THE OLD SCOTS FOLK WERE
NEVER SWEART to enjoy themselves, or to meddle with the mysti-cals of
nature and human nature. The country fair, with its shows, its
gaberlunzies, and its merry-go-rounds; the kirn at the farm in
harvest-time, when every lad stepped it with his lass on the fine springy
wooden floor of the granary, or in the barn, with its dour cold floor of
clay; the rocking or fireside collogue on the moonlight nights of spring
and winter, when friends gathered to enjoy the crack and the tale
oft-told, while the women brought their "rocks" or distaffs with them, to
spin the fine sheep wool—these were all occasions of joy for the men,
women, and little bairns in the simple, frugal days of long ago.
But no longer are Scots
bairns content with the candyman and his barrow-load of paper gauds and
whirligigs, and his balloons of red and green and blue. For with the gowks,
guisards, and galoshins has departed much of that ancient good cheer that
was tinctured with the homely sentiments of old Scots country life.
The gowk came in with the
April flourish. The cuckoo bird is the Scots gowk. And here we come on
that strange combine of gloomy superstition and gaiety which was so common
in olden times. Born and bred among the mountain mists and the lowland
glens, our forebears saw a bogle in every gloaming bush and heard a kelpie
cry in every waterfall. It was aye one part of things seen mixed with two
parts of things mystical.
So the cuckoo came with its
cheating, soft-like call, now here now there, in the dingle of the wood or
upthe lone hillside, but seldom seen by any. The wandering voice matched
our forebears' lust for mystery. To see the gowk in sleep was to dream of
uncanny things. To be a gowkit body was to be a fool. A gowk's spittle was
the frothy matter so often seen on plants. And a gowk's storm was the
mysterious sudden onding of snow and bad weather at the beginning of
April, when, in the midst of sunny days, none was expecting a winter
So the cuckoo-time was a
daft, cheating, uncanny time—the real beginning of the Daft Days in the
year. The bairns, who have aye taken their cue from the old folks, caught
up the ancient superstition and began to send each other on gowk's errands
whenever April came in with the sound of the double-noted call in the
woods. For there is an eerie attraction for most folk about something
heard that cannot be seen. So the hunting of the gowk is one of the few
old tricks of ancient times left to our bairnies yet.
Beltane came at midsummer,
when the Baal fires were lit on every hill, and every man or maid who
wished good fortune had to pass right through the fire. Fire was the
mystic medium of worship with the ancient Scots Druids, and the four great
fire festivals in the old Scots year were May Day, Midsummer, All-Hallows
Eve, and Yule.
Many old Scots freits are
connected with fire. When a man throws a lighted peat after a married
woman, or a lover throws a blazing stick over his shoulder without looking
at whom he aims, or the shepherds and young folks kindle the Beltane fire
on the hill or the village street and dance in circles round the flames,
cooking their eggs and cakes afterwards on the red glowing ashes—how
little they think of Baal and Ash-toreth and all the heathen rites from
which these frolics sprang!
And at Hallowe'en, the
night before All-Hallows Day, when the bairns carry about and swing their
turnip lanterns with lighted candles inside, or throw their sweetheart
nuts into the fire, to blaze together in love or explode in hate that
separates, with squibs and lights and other village fires, the cry was
always heard in olden days—Hallowe'en, a nicht o' tine.
Tine or teind is the old
Scots word for a spark of fire, and on this frolicsome eve—the nicht o'
tine—it was fire everywhere—in the kitchen grate for the nuts, in the
candles of the turnip lanterns, in the village street, on the neighbouring
hill. It was the old Beltane fire of the Druid, the Baal-worshipper, the
And when the Guisards came
into the kitchen at Hogmanay or Yule, to act their masks, how little they
thought that they too were the last survivors of the ancient Mystery and
Morality Players, who in olden times taught the simple country folk such
sacred things as the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, the stories of saints, and
the love of Jesus Christ! They covered or masked their faces because of
the holy things they acted. Even John Knox, that prince of siccar
Scotsmen, was kind at first to the players. But by and by, when the
players abused their solemn rights, the Guisards were banned by the Kirk
as "contrair to the laws of God and the countrie."
But the Guisard has lived
through it all. You may see him even yet, when country lads come in with
blackened faces on Hogmanay to act the Galoshin play with droll
performances of hand and voice. The Galoshin was the Guisard's great
The first actor sings—
Give us your white bread,
None of yhour grey.
Then Galoshin himself, the
hero of the piece, comes forward with this noble cry—
In come I, Galoshin,
Galoshin of renown;
A sword and pistol by my side, I hope to win my crown.
Now rushes forward Bol
Bendo, claims the crown, slays the hero, and flourishes his wooden sword
above the fallen Galoshin upon the kitchen floor.
Last of all steps forward
Doctor Beelzebub, and, after blethering out some charms, raises the fallen
Galoshin with a pinch of snuff!
Then all the actors sing
The night it is called
We wish you all good cheer,
With as many guineas in the house
As days are in the year.
And bless the master of the house,
The mistress bless also,
And all the bonny bairnies
That round the table go.
The Guisards that came into
the kitchen in the old days never went away without receiving something
from the master and the mistress to help their yule-tide festival.
But alas! the Daft Days of
gowks and guisards are gone. They will soon be forgotten altogether. But
their droll ongoings, which meant nothing but play to the young folks and
memories to the old, had their roots struck deep and firm in that
mysterious pagan period of our ancient Scots life which was the borderland
betwixt heathendom and faith.
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