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Chapter XXI. - Demons and Apparitions


IN popular phraseology the devil was "Nick" or "Old Nick," a term derived from niken or necken, a Danish word which signifies to destroy. To his special emissaries, the sorcerers, " Old Nick " was, as we have shown, supposed to appear in a variety of forms, generally in the likeness of the lower animals. He was believed to choose shapes conformable to his errands. Distracted by persecution, and with their imaginations excited by their untoward surroundings, the adherents of the Covenant were led to fancy that Satan pursued them in corporeal forms. Under the dim twilight he seemed to cross their path in the mountain correi, in the lonesome cavern, or in other solitary places. Alexander Peden, the prophet of the Covenant, was supposed to have personally encountered the devil in a cave. Between the devil and two Covenanters occurred a conflict in the Forest of Ettrick. On the Moffat Water, in a wild ravine, Halbert Dobson and David Dun, two proscribed Presbyterians, had constructed a hiding-place. Here the devil appeared to them in the aspect of a marauder; but he was, on being assailed with their Bibles, compelled to flee, leaving behind him a bundle of hides. Hence the lines:

Little ken'd the wirrikowI
What the Covenant would do;
What o' faith, and what o' pen,
What o' might and what o' men,
Or he had never shown his face,
His reekit rags an' riven toes,
To men o' nieik an' men o' mense,
For Hab Dob and Davie Din
Dan the deil oure Dob's Linn.

Weir' quo he, an' ' weir' quo he,
Haud the Bible til his e'e;
Ding him oure, or thrash him doun,
He's a fause, deceitfu' loon.'
Then he oure him, an' he oure him,
Ike oure him, an' he oure him
Habby held him griff and grim,
Davie thrash him hip an' line';
Till like a bunch o' basket skins
Doun fell Satan oure the Linns."

John Graham of Claverhouse was regarded as a personal ally of the Evil One, who had shown him the secret of becoming bullet-proof. But they had prepared a preternatural defiance to leaden shot only, which becoming known to one in the opposing army, he at the battle of Killiecrankie discharged from his firelock at the Jacobite leader a silver button. And thus he fell mortally wounded.

During the months of February, March, and April 1695, the house of Andrew Jackie, mason at Ring-croft, in the parish of Rerrick, and Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, was a scene of commotion. Into the house, by an invisible hand, were thrown stones and missiles of all sorts. Voices were heard uttering fierce adjurations. Missives were found scattered about inscribed with blood. Members of the household were beaten with invisible rods, and dragged about roughly. '1'1he neighbouring clergy assembled, and in a written narrative certified as to the strange proceedings. The cause remained undiscovered.

Among the AVodrow MSS. there is the narrative of a female to whom, in 1701, the devil appeared in different shapes, including those of a hare, a hog, and a ram. More commonly he became manifest in a form presenting the, head of a man with the four legs of a beast, or as "a long-wound corpse with a black face." By casting heavy weights upon the floor the demon shook the patient's bed; he also chased her from room to room, and when she refused to surrender her Bible he struck her upon the head. Men watched, but without detecting any imposture.

The devil employed spiritual agents who were described by ecclesiastics as "the light infantry of Satan." Of these the most conspicuous was "the genie." This imaginary being occupied the forests, and also frequented the air and rivers ; it raised storms and allayed them, and interfered largely with human affairs. Persons who bore the name of Tweed were believed to have as an ancestor the genie of the river of that name. When, in a remote age, some pious individuals at Old Deer, in Aberdeenshire, began to erect a place of worship, they were surprised to find the work supernaturally impeded. At length the genie of the district was heard to exclaim:—

"It is not here, it is not here
That ye're to big the Kirk o' Deer,
But on the tap o' Tillery,
Where many a corpse shall after lie."

The church was accordingly built on a knoll or small mount, embraced by a bend of the Ugie. In the Macfarlane MSS. there is an account of a spirit named Lham-dearg which haunted the forest of Glenmore. Clad like an ancient warrior, he exhibited a bloody hand. To the combat be challenged all he met. 'Three brothers whom lie compelled to fight with him died soon afterwards.

