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Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs
Chapter XVII - Sun Worship and Well Worship


Fairs—Their Connection with Holy Days—Nature-festivals—Modes of Marking Time—Ecclesiastical Year and Natural Year—Christmas—Fire-festivals—Hallow E'en and Mid-summer Fires —Beltane—Its Connection with Sun-worship--Sun-charms-Carrying Fire—Clavie at Burghead—Fiery-circle—Traces of Sun-worship in Folk-customs--In Architecture—Turning Sun-ways— Widdershins — When Wells were Visited — May Influence of Pagan Rites—Folklore of May Day—Sundays in May—Sunday Wells—Sunday, why Chosen—Lammas—Festival of St. Peter ad Vincula—Gule of August--Sun and Well worship—Time of Day for Using Wells—Fonts of the Cross—Walking Sunways round Wells—Doing the Reverse—Witch's Well—South-running Water.

IN his "Scottish Markets and Fairs " Sir J. D. Marwick observes:---"Simple home needs, such as plain food and clothing, articles of husbandry, and other indispensable appliances of life gave rise to markets held at frequent fixed times, at suitable centres. But as society grew and artificial needs sprung up, these could only be met by trade; and trade on anything beyond a very limited scale was only then practicable at fairs. Wherever large numbers of persons were drawn together, at fixed times, for purposes of business or religion or pleasure, an inducement was offered to the merchant or pedlar, as well as to the craftsman, to attend, and to provide by the diversity and quality of his wares for the requirements of the persons there congregated." In the last chapter allusion was made to such gatherings in connection with springs. We shall now look at the dates when they were held, in order to trace their connection with nature-festivals. Fairs, as distinguished from markets, were of comparatively rare occurrence at any given place. In the majority of instances, they can be traced back to some gathering held in connection with what were originally holy days, and afterwards holidays. Such holy days commemorated a local saint, the fame of whose sanctity was confined to more or less narrow limits, or one whom Christendom at large delighted to honour; or, again, a leading event in sacred or legendary history deemed worthy of a place in the ecclesiastical year. A few dates when fairs are, or were held at various Scottish centres may be selected from Sir J. Marwick's list. At Abercorn they were held on Michaelmas and St. Serf's Day; at Aberdeen, on Whitsunday, Holy Trinity, Michaelmas, and St. Nicholas's Day; at Charlestown of Aboyne, on Candlemas, Michaelmas, and Hallowmas; at Annan, on Ascension-day and Michaelmas; at Ayr, on Mid-summer and Michaelmas; at Biggar, on Candlemas and Mid-summer; at Clackmannan, on St. Bartholomew's Day; at Cromdale, on St. Luke's Day, St. Peter's Day, Michaelmas, and St. George's Day; at Culross, on St. Serf's Day, Martinmas, and St. Matthew's Day; at Dalmellington, on Fastern's E'en and Hallow E'en; at Dalmeny, on St. John the Baptist's Day and St. Luke's Day; at Doune, on Martinmas, Yule, Candlemas, Whitsunday, Lammas, and Michaelmas; at Dumbarton, on Patrickmas, Mid-summer, and Lammas; at Fraserburgh, on St. John the Baptist's Day and Michaelmas; at Fyvie, on Fastern's Eve, St. Peter's Day, and St. Magdalene's Day; at Hamilton, on St. Lawrence's Day and Martinmas; at Inveraray, on Michaelmas and St. Brandane's Day; at Stranraer, on St. Barnabas' Day and Lammas. Among the fairs at Auchinblae were Pasch Market in April, and one called May Day to be held on the 22nd of that month. This series might be indefinitely enlarged; but as it stands it shows that the leading nature-festivals, such as Yule, Easter, Whitsuntide, Mid-summer, Michaelmas, and Hallowmas have a prominent place among the dates selected. An examination of Sir J. Marwick's list further shows that the dates of fairs were often fixed, not with reference to any particular holy day, but to some day of a particular month, such as the second Tuesday, or the third Thursday. Many of these occur in May. In ancient documents —in Acts of Parliaments, for instance—dates were commonly fixed by a reference to holy days. In Presbyterian Scotland such a method of marking time is not now in fashion, though some relics of the practice survive. We are still familiar with Whitsunday and Martinmas as term-days, but how few now ever think of them as ecclesiastical festivals!

