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Scotland, Social and Domestic
General Folklore


The kingdom of superstition has not been quite subdued. What Scotsman would hazard his connubial happiness by marrying in May! What Highlander could enjoy a festive entertainment at which the bottle was passed round from right to left, opposite to the sun's course? What housewife would invite a party of thirteen? What Scottish peasant is without alarm on hearing that particular sound known as the death-drop? The occult influence of a strong will is largely credited in the Highlands.

The curative powers of certain wells were early recognised. Mineral waters were recommended by the physicians of ancient Greece. The Romans were familiar with the efficacy of thermal and other springs. Among less enlightened peoples, the virtues of healing fountains were ascribed to supernatural agency. Orientals attributed the powers of mineral waters to the operation of angels. The ancient Britons thought that particular wells were originally constructed by devils for the destruction of mankind, but that these had been converted to healing purposes through the prayers of saints. Adamnan relates that there was a well in Pictland, worshipped as a malignant deity,—whoever touched its waters being seized with leprosy or some other ailment; but St. Columba invoked a blessing on the fountain, which henceforth became healing.

Owing to exposure, and the want of proper provisions in his adverse days, King Robert the Bruce was seized with a scorbutic disorder, which was called leprosy. He experienced benefit from a medicinal spring, near Ayr. On his gaining the throne, he founded a priory of Dominican monks at the spot, and made an endowment for eight lepers. According to the tradition, King Robert attached the right of placing persons in the lepers' endowment to the descendants of Sir William Wallace, in acknowledgment of the services of that great patriot.

The more reputed fountains in the Scottish Lowlands were, Christ's Well in Menteith, St.Fillan's in Strathearn, the springs at Huntingtower and Trinity-Gask, near Perth, St. Anthony's Well at Edinburgh, and another spring dedicated to St. Anthony at Maybole. A spring in the cave of Uchtrie Mackin, near Portpatrick, was especially famed for its supernatural virtues. In upland districts, the more renowned wells were those of Craigach, in Avoch, Chader, Isle of Lewis, Drumcassie, Kincardine O'Neil, and the spring of Tobar-na-demhurnich, Ross-shire. The Dow Loch, in Dumfriesshire, and the White Loch of Merton were much celebrated.

These fountains operated variously. Some cured at once, others proved remedial by slow degrees. Certain springs were efficacious in cases of insanity; of these, the most renowned was the Well of St. Fillan. Patients were dipped in the Well, and were afterwards laid bound with cords in a chapel of the saint, which stood near. Here they were allowed to remain during the night. In the morning each patient was crowned with a handbell dedicated to Saint Fillan. The cure was supposed to be complete.

The spring of Tobar-na-demhurnich was believed to denote whether a sick person would overcome his complaint. Water was drawn from the Well before sunrise, and the patient was immersed in it. The water was then examined. When it remained clear, the patient was likely to recover ; when its purity was sullied, death was held to be near. The spring of Balmano, in the parish of Marykirk, Kincardineshire, was believed to supernaturally restore imperfect eyesight, and render delicate infants strong and healthy.

To south-running water extraordinary virtues were attributed. When a sick person was unable to drink of it freely, his night-dress was cast into it, and was then thrown about his person. Water drawn under a bridge, "over which the living walked, and the dead were carried," was regarded as peculiarly remedial. It was conveyed at dawn or twilight to the house of the invalid, who was expected to drink of it before the bearer addressed him. It was essential, for the preservation of the charm, that the bearer should have kept silent on his way to and from the stream, and that he should not have permitted the water-vessel to rest upon or even touch the ground. If the sick person was unable or unwilling to adopt this charm, it was supposed to operate when the water was thrown upon his dwelling.

The Well of Craigach, Ross-shire, is still frequented on the morning of the first Sunday of May, old style. The visitors assemble at the Well before sunrise, and each in turn stoops down and tastes the water. Some years ago, a gentleman travelling in the district visited Craigach Well on the morning when the neighbouring populace made their annual pilgrimage to its waters. The following occurrence took place:—Jock Forsyth, a person of middle age, and much esteemed in the locality for his unaffected piety, stooped down and drank of the Well. Having performed the rite, he rose up, and uttered these words of prayer,—"O Lord, Thou knowest that weel would it be for me this day an' I had stoopit my knees an' my heart before Thee, in spirit and in truth, as often as I have stoopit them afore this Well, but we maun keep the customs of our fathers."

In the year 1859, the writer joined a funeral party at Stirling, which had assembled to conduct the body of a person in humble life to the parochial cemetery. Perceiving that the corpse was conducted in a direction opposite to that in which the place of interment lay, the writer inquired as to the cause of the movement. He was informed that it was deemed "unlucky" to bear a corpse past a certain well which stood in the direct route, and that hence a circuit had been arranged. Those who frequented wells for healing purposes deposited votive offerings by their margins, in honour of the saints to whom they were dedicated. These were of the simplest kind, consisting of patches of cloth, bits of thread, and shreds of useless apparel. Frequently a small tree or bush grew close by the fountains, and to the branches of these the offerings were attached. The practice of using rags as charms is not peculiar to Scotland. Han way, in his "Travels," describes the practice as common in Persia; and Park found it among some African tribes.

After the Reformation, the civil and ecclesiastical authorities sought to check the Well superstitions. In 1624, the Privy Council appointed certain commissioners to wait at Christ's Well in Menteith on the first of May, and to seize on and imprison in the castle of Doune all who might assemble at the spring. The proceedings of the ecclesiastical courts respecting the frequenting of Wells are detailed in the last chapter of this work.

Distempers in cattle were believed to be cured when the ailing animals drank water in which the leugan or weird stones had been dipped. The most celebrated of these stones is the Lee Penny. This is a triangular piece of crystal, about half an inch each side, and set in a piece of silver coin, supposed to be a shilling of Edward I. The traditional history of the crystal is as follows:—Sir Simon Lockhart, of Lee, accompanied Sir James Douglas in his expedition to Palestine, in 1329, with the heart of King Robert Bruce. In course of the journey Sir Simon took prisoner a Saracen chief, whose wife tendered a large sum as his ransom. In counting the money, she dropped a gem, and showed such alacrity in restoring it to her purse that the knight's curiosity was aroused. Being informed of its virtues, he refused to give up the chief unless the gem were added to the ransom-money. The lady reluctantly complied, and hence the talisman became the property of the Lee family.