A supposed abettor of the Evil One, water-kelpie, is poetically described as "the angry spirit of the waters." He assumed the likeness of a small black horse, and in this shape practised mischief. Frequenting the banks of rivers, he allured strangers to mount him, and then darted with them into the water, emitting an unearthly laugh. A place near Loch Vennachar is named Coill-a-chroin,—that is, the wood of lamentation, — owing to the tradition that a water-kelpie, in the shape of a pony, having there induced a number of children to mount him, immediately darted with them into the lake. Water-kelpie was rendered useful to mankind when his head could be secured by a pair of brauks. According to the legend, he was branked by the builder of the parish church of St Vigeans, near Arbroath, and so compelled to drab the large stones used in its construction. On being rescued from his restraint he evinced a terrible resentment, and predicted that a minister of St Vigeans would commit suicide, and that this event would be followed by the fabric of the church falling upon those who attended the first communion thereafter celebrated. At the beginning of the eighteenth century as minister of St Vigeans deprived himself of life, and the parishioners afterwards refused to join in the communion. lifter many years the incumbent insisted on celebrating the ordinance, but as he proceeded, the congregation retired from the building, a few only remaining.

From marine caverns "Shelly-coat" walked forth in gigantic proportions, clad in a coat of shells which lie kept beneath a rock, and wore curing his visits to mankind. He destroyed as he went, and the rustling of his coat quelled the stoutest heart. In Shetland a marine supernatural, known as the Nuggle, was believed to haunt lochs and streams. In form resembling a Shetland pony, he had, instead of a tail, a sort of wheel appendage, which, carefully concealed from the observer, had the art of inducing passers-by to take a ride on him; when in the manner of water-kelpie, lie cast them into the water. The Nuggle stopped mills, but in gratifying this mischievous propensity was checked when a burning branch was dropped into the shaft-hole.

Apart from the brownie and the elf, there was a supernatural which had its home in hill centres and in the mountain cave. This was the "brisk," otherwise the Drew or Trew, which, possessing a figure between a goat and a man, was ordinarily mischievous, [In northern districts, when a cow was off her food, or if a calf did not take kindly to chewing the cud, the trew was supposed to have been exercising a baneful influence. Consequently "a wise woman" was sent for, who worked up a dough ball of oatmeal, and after placing it in a dog's mouth compelled the cow or calf to swallow it.] yet, like water-kelpie or the brownie, might be induced to yield some industrial help. In the "Lady of the Lake" Sir Walter Scott has celebrated the Urisk in connection with a copse-clad cavern or hollow, which rests romantically in the mountain of Benvenue, overhanging the southern bank of Loch Katrine. By the Ettrick Shepherd is described a supernatural monster which frequented a mountain at Glen Aven. "Falm," writes the Shepherd, "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."

In 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 anyone who refused to supply her daily with a portion of dairy produce. The milkmaids of the Isle of Trodda propitiated Gruagach by pouring milk daily into the small cavity of a stone.

To a female syren which lingered on the mountains of Perthshire belonged the threefold nature of the brownie, the fairy, and the witch. By her beauty, alluring travellers to follow her, she drew them to a sequestered spot and there proceeded to slaughter them. On the tradition of a hunter being destroyed by a Perthshire siren, Sir Walter Scott founded his ballad of "Glenfinlas."

Supernatural cattle were associated with the more secluded lochs. In Loch Awe, a water bull had his lair; another was associated with the depths of Loch Rannoch. These could not be killed save with silver bullets. A water cow occupied St Mary's Loch in Yarrow. "A farmer in Bowerhope," 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 clam 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."

A notion, which still prevails in Persia, largely obtained in the Highlands. It was believed that a "wraith," or tutelary spirit attended every soul from birth to burial. Presenting the aspects, and wearing the attire of his human charge, the tutelary spirit accompanied and generally preceded him in all his movements. A protector in danger he, when death was approaching, conveyed to relatives intimation of its approach. In the discharge of the last duty the wraith became visible, appearing in his ward's likeness and wearing his ordinary apparel, or a snow-white vestment.