The meaning of customs associated with the various holy days has come to be duly recognised by the student of ecclesiastical antiquities. While the Christian year was being evolved in the course of centuries, certain festivals were introduced, as one might say, arbitrarily, i.e., without being linked to any pre-Christian usages. From the point of view of Church clebrations, they have not the same significance as those others that received, as their heritage, certain rights in vogue before the spread of Christianity. In other words, the • leading pagan festivals had a new meaning put into them, and, when adopted by the Church, were exalted to a position of honour. In virtue of this, the ecclesiastical year was correlated to the natural year, with its varying seasons and its archaic festivals. There is no doubt that in early times the Church sought to win nations from paganism by admitting as many of the old customs as were deemed harmless. We have seen how this was effected in the case of fountains, as shown by Columba's exorcism of the demons inhabiting springs. The same principle prevailed all round. The old Saturnalia of the Romans, for instance, became the rejoicings of Christmas. To the distinctively Christian aspects of the festival we do not, of course, allude, but to the customs still in vogue at the Yule season; and these are nothing more than a revised edition of the old pagan rites. Among other Aryan peoples the winter solstice was was also commemorated by similar merry-makings. Church festivals, such as Candlemas, Easter, St. John's Day, St. Peter's Day, Michaelmas, Hallowmas, Christmas, &c., absorbed many distinctive features of the old pagan fire-festivals, held in connection with the changes of the seasons. The kindling of fires out of doors, on special occasions, is familiar to all of us. They may be called modern folk-customs; but their origin is ancient enough to give them special significance. Even to the present time, twinkling spots of light may be seen along the shores of Loch Tay on Hallow E'en, though the mid-summer fires do not now blaze on our Scottish hills, as they continue to do in Scandinavia and elsewhere. Among the Bavarian Highlands these mid-summer fires are popularly known as Sonnenwendfeuer, i.e., solstice-fires. That they are so called and not St. John's fires (though lighted in connection with his festival) is significant. In Brittany a belief prevailed that if a girl danced nine times round one of the St. John's fires before midnight she would be married within the year.

The most important fire-festival in Scotland was that of Beltane at the beginning of May. It was celebrated generally throughout our land. To the south of the Forth several sites are known to have been specially associated with Beltane fires. In Lanarkshire two such sites were, the hills of Tinto and Dechmont. Tinto, indeed, means the hill of fire. It was used for beacon-fires as well as for those connected with nature-festivals, and was well adapted for the purpose, being 2335 feet above the sea, and 1655 feet above the Clyde at its base. Though not nearly so high, Dechmont hill commands a splendid view over the neighbouring country. Early in the present century a quantity of charcoal was discovered near its summit hidden beneath a stratum of fine loam. The country people around expressed no surprise at the discovery, as they were familiar with the tradition that the spot had been used for the kindling of Beltane fires. In Peeblesshire, too, the Beltane festival long held its ground. In the fifteenth century the town of Peebles was the scene of joyous May Day gatherings. From far and near, holiday-makers, dressed in their best, came together to join in the Beltane amusements. Who has not heard of the poem, "Peblis to the Play," attributed to King James the First? The play consisted of a round of rural festivities—archery and horse-racing being the chief recreations. Pennant gives a minute account of Beltane rites as practised about 1772. "On the first of May the herdsmen of every village hold their Bel-tein, a rural sacrifice. They cut a square trench on the ground, leaving the turf in the middle; on that they make a fire of wood, on which they dress a large caudle of eggs, butter, oat-meal, and milk, and bring, besides the ingredients of the caudle, plenty of beer and whisky; for each of the company must contribute something. The rites begin with spilling some of the caudle on the ground by way of libation; on that, every one takes a cake of oatmeal, upon which are raised nine square knobs, each dedicated to some particular being, the supposed preserver of their flocks and herds, or to some particular animal, the real destroyer of them; each person then turns his face to the fire, breaks off a knob, and flinging it over his shoulders, says, `This I give to thee, preserve thou my horses; this to thee, preserve thou my sheep'; and so on. After that they use the same ceremony to the noxious animals, `This I give to thee, O fox! spare thou my lambs; this to thee, O hooded crow! this to thee, O eagle!' When the ceremony is over they dine on the candle; and after the feast is finished, what is left is hid by two persons deputed for that purpose; but on the, next Sunday they reassemble and finish the reliques of the first entertainment."

An examination of the dates when fire-festivals were held shows that they had a distinct connection with the sun's annual cycle. When several leading Church festivals fell to be observed about the same time of the year, they had often some features in common. Thus the pagan mid-summer festival had as its lineal successor, not only St. John's Day (24th June), but St. Vitus's Day and St. Peter's Day, respectively the fifteenth and the twenty-ninth of the same month. The kindling of fires was a feature of all three. Mediaeval fire-festivals were thus the gleanings of rites derived from archaic sun-worship.

The question arises, what connection was there between the custom and the cult? Mr. J. G. Frazer, in his "Golden Bough," has collected a variety of facts which go to show that the lighting of these fires was primarily intended to ensure the shining of the sun in the heavens. Mr. Frazer thus sums up the evidence: "The best general explanation of these European fire-festivals seems to be the one given by Mannhardt, namely, that they are sun-charms or magical ceremonies intended to ensure a proper supply of sunshine for men, animals, and plants. Savages resort to charms for making sunshine, and we need not wonder that primitive man in Europe has done the same. Indeed, considering the cold and cloudy climate of Europe during a considerable part of the year, it is natural that sun-charms should have played a much more prominent part among the superstitious practices of European peoples than among those of savages who live nearer the equator. This view of the festivals in question is supported by various considerations drawn partly from the rites themselves, partly from the influence which they are believed to exert upon the weather and on vegetation." After alluding to certain sun-charms, Mr. Frazer continues, "In these the magic force is supposed to take effect through mimicry or sympathy; by imitating the desired result you actually produce it; by counterfeiting the sun's progress through the heavens you really help the luminary to pursue his celestial journey with punctuality and despatch. . . . The influence which these bonfires are supposed to exert on the weather and on vegetation goes to show that they are sun- charms, since the effects ascribed to them are identical with those of sunshine. Thus, in Sweden, the warmth or cold of the coming season is inferred from the direction in which the flames of the bonfire are blown; if they blow to the south it will be warm, if to the north, cold. No doubt at present the direction of the flames is regarded merely as an augury of the weather, not as a mode of influencing it. But we may be pretty sure that this is one of the cases in which magic has dwindled into divination." Hence a good supply of light and heat is not only foretold, but guaranteed.

