able to make use of two swords which meant wealth. Lachlan, although the younger, had greater firmness and never lost his wits, asked progeny and wealth, and each literally obtained what he had asked. When Allan was on his death-bed, his pious friends advised him to beware of the wiles of Satan. The dying man replied that if Lachlan Odhar (who was then dead) and himself were to have the use of their arms, they would dethrone Satan, and take up the best berths in his dominion. When Allan’s funeral procession approached the churchyard, the second-sighted persons present saw Lachlan Odhar at some distance in full armor, at the head of a party in sable attire, and the smell of sulphur was perceived by the people. The stone on which Cluase Mor—the cat with huge ears—the fiercest of all the cats, sat, is still exhibited, with the mark visible in small pits upon the surface.

The Claistig: There was a tutelary being in the shape of a thin grey little woman, with long yellow hair reaching ,to her heels, dressed in green, haunting certain forms or sites, and watching over the house or over the cattle. The glaistig that followed the house of Lamont at Ardnadrochit, in Craig-nure parish, Mull, was commonly seen in the shape of a dog, carrying a pup at the back of her head. A band crossed from Lorn to seize Lamont’s cattle. The glaistig, in whose charge the cattle were, drove them up the hill to a place called Meall na Lire. The freebooters were likely to overtake them, on seeing which the glaistig struck the cows and converted them into grey stones, which are still pointed out. On coming up the marauders stood on the stones, and one of them tapping a stone with his broadsword said he felt sure that this was the head of the white cow. The stone at once split in two, which broke the glaistig’s heart. She was taken by Lamont and buried in a small plot’ of ground near the Sound of Mull, where in those days were interred the bodies of unbaptised children.

A man who lived in the Ross .of Mull, whose duties consisted in herding cattle, noticed that whenever he removed the drove at night he heard a voice shouting after him, “Son of big- black John, there is a cow behind you.” He would shout in reply, “If there is one behind there are a hundred before.” Neill, who lived in Sadrbheinn, Ross of Mull, went to fish on the rocks. On his returning in the dusk of evening, the voice of a glaistig followed him begging for a .fish, saying, “Give me a cuddy fish, Neill.” This occurred every evening, and if he gave a fish the glaistig became more and more importunate, and one by one, to get rid of her solicitations, the fish were given, the last at the door. Sometimes Neill would be stripped of all his fish.

Hector, son of Ferchar, lived at Hoodie-crow Hillock, Ross of Mull. The door of his house was made of bunches of heather, tied together, and made tight by straw wedged between. One cold night he heard a scratching at the door. He arose, went out, and found an old white mare nibbling at the straw. After driving it away, he -returned, and was soon disturbed by the same noise. Again he sallied forth and with a stick chased the white mare, and when he had almost overtaken her, the mare became a woman and laughing at Hector, said, “I have played a trick upon you, Hector, son of Ferchar.”

On the coast of Mull, half way up the Sound, between that island and the mainland, is a valley called Coire-na-she-anchrack, in which lived a glaistig. Every evening the glaistig would secure for herself, from a poor fisherman of the neighborhood, a fish, when he came ashore from fishing. One evening he returned with nothing but lithe, and when the glaistig came and looked at them, she said, “They are all lithe to-night, Murdock.” Whatever the offence may have been, she never returned.

At Erray, an outlying part of the farm near Tobermory, there was a glaistig that paid attention to a barn. The herdsman slept in the byre, and often heard tramping in the adjoining barn. In the morning everything was found in confusion in the barn. All this was the work of the glaistig.

The Water-Horse: The water-horse—Each Uisge—inhabited the fresh water lochs, and could be seen passing from one lake to another, mixing with horses, and waylaying belated travellers. It was highly dangerous to touch or mount it.