During the seventeenth century, the superstitious use of the Lee Penny was so common that the Presbytery of Lanark brought the matter under the consideration of the Superior Judicatory. The result is detailed in the following minute of the Provincial Synod:—

"Apud Glasgow, the 25th October, Session 2nd. Quhilk daye amongest the referies of the brethren of the ministrie of Lanark, it was proposit to the Synode, that Gawen Hammiltoune, of Raptoch, had preferit ane complaint before them against Sir Thomas Lockhart of Lee, anent the superstitious using of ane stone set in silver for the curing of diseased cattel, qulk the said Gawen affirmed could not be lawfullie used ; and that they had defent to give any desissune therein till the advise of the Assemblie might be heard concerning the same. The Assemblie having inquirit of the maner of using thereof, and particulate understood the examinatioune of the said Laird of Lee, and otherwise, that the custom is onlie to cast the stone in sume water, and give the diseasit cattel thereof to drink, and yt the same is done witout using onie words, such as charmers use in their unlawful practices; and considering that in nature there are monie thinges sein to work stronge effect quof no humane skill can give an reason, it having pleasit God to give unto stones and herbes a special virtue for the healling of mony infirmities in man and beast; advise the brethren to surcease their process, as qum they can perceive no ground of offence; and admonishes the said Laird of Lee in the using of the said stone, to tak heid it be usit heir-after wt the least scandall that possible may be."

The Lee Penny was supposed to impart rare virtues in cases of hydrophobia. About a century ago, Lady Baird, of Saughton Hall, was bit by a mad dog. Her ladyship's relatives at once despatched a messenger to Lee Castle, for a loan of the charmed crystal, which was granted. Lady Baird drank of the water in which the amulet had been dipped, and as symptoms of the dreaded malady remained undeveloped, she was supposed to have been cured.

A charmed stone has long been possessed by the family of Stewart of Ardvoirlich. In size and shape it resembles a large egg, and is similar to the jewel on the top of the national sceptre. According to tradition, the arch-druid wore the Ardvoirlich gem as his badge of office.

The Lee Penny has ceased to be an object of superstition. Not so the charmed crystal of Ardvoirlich. Highland graziers make long journeys to procure for their distempered cattle water in which it has been dipped. In Galloway, several round flat stones, about five inches in diameter, and artificially perforated, were used, within the recollection of persons now living, for the cure of distemper in horses. One of the stones was placed in a tub of water, and the ailing animal was sprinkled with the liquor. Mr. Pennant found that crystal stones were used by the inhabitants of the Hebrides in charming water, and rendering it remedial. A crystal which is believed to possess rare virtues is in the possession of the Campbells of Glenlyon. Highlanders attribute the success of Robert Bruce at Bannockburn to the influence of a crystal charm. Adam-nan, in his Life of St. Columba, relates that Broichan, one of the Scottish magi, whom the saint had visited with a deadly sickness, on account of his having enslaved a Christian female, was cured by drinking water in which a white pebble from the Ness had been dipped. In his "History of Rutherglen," Mr. Ure mentions a ring of hard black shistus, found in a cave in the parish of Inchinnan, which was believed to perform remarkable cures. To the present day, many persons in the Western Isles administer to their cattle water in which has been dipped a flint arrow-head—the elf-shot of superstition.

There were other charms for the cure of distempered cattle. The animals were held to be benefited by "kindling needfire"—that is, producing fire by the friction of two sticks rubbed against each other. Juniper burned near a herd of cattle was supposed to propitiate the evil powers and avert distemper. When any of the cattle suffered from a complaint, the precise character of which could not be discovered, the owner of the herd repeated the following spell:—

"I charge thee for arrowschot,
For doorschot, for wombschot,
For eyeschot, for tungschot,
For leverschot, for lungschot,
For heatschot—all the maist,
In the name of the Father, the Sone, and the Haly Gaist,
To wend out of flesche and bane
In to sek and stane,
In the name of the Father, the Sone, and the Haly Gaist."

Superstitious rites were associated with different departments of nature. Madness was cured by the use of the Barbreck bone, a small portion of ivory, formerly in the possession of Campbell of Barbreck, and now deposited in the Museum of the Scottish Antiquaries. Salt was, under certain conditions, an effective charm. Thrown over the left shoulder, it averted strife. At Sittings, the salt-box was always first removed, and placed in the new dwelling. It was sometimes scattered about for good luck. When a child met with an accident, a table-spoonful of water mixed with salt was applied to its brow and poured into its mouth; when an adult complained, and the cause of his ailment was unknown, an old sixpence was borrowed from a neighbour, its intended use being kept secret. As much salt as could be raised on the coin was then placed in a table-spoonful of water and melted. The sixpence was next put into the solution, and the soles of the patient's feet and the palms of his hands were moistened three times with the liquid. The patient was made to taste the mixture thrice. His brow was stroked with the solution. The liquid which remained in the spoon was thrown over the fire, with these words, "Lord, preserve us frae a' skaith." The cure was then held to be complete.

There were superstitious rites connected with monoliths and memorial stones. Lovers pledged themselves to mutual fidelity by joining hands through the perforated Stone of Odin, near Loch Stennis, in Orkney. Even the elders of the Church recognized the sacredness of the vow. [Principal Gordon, of the Scots College, Paris, -who visited Orkney in 1781, relates that, about twenty years previously, the elders of the Kirk-session of Sandwich were particularly severe on a young man, brought before them for seduction, on account of his having broken "the promise of Odin."—"Wilson's Archaeology." Edinburgh, 1851. 8vo. Pp. 100, 101.] The married women of Strathearn passed their hands through the holes of the Bore stone of Gask, to obtain children. A child, passed through the hole of the stone at Stennis, was believed to be free from palsy in old age. At perforated monoliths the natives of the Hebrides sought help in rheumatic ailments. They believed that they could produce rain by raising the Eunic Cross at Borera. A cave in a steep rock in front of Kinnoull Hill, Perthshire, is known as the Dragon-hole; it was supposed to have been the dwelling place of a Caledonian prince. A stone connected with the cave was believed to render invisible the person who held it. Green pebbles, picked up at Iona, were supposed to derive an influence from Saint Columba, and to be valuable as amulets. Barren women used to make pilgrimages to the monastery of St. Adrian, in the Isle of May, in the hope of procuring children.