The view that these fires were reckoned mock-suns is confirmed by the custom, at one time common, of carrying lighted brands round the fields to ensure their fertility. Blazing torches were thus carried in Pennant's time in the middle of June. Martin refers to the carrying of fire in the Hebrides. "There was an ancient custom in the Island of Lewis to make a fiery circle about the houses, corn, cattle, &c., belonging to each particular family. An instance of this round was performed in the village Shadir, in Lewis, about sixteen years ago (i.e., circa 1680), but it proved fatal to the practiser, called MacCallum; for, after he had carefully performed this round, that very night following he and his family were sadly surprised, and all his houses, corn, cattle, &c., were consumed with fire. This superstitious custom is quite abolished now, for there has not been above this one instance of it in forty years past." Till a later date in Lewis, fire continued to be carried round children before they were baptised, and round mothers before they were churched, to prevent evil spirits from doing harm.

Burghead, in Elginshire, is still the scene of an annual fire-festival, celebrated on the last day of the year (O.S.). It is locally known as the burning of the clavie. On the afternoon of the day in question, careful preparations are made for the ceremony. A tar barrel is sawn across, and of it the clavie is made. A pole of firwood is stuck through the barrel, and held in its place by a large nail driven in by a stone, no hammer being used. The clavie is then filled with tar and pieces of wood. After dark these combustibles are kindled, according to ancient practice, by a burning peat from a neighbouring cottage. The clavie is then lifted by one of the men and carried through the village amid the applause of the inhabitants. Notwithstanding the risk from the burning tar, the possession of the clavie, while on its pilgrimage, is eagerly coveted. In former times, a stumble on the part of the bearer was counted unlucky for himself personally, and for the village as a whole. After being borne about for some time, the still blazing clavie is placed on an adjacent mound called the Doorie, where a stone column was built some years ago for its accommodation. A hole in the top of the column receives the pole. There the clavie is allowed to burn for about half-an-hour, when it is thrown down the slope of the mound. The burning fragments are eagerly snatched up and carried away by the spectators. These fragments were formerly kept as charms to ensure good fortune to their possessors. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Church discountenanced the burning of the clavie as idolatrous and sinful, and certain penalties were threatened against all who took part in it. The antiquity of the custom may be inferred from the fact, that two hundred years ago it was called old. At that time lights were carried round the boats in the harbour, and certain other ceremonies were performed, all pointing to a pagan origin. Formerly the custom was in vogue, not only at Burghead, but at most of the fishing villages along the Morayshire coast. The object in every case was the same, viz., the blessing of the boats to ensure a good fishing season.

A singular survival of sun-worship is to be found in the use of a fiery circle as a curative agent. In the volume of the "Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland " for 1889-90, the Rev. Dr. Stewart of Nether Lochaber recounts a recent instance of its use in the Highlands. A dwining child, a year and a half old, was pronounced by a "wise woman" of the district to be suffering from the effects of an "evil eye." The rite, called in Gaelic, Beannachd-na-Cuairte, i.e., "Blessing of the Circle," was accordingly resorted to. A straw rope was wound round the greater part of an iron hoop, and, oil being applied, the whole was set on fire. The hoop was then held vertically, and through the blazing circle the child was passed and repassed eighteen times to correspond to the months of its life. The blazing hoop was then extinguished in a neighbouring burn. The result was in every way to the satisfaction of the child's relatives. In the same article Dr. Stewart gives an account, sent to him by a friend, of a similar superstition common in Wigtownshire till about half-a-century ago. In this case, the healing influence came through the channel of the iron tire of a new cart wheel. After fire had been applied to it to make it fit the wheel, the tire was passed over the head of the patient, who was thus placed in the middle of a glowing circle.

So much for the traces of sun-worship in rites connected with fire. There are traces of it also in certain folk-customs, at one time common, and not yet extinct. Highlanders were formerly in the habit of taking off their bonnets to the rising sun. Akin to this is the feeling underlying the Venetian expedition to the Lido, annually repeated in July, when thousands cross to that island at dawn, and utter a loud shout when the sun rises above the horizon. In cases where sun-worship is a national cult we naturally expect it to have a marked influence on the sacred customs and architecture of its votaries. One example will suffice. In his "Pre-historic Man," Sir Daniel Wilson thus describes the great annual festival of the Peruvians, held at the summer solstice:—"For three days previous, a general fast prevailed; the fire on the great altar of the sun went out, and in all the dwellings of the land no hearth was kindled. As the dawn of the fourth day approached, the Inca, surrounded by his nobles, who came from all parts of the country to join in the solemn celebration, assembled in the great square of the capital to greet the rising sun. The temple of the national deity presented its eastern portal to the earliest rays, emblazoned with his golden image, thickly set with precious stones, and as the first beams of the morning were reflected back from this magnificent emblem of the god of day, songs of triumph mingled with the jubilant shout of his worshippers. Then, after various rites of adoration, preparations were made for rekindling the sacred fire. The rays of the sun, collected into a focus by a concave mirror of polished metal, were made to inflame a heap of dried cotton; and a llama was sacrificed as a burnt offering to the sun." Even after sun-worship has ceased to be a national cult, we find it continuing to regulate the position of buildings, devoted to a totally different worship. In this way what is commonly styled the "orientation" of Christian churches can be accounted for. Indeed, so much had the sun to do with churches, that when one was built in honour of a particular saint, it was made to face the point of the horizon, where the sun rose on the festival of the saint in question.

In our own land much stress used to be laid on the necessity of turning according to the course of the sun, i.e., from left to right. To do so tended to bring prosperity to whatever was being undertaken at the time. Martin often refers to such a turn under the title of Dessil, a word of Gaelic origin, in connection with which, it is interesting to note that in Gaelic Deas signifies both south and to the right. Martin mentions certain stones, round which the inhabitants of the Western Isles made what he calls "a religious turn." In the island of Eigg, he tells us:—"There is a heap of stones called Martin Dessil, i.e., a place consecrated to the saint of that name, about which the natives oblige themselves to make a tour round sunways." It was also customary when anyone wished well to another to walk round him thrice sunways. The following are some of Martin's own experiences in the matter of the Dessil: "Some are very careful, when they set out to sea, that the boat be first rowed about sunways; and if this be neglected they are afraid their voyage may prove unfortunate. I had this ceremony paid me (when in the island of Ila) by a poor woman after I had given her an alms. I desired her to let alone that compliment, for I did not care for it; but she insisted to make these three ordinary turns, and pray'd that God and MacCharmaig, the patron saint of that island, might bless and prosper me in all my designs and affairs. I attempted twice to go from Ila to Collonsay, and at both times they row'd about the boat sunways, tho' I forbid them to do it; and by a contrary wind the boat and those in it were forced back. I took boat again a third time from Jura to Collonsay, and at the same time forbid them to row about their boat, which they obey'd, and then we landed safely at Collonsay without any ill adventure, which some of the crew did not believe possible for want of the round." This superstition lingered long after Martin's time, and probably still directs the course of many a fishing-boat when being put to sea. In connection with events of moment—such as baptisms, bridals, and burials—the necessity for turning sunways was felt to be specially binding; but even in matters of no particular importance the rule was held to apply. If movement sunways was lucky, movement in a contrary direction was the reverse. Such a movement was, and still is, known as Widdershins or Wzthershins, the Shetland form being Witlzerwise. To go Widdershins was to go against the sun, and was hence regarded as a violation of the established order of things. In his "Darker Superstitions" Dalyell remarks:—"The moving widderschynnes, as if withdrawing from the deified oFb of day, inferred a guilty retreat, and was associated with the premeditated evil of sorcery."

We have thus glanced at the relations of springs to fairs, of fairs to Church festivals, of Church festivals to nature festivals, and of these to sun-worship. We shall now gather together the threads of the argument, and indicate some of the chief points of connection between well-worship and sun-worship. To do this, we must inquire when springs were mainly visited. When a well was under the patronage of a saint, the festival day of that saint was in some cases the day selected. It would be natural to regard this as the rule. But, as a matter of fact, pilgrimages were commonly made on days other than the festival of the patron saint. As may be remembered, the Holy Pool in Strathfillan was mainly resorted to on the first day of the quarter (O.S.); and St. Fillan's Spring at Comrie on 1st May and 1st August. As may be also remembered, the waters of Loch Manaar, in Sutherland, were thought to possess special virtue on the first Monday of February, May, August, and November (O.S.), the second and third of these dates being specially popular. What the practice was at Mochrum Loch, in Wigtownshire, is clear from Symson's account in his "Description of Galloway." "This loch," he says, "is very famous in many writers, who report that it never freezeth in the greatest frosts. . . . Whether it had any virtue of old I know not, but sure I am it hath it not now. However, I deny not but the water thereof may be medicinal, having received several credible informations that several persons, both old and young, have been cured of continued diseases by washing therein. Yet still I cannot approve of their washing three times therein, which they say they must do, neither the frequenting there of the first Sunday of February, May, August, and November, although many foolish people affirm that, not only the water of this loch, but also many other springs and wells, have more virtue on those days than any other." Close to the Welltrees meadow in Sanquhar parish, once flowed a spring dedicated to St. Bridget. In his history of the parish, Mr. James Brown tells us that, according to the testimony of the old people, it was customary for the maidens of Sanquhar to resort on May Day to St. Bride's Well, where each presented nine smooth white stones as an offering to the saint. Till about the beginning of the present century, a well at Sigget, in Aberdeenshire, was regularly visited on Pasch Sunday, and the usual offerings were left by the pilgrims. There is, or was a belief at Chapel-en-le-Frith, in Derbyshire, that on Easter Eve a mermaid appears in a certain pool; and at Rostherne, in Cheshire, that another mermaid comes out of the lake there on Easter Day and rings a bell. Mr. Moore mentions that in the Isle of Man Ascension Day and the first Sunday of August were the principal days for visiting consecrated springs. As previously stated, part of the May Day rites at Tullie-Beltane, in Perthshire, consisted in drinking water from a spring, and in walking nine times round it. St. Anthony's W311, near Edinburgh, is not yet forgotten on May Day by people who like to keep up old customs. There is no doubt that of all the months of the year May was the one, when Scottish springs were most visited. The same rule held elsewhere. In his "Romances of the West of England," Mr. Hunt has the following :"The practice of bathing rickety children on the first three Wednesdays in May is still far from uncommon in the outlying districts of Cornwall. The parents will walk many miles for the purpose of dipping the little sufferers in some well from which the healing virtue has not entirely departed. Among these holy wells, Cubert is far famed. To this well the peasantry still resort, firm in the faith that there, at this special season, some mysterious virtue is communicated to its waters. On these occasions, only a few years since, the crowd assembled was so large that it assumed the character of a fair." A spring at Glastonbury, in Somerset, on account of a miraculous cure, believed to have been wrought by its water, became specially popular about the middle of last century. In 1751, as many as ten thousand persons are said to have visited it during the month of May.

The popularity of May did not depend on the better weather following the bleakness of winter and spring. At least, if it did so, it was only in a subordinate degree. To find the main reason, we have to look to the continued influence of ancient pagan rites. As we have seen, May in Scotland was ushered in by the Beltane Festival. We have also seen that its manifestly heathen customs survived till a late period in the midst of a Christian civilisation. On the hypothesis of a pagan origin alone, can certain May Day customs and beliefs be satisfactorily explained. Some Beltane rites still survive in the Highlands, though fires are no longer kindled. In the neighbourhood of Kingussie, Inverness-shire, bannocks and hard-boiled eggs continue to be rolled down the hills on the first of May (O.S.). Till quite lately, these bannocks were used for purposes of divination. They were marked on one side with a cross—the sign of life; and on the other with a circle—the sign of death. Each bannock was rolled down thrice, and its owner's fate was decided by the sign that was on the upper surface oftenest when the bannock rested at the foot of the hill. The time was counted specially suited for love-charms. On May Day, in the north of England, a gold ring was dropped into a syllabub composed of various ingredients. Whoever got hold of the ring with a ladle would be the first among the company to be married. The prophetic powers of May Day are still believed in, in some parts of the north of Ireland. If a maiden places a certain plant below her pillow overnight, she will have a vision of her coming husband.

On May Day, the supernatural world was revealed, and witches and other uncanny creatures were abroad. In connection with his visit to Scotland, Pennant says :" In some parts of the country is a rural sacrifice, different from that before mentioned. A cross is cut on some sticks, which is dipped in pottage, and the Thursday before Easter one of each placed over the sheep-cot, the stable, or the cow-house. On the first of May they are carried to the hill, where the rites are celebrated, all decked with wild flowers, and after the feast is over, replaced over the spots they were taken from." The cross in this case, was, doubtless, made from the wood of the rowan or mountain ash. In the Isle of Man, it was customary, at one time, to gather primroses on May Eve, and strew them before the door of every house to keep away witches. Aubrey tells us:---"'Tis commonly said in Germany that the witches do meet in the night before the first day of May upon an high mountain called the Blocksberg, where they, together with the devils, do dance and feast, and the common people do, the night before the said day, fetch a certain thorn and stick it at their house door, believing the witches can then do them no harm." In our own country, too, hawthorn branches were formerly used on May Day as a charm against witches. The hawthorn had likewise another mystic property attributed to it. The dew on its branches on the first of May had the power of giving beauty to the maiden who washed her face with it. May-dew from the grass was equally efficacious, except when gathered from within a fairy ring, as the fairies would in that case counteract the influence of the charm. A curative power was also ascribed to May-dew. Till quite lately there was a belief in some parts of England that a weakly child would be made strong by being drawn over dewy grass on the morning in question. To effect a complete cure, the treatment had to be repeated on the two following mornings. Dew from the grave of the last person buried in the parish churchyard was counted specially remedial if applied to the affected part before sunrise on May-morning.

The May-sun also got the credit of working cures. In his "Nether Lochaber" the Rev. Dr. Stewart tells us that "it was an article of belief in the hygiene code of the old highlanders that the invalid suffering under any form of internal ailment, upon whom the sun of May once fairly shed its light, was pretty sure of a renewed lease of life until at least the next autumnal equinox." The old English custom, known as "going a-Maying," when old and young flocked into the woods early on May-morning to gather flowers and green boughs, was handed on from a time when the worship of trees was an article of religious faith.

