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Old Scottish Customs
Chapter V

Old Marriage Customs in Perthshire—Superstitions regarding the cure of disease—Scottish customs regarding the observance of Hallow e’en—General description of this festival—Pulling the Green Kail —Eating the Apple—Burning Nuts—Sowing Hemp Seed—Winnowing Corn — Measuring the Bean Stack—Eating the Herring—Dipping the Shirt Sleeve—The Three Plates—Throwing the Clue— Illustrative Anecdote—Pricking the Egg—The Summons of Death.


IN the parish of Logierait, Perthshire, and its neighbourhood, a variety of superstitious customs formerly prevailed amongst the vulgar. Lucky and unlucky days were by many annually observed. That day of the week upon which the 14th of May happened to follow was esteemed unlucky throughout the remainder of the year. None got married or began any serious business upon it. None chose to marry in January or May; or to have their banns proclaimed in the end of one quarter of the year and to marry in the beginning of the next. Some things were to be done before the full moon, others after. In fevers the patient was expected to be worse on Sundays than on the other days of the week; did he, however, prove to be better on that day a relapse was dreaded.

Immediately before the celebration of the marriage ceremony, every knot about the bride and bridegroom’s dress, garters, shoe-strings, petticoat-strings, etc., were carefully loosed. After leaving the church the whole company walked round it keeping the church walls carefully on their right hand. The bridegroom, however, first retired one way with some young men to tie the knots that were loosed about him; while the bride in the same manner withdrew to put her array in order.


When a child was baptised privately it was formerly the custom to put the child into a clean basket, having over it a cloth containing bread and cheese. The basket was then moved three times successively round the iron crook which hangs suspended from the roof, over the fire for the purpose of supporting the pot, in which water is boiled and food prepared. It is supposed that this custom was originally intended to counteract the malignant arts which witches and evil spirits were supposed to practise against new born children.


Recourse was often had to charms for the cure of diseases of horses and cows as well as those of the human race. In the case of various diseases in this parish a pilgrimage was performed to a place called Strathfillan, forty miles distant from Logierait. Here the patient bathed in a certain pool and performed some other rites in a chapel close at hand. It is chiefly in cases of madness that a pilgrimage to Strathfillan was considered salutary. The afflicted person was first bathed in the pool, then left bound all night in the chapel. If found loose in the morning he was expected to recover.

There was a disease called Claeach by the Highlanders, which, as it affected the chest and lungs, was evidently of a consumptive nature. It was also called the “Macdonald disease,” because there were particular tribes of the Macdonalds who were believed to cure it with the charms of their touch and a certain form of words. No fee was given. The Highlanders’ faith in the touch of a Macdonald was very great.


One of the former four great Fire festivals in Britain, is supposed, as previously stated, to have taken place on the 1st of November, when all fires save those of the Druids were extinguished, and, from whose altars only, the holy fire must be purchased by the householders for a certain price. The festival is still known in Ireland, as Samhein, or La Samon, i.e., the Feast of the Sun ; while in Scotland, it has assumed the name of Hallowe’en.

“The night is Hallowe’en, Janet,
The morn is Hallowes day,
And gin ye dare your true love win
Ye hae nae time to stay.

“The night it is good Hallowe’en,
When fairy folk will ride,
And they that wad their true love win
At Miles Cross they must bide.”

All Hallow’s Eve, as observed in the Church of Rome, corresponds with the Feralia of the ancient Romans, when they sacrificed in honour of the dead offered up prayers for them, and made oblations to them. In ancient times, this festival was celebrated on the twenty-first of February, but the Romish Church transferred it in her Calendar to the first of November. It was originally designed to give rest and peace to the souls of the departed. In some parts of Scotland, it is still customary for young people to kindle fires on the tops of hills and rising grounds, and fire of this description goes by the name of a Hallowe’en bleeze. Formerly it was customary to surround these bonfires with a circular trench symbolical of the sun. Sheriff Barclay tells us that about fifty years ago while travells from Dunkeld to Aberfeldy on Hallowe’en, he counted thirty fires blazing on the bill tops, with the phantom figures of persons dancing round the flames.

In Perthshire the Hallowe’en bleeze is made in the following picturesque fashion. Heath, broom, and dressings of flax are tied upon a pole. The faggot is then kindled ; a youth takes it upon his shoulders and carries it about. When the faggot is burned out a second is tied to the pole and kindled in the same manner as the former one. Several of these blazing faggots are often carried through the villages at the same time. Should the night be dnrk they form a fine illumination.

Hallowe’en is believed by the superstitious in Scotland to be a night on which the invisible world has peculiar power. His Satanic Majesty is supposed to have great latitude allowed him on this anniversary, in common with that oft malignant class of beings known as witches ; some of whom, it is said, may be seen cleaving the air on broomsticks, in a manner wondrous to behold. Others again less aerially disposed jog comfortably along over by-road and heath, seated on the back of such sleek tabby cats as have kindly allowed themselves to be transformed—pro tem.-—into coal-black steeds for the accommodation of these capricious old ladies.

The green-robed fays are also said to hold special festive meetings at their favourite haunts :—

“Tis Hallow masses e’en
And round the holy green
The fairy elves are seen
Tripping light.”

The ignorant believe that there is no such night in all the year for obtaining an insight into futurity. The following are the customs pertaining to this eve of mystic ceremonies: —The youths and maidens, who engage in the ceremony of Pulling the Green Kail go hand in hand, with shut eyes, into a bachelor’s or spinster’s garden, and pull up the hist “kail stalks’’ which come in their way. Should the stalks thus secured prove to be of stately growth, straight in stem, and with a goodly supply of earth at their roots, the future husbands (or wives) u ill be young, good-looking, and rich in proportion. Put if the stalks be stunted, crooked, and hence little or no earth at their roots, the future spouses will be found lacking in good looks and fortune. According as the heart or stem proves sweet or sour to the taste so will be the temper of the future partner. The stalks thus tasted are afterwards placed above the doors of the respective houses, and the Christian names of those persons who first pass underneath will correspond with those of the future husbands or wives.