There were curious superstitions connected with beasts and birds. Mischief was associated with the howling of a dog during night. Moles' feet, placed in a purse, secured the owner against want of money. The inhabitants of Morayshire practised a sort of divination with bones. Having picked the flesh from a shoulder of mutton, they turned towards the east, and looking stedfastly on the bone, conceived themselves able to anticipate the future. The bones of certain birds, sewed into the clothes, were believed to preserve the health. The head of a fox, nailed to the stable door, protected the horses from enchantment. The cock crowing at an unusual hour was held to be alarming. The Lady Lanners [The lady-bird.] was a favourite among the peasantry; it was used by the hinds to discover their future helpmates. When a schoolboy found this insect, he placed it on the palm of his hand, and repeated these lines till it flew off:—

"Lady, Lady Lanners, Lady, Lady Lanners,
Tak up your clowk about your head,
An' flie awa' to Flanners;
Flee ower frith and flee ower fell,
Flee ower pule and rinnin' well,
Flee ower muir and flee ower mead,
Flee ower livin', flee ower dead,
Flee ower corn, and flee ower lea,
Flee ower river, flee ower sea;
Flee ye east, or flee ye west,
Flee till him that lo'es me best."

The feathers of a wildfowl, placed in a pillow under the head of a dying person, were supposed to prolong his life. In the Western Highlands, when the life of a sick person was despaired of, a cock was sacrificed, and buried at the foot of the patient's bed. For the cure of epilepsy, a live cock was buried with a lock of the invalid's hair and the parings of his nails. This barbarous practice has not altogether ceased. The sudden appearance of magpies is held to be ominous. According to the adage, "One's joy, two's grief, three's a marriage, four's death." There is a prejudice against the yellow-hammer, expressed in the following rhyme :—

"Hauf a puddock, half a taed,
Hauf a yellow-yeldrin,
Gets a drap o' the devil's bluid
Ilka May mornin'."

The popular prejudice against the yellow-hammer is believed to have originated, owing to the birds having, by their cries and movements, frequently discovered to the troopers the solitary retreats of the persecuted Covenanters. The pees weep, or curlew, is also obnoxious, and probably from the same cause.

There were superstitions peculiar to fishermen. In a chapel dedicated to St. Columba, in Flodda Chuan, one of the Western Isles, a blue round stone rested upon the altar; when fishermen were detained in the isle by contrary winds, they washed the stone with water, hoping to propitiate the genius of the storm. The seamen of Shetland, in tempestuous weather, threw a piece of money into the window of a ruinous chapel, dedicated to St. Ronald, in the belief that the saint would thereupon assuage the violence of the storm.

The peasantry of Orkney and the Hebrides held that all drowned persons were changed into seals. The following legend, connected with this superstition, has been kindly supplied by Mr. Skene, of Rubislaw :— "MacPhee, the chief of Colon say, observed a beautiful damsel washing her locks, on an isolated rock at some distance from the shore. He entered a swift boat, and fetching a compass, surprised the angel of the deep by coming suddenly behind her. A seal-skin was lying on the rock, which he immediately seized. Perceiving that her robe was gone, the ocean nymph was much confused, but MacPhee gallantly covered her with his plaid ; he then placed her in his boat, and rowed to shore ; he took her to his castle, and she became his wife."

Northern fishermen exorcised their boats in this fashion:—The cavity or tap-hole was filled with water, supplied by the mistress of the craft. The boat was then rowed out to sea before sunrise, and a waxen figure burned in it, just as daylight began to appear, the master of the vessel exclaiming, "Satan, avaunt! "

The occurrences of domestic life were bound up with many odd frets. If coon hung from the bars of the grate, a stranger's arrival was foretokened. Should the coon drop off, on the wind produced by the clapping of the hands, the stranger was only to call and pass on. There is a superstition among domestic servants, that it is unlucky to leave making a bed before completing it. The least evil to be apprehended is, that the person for whom the bed is made will lose his night's rest.

In a note appended to his Mountain Bard, the Ettrick Shepherd supplies these curious details respecting the superstitions of Selkirkshire:—"When they sneeze in first stepping out of bed in the morning, they are thence certified that strangers will be there in the course of the day, in numbers corresponding to the times they sneeze ; and if a feather, or straw, or any such thing be observed hanging at a dog's nose or beard, they call this a guest, and are sure of the approach of a stranger. If it hang long at the dog's nose, the visitor is to stay long, but if it fall instantly away, the person is to stay a short time. They judge also from the length of this guest what will be the size of the real one, and from its shape whether it will be a man or a woman; and they watch carefully on what part of the floor it drops, as it is on that very spot the stranger will sit. And there is scarcely a shepherd in the whole country who, if he chances to find one of his flock dead on a Sabbath, is not thence assured that he will have two or three more in the course of the week. During the season that ewes are milked, the bught door is always carefully shut at even ;' and the reason they assign for this is, that, when it is negligently left open, the witches and fairies never miss the opportunity of dancing in it all night."