A tutelary spirit was occasionally found in the ;lost of an ancestor. To a note which Sir Walter Scott has appended to "The Antiquary," we are indebted for the substance of the following narrative:—

Mr R--d, of Rowland, a landowner in the Vale of Gala, was prosecuted for a large sum, the accumulated arrears of teinds (or tithes), for which he was said to be indebted to a noble family. Mr R--d was satisfied that his father had purchased exemption from the titular, but he was unable, either in his own repositories, or among the papers of those who had transacted business for his father, to discover any evidence of the transaction. He therefore deemed a defence useless, and had resolved to ride to Edinburgh next day to make the best terms in a compromise. He went to bed, deeply concerned about his expected loss. He slept, and in a dream conceived that his father, who had many years been dead, was talking «vith him. The paternal shade announced that lie had actually purchased the teinds, and that the papers relating to the transaction were in the possession of a solicitor who had transacted business for him on that occasion only. He named the solicitor, who still lived. 'If he has forgotten the transaction,' he added, 'call it to his recolIection by this token, that, when I came to pay his account, there was difficulty ill getting change for a Portugal piece of gold, and that we were forced to drink out the balance at a tavern.' In the morning Mr R--d proceeded to the residence of the solicitor, whose name had occurred in the dream. He found a very abed gentleman, long retired from business. At first he could not recollect about the matter, but the mention of the Portugal piece of gold recalled it to his memory. He made an immediate search for the papers, and recovered them, so that Mr R--d carried to Edinburgh the documents necessary to gain the cause which he was on the verge of losing.

To the chiefs of ancient houses belonged spiritual guardians of a high order, which remained attached to those under the cloud of trial, and even when their lands were alienated. To the family of Shaw of Rothiemurchus was attached a spiritual protector, known as "Bodach-an-Dun," or the ghost of the hill. When the Shaws were dispossessed of their family estate Boclach sung these lines of lamentation:--

"Ho! ro, theidd sin sa chiomachas,
Theidd sinna fhonn's odhige;
'Sged thug iad uainn ar duchas,
Bidh ar duil ri cathair na firinn."

According to the family legend, Bodach continues to guard the graves and protect the memorial-stones at Rothiemurchus of the old barons. When death was about to enter the family of the chief of Maclean the spirit of an ancestor rode round the family mansion three times, shaking the bridle of his horse.

In the north-western Highlands the peasantry believe that the "wraith" of the last person whose remains have been buried in a churchyard continues there to bear watch until on another interment he is relieved from his charge. On this subject Dr Alexander Stewart writes thus:-

"Sailing past the beautiful island of St Mungo, in Loch Leven, the burial-place for many centuries of the people of Nether Lochaber and Glencoe, the following conversation took place between an old man who managed the sails while we steered. It was in Gaelic, but the substance we present in English :—`You were at the funeral on the island the other day, sir?' observed our companion. 'That I was, John," we answered. `The deceased,' naming him, 'was a very decent man.' 'He was a fine old Highlander,' he replied, 'and I believe he was pious.' Donald ,' naming a person we both knew, 'is very ill, and not likely to long survive.' `I saw him to-day,' we observed, and I fear you are right. He cannot exist very long.' `Well, sir, it will be a good thing; for John (the person recently buried); his term of watching will be short.' 'I do not understand your meaning,' we remarked, with some curiosity. 'The man is dead and buried; what watching should he have to do?' Why, sir, don't you know that the spirit of the last person buried in the island has to keep watch over the graves till the spirit of the next one buried takes his place?' `I really did not know this,' we replied; `and is the belief common? Do you personally believe it?' My companion answered, 'Well, sir, it is generally believed; and having always heard that it was so, I cannot well help believing it too. The spirit who watches is present day and night. Some people have seen them. My mother once pointed out to me, when I was a small boy, an appearance as of a flame of light on the island slowly moving about, and she assured me that it was the watching spirit going his rounds.' `What particular object has the spirit in watching?' we asked. `I don't exactly know,' was the answer, 'but he seems to take general charge of the dead until his successor arrives."'