The most widely celebrated tale of this class relates to a tenant of Aros, in Mull, five versions of which have been preserved. The heir of Aros was a young man of great personal activity, but dissolute, and believed there was no horse that he could not ride. He was taken by a water-horse into Loch Frisa and devoured. This occurred after his espousal of marriage.. His intended bride composed a lament, which was long a popular song in Mull. It appears to be a fact that the young man was dragged into Loch Frisa by a mare he was trying to subdue and was drowned. By the lament his body appears to have been recovered. One account states that a remarkably handsome grey mare came among the horses belonging to the tenant of Aros, then pasturing on the rushes at the end of Loch Frisa. One day his son haltered and mounted it. The mare stood very quietly until the young man had mounted it, and then rushed into the loch. Another version says the young man found a mare in the hills which he took to be his father’s. He caught and mounted it intending to ride it home, but the mare rushed with him into Loch Frisa where he was devoured by water-horses. A third tradition says the water-horse was kept all winter, with a cow shackle about its neck, and remaining quiet and tractable, the shackle was neglected. One day the son rode it to the peat-moss followed by three horses behind in usual form, when it suddenly rushed into the lake, neither the son nor the horses were ever seen after, save their livers. The fourth account says, one spring several men went to the hill to catch a young horse, but were unable to do so, the following morning the son of Aros went with them; caught the horse wanted, and vaulted on its back. The horse at full speed rushed to the loch, but the young man could not throw himself off. Next day the horse’s liver came ashore, the supposition being that the water-horses tenanting the lake had devoured it on catching the smell of a man off of it. Another narration states that Mac-fir Arois was twice taken by the water-horse. The first time he managed to put a foot on either side of a gate, in passing through, which allowed the horse to slip from under him. The second time, a cap which hitherto had kept the horse, was forgotten. In the terrible speed to the loch, the young man clasped his arms around its neck, but could not unclasp them. His lungs floated ashore next day.

Another Mull legend tells of a young damsel, on a warm summer evening straying along the banks of Loch Assapol, when a stranger accosted her. Together they sat on a green knoll, and the stranger laid his head in her lap. She carelessly ran her fingers through his hair, and discovering in it the green fungi of the loch, she trembled with fear, and looked about to escape. To her great relief he gave a loud snore', showing he was asleep. Adroitly placing a stone under his head, she sprang to her feet and with all possible speed ran to the old manse where she served. Arriving within a few yards of the door she looked backward and saw a beautiful grey steed in full pursuit of her. It was the dreaded water-horse, who, finding that the maiden had escaped, followed her crying out, “Next Sabbath I will come and take you.” The girl widely spread the account of her escape from the water-horse. The following Sabbath a great congregation assembled on the knoll immediately about the loch. The old parish minister stood in the center, with the girl also placed there for safety. In a little while a loud neighing was heard in the direction of the green plain skirting the margin of the lake, and at once appeared a water-horse coming at full gallop, with foaming mouth and distended nostrils. It charged into the crowd, seized the terrified girl in its jaws, carried her into the lake, and she was never seen again.

Cruloch is a lonely little lake above Ardachyle in the northeast of Mull. A man passing it late one night, saw a horse with a saddle on it, feeding at the side of the loch. He went to it with the intention of riding it home, but observed green water-herbs about its feet and refrained from touching it. He walked on and soon was overtaken by the water-horse, in the form of a man, who said unless he was friendly and a well-wisher he would have taken him to the loch. It informed the man of the day of his death.

Tlie Evil Eye: This superstition is not confined to the West Highlands and-Isles, for it has taken a very wide range.

Its origin and belief may be ascribed to the efforts of the untutored mind to trace the origin of a disease or complaint, followed by an effort to ward off the effects. It is one of the early steps in the practice of medical art. In the Highlands’ the possession of the Evil Eye was mostly ascribed to elderly women, especially such as were disliked in the community. Its moral source was tersely put by a Mull woman who said, '‘It is done usually by a person who has an eye with great greed and envy.” The distress caused was not confined to man. Horses were subject to it. A Mull woman related the following:

“The minister, whose grave you may see there, had a fine horse. His man had it out plowing, and without previous warning of any kind, it fell down and could not plow another furrow. The minister came to see it. The man said it was the evil eye, and proposed to go to the skilled one in the art. ‘Hush, hush, you will not do that; you know I do not believe the like of that.’ The man replied, ‘Just you go in, and I’ll manage the horse myself.’ The minister obeyed; the man set off for assistance, and in less than three hours the horse was plowing. When the minister was again looking on, the man remarked on the rapid recovery from the process used, but the minister was unconvinced. ‘I am not going to give credence to the like of that at all,’ said the minister. The man replied, ‘Well, both I and the horse believe it.’”

The Evil Eye was of disadvantage to one possessed of it. A woman of Mull, a firm believer in the Evil Eye, quoting what her mother had told her of a farmer who had a large number of cattle, and who had the Evil Eye, said:

‘‘Every time that man went into his own byre the best of his cattle were sure to be unwell afterwards, and they were often dying with him. He could not help it. At last he got a dairymaid who, when she had become acquainted with his peculiarities, would not allow him to go into the byre at all, or near the cows. She turned him back when she would see him coming.”