Respecting marriages, curious superstitions linger in sequestered districts. In the more remote Highlands marriages are not solemnized in the month of January. The practice of forbearing to marry in May is nearly universal. "The evil omen of this antimarital month," communicates Sheriff Barclay, "is attributed to the fact of the ill-fated Queen Mary being married to Bothwell in this month. But there is evidence that the dislike existed long before her time, and it is to be found in other countries. A more likely origin is, that it is in this month the cuckoo deposits her egg in the wren's nest. Hence the stupid inference of unfaithfulness being the result of May marriages. The injured husband is depicted with the horns of the cuckoo, and is dubbed a cuckold." The fairies claim ascendancy in May; the name of the month in several European languages signifies green, which is their favourite colour. It is unlucky to have banns proclaimed in one quarter of the year, and to marry in the next. From the Saturday preceding the proclamation of banns—the contract night—to the Sunday after marriage, the bride and bridegroom must not attend a wedding or funeral, otherwise their first-born will break Diana's pales or never be married. No marriages are celebrated on Saturday. It is believed that should a marriage be solemnized on that day, one of the parties will die within the year, or that the marriage will prove unfruitful. A voyage undertaken by a bridegroom before marriage is deemed especially hazardous. A sad event lately occurred in Shetland, which will no doubt confirm the superstition. "On Sunday," writes the newspaper reporter, "a marriage party left Lunnasting in a fishing-boat, intending to proceed to Lerwick, at which place the marriage was to take place. The wind was unfavourable for the party proceeding further than a harbour in the north of the parish of Tingwall, and there the boat was taken for the night. The bride and a sister of the bridegroom, the only females in the boat, went on shore, and travelled on foot to Lerwick. On Wednesday morning the men prepared to complete their journey in the boat. Sail was set, and all proceeded well until they had advanced some distance to the south of Rovy Head, when the boat was caught by a squall, thrown over, and immediately sunk. In the boat were the bridegroom and his brother, two brothers of the bride, and the owner of the boat. The accident was observed by the crew of another boat, who hastened to render assistance, but the two brothers of the bride were the only persons saved, the others having disappeared almost as soon as the boat sank."

The first couple united by a clergyman are supposed to be unlucky. If the night-dress of a newly married pair be stolen, it prognosticates unhappiness between the couple. The fishermen of Ross-shire marry on a Friday, but never before the hour of noon. On the morning of the marriage a silver coin is put in the heel of the bridegroom's stocking, and, at the church door, the shoe-tie of his right foot is unfixed, and a cross drawn on the door-post. At marriages among the Highland peasantry, every knot in the apparel of the bride and the bridegroom is untied, prior to the ceremony. When the bride reaches the threshold of her future home, she is lifted over it, to secure her "good luck."

Connected with births and baptisms, there were numerous superstitions. In removing a cradle from one house to another, a pillow was always put into it. When a woman was in labour, the husband's breeches were placed under the pillow, to secure a safe delivery.

After the birth of a child, the neighbours who called for the mother, before touching the little stranger, crossed themselves with a burning torch. When the child was baptized privately, the infant was placed in a basket, on which had previously been spread a white cloth, with a portion of bread and cheese. The basket was suspended from the crook in the fire-place, which was moved three times round. This act destroyed the power of enchantment. "When the child is to be baptized in a place of worship, the bearer," writes Sheriff Barclay, "arms herself with a portion of bread and cheese, which she presents to the first person she meets. Should the party decline to receive the boon, bad luck is apprehended for the child, while the evil consequences are attributed to the recusant. Recently an advertisement appeared in an Edinburgh newspaper, begging the woman who had presented the baptismal offering to an unknown gentleman, to call for him at a house in one of the more fashionable streets of the capital. The gentleman had, in his ignorance, rejected the christening boon, and on being informed of his mistake, generously sought to repair his error." When several children are to be baptized together in church, it is deemed essential that the males should be presented first. Should a girl be held up before a male child, she is doomed, it is believed, to wear a beard.

There are prognostications of death which exercise a strong influence on the popular mind. When the grease of a candle falls over the edge in a semi-circular form, it is styled the dede-spale, a sign that the person to whom it is turned will die soon. A decle-candle, or supernatural light, is believed to be occasionally seen moving from the dwelling of one who is soon to die, to the churchyard in which his remains are to be interred. When a cat crosses a dead body and afterwards walks over the roof of a house, it is believed that the head of that house will die within the year. The first person on whom a cat leaps, after crossing a corpse, is doomed to blindness. In the pastoral districts of the south, the death of relatives was supposed to be announced by the "dead-bell," that is, a tinkling in the ears.

The Mettye belt was used to ascertain the course of an illness. It consisted of a man's belt or a woman's garters. Drawn round the person of the invalid, it was supposed to indicate whether he would recover from his complaint. For the restoration of a patient in consumption or fever, a strange charm was adopted. The nails of the patient's fingers and toes were pared, and the parings put into a rag cut from his clothes. The rag was then waved round his head, and thereafter concealed. No further cure might be attempted.

When a person is dying, no one in the house is allowed to sleep. When death has occurred, the house clock is stopped, and the dial plate covered with a towel. All mirrors are covered. On the corpse being enclosed in its shroud, a bell is laid under the head, while a small dish, containing earth and salt and a burning candle, are placed upon the breast. In conducting a corpse to the grave, should any of the company fall down, it was held that he would next be carried to the grave. This superstition lingers in the Hebrides. In Aberdeenshire the sexton tolls the church bell before commencing a grave. In Caithness, corpses are buried with the feet to the south. In eastern Lowland districts the head of the corpse is placed in a westerly direction. In East Lothian," unbaptized children are buried at night, under the dropping of the church roof. There was an old superstition in regard to the discovery of murder. The touching of a murdered corpse as a test to establish the guilt or innocence of the suspected murderer has been transmitted from remote times, and was common to all European countries. The superstition seems to have arisen from the language of the Almighty in denouncing Cain: "The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto Me from the ground." It was anciently believed that the life was in the blood, and when this notion was departed from, it was held that the soul of the murdered person lingered about his body till the conviction of the murderer. Prior to the Reformation the opinion prevailed that, at whatever distance of time, the body or even the skeleton of the murdered person would impart blood on the touch of the murderer. In Catholic times the ordeal was applied amidst the pomp and circumstance of an imposing ceremonial, the body of the murdered person being stretched on a bier in front of the high altar, while the person suspected as the slayer was led up to it, following a procession of priests singing an anthem. The practice of the test long survived the Reformation. In his "Dsemonologie," James VI. writes,—"In a secret murther, if the dead carkasse be any time thereafter handled by the murtherer, it will gush out of blood, as if the blood were crying to heaven for revenge of the murtherer." The ordeal continued to be applied, both by the civil and ecclesiastical authorities, till the beginning of the eighteenth century. A commission, which sat at Dalkeith, on the 14th June, 1641, held Christian Wilson guilty of the murder of Alexander Wilson, her brother, because, on touching the body of the deceased, "the blood rushed out of it to the great admiration of all the behoulders, who tooke it for discoverie of the murder." In 1680, a woman was charged before the Kirk-session of Colinton with the murder of her illegitimate child. The minute of session contains the following:—"There is one thing very observable in that business, that, when the mother laid her hand upon the child's nose, there came a little blood from it, which was seen by many persons."

In December, 1687, Sir James Stanfield, of Newmills, was found strangled in a stream near Haddington. According to the testimony of James Muirhead, the surgeon, and of another witness, when Philip Stanfield, the son of the deceased, assisted to place the body in the coffin, blood darted from the left side of the neck upon his touch. With his hands soiled in the blood, he fled from the corpse, exclaiming, "Lord have mercy upon me!" Without any further evidence, Philip Stanfield was convicted of parricide, and executed at Edinburgh, his body being afterwards hung in chains. Law, in his "Memorials," relates, that, when the bodies of two murderers, who had been executed at Glasgow, in June, 1683, were removed to the place where the murder was committed, there to be hung in irons, the arm of one of the criminals "did gush out in blood." James Guthrie, the Presbyterian martyr, executed at Edinburgh, in 1661, was afterwards decapitated,—his head being set on the Netherbow. When the Earl of Middleton, who had been actively concerned in his death, was driving past the spot soon after, some drops of the martyr's blood fell upon his coach, and the stain of it his servants, it was reported, were unable to remove. In a letter, addressed by a clergyman in Caithness to the historian Wodrow, in 1712, the writer remarks, "Some murthers in this country have been discovered by causing suspected persons touch the deid corps, which, upon their touching, have immediately bled, whereupon some have confessed guilt, and have been executed."

With particular seasons superstitious notions were associated. It was deemed unlucky to flit on Saturday,—

"Saturday's flit, short while sit."

In cases of fever the symptoms are expected to be more severe on Sunday; if the patient begins to feel better on Sunday, a relapse is anticipated. In Caithness, no member of the family of Sinclair will wear green apparel, or cross the river Ord on Monday. It was on this day of the week, and in their ancient clothing of green, that so many Sinclairs left their native shores to join the standard of James IV. on the field of Flodden, where they were all slaughtered. Mr. Shaw, in his "History of Moray," relates that the withes of woodbine were cut down in the increase of the March moon. They were twisted into wreaths, and preserved till the following March. Children sick of fever and consumptive patients were now made to pass through the wreaths three several times, when they were supposed to be cured. The Highlanders destroy kittens produced in May, believing them to be "uncanny." In certain parts of the Highlands, peasants took off their bonnets to the rising sun. To the new moon females made a reverence. During the moon's wane no important business was transacted.

St. Martin o Bullions day, the fourth of July old style, is believed to regulate the character of the weather for the six following weeks. Should the weather be dry, it is expected that there will be six weeks' drought; and should it prove wet, that rain will fall daily during the same period. The condition of the elements on Candlemas day, old style, is also associated with a meteorological prediction :—

"If Candlemas is fair and clear,
There'll be twa winters in the year."

Martin, in his description of the Western Isles, states that, on Candlemas day, the Hebrideans observe the following custom:—The mistress and servants of each family take a sheaf of oats, and dress it up in woman's apparel, put it in a large basket, and lay a wooden club by it; this they call Briid's bed. The mistress and servant's now exclaim three times, "Briid is come! Brad is welcome!" This they do before retiring to bed, and when they rise in the morning they look among the ashes, expecting to see the impression of Briid's club, which, if they do, they reckon it a presage of a good crop and a prosperous year. The contrary is a bad omen. Briid was of the order of the Brownies, otherwise known as Goblins or Urishs. These were held to be of a character between man and spirit; they derived their name of brownies from the tawny colour of their skin. They inhabited the caves and corries of untrodden mountains. In their aerial progresses they emitted music like the tones of a harp, the grinding of a mill, or the crowing of a cock.

Indolent naturally, the brownies could, like Robin Goodfellow of English superstition, be brought over by kind attention to perform useful labours. They were capable of extraordinary exertions; they performed their work at night, and sought no food or other recompense, their only stipulation being that they should be permitted to execute their work without interference. They abandoned their place of work on the offer of thanks. Of affront they were keenly susceptible, and any comparison as to their respective labours they could not endure. The blacksmith of Glammis having got behind with his work, excited the compassion of two brownies, who during night powerfully assisted him, Entering his smithy one morning before his assistants had departed, he was so delighted at the progress of his work, that he could not forbear exclaiming,—

"Weel eliappit Red Cowl,
But "better ehappit Blue."

"Chap wha we like to,
We'll chap na mair to you,"

exclaimed the supernaturals, as they threw down the hammers, and disappeared for ever. As the brownies had no garments save their distinctive head-coverings, a farmer, who had been profited by their nocturnal labours, left on his barn-floor a suit of clothes for each of his assistants. This reflection on their habits was intolerable. They assisted the farmer no more. Every busbandman in the Hebrides who was more industrious than his neighbours was supposed to be aided by the brownies.

Iu the Isle of Skye, Gruagach, a sort of female urisk, was supposed to linger about sheep-pens and dairies. She beat with a small wand any one who refused to propitiate her with a daily offering of dairy produce. The milkmaids of the Isle of Trodda propitiated Gruagach by pouring a quantity of milk daily in a hollow stone.

