FRIEND says: "Even the Heather itself, although
from its covering their moors and mosses it has a certain obscure
connection with elves and pixies, is without any definite story in
Nevertheless, the Muses have been kinder and wiser
than their promise; and the cherished little flower of the Scottish
Highlands has not lost its own dowry of this poetic renown, which
national sentiment almost universally accords the popular flowers and
plants of a country, for we find scattered throughout romantic
literature quaint superstitious fancies, and even a number of brief,
crudely wrought traditions and legends, inscribed to the Heather.
In Germany the Heath is believed to owe its origin
to the blood of the slain heathen; for in that country the inhabitants
of the uncultivated fields where the Heath (heide) grew came in time to
be known as heathen (heiden).
In Scotland on Halloween the witches are supposed
to ride over the Heather mounted on black tabby cats.
And also in the folk-lore of this country, "the
Cailleach was a beanshith, or fairy, that often appeared to the hunters
in the gloaming of summer evenings, gathering and milking the hinds on a
hillside, while she sang some wild air, and her long gray locks waved
over her shoulders. If any hunter saw the Cailleach he knew well it was
useless for him to roam the heath that day."
Weird wife of Bein-y-Vreich! horo! horo!
Aloft in the mist she
Vreich horo! Vreich horo! Vreich horo!
All alone by the
Weird, weird wife! with the long gray locks,
She follows her
Noisily moving through splintered rocks,
crashing the grisly crags.
"When hunter men round my dun deer prowl,
I will not let them nigh;
Through the rended cloud I cast one scowl,
They faint on the heath
Then I mount the blast, and we ride full fast,
And we laugh as we
stride the storm,
I, the witch of the Cruachan Ben,
—J. C. S. Shairp.
On receiving a present of a box of grouse, if the
birds have been packed with a few sprays of Heather, it is stated that
the receiver should wear in his hat one of the sprays, or he will never
again receive a similar gift.
There was a superstition prevalent that if a sheep
drag past a Heather bush and leave on it a portion of its wool, that
bush must die with the year and day.
It was a common custom to present a nosegay of
Heather to a bride and bridegroom as indicative of a wish for future
happiness. The Queen tells of having greeted the Duchess of Connaught
(Princess Louise Margaret of Prussia) on her arrival at Balmoral with
the Duke in 1879, on their wedding trip, with "a nosegay of Heather. She
had also received others."
In some localities the throwing of a bunch of
Heather after a person is also understood to signify an expresston of
good luck. "At Inversnaid," writes the Queen, "the people (quite a small
crowd) threw bunches of Heather as we passed. Heather is everywhere the
decoration, and there is indeed no lovelier, prettier ornament. It was
in such full bloom."
Branches of the mountain ash, decorated with
Heather and flowers which had been carried thrice around the fires
kindled at Beltane, were reared above dwellings to remain until
displaced by those of the succeeding season, or a portion of it cut and
peeled and bound around with a thread, was put on the lintel of the
byre, to avert the influence of the evil eye.
Beltane—means Baal's fire—an ancient British
practice of lighting fires on the hill tops in honor of Baal, the sun
god; hence the name Baaltein; in some districts celebrated on the third
day of May.
In his Journey Through the Western Counties of
Scotland, Heron tells the following story: "In the River of Fillan is a
pool consecrated by the ancient superstition of the inhabitants. The
pool is formed by the eddying of the stream around a rock. Its water was
many hundred years since consecrated by Fillan, one of the saints who
converted the ancient inhabitants of Caledonia from Paganism to the
belief of Christianity. It should seem that he had perhaps resided in
the vicinity for some time.
"Whether he consecrated this pool in compliance
with some superstitious notions of its virtues which he found already
prevalent among the neighboring inhabitants, I know not. But it has ever
since been distinguished by his name, and esteemed of sovereign virtue
in curing madness. About two hundred persons afflicted in this way are
annually brought to try the benefits of its salutary influence. These
patients are conducted by their friends, who first perform the ceremony
of passing with them thrice round a neighboring cairn; on this cairn
they then deposit a simple offering of clothes, or, perhaps, of a small
bunch of Heather. More precious offerings used once to be brought, but
these never being left long in the unmolested possession of the saint,
it has become customary to make him presents which afford no temptation
to theft. After these, such as they are, have been deposited, the
patient is then thrice immersed in the sacred pool. After the immersion
he is bound hand and foot and left for the night in the chapel which
stands near. If the maniac is found loose in the morning good hopes are
conceived for his full recovery. If he is still bound the cure remains
doubtful. It sometimes happens that death relieves him during his
confinement from the troubles of life."
Heather is made the emblem of solitude in the
language of flowers; and thus when the fond swain presents his mistress
with a bouquet of heath and pansies, she understands his heart would be
at ease if his solitude were blessed by her society. Other flowers carry
the expresssion "Think of me in solitude," while a hundred other woeful
speeches are thus silently told.