A reciter in Mull was telling before her mother what a healer did for the Evil Eye, when the mother added that sho had spoken with the healer, and she was a decent body, and assured her that there was nothing wrong whatever in what she did for the cure of cattle when hurt by the Evil Eye. The words used were good, and she repeated them, but added that a great deal depended upon the person who applied for colas (knowledge), and that, unless such a person believed that a cure would be effectual, there was little use in what she herself could do, and no use at all in the contents of the bottle which she supplied. It might just as well be thrown out on the roadside.

There were forms of incantation recited for the cure of Evil Eye. A woman in Mull, describing a cure done by herself, said;

“I remember a child I cured myself with good words that I have. It was very ill, and nearly gone when I took it and placed it in my bosom and cured it. I said the words over it, but after curing it I was very much exhausted until I got a cup of tea, and then I felt myself getting better.”

When requested to repeat the words, she affirmed they were all good words, and that it was in the name of the Trinity she did it; but she rehearsed the words in such a low voice, and indistinct pronunciation and so fast that, it was impossible to follow.    .

In another Mull case a servant was sent for a means of cure to a woman supposed to have skill, whom she found in bed. She sat up, took a bottle containing water, put the mouth of it to her mouth, and said some words over it. The words were spoken in a low tone, and'recognized to be “good words.”

It should be noticed that remuneration was expected for casting out the Evil Eye. Of this the following illustration is given: A Mull woman related how her grandmother, when newly married, after having reared calves, could only produce butter of such a color that no one would eat it. One day she was asked by a neighbor for a bowl, and was accused of greed for refusing it. She explained the matter, and was then advised to consult an old man, the neighbor adding she would return in a fortnight, when there would be plenty of butter to give her. The results were fairly successful, though the colas man said that during that year she would not have much butter, but she should consider herself lucky that her cattle had not died. She gave the man plenty of butter for bis trouble, but she did not grudge it. When the old woman called on her way back, she said, “Well, you can give me the butter now.” To which she replied, “Yes, I am thankful lo you that I can.” She gave her a good bowl of butter?

To prevent the effects of the Evil Eye, especially in young children spit was resorted to. A native of Mull stated this practice was common in that island. The method was to spit on the finger and rub an eye of the child to be protected with the moistened finger, By many this was believed to be a sufficient protection.

Another Mull woman, giving her own experience shows that spitting in healing water has actually been practiced. She related that her aunt, suspecting her cow was suffering from the evil eye, sent her to the colas woman to tell her about the beast, whom she found sick in bed, but on giving her the message she sent for water to be taken from under a bridge in the neighborhood, over which the living and the dead passed. It was always from this place where the healing water was taken. While repeating. the incantation, the colas woman would now and again spit into the bottle, which she gave to be taken to the aunt. This water was sprinkled over the cow, which recovered.

Murrain in cattle had to be specially attended to. In Mull, about 1767, a hill-top was selected, within sight of which all fires were put out, and then the pure fire was produced by turning a wheel over nine spindles of wood until the friction caused combustion. Martin in his “Western Tales” thus describes it:

“The tinegin they used as an antidote against the plague or murrain in cattle, and it was performed thus—All the fires in the parish were extinguished, and then eighty-one married men, being thought the necessary number for effecting this design, took two great planks of wood, and nine of them were employed by turns, who by their united efforts rubbed one of the planks against the other until the heat thereof produced fire; and from this fire each family is supplied with new fire, which is no sooner kindled than a pot full of water is quickly set on it, and afterwards sprinkled on the people infected with the plague or upon the cattle that have the murrain.”

Charms: As a rule charms must be used on Thursdays or Sundays. These were of many varieties and used for many purposes. A charm used against dangers in war was give,n about the year 1800 from an old man in Glenforsa, in Mull. It is thus recorded:

“For himself and for his goods,
The charm Bridget put round Dorgill’s daughter,
The charm Mary put round her Son,
Between her soles and her neck,
Between her breast and her knee,
Between her eye and her hair;
The sword of Michael be on thy side,
The shield of Michael on thy shoulder;
There is none between sky and earth
Can overcome the King of grace.
Edge will not cleave thee,
Sea will not drown thee,
Christ’s banners round thee,
Christ’s shadow over thee; .
From thy crown to thy sole,
The charm of virtue covers thee.
You will go in the King’s name,
And come in your Commander’s name;
Thou belongest to God and all His powers.
I will make the charm on Monday,
In a narrow, sharp, thorny space;
Go, with the charm about thee,
And let no fear be on thee!
Thou wilt ascend the tops of cliffs,
And not be thrown backwards:
Thou art the calm swan’s son in battle.
Thou wilt stand amid the slaughter;
Thou wilt run through five hundred,
And thy oppressor will be caught;
God’s charm be about thee!
People go with thee!”

A charm of this kind was given to a smith in Torosay, Mull, by his father. Afterwards he entered the army and engaged in thirty battles. On his return home without a wound he said, he had often wished he was dead, rather than be bruised as he was by bullets. He was struck by them, but on account of the charm they could not pierce him.

Sir Hector, Chief of MacLean, had a charm which made him invulnerable in battle, though it failed him at the disastrous battle of Inverkeithing fought July 20, 1651.

A charm was used for reducing* a swelling* of the ^xillary glands. The ceremony was efficacious only if performed on Friday, when certain magic words were muttered to the blade of an axe or knife (the more iron the better), which for the purpose was held close to the mouth, and then the blade applied to the sore place, the swelling crossed and parted into nine, or other numbers of imaginary divisions. After every crossing the axe was pointed toward a hill, the name of which must commence with mam. In Mull the malady was transferred to any hill in that island, being a sound mountain.

Death Warnings: Warning of the approach of death throughout the Highlands was very common. The most noted of all is that of Hugh of the Little Head, a headless horseman which makes its appearance whenever any of the MacLeans of Loch Buy, in Mull, approaches dissolution.

Murchadh Gearr was sixth MacLean of Loch Buy who fled from Mull when his Uncle Murdoch of Scallasdale sought to deprive him of his estates. During his absence his halfsister became a widow, and, dependant on charity and hospitality, wandered about the Ross of Mull from house to house with her family. It was always a prophecy that Murdoch would return. One evening, in a house where the sister had just come, a wedder was killed. After the meal was over, her oldest son asked the farmer for the shoulder-blade, which he examined intently for some time, in silence, then rising suddenly he exclaimed that Murdoch was on the soil of Mull, rushed out of the house, made for Loch Buy, and there found his uncle in possesion. This occurred about 1542.

Prophecy: Many prophecies would necessarily arise. One of them relates to the celebrated Thomas the Rhymer, marvellous accounts of whom were recorded, among which is his attendance on every market on the lookout for suitable horses having certain characteristics. All of the horses have been procured save two. One wanted is a yellow foal with a white forehead, and the other a white horse which has “three March, three May, and three August months of its mother’s milk.” In Mull it is claimed that one of the horses is to be from the meadow of Kenghariar in that island. When the whole compliment has been made up Thomas will become visible and then a great battle will be fought on the Clyde. In the meantime he is in Dunbuck Hill, near Dumbarton. The last person who entered the hill found him resting on his elbow, with his hand below his head. He asked, “Is it time?” and the man fled.

The Black Art: Nothing in the Highlands was known of the Black Art, save what is conveyed in the expression, “Satan’s black school,” and a few anecdotes of its advanced scholars. The Mull doctor (The Beatons) attended the school. Of ond of the Mull Beatons, passed a house from which it is said there came loud sounds of talking, and he remarked that in that house there were either twenty men or three women.

Coming Misfortune: The ancient church of Kilviceuen, in the Ross of Mull, constructed of unhewn stone, had for its last minister, previous to its being united to Kilfinichen, a man named Kennedy, a native of Kintyre, an Episcopalean, in the reign of Charles II. According to tradition he came to his death in the following manner: His parishioners were removing a new mill-stone to the mill by means of a pole through the eye. The parson threw off his cassock and assisted the men. In the evening his wife sent a maid-servant for the cassock, who found lying on it a large black dog, which would not allow her to touch the garment. She wen-t. home and refused to return. Then the wife and another servant went; both were bitten by the dog, and ultimately twelve others including the minister, all of whom died of hydrophobia. Shortly before this on Beltane night, the minister’s ser-vant-man had gone early to bed, while it was yet day. On the floor of the room, there was a large blazing fire of green oak, and the door locked. During the night he heard a noise as of some one feeling for the lock and trying to open the door. After awhile the door opened, and an unknown person entered and without speaking went and stood by the fire. When he turned his back the servant noticed he possessed horse’s feet. In a short time he left, locking the door behind him. The servant at once arose and went to an old man, held in great estimation for his piety, who lived alone at the Dog Rock, in a poor hut, and arranged to sleep in the hut and in day time to work at the manse, refusing to sleep there. Having been informed of the apparation, the good man inferred that evil would befall the family. Shortly after the dog went mad and the servant was the only member of the household that escaped.