With some leading events are apparitions associated. It is related both by Fordun and Boece that in the year 1285 a ghost, or an appearance which resembled a ghost, danced at a ball during the festivities which at Jedburgh attended the nuptial festivities of Alexander III. In his metrical life of Wallace Henry has represented his hero as having, soon after his slaughter of the traitor Fawdoun, witnessed his apparition, bearing "hys awne hede in hys hand." Prior to his expedition which resulted in the disaster of Flodden, James IV., as he worshipped in St Michael's Church, Linlithgow, at the hour of vespers, was accosted by a venerable figure with long hair, and clad in a blue robe bound by a linen girdle. The figure warned him to desist from his undertaking, under the penalty of being summoned into the eternal world. About the same period, at the hour of midnight, a spectral figure at the Market Cross of Edinburgh summoned a muster-roll of the Scottish army to shortly appear before his master. John Knox relates that James V., not long previous to his death, saw in vision the apparitions of two persons who in his service had gone into perdition.

Within the walls of Glammis Castle there is a haunted chamber, of which the entrance is unknown. And there, according to the legend, will, up to the day of doom, be performed fearful orgies. For Alexander Lindsay, fourth Earl of Crawford—"the Tiger Earl," who lived in the fifteenth century—having, when in the chamber, been advised to abandon a game at which he was always losing, he refused to do so, adding, with imprecations, that he would not give up till doomsday. At that instant the devil appeared, and the chamber and company evanished. And in stormy nights, when the winds howl drearily around the castle, the doomed gamesters are supposed to be heard mingling their curses with the blast.

In popular superstition it was a common belief that the "host of a murdered person continued to haunt the scene of slaughter, either until the assassin was discovered or the remains had received Christian burial. A daughter of the Baron of Cromlix, in Perthshire, having been betrothed to Sir Molise Graham, "the Black Knight of Kilbryde," permitted him to lead her to a sequestered spot of his forest, where he basely seduced and slew her. Concealing her remains, he retired to his castle. Her ghost thereafter haunted him, and after his death it continued to glide in the forest in a blood-stained robe, and to beckon all who noticed it to follow. For many years none were venturous enough to comply, but at length a chieftain of the family undertook, if the spectre should cross his path, to obey its wishes. His courage was put to trial, for one dark evening the spectre appeared to him in his garden. Moving forward, the knight followed. Descending to the bottom of the glen, it pointed to a particular spot. There the chief caused an excavation to be made, when were found the remains of the long-deceased Lady Anne, whose disappearance had heretofore been a mystery. When the remains were interred in a churchyard, the spectre ceased to appear.

On the 10th June 1754, Duncan Clerk and Alexander Bain Macdonald were tried in the Justiciary Court on the charge of murdering Sergeant Arthur Davies. The sergeant, who with a party of men was stationed in Braemar, disappeared on the 28th September 1749, while prosecuting solitary sport on the Hill of Christie, in Glencorrie. Long afterwards Alexander Macpherson, a native of the district, have out that he had seen the ghost of the deceased, which had directed him to proceed to the Hill of Christie, there to discover and inter his bones. The ghost, he said, had appeared to him on two occasions, while on the second it had named Clerk and Macdonald as the murderers. Macpherson added that he had found the bones. Having elicited from Macpherson that the apparition talked to him in Gaelic, the prisoners' counsel remarked that "this was pretty well for the ghost of an English sergeant," a remark which so influenced the jury that they overlooked other evidence amounting to legal proof of the guilt of the prisoners libelled, and brought in a verdict of "not guilty."

In the Hebrides and on the west coast future events were foreshadowed by spectral appearances. Such a belief has descended from the Ossianic age. In the poem of "Conlath and Cutllona," it is said to Toscar in relation to "the ghost of the night," "It was thy father, O Toscar, and he foresees some death among his race."

Those who had the faculty of witnessing spectral appearances which boded coming events were styled Taibhsem or vision-seers, their faculty being known as Taisch or the second sight. Unlike other pretenders to necromancy, these vision-seers refused to exercise their gifts for money. Nor of their skill did they speak boastfully. On the contrary, the Taibhsearr referred to their faculty as an unfortunate possession, owing to the painful visions with which it was associated. The seventh child of the same sex born in succession was held to be endowed with the faculty.

