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I 



HIGHLAND SUPERSTITIONS. 



NOTE. 

The following pages on '' Highland Superstitions/* by 

the late Rev. Alexander Macpregor,' M.A., Inverness, first 

/ 
appeared as a series of articles in Volume II. of the 

Celