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Social History of the Highlands
Practices in the Western Islands

The same writer mentions a universal custom among the inhabitants of the Western Islands, of pouring a cow's milk upon a little hill, or big stone, where a spirit they called Brownie, was believed to lodge, which spirit always appeared in the shape of a tall man, with very long brown hair. On enquiring "from several well-meaning women, who, until of late, had practised it," they told Martin that it had been transmitted to them by their ancestors, who believed it was attended with good fortune, but the most credulous of the vulgar had then laid it aside.

It was also customary among the "over-curious," in the Western Islands, to consult an invisible oracle, concerning the fate of the families, battles etc. this was done three different ways; the first was by a company of men, one of whom was chosen by lot, was afterwards carried to a river, the boundary between two villages: four of the company seized on him, and having shut his eyes, they took him by the legs and arms, and then tossing him to an fro, struck his posteriors with force against the bank. One of them cried out, What is it you have got there ? Another answered, A log of birch wood. the other cried again, Let his invisible friends appear from all quarters, and let them relieve him, by giving an answer to our present demands; and in a few minutes after, a number of little creatures came from the sea, who answered the question, and disappeared suddenly. The man was then set at liberty, and they all returned home to take their measures according to the prediction of their false prophets. This was always practised at night.

The second way of consulting the oracle was by a party of men, who first retired to solitary places, remote from any house, and then singling out one of their number, wrapt him in a large cow's hide, which they folded about him, covering all but his head, in which posture they left him all night until his invisible friends relieved him by giving a proper answer to the question put; which answer he received, as he fancied, from several persons he found about him all that time. His companions returned to him at break of day when he communicated his news to them, which it is said "often proved fatal to those concerned in such unlawful inquiries."

The third way of consulting the oracle, and which consultation was to serve as a confirmation of the second, was this: the same company who put the man into the hide, took a live cat and put him on a spit. One of the company was employed to turn the spit, and when in the act of turning, one of his companions would ask him, what are you doing? He answered, I roast this cat, until his friends answer the question, the same as that proposed to the man inclosed in the hide. Afterwards, a very large cat was said to come, attended by a number of lesser cats, desiring to relieve the cat turned upon the spit, and answered the question. And if the answer turned out to be the same that was given to the man in the hide, then it was taken as a confirmation of the other, which in this case was believed infallible.

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