Another old custom in England, viz., the blowing of horns at an early hour on the first of May, had probably its origin in pre-Christian times. It still survives in Oxfordshire and Cornwall. From Hone's "Every-Day Book" we learn that till the third decade of the present century, and doubtless later, the poorer classes in Edinburgh poured forth at daybreak from street and lane to assemble on Arthur's Seat to see the sun rise on May-morning. Bagpipes and other musical instruments enlivened the scene, nor were refreshments forgotten. About six o'clock a crowd of citizens of the wealthier class made their appearance, while the majority of the first-comers returned to the town. At nine o'clock the hill was practically deserted. Two centuries earlier an attempt was made by the kirk-session of Perth to put a stop to an annual gathering, on May Day at a cave in the face of Kinnoul hill adjoining the town. This cave was called the Dragon Hole, and was the scene of ancient rites of a superstitious nature. Other illustrations might be selected from the Folklore of May Day, but those given above show that the season was held in much superstitious regard. Accordingly, we need not be surprised that well-worship took its place among the rites of May Day, and of May Month also, since the whole of May was deemed a charmed time.

The Sundays of May—particularly the first—were very frequently chosen for visits to consecrated springs. The Chapel Wells in Kirkmaiden parish have already been referred to in connection with Co' Sunday. The White Loch of Merton, and St. Anthony's Spring at Maybole, and others that might be named were principally resorted to on the first Sunday of May. Indeed, wells occasionally got their name from the fact of their being visited on Sundays. Thus Tobordmony, near Cushendall, in County Antrim, signifies in Irish the Sunday Well. There is a farm in Athole called Pit-alt-donich or Balandonich. The name is derived by Mr. J. Mackintosh Gow from the Gaelic Pit-alt-didon-ich, and is interpreted by him as meaning "the hamlet of the Sunday burn." There is a spring on the farm, formerly much frequented on the first Sunday of May (O.S.). In the Isle of Man is a spring called Chibber Lansh, consisting of three pools. In former times it had a considerable reputation for the cure of sore eyes; but it was thought to exert its power on Sundays alone. Pilgrims frequently spent Saturday night beside springs in order to begin the required ritual on the following morning. The question why Sunday was specially selected is one of interest. Its choice may have been due in part to the fact, mentioned by Dalyell, that, in ruder society, the precise course of time requires some specific mark, and in part, to the notion underlying the popular saying, "the better the day, the better the deed." But there was undoubtedly another factor in the selection of the day. We have seen that the chief Church festivals borrowed certain rites from other festivals earlier in the field. In like manner, Sunday was the heir of usages quite unconnected with it in origin; or, to change the metaphor, it was a magnet attracting to itself various stray particles of paganism that remained after the break up of the old Nature-worship. Students of English history in the seventeenth century cannot fail to remember, how strenuously the Puritans sought to put down ` Sunday amusements, and how even the edicts of James the First and Charles the First permitted only certain games to be played on Sunday, certain others being declared inconsistent with the aim of that Christian festival.

Bourne, in his "Popular Antiquities," published in 1725, remarks:—"In the southern parts of this nation the most of country villages are wont to observe some Sunday in a more particular manner than the other common Sundays of the year, viz., the Sunday after the Day of Dedication, i.e., the Sunday after the Day of the Saint to whom their church was dedicated. Then the inhabitants deck themselves in their gaudiest clothes, and have open doors and splendid entertainments for the reception and treating of their relations and friends who visit them on that occasion from each neighbouring town. The morning is spent for the most part at church, the remaining part of the day in eating and drinking, and so is also a . day or two afterwards, together with all sorts of rural pastimes and exercises, such as dancing on the green, wrestling, cudgelling, &c. Agreeable to this, we are told that formerly, on the Sunday after the Encaenia, or Feast of the Dedication of the Church, it was usual for a great number of the inhabitants of the village, both grown and young, to meet together at break of day, and to cry, 'Holy Wakes, Holy Wakes,' and after Matens go to feasting and sporting, which they continued for two or three days."

Quoting from the "Presbyterie Buik of Aberdein, 19th June, 1607, in M.S." Dalyell observes:—"In the North of Scotland, young men conducted themselves `pro phanelie on the Sabboathes in drinking, playing at futteball, dancing, and passing fra paroche to paroche—and sum passes to St. Phitallis Well to the offence of God and ewill of mony." In connection with this, a remark from Dr. J. A. Hessey's Bampton Lecture on Sunday may be quoted. When comparing it with the Holy days instituted in mediaeval times, he says, the former perhaps "was even worse observed than the other days, for in spite of the Church, men had a vague impression that it was one of specially allowed intermission of ordinary employments. This they interpreted to mean of more special permission of dissipation than the other days noted in the kalendar." After describing the island of Valay, near North Uist, where there were Chapels to St. Uiton and St. Mary, Martin says, "Below the Chapel there is a flat thin stone call'd Brownie's Stone upon which the antient inhabitants offer'd a cow's milk every Sunday." That this offering of milk, though made on Sundays, was a pagan and not a Christian rite, can hardly be disputed. At some places, e.g., at Glasgow, Crail, and Seton, Sunday was at one time the weekly market day, but by an Act of James the Sixth, in 1579, the holding of markets on Sunday was prohibited throughout the realm. The Sundays in May were certainly the most popular for visits to springs, but these occurring about the time of the other leading nature-festivals were also in fashion. Sun-worship, as we have seen, was the back-ground of all such festivals. We need not wonder, therefore, that consecrated springs were frequented on a day whose very name suggested a reminiscence of a solar pagan cult.

