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Reminiscences of Old Scots Folk
The Daft Days


Halloween

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 storm.

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 Ash-toreth grove.

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 piece.

The first actor sings—

Hogmanay,
Trollolay,
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 together—

The night it is called Hogmanay,
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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