Funerals: Death-and burial were prolific sources of superstition. In Mull, immediately after death, a sprig of pearlswort was placed above the lintel to prevent the dead, from entering the house. One curious superstition is.a belief that the spirit of the last person buried keeps watch over the churchyard till the next burial. This office is looked upon as a very undesirable one, and this sometimes led to unpleasant scenes. When two deaths occurred on the same day in the same neighborhood, there was often great rivalry to see which body 'could be first interred. On one occasion two processions1 were approaching the churchyard at the same time, but from opposite directions. Both parties hastened the pkce. The party having the greater distance to go, hastened with a rush, and in order to shorten the distance, threw the coffin, containing the body of an old woman, over the fence, and thus reached the grave first; whereupon a boy belonging to the party, clapping his hands in great glee, exclaimed in Gaelic, “Chosuinn mo shean-mhathair an reise,”— My grandmother has won the race.

Birds: Birds ip superstition make a prominent figure.

The curlew’s nocturnal, wild cries in moors and lonely places have connected it with evil company, ghosts, &c., and thus make night hideous.

The Leng: The long appears to have a crystal of some precious form or color, used for inquiring into the future. The MacLeans of Duard used a crystal set in silver, perforated in the flat edge or flange. It is now broken across.

Prognostication of Weather: The situation of the isle of Mull would naturally cause its people to be close observers of the weather. In the Ross of Mull is a wide stretch of sea beach, upon which, when the sea is rough, the waves beat with thunderous noise, and this sounding-board, by its vary-mg intonations, indicates the many changings of the weather. The people on the north side of the Ross regard the thunderlike roars emitted from Fingal’s- Cave as a forerunner of a stiff breeze from the north.

Cailieaeli Point: Throughout Mull are superstitions connected with unusual land formations, the most noted of which is Cailleach Point, or The Old Wife’s Headland. It is one- of the stormiest and most dangerous headlands on the west coast of Scotland. It faces the isle of Coll, and commands a view of the Point of , Ardnamiirchan, some seven miles distant. From its highest point the spectre of Hugh, or Ewen of-the Little Head is said to cross on horseback on his way to Coll to give warnings To the north of the point, in the direction ,of Craig, there' is an indentation called Achiais na.Caillich, or the old woman’s armpit. The story, which is said to have given its name to the Headland, is, that an old woman was gathering shell-fish, at the base of the rock, when the tide began to rise, and findingmo other avenue of escape began to climb the face of the cliff. When almost beyond danger, she said, “I am safe now, in spite of God and man.” She was at once converted into a stone forming part of the rock dis-. tinctly seen from the highest point of Cailleach.

Second Sight:  This faculty, called in Gaelic by the three different terms, Da-radharc, Dashealladh, and Taibhsearachd, is sometimes classed as superstition. At one time it was held as akin to witchcraft, and ascribed to the agency of the devil, and generally supposed to be troublesome to the one possessed of it. Others held it was due to the agency of fairies. The vision ‘ was accompanied by a nerve-storm, which ended in complete prostration. It is beyond all doubt that persons have seen what are called apparations, visions, warnings and other mental exercises that have literally been fulfilled. It is also clear that there are many such mental operations of which further note was never made. It is also true that some organizations are more sensitive to such conditions than others. It is also positive that most of the instances have been more or less exaggerated. It is safe to assume that the whole may be accounted for on an intelligent basis. Some instances of Second Sight pertaining to Mull have been recorded.

A man returning one night to his home at Ledmore, near Loch Frisa, in Mull, saw the kitchen-maid of the house in which he was at service, waiting for him on the other side of a ford he was to cross. Suspecting it was only an appearance, he went farther up the stream, but it was waiting at every ford. Finally he crossed and proceeded, but the apparition followed him. On reaching the top of the first bench, the apparition threw him down. He arose but was again thrown. He struggled with the figure, though it had no weight, and he could grasp nothing. On the highest point of the ascent the apparition left him. On reaching home he spoke to the woman whose spectre he saw and declared to her, “The next time you meet me I will stab you.” This made the woman cry, but he never saw the apparition again.

Near Salen, in Mull, a workman, one evening going home from his employment, forgot to take his coat with him. He returned for it, was met by an apparition, which gave him such a severe squeezing that made him keep his bed for several days.

In the same isle lamentation was recollected to have been heard where a young man was accidentally killed ten years before.

Other superstitions were common in Mull and covering a wide range, all of which have been noted in various publications, but not specially identified as belonging to that isle in such books consulted during this investigation.


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