There were other beings of the goblin species. "Falm," writes the Ettrick Shepherd, "is a little ugly monster, who frequents the summits of the mountain of Glen Aven, and no other place in the world. My guide declared that he had himself seen him ; and by his description Falm appears to be no native of this world, but an occasional visitant, whose intentions are evil and dangerous. He is only seen about the break of day, and on the highest verge of the mountain. His head is twice as large as his body ; and if any living creature cross the track over which he has passed before the sun shine upon it, certain death is the consequence : the heart of this person or animal instantly begins to swell, grows to an immense size, and finally bursts. Such a disease is really incident to sheep on these heights, and in several parts of the kingdom where the grounds are elevated to a great height above the sea; but in no place save Glen Aven is Falm blamed for it."

Water Kelpie has been poetically described as "the angry spirit of the waters." He appeared as a small black horse, and in this shape played all manner of mischief. Frequenting the banks of rivers, he allured strangers to mount him, and then darted with them into the water with an unearthly laugh. A place near Loch Vennachar is named Coill-a-Chroin, or wood of lamentation, owing to the tradition that a water kelpie, in the shape of a Highland pony, having induced a number of children to get upon his back, galloped off with them into the lake's depths.

The water kelpie was occasionally useful to mankind ; he was always so when a pair of branks could be fastened on his head. According to the legend, he was so branked by the builder of the parish church of St. Vigean, and compelled to drag large stones to be used in the work. On being freed from his restraint, he emitted terrible menaces. He predicted that the minister who should officiate in St. Vigean's church at a certain period would commit suicide, an event which would be followed by the church falling on the parishioners at the communion first celebrated thereafter. A minister of St. Vigean's at the beginning of the eighteenth century committed suicide, and the parishioners afterwards refused to join the communion in the parish church. After many years the incumbent insisted on celebrating the ordinance: as he proceeded, the people retired from the building, a few persons only consenting to remain. The alarm was at length overcome.

Supernatural cattle were associated with secluded lochs. A water bull was said to have his lair at Loch Awe. Another dwelt in the depths of Loch Rannoch. These could only be killed with silver shot. A water cow inhabited St. Mary's Loch in Yarrow. She was noted for her mischievous propensities. "A farmer in Bower-hope," writes the Ettrick Shepherd, "once got a breed of her, which he kept for many years, until they multiplied exceedingly, and he never had any cattle throve so well, until once, on some outrage or disrespect on the farmer's part towards them, the old dam came out of the lake one pleasant March evening, and gave such a roar that all the surrounding hills shook again, upon which her progeny, nineteen in number, followed her all quietly into the loch, and were never more seen."

The Drows or Trows were imaginary beings, which occupied caverns and hill centres. Generally mischievous, they could be propitiated.. They were believed to excavate the precious metals for^ the benefit of their favourites.

Shelly-coat was a gigantic hobgoblin, who wore a coat of shells, which he kept beneath a rock, and assumed when he walked abroad. Destruction attended his progress,—the rustling of his coat appalling the stoutest heart. Shelly-coat was named to children to frighten them into obedience.

Fairies were common to the superstitious of every European country. But Scottish fairies possessed peculiarities considerably differing from those of other lands. Less homely than the elves of England, they were more comely than those of Scandinavia. They partook of a nature between the human and divine. Their bodies were condensed cloud—thinner than air, into which they could disappear in a moment of time. "Ther bodies," writes Mr. Robert Kirk, [See "The Secret Commonwealth; an Essay on the Nature and Actions of the Subterranean and, for the most part, Invisible People, heretofore going under the name of Elves, Faunes, and Fairies, as they are described by those having the Second Sight, &c." By Mr. Robert Kirk, Minister at Aberfoill, 1691. 4 to.] "be so plyable through the sub-tilty of the spirits that agitate them, that they can make them appear or disappear att pleasure. Some have bodies or vehicles so spongious, thin, and defecat, that they are fed by only sucking into some fine spirituous liquors, that peirce lyke pure air and oyl : others feid more gross on the foyson or substance of corne and liquors, or corne itself that grows on the surface of the earth, which these fairies steall away, partly invisible, partly preying on the grain as do crowes and mice; wherefore, in this same age, they are sometimes heard to bake bread, strike hammers, and do such lyke services, within the little hillocks they most haunt."

The fairies inhabited conical eminences in solitary places. Their dwellings were gorgeous halls, illuminated with a brilliant sunshine. They changed their residences every quarter. They held converse as ordinary mortals, but their tones were as the sighing of the gentlest breeze. Their forms were beautiful. The female fairy was a being of seraphic loveliness ; ringlets of yellow hair descended upon her shoulders ; these were bound upon her brow with gems of gold. She wore a mantle of green silk, inlaid with eider down, and bound round her waist with garlands of wild flowers. The male fairy was clad in green trows and a flowing tunic. His feet were protected with sandals of silver; from his left arm hung a golden bow, and a quiver of adder-skin was suspended on his left side. His arrows were tipt.in flame.

The fairies feasted luxuriously. The richest viands adorned their boards. They frequented human banquets, and conveyed a portion of the richest dishes into their aerial palaces. They were present at funerals, and extracted the meats and liquor which were presented to the company. Some Highlanders refused to eat or drink at funeral assemblages, in apprehension of elfic interference. "They extracted food from mankind," writes Mr. Kirk, "throw a hair-tedder, by airt magic, or by drawing a spicket fastened in a post, which will bring milk as far off as a bull will be heard to roar.'' Their habits were joyous. They constructed harps, which emitted delicious sounds. They held musical processions, and conducted concerts in remote glens and on unfrequented heaths. In their processions they rode on horses fleeter than the wind. Their coursers were decked with gorgeous trappings; from their manes were suspended silver bells, which rang with the zephyr, and produced music of enchanting harmony. The feet of their steeds fell so gently, that they clashed not the dew from the ring cup, nor bent the stalk of the wild rose. Their dances were performed in circles, and the spots marked by their tiny feet were termed "fairy rings." The unfortunate wight who turned up a fairy-ring with the ploughshare became the victim of a wasting sickness :—

"Ho. wha tills the fairy green
Nae luck again sail hae,
An' he wha spills the fairy ring,
Betide him want an' wae,
For weirdless days and weary nichts
Are his till his deein' day."