There is also the custom of Eating the Apple at the Glass. Provide yourself with an apple,, and, as the clock strikes twelve, go alone into a room where there is a looking-glass. Cut the apple into small pieces ; throw one of them over your left shoulder, and advancing to the mirror without looking back, proceed to eat the remainder, combing your hair carefully the while before the glass. While thus engaged, it is said, that the face of the person you are to marry will be seen peeping over your left shoulder. This Hallowe’en game is supposed to be a relic of that form of divinations with mirrors which was condemned as sorcery by the former Popes.

Likewise that of Burning Nuts. Take two nuts and place them in the fire, bestowing on one of them your own name ; on the other that of the object of your affections. Should they burn quietly away side by side, then the issue of your love affair will be prosperous; but if one starts away from the other, the result will be unfavourable.

Aud for the Sowing Hemp Seed, steal forth alone towards midnight and sow a handful of hemp seed, repeating the following rhyme :—

“Hemp seed, I sow thee, hemp seed I sow thee;
And he that is my true love come behind and harrow me,”

Then look over your left shoulder and you will see the person thus adjured in the act of harrowing.

The ceremony of Winnowing Com must also be gone through in solitude. Go to the bam and open both doors, taking them off the hinges if possible, lest the being you expect to appear, may close them and do you some injury. Then take the instrument used in winnowing com, and go through all the attitudes of letting it down against the wind. Repeat the operation three times, and the figure of your future partner will appear passing in at one door and out at the other. Should those engaging in this ceremony be fated to die young it is believed that a coffin, followed by mourners, will enter and pursue the too adventurous youth or maiden, who thus wishes to pry into the hidden things of the future, round the barn.

Another is Measuring the Bean Stack. Go three times round a bean stack with outstretched arms, as if measuring it, and the third time you will clasp in your arms the shade of your future partner.

As also' Eating the Herring. Just before retiring to rest eat a raw or roasted salt herring; and in your dreams your husband (or wife) that is to be, will come and offer you a drink of water to quench your thirst.

For Dipping the Shirt Sleeve. Go alone, or in company with others, to a stream where “three lairds’ lands meet,” and dip in the left sleeve of a shirt; after this is done not one word must be spoken, otherwise the spell is broken. Then put your sleeve to dry before your bed-room fire. Go to bed, but be careful to remain awake, and you will see the form of your future help-mate enter and turn the sleeve in order that the other side may get dried.

Likewise the Three Plates. Place three plates in a row on a table. In one of these put clean water, in another foul, and leave the third empty. Blindfold the person wishing to try his or her fortune, and lead them up to the table. The left hand must be put forward. Should it come in contact with the clean water, then the future spouse will be young, handsome, and a bachelor or maid. The foul signifies a widower or a widow ; and the empty dish, single blessedness. This ceremony is repeated three times, and the plates must be differently arranged after each attempt.

Also Throwing the Glue. Steal forth alone and at night, to the nearest lime-kiln, and throw in a clue of blue yarn, winding it off on to a fresh clue. As you come near the end some one will grasp hold of the thread lying in the kiln. You then ask, “Who holds?” when the name of your future partner will be uttered from beneath.

The following truthful anecdote will serve to illustrate the implicit belief our simple— need we add, credulous—Scottish maidens used to place in the mystic rite. In the parish in which the editor of this volume at one time resided, there lived a very pretty girl called Mary Shirley. Mary had two lovers, respectively named Robert Laurie and William Fleming. The former of these youths was the favoured one. In his despair, for he was devotedly attached to the fair maiden, Fleming repaired to her most intimate friend and implored her by every means in her power to further his suit. Feeling deeply for the poor youth, and esteeming him, as indeed ho was, the most worthy of the lovers, this girl informed him, in the strictest confidence, that Mary Shirley intended on the coming Hallowe’en to throw the blue clue into the kiln nearest her father’s house. Fleming obeyed the hint thus kindly given him. On the night in question, he hid himself in the kiln, and seized hold of the clue which his agitated Mary threw in. In answer to her faltering “Who holds?” he gave his own name. Hastily dropping the thread, the terrified girl fled homewards. Ere many days had elapsed, Fleming proposed to, and was accepted by the pretty Mary, to the nosmall surprise and anger of his rival.

When congratulated on the wisdom of her choice the blushing maiden replied, “it was na me wha made the choice. I myself was a’ for Robert, but fate had it I was tae get the ither, and wha can gang again fate?’ The marriage thus strangely brought about proved a very happy one for both parties. Fleming, however, wisely preserved silence as to the Hallowe’en trick which won him his bride.

Still another custom is Pricking the Egg. Take an egg, prick it with a pin and allow the white to drop into a wine-glass nearly filled with water. Take some of this in your mouth and go out for a walk. The first name you hear called aloud will be that of your future partner. An old woman solemnly assured the editor she had in her youthful days engaged in this Hallowe’en frolic, and the name of Archibald (her husband’s name) “came up as it were from the very ground.” In addition to the foregoing, all of them connected with the Hallowe’en ceremonies, the Highlanders have the following decidedly eerie custom, which may be termed the summons of death. An individual goes to a public road which branches in three different directions. At the junction of these roads he seats himself on a three-legged stool on the eve of twelve o’clock; and as the hour strikes he hears proclaimed aloud the names of the several persons who will die in the parish before the next anniversary. Should the person carry along with him articles of wearing apparel, and throw an article away on the proclamation of each person’s name, it will rescue that individual from his impending-fate.

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