We have discussed Beltane, let us now look at one other leading nature-festival, viz., Lammas, on the first day of August, to discover what light it throws on our subject. The Church dedicated the opening day of August to St. Peter ad Vincula. A curious mediaeval legend arose to connect this dedication with another name for the festival, viz., the Gule of August. At the heart of this legend was the Latin word Gula, signifying the throat. The daughter of Quirinus, a Roman tribune, had some disease of the throat which was miraculously cured through kissing St. Peter's chains, and so the day of the chains was designated the Gule of August. As a matter of fact, the word is derived from the Cymric Gwyl, a feast or holiday, and we have confirmation of the etymology in the circumstance, that in Celtic lands the time was devoted to games, and other recreations. In Ireland a celebrated fair, called Lugnasadh, was held at Tailtin (now Teltown), in Meath, for several days before and after the first of August, and there was another at Cruachan, now Rath Croghan, in Roscommon. A third was held at Carman, now Wexford. Its celebration was deemed so important that, as Professor Rhys tells us, in his "Celtic Heathendom," "among the blessings promised to the men of Leinster from holding it were, plenty of corn, fruit, and milk, abundance of fish in their lakes and rivers, domestic prosperity, and immunity from the yoke of any other province. On the other hand, the evils to follow from the neglect of this institution were to be failure and early greyness on them and their kings." In legendary accounts of Carman, the place has certain funereal associations. "If we go into the story of the fair of Carman," Professor Rhys observes, "we are left in no doubt as to the character of the mythic beings whose power had been brought to an end at the time dedicated to that fair; they may be said to have represented the blighting chills and fogs that assert their baneful influence on the farmer's crops. To overcome these and other hurtful forces of the same kind, the prolonged presence of the sun-god was essential, in order to bring the corn to maturity."

That the Gule of August was a Nature-festival may be further inferred from the fact that among many Anglo-Saxon peoples it was called Hldf-wbasse, i.e., Loaf-mass, eventually shortened into Lammas. Our English ancestors offered on that day bread made from the early grain, as the first-fruits of the harvest. In Scotland, the Lammas rites were handed down from an unknown past and survived till the middle of last century. They were closely connected with country life, and were taken part in, mainly by those who had to do with the tending of cattle. The herds of Mid-Lothian held Lammas in special favour. For some weeks prior to that date they busied themselves in building what were called Lammas towers, composed of stones and sods. These towers were about seven or eight feet high, sometimes more. On the day of the festival they were surmounted by a flag formed of a table-napkin decked with ribbons. During the building of the towers attempts were sometimes made by rival parties to throw them down, and accordingly they had to be kept constantly watched. On Lenie hill and Clermiston hill two such towers used to be built, about two miles apart, but within sight of each other. These were the respective trysting-places of herds belonging to different portions of Cramond and Corstorphine parishes. On Lammas morning the herds met at their respective towers, and, after a breakfast of bread and cheese, marched to meet each other, blowing horns, and having a piper at their head. Colours were carried aloft by each party, and the demand to lower them was the signal for a contest, which sometimes ended in rather a curious manner. Ganes for small prizes closed the day's proceedings.

At one time temporary structures formed of sods and sticks, and known as Lammas houses, were built in South Wales in connection with the festival. Inside these a fire was kindled for the roasting of apples. Anyone, by paying a penny, could enter and have an apple. Professor Rhys speaks of other Lammas rites in the Principality. "Gwyl Awst," be observes, "is now a day for fairs in certain parts of Wales, and it is remembered, in central and southern Cardiganshire, as one on which the shepherds used, till comparatively lately, to have a sort of pic-nic on the hills. One farmer's wife would lend a big kettle for making in it a plentiful supply of good soup or broth, while, according to another account, everybody present had to put his share of fuel on the fire with his own hands. But, in Brecknockshire, the first of August seems to have given way sometime before Catholicism had lost its sway in Wales, to the first holiday or feast in August; that is to say, the first Sunday in that month. For then crowds of people, early in the morning, make their way up the mountains called the Beacons, both from the side of Caermarthenshire and Glamorgan; their destination used to be the neighbourhood of the Little Van Lake, out of whose waters they expected, in the course of the day, to see the Lady of the Lake make her momentary appearance." Professor Rhys bears further witness to the connection of Lammas rites with our present subject when he says, "A similar shifting from the first of August to the first Sunday in that month, has, I imagine, taken place in the Isle of Man. For, though the solstice used to be, in consequence probably of Scandinavian influence, the day of institutional significance in the Manx summer, inquiries I have made in different parts of the island, go to show that middle-aced people, now living, remember that, when they were children, their parents used to ascend the mountains very early on the first Sunday in August (O.S.), and that in some districts at least they were wont to bring home bottles full of water from wells noted for their healing virtues." Another proof that the ceremonies of Lammas-tide had some link with those of archaic Water-worship is to be found in the circumstance mentioned by Dalyell, that, "in Ireland the inhabitants held it an inviolable custom to drive their cattle into some pool or river on the first Sunday of August as essential to the life of the animals during the year." This was regularly done till towards the end of the seventeenth century. It may be remembered that in Scotland, during the same century, horses were washed in the sea at Lammas, doubtless with the same end in view.

We shall now glance at some traces of Sun-worship in the rites of Well-worship. In countries where the worship of the sun had an acknowledged place in the popular religion, the temples to that luminary were found associated with fountains. In his "Holy Land and the Bible," the Rev. J. Cunningham Geikie remarks, " The old name of Bethshemish, which means the house of the sun, is now changed to Ain Thenis—the fountain of the sun—living water being found in the valley below. Both point to the Philistine Sun-worship, and both names are fitting, for every sun-house or temple needed, like all other ancient sanctuaries, a fountain near it to supply water for ablutions and libations." When evidence of this kind fails us, we have another kind within reach, viz., that derived from the employment of fire to symbolise the sun on the principle already explained. At St. Bede's Well, near Jarrow, in Durham, it used to be customary to kindle a bonfire on Mid-summer Eve. In connection with the same festival a bonfire was lighted at Toddel-Well, near Kirkhampton in Cumberland, and the lads and lasses, who were present, were in the habit of leaping through the flames. In a cave at Wemyss, in Fife, is a well, to which young people at one time carried blazing torches on the first Monday of January (O.S.). The time of day when consecrated springs were made use of has a bearing on the point under review. The water was thought to have a peculiar efficacy either just after sunset or just before sunrise. The moment when the sun was first seen above the horizon was also reckoned particularly favourable. To the same class of superstitions belongs the Scandinavian belief, referred to by Mr. Lloyd in his "Peasant life in Sweden," that the water of certain sacred springs, known as Fonts of the Cross, was turned into wine at sunrise.

The survival of rites of archaic Sun-worship in the practice of making a turn sun-ways has been already referred to.

In conclusion, we shall glance at the bearings of the practice on the question of Well-worship. To make a visit to a spring effectual, when a cure was wanted, the invalid had to pace round it from left to right, in recognition of the fact that the sun moved in the same direction. The sun, being the source of vitality, why should not an imitation of its daily motion tend to produce the same result ? When speaking of Loch Siant Well, in Skye, Martin says:—"Several of the common people oblige themselves by a vow to come to this well, and make the ordinary tour about it call'd Dessil. They move thrice round the well, proceeding sunways from east to west, and so on. This is done after drinking of the water. Sometimes it was done elsewhere before drinking of the water." The importance of this motion comes clearly into view in the case of St. Andrew's Well, at Shadar, in Lewis, referred to in a previous chapter. When the wooden dish, floating on the surface of the water, turned round sun-ways, the omen was a sign that the patient concerned would recover, but a turning in the opposite direction foreboded ill." In reference to Chapel Uny Well, in Cornwall, Mr. Hunt says:—"On the first three Wednesdays in May, children suffering from inesenteric diseases are dipped three times in this well, against the sun, and dragged three times around the well on the grass in the same direction." Mr. Lloyd tells us that, in Sweden, a remedy for whooping-cough is to drink water, "that drops from a mill-wheel, which revolves ansols, that is, in a contrary direction to the course of the sun." These two examples, however, are exceptions to the rule. They may, perhaps, be explained on the principle that what is in itself evil, because contrary to nature, brings good when converted into a charm. To walk round a well widdershins was to commit an act of sorcery. Mr. J. G. Barbour, in his " Unique Traditions of the West and South of Scotland," recounts the trial and fate of a lonely old woman, who lived in the Kirkcudbrightshire parish of Iron-gray, early in the seventeenth century. She was accused of witchcraft, and, when convicted of the crime, met her death by being rolled down hill inside a blazing tar barrel. Various were the charges brought against her, one of them being that, at certain hours she walked round the spring near her cottage wuddershins. Mr. Barbour adds, "The well, from which she drew the water for her domestic use, and where the young rustic belles washed their faces, still retains the name of the Witch's Well." Faith in the benefit of turning sun-ways and faith in the efficacy of south-running water belong to the same class of superstitions. Both have a direct reference to the sun's course. The water of a stream flowing to meet the sun, when its mid-day beams are casting their sweet influences upon the earth, must absorb and retain a power to bless and heal. So, at least, men thought, nor were they slow to take advantage of the virtue that mingled with the water. Bodily ailments were cured by washing in it, and it was used as one of the many remedies to remove the evil effects of witchcraft. In this, as in the other rites previously alluded to, we see the influence of a cult that did not pass away, when the sun ceased to be worshipped as a divinity. In other words, Well-worship cannot be adequately understood if we leave out of account archaic Sun-worship, and its modern survivals.


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