The protector of the fairy-ring was proportionately recompensed :—

"He wha gaes by the fairy green
Nae dule nor pains sail see,
An' he wha cleans the fairy ring
An easy death sail dee."

Scottish fairies had a king and queen and a royal court. The queen originally held the government, but having chosen Thomas the Rhymer as her consort, she transferred to him a share of her dignity. The fairy queen's offer to the Rhymer has been celebrated in ballad:—

"An' I will gie to thee, hive Thamas,
My han' Tbut an' my crown,
An' thou shalt reign owre Fairylan'
In joy an' gret renown;
An' I will gie to thee, luve Thamas,
To live for evermair,
Thine arm sail never feckless grow,
Nor hoary wax thy hair;
Nae clamorous grief we ever thole,
Nae wastin' pine we dree;
An endless life's afore thee placed
O' constant luve an' lee."

Hunting was a favourite sport at the fairy court. They rode to the hunting course in three bands. The first were mounted on brown horses, the second rode on grey, while the third, consisting of the king, queen, and chief nobles, sat upon snow-white steeds. One member of the court rode on a black charger : this was Kilmaulie, prime councillor of Fairyland. The hunt was conducted on the hill-sides; old thorns and upright boulder-stones are supposed to denote the scenes of these fairy pastimes.

The northern elves were of two classes, the "gude fairies" and the "wicked wichts ;" they were otherwise described as the "seelie court" and the "unseelie court." The members of the seelie court were the benefactors of mankind; they gave bread to the poor and aged, and supplied indigent but industrious rustics with seed-corn; they cheered the afflicted and comforted those in despair. They bestowed loans and gifts on those mortals who propitiated their favour. Hence the old rhyme:—

"Meddle an mell
Wi' the fien's o' hell,
An' a weirdless wicht ye'll be;
But tak' an' len'
Wi' the fairy men,
Ye'll thrive until ye dee."

The "wicked wichts" of Fairydom were always ready to inflict skaith or damage upon mankind. They . shaved people with loathsome razors, eradicating every vestige of whiskers and beard. When any one, in a fit of temper, commended himself to the Devil, "the unseelie court," took the speaker at his word ; they transported him into the air on a dark cloud, and consumed him to charcoal. They abstracted the household goods of those who offended them, destroyed their cattle by small flints, or " elf-shot," and visited their persons with complicated ailments ; one class of persons was especially obnoxious, those who assumed their livery of green. Lord Dundee was attired in a green uniform at the Battle of Killi-crankie, and to this cause the Highlanders assign his discomfiture and death. Some Scottish families, with a traditional dread of the wicked fairies, avoid using personal or household ornaments of a green colour.

The seizure of infants by the fairies was one of the most universally accepted of the elder superstitions. Handsome children were supposed to be borne away invisibly, while sickly and loathsome brats were substituted in their stead. It was no uncommon occurrence for the wives of the peasantry to imagine that their sickly children were brought from Fairyland, in the place of their own healthy offspring. They had recourse to a barbarous charm, to procure restoration of their own infants, by burning with live coal the toes of the little sufferers. Youths denounced by parents or employers were apt to be laid hold on by the elf-folks. Herds who fell asleep on the pasture, especially after sunset, were liable to transportation to Fairyland; those who were, under such circumstances, removed, were seven years excluded from human converse. In pulmonary complaints, the soul of the patient was supposed to be stolen away, and that of a fairy substituted.

Beautiful maidens and handsome wives were stolen by the wicked fairies. The miller of Menstrie, who possessed a charming spouse, had given offence to the "unseelie court," and was, in consequence, deprived of his fair helpmate. His distress was aggravated by hearing his wife singing in the air :—

"Oh, Alva woods are bonny,
Tillicoultiy hills are fair,
But when I think o' the "bonny braes o' Menstrie,
It makes my heart aye sair."

After many fruitless attempts to procure her restoration, the miller chanced one day, in riddling some stuff at the mill-door, to use a posture of enchantment, when the spell was dissolved, and the matron fell into his arms. The wife of the blacksmith of Tullibody was carried up the chimney, the abductors, as they bore her off, singing :—

"Deidle'linkum dodie!
"We've gotten drucken Davie's wife,
The smith o' Tullibody."

Those snatched to Fairyland might be recovered within a year and a day, but the spell for their recovery was potent only when the fairies made a procession on Hallow-eve:—

"Upon that night, when fairies light
On Cassilis Downan dance,
Or o'er the leas, in splendid bleeze,
On stately coursers prance."

Sir Walter Scott, in the "Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border," relates the following:—The wife of a Lothian farmer had been snatched by the fairies. During the year of probation she had repeatedly appeared on Sundays in the midst of her children, combing their hair. On one of these occasions she was accosted by her husband, when she instructed him how to rescue her at the next Hallow-eve procession. The farmer conned his lesson carefully, and, on the appointed day, proceeded to a plot of furze, to await the arrival of the procession. It came, but the ringing of the fairy bridles so confused him, that the train passed ere he could sufficiently recover himself to use the intended spell. The unearthly laughter of the abductors, and the passionate lamentation of his wife, informed him that she was lost to him for ever.

A woman who had been conveyed to Fairyland was warned by one whom she had formerly known as a mortal, to avoid eating or drinking with her new friends for a certain period. She obeyed, and when the time had expired, she found herself on earth, restored to the society of mankind. A matron was carried to Fairyland to nurse her new-born child, which had previously been abducted. She had not been long in her enchanted dwelling, when she furtively anointed an eye in the contents of a boiling caldron; she now discovered that what had previously seemed a gorgeous palace was in reality a gloomy cavern. She was dismissed, but, on her return to earth, one of the wicked wights, when she demanded her child, spat in her eye, and extinguished it for ever.

On the tradition of the removal to Fairyland of the daughter of a labourer at Traquair, and her restoration a few weeks after, the Et trick Shepherd founded his ballad of "Bonny Kilmeny." His description of Fairyland is unequalled in poetry :—

"Kilmeny had been where the cock never crew,
Where the rain never fell, and the wind never blew;
But it seemed, as the harp of the sky had rung,
And the airs of heaven played round her tongue,
When she spake of the lovely forms she had seen,
And a land where sin had never been;
A land of love and a land of light,
Withouten sun, or moon, or night;
Where the river swa'd a living stream,
And the light a pure celestial beam:
The land of vision, it would seem,
A still, an everlasting dream.
They lifted Kilmeny, they led her away,
And she walked in the light of a sunless day;
The sky was a dome of crystal bright,
The fountain of vision and fountain of light;
The emerald fields were of dazzling glow,
And the flowers of everlasting blow.
There, deep in the stream, her body they laid,
That her youth and beauty might never fade,
And they smiled on heaven when they saw her lie
In the stream of life that wandered by.

* * * * *

She saw a sun on a summer sky,
And clouds of amber sailing by;
A lovely land beneath her lay,
And that land had glens and mountains grey;
And that land had valleys and hoary piles,
And marled seas and a thousand isles;
Its fields were speckled, its forests green,
And its lakes were all of the dazzling sheen,
Like magic mirrors, where slumbering hay
The sun and the sky and the cloudlet grey;
Which heaved and trembled, and gently swung,
On every shore they sedmed to be hung."

About the middle of last century, a clergyman at Kirkmichael, Perthshire, ventured to deny the existence of the elf-folk. He was punished for his scepticism. One evening, as he was returning from a meeting of Presbytery, somewhat late, he was suddenly borne aloft into the air, and carried through the clouds, to such a distance from the earth, that it seemed to him no bigger than a nutshell. Having convinced the doubting pastor that their existence was a grand reality the abductors laid him down gently at his door.

The Rev. Robert Kirk, of Aberfoyle, was less fortunate in his elf-land experiences. Having composed a dissertation, in which he had revealed to mankind their manners and habits, the fairies resolved on his removal from the further intercourse of mortals. In the year 1688, Mr. Kirk sunk down lifeless, while walking on his glebe. It was maintained that his death was only apparent, and that, in reality, he was carried to Fairyland. According to the legend, he appeared soon after his funeral to a relative, informing him of his existence, and intimating that he would appear at the baptism of his posthumous child. He requested that, on that occasion, a kinsman would throw a knife over his head, which would dissolve the spell, and effect his restoration. At the baptism, Mr. Kirk appeared, but his kinsman having neglected to perform the rite, he retired, and was never more seen.

Toshack, the last chief of clan Mackintosh, occupied a castle, or keep, on the margin of the river Turret, in Perthshire. He held nocturnal interviews with a fairy whom he had brought with him from abroad. The mode of his reaching the place of meeting, and the nature of his companion, were long a mystery. His wife at length became jealous of the frequent departures of her lord, and, being unable to discover whither he proceeded, resorted to the scheme of attaching a piece of worsted to his button. Thus guided, she followed him down a subterranean passage, under the bed of the river, where, after various windings, she discovered him in conversation with a beautiful lady. The discovery so enraged the matron, that she insisted on the immediate destruction of the stranger, who fled, and the sun of Toshack set to rise no more.

In his poem of "Anster Fair," Professor Tennant represents a fairy arising from the mustard-pot of his heroine, Maggy Lauder, to afford her counsel in the choice of a husband. The description accords with some of the popular beliefs:—

"It reeked censer-like; then, strange to tell!
Forth from the smoke that thick and thicker grows,
A fairy, of the height of half an ell,
In dwarfish pomp, majestically rose;
His feet, upon the table 'stablished well,
Stood trim and splendid in their snake-skin hose;
Gleamed topaz-like the breeches he had on,
Whose waistband like the bend of summer rainbow shone.

His coat seem'd fashion'd of the threads of gold
That intertwine the, clouds at sunset hour;
And certes, Iris, with her shuttle bold,
Wove the rich garment in her lofty bower;
To form its buttons, were the Pleiads old
Pluck'd from their sockets, sure by genie-power,
And sew'd upon the coat's resplendent hem;
Its neck was lovely green, each cuff a sapphire gem.

* * * * *

Around his bosom, by a silken zone,
|A little bagpipe gracefully was bound,
Whose pipes like hollow stalks of silver shone,
The glist'ning tiny avenues of sound;
Beneath his arm the windy bag, full-blown,
Heav'd up its purple like an orange round,
And only waited order to discharge
Its blasts, with charming groan, into, the sky at large."

A narrow peninsula extends from the southern shore of the Lake Menteith, in Perthshire. Its construction is attributed to the fairies. According to the legend, the old Earls of Menteith, who resided on an islet in the lake, were in possession of a red book, the opening of which was followed by something supernatural. One of the Earls, by accident or from curiosity, had opened the mysterious volume, wheif up rose a band of fairies, demanding immediate employment. The Earl, after consideration, set them to make a road from the mainland to the island ; and thus far had they proceeded, when his lordship, fearing that the insular situation of his fortress might be spoiled by the completion of the work, and wishing otherwise to get quit of his labourers, required them to undertake a new task. He requested them to twist a rope of sand. The fairies were puzzled, and took their departure.

There are solitary places celebrated as "fairy haunts." A conical hill at Strachur, Argyllshire, is called Sieu-Sluai, the fairy habitation of a multitude. Another celebrated haunt of the "elf-folk " was Coirshian, above Loch Con, near the source of the Forth. There the fairies held rendezvous on Hallow-eve.

The enchantments of Fairydom were overcome by a series of counter charms. Fire had a potent influence against elfic arts. When a cow calved, a burning coal was passed across her back and round her belly, which was supposed to protect her from fairy influences. In breweries the evil influence of the fairies was negatived by a live coal being thrown into the vat. The inhabitants of the Isle of Lewis made a fairy circle about their houses and farm-yards. They encompassed with a fairy band a bride before she was churched, and children prior to their being baptized.

A sort of female siren, clothed, like the fairies, in green, partook of the threefold nature of the brownie, the fairy, and the witch. By her bewitching beauty she allured travellers to follow her, and having drawn them to a sequestered spot, proceeded to destroy them. On the tradition of the destruction of a hunter by a siren, Sir Walter Scott composed his ballad of "Glenfinlas."


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