During a vision the eyeballs of the seer were turned upward, and rendered so rigid that, when the vision closed, help was needed to restore them to ordinary use. And visions occurred without premonition. A morning vision implied an immediate fulfilment, and a vision at noon was realised before the close of the day. The later the hour of vision the more distant was the time of its accomplishment. Certain visions were not realised till after the lapse of years. The vision of a shroud was a prognostic of death, its height above the person whose death was foretold indicating the portion of time to ensue before the event. When the shroud rose to the middle, the death of the person seen would occur within a year; when the head was covered, death was near. Other signals may be remarked. When the seer observed a woman at a man's left hand, she was to become his wife; when two or three women stood at a man's right hand, these were to be his wives in succession. The seer could foresee the erection of houses and the planting of orchards in localities covered with huts and cowhouses. He foresaw the death of children by remarking a spark of fire falling into the bosom of those who were to be bereaved while the vision of empty seats in a household intimated the removal of parents or adults. Visions of funeral trains were common. At their occurrence the aged seer became pensive, and the novice was covered with a thick sweat or fell into a swoon. When a seer was beholding his vision, lie could enable another of the Taibhsear, on taking him by the hand, to witness similar phenomena.

Not infrequently the faculty of Taisch was exercised by the household bard, or family minstrel. By Professor Walker, in his "MS. Life of a Manse Household," is related the following "Sir Archibald Kennedy, Dart., of Culzean (who died in 1710), retained in his household a bard who claimed the faculty of interpreting signs. As Sir Archibald's daughter, Susannah, was with some of her father's family walking in Culzean Park, a game hawk was observed circling overhead; and when she sportively threw up something by way of lure, it gently dropped and settled on her wrist. The seer, who was present, instantly exclaimed) that the owner of the bird was destined to be Miss Susan's future husband). But the prophecy was scorned when the silver rings attached to the hawk's feet were examined, and found to bear the name of the Earl of Eglinton, his lordship being at that time married to his second wife. In the evening, however, an express arrived announcing the death of Lady Eglinton, and before the expiration of a twelvemonth the prediction of the seer was fulfilled. Susannah Kennedy became Countess of Eglinton in 1709."

In his "Schools and Schoolmasters" Hugh Miller relates, with a slight comment, a remarkable incident of his childhood. His father, who was a seaman at Cromarty, was in the exercise of his vocation sailing at some distance on the coast, but a letter had lately been received from lain reporting his safety. It was the early winter of 1807, when Mr Miller had just complete([ his fifth year. The remainder of the narrative we present iii his own words:-

"Day had not wholly disappeared, but it was fast posting on to night, and a grey haze spread a neutral tint of dimness over distant objects, but left the near ones comparatively distinct, when I saw at the open door, within less than a yard of my breast, as plainly as I ever saw anything, a dissevered hand and arm stretched towards me. Hand and arm were apparently those of a female; they bore a livid and sodden appearance, and directly fronting me, where the body ought to have been, there was only a blank transparent space, through which I could see the dine forms of the objects beyond. I was fearfully startled, and ran shrieking to my mother, telling what I had seen ; and the house-girl, whom she now sent to shut the door, apparently affected by my terror, also returned frightened, and said that she too had seen the woman's hand."

To this relation Mr Miller adds, that while the apparition may have been a momentary affection of the eye, its coincidence with the probable time of his father's death "seems at least curious."

The metrical chroniclers of Wallace and Bruce introduce the Highland seer in connection with their heroes. By an assassin of James I. was consulted one of the fraternity. A vision-seer is alleged to have foretold the unhappy career and violent death of Charles I. Sir George Mackenzie, afterwards Lord Tarbet, when sojourning in the Highlands, under a dread of Cromwell's government, employed a portion of his time in investigating the nature of the faculty. A narrative of its manifestations lie communicated to the celebrated Robert Boyle, which, with the communications of others on the same subject, is included in the "Diary" of Samuel Pepys. The curious details of the Taisch, contained in John Frazer of Tyree's "Authentic Instances," appeared in 1707, and in 1716 those of Martin, in his "Description of the Western Islands." In 1763, Macleod of Hamir, under the signature of Theophilus Insulanus, published a treatise on the Second Sight, which in-eluded numerous illustrations of the gift, industriously collected. In his "Journey to the Hebrides," Dr Samuel Johnson, in reference to the supposed faculty, refuses to reject the testimony by which it is supported. By an intelligent literary writer resident in the Highlands, we are informed that a belief in the second sight still lingers among the people of the west coast and also of the Hebrides. The vision-seer is poetically celebrated in the "Lady of the Lake," also in "Lochiel's Warning."


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