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Popular Superstitions of the Highlands

Ye powers of darkness and of hell,
Propitious to the magic spell,
Who rule in silence o’er the night,
Be present now.
- Frances.

Of the whole series of annual festivals, Hallowe’en forms the most important occasion in the Highlands of Scotland. The fascinating round of varied enjoyments the night presents to the young and juvenile—the delightful peeps into futurity it affords to the enchanted lover—and the fond recollections it revives in old age—all conspire to render its approach more interesting, and its celebration more joyful, than any other occasion within the compass of the year. Nor is the happy influence diffused by Hallowe’en confined to the human class of the inhabitants of the Highlands alone; most of the supernatural. inhabitants are in some degree partakers in the general happiness. With the fairy community, in particular, it is an occasion of peculiar grandeur, as the great anniversary on which they are reviewed by Auld Nick, their nominal chief potentate, in person; whilst many others of the. classes treated of in the foregoing pages regard it as a night of no ordinary pomp and joviality. On this occasion of universal hilarity, the natural coldness and jealousy which generally subsist between the human species and their super-natural neighbours, are changed into perfect harmony and benevolence. Like two belligerent armies, whose hostility towards each other is more the offspring of public duty than private resentment, and who, therefore, during the intervals of war, exhibit in their mutual intercourse the marks of personal good will—so, in like manner, those two classes forget for the night all animosity, in their more laudable zeal. to contribute to each other’s gratification. Nay, stern Satan himself relaxes for this night his avarice; and, alive to no other object than the promotion of universal enjoyments, dispatches showers of his emissaries to the several kiln-pots, peat-stacks, and barn-yards in the Highlands, to afford to those adventurers who desire it, a peep into the secrets of futurity.

Such a display of seeming benevolence, did it proceed from any other individual than Satan, could not fail to meet with some share of applause. But heads of families, whose opinions are entitled to some respect, have been known to affirm, that Satan’s affected generosity on this occasion is nothing but a mere stratagem, for inveigling the more effectually the young and unwary into his vile snares; and that he gets more game by those specious artifices than he could realize by any other means. Hence it is that the anxious parent this night, instead of extolling Satan’s generosity, is so intent on magnifying his perfidy; and in order the better to dissuade his offspring and family from the dangerous practices of the night, details, without qualification, his numerous treacheries on similar occasions.

But these ebullitions of the parent’s jealousy of Satan’s practices are soon subdued. The big-bellied bottle and bumper glass will have a great effect in relaxing his heart of its illiberal suspicions. Speedily animated by the conciliating qualities of the "barley bree," and softened by the recollection of his own youthful frolics and manly deeds on similar occasions, he no longer regards as a crime those practices which he recently condemned; and the good-natured matron, being happy at her husband’s felicity, and averse to chide, they both tacitly connive at the family’s indulgence in the customary arts of divination.

Generally the first spell they try is pulling the stock of kail. Joining hand in hand they go forth to the kail-yard, previously blind-folded, lads, lasses, and children, equally anxious to have their fortunes told as their seniors. Pulling the first stock they meet with, they immediately return to the light to have an examination of its qualities; its being large or little, straight or crooked, is prophetic of the size and shape of its puller’s conjugal companion. If any earth adheres to the root, it indicates tocher or fortune; and the taste of the custoe or stern, whether sour or sweet, shows the nature of his disposition.

They go next to the barn-yard, and pull each a stalk of oats, and according to the number of grains upon the stalk the puller will have a corresponding number of children. It may be observed, that it is essential to a female’s good fame that her stalk should have the top-grain attached to it.

An individual goes to the barn, opens both its doors, then takes the instrument used in winnowing corn, called a wecht, and goes through all the gestures of letting down corn against the wind. This is repeated three several times, and the third time an apparition will pass through the barn, in at the one door and out at the other, having a retinue emblematical of his or her station in life.

A person goes privately to Tor-na-ha. or the kiln-pot, throws into it a clew of blue thread, which the person winds into a new clew. Towards the latter end something will hold the thread, on which the person demands, "Who holds?" an answer will be returned by the agent below, by naming the Christian name and sirname of the person’s future spouse.

A person steals out unperceived to the peat-stack—sows a handful of hemp-seed, calling out something to the following effect:

"Hemp-seed I saw thee,
Hemp-seed I saw thee,
And he who is my true love
Come after me and pu’ thee."

And, on looking over his shoulder, he sees the apparition of the person invoked in the attitude of pulling the hemp, which had immediately grown at the magic command. Or, if hemp-seed is not at hand, let the person take the floor-besom, which he will ride in the manner of a witch three times round the peat-stack, and the last time the apparition will appear to him.

They go one or more to what is called a dead and living ford, or, in other words, a ford which has been crossed by a funeral, and observing profound silence, dip the sleeve of their shirt in it. On returning home they go to bed in sight of a fire, and, lying awake in bed, they will observe an apparition, being an exact similitude of the grand object in question, turn the shirt-sleeve as if to dry the other side.

An individual goes to a public road, which branches in three several directions, (i.e. the junction of three roads,) bearing with him the cutty or three-legged stool, on which the person seats himself just on the eve of twelve o’clock; and, as the hour strikes, he hears proclaimed the names of the several persons who shall die in the parish before the next anniversary. Nota— If the person carries along with him articles of wearing-apparel, and throws an article away on the proclamation of each person’s name, it will rescue the person from his impending fate.

These and some other out-of-door spells having been tried, the parties return to the dwelling-house to burn the nuts. Burning the nuts is a very popular charm. They name a lad and a lass to each particular nut, as they lay them in the fire, and, accordingly, as they burn quietly, or start from beside one another, so the issue of the courtship will be.

A person takes a candle and goes unattended to. a looking-glass—eats an apple before it - combing his or her hair all the while, occasionally holding over the shoulder a table-fork with a piece of the apple upon it, and ultimately the adventurer’s conjugal partner will be seen in the glass,. in the attitude of taking the proffered piece of apple.

These and some other spells of less note, such as dipping for the apple, groping for the clean dish, which are generally known, and, therefore, need not be particularly described, joined to each individual’s relation of the sights which he saw on the present and former occasions, together with the reflections they draw from "narrative old age," bring the well buttered sowans, or more favourite Banbrishd upon the table. The sonsie kebbock is roasted at the fire, and fangs cut down from end to end. Brandered bannocks, and every other luxury that can be procured, load the hospitable board. The welcome guests surround it; the silver head is bared with solemn reverence, and the temperate feast, qualified with a few rounds of the Boghtle dhu., is as much relished as if it consisted of the most, delicious luxuries that crown a monarch’s board. But the hours are too happy to remain long ;—they flee like a shadow, and call the guests to their respective homes. Each swain and damsel now repose themselves on their pillows, full of those tender emotions which the night’s amusements excited, and in their midnight slumbers see those objects, ‘whose’ image they so ardently wished to see in all their comeliness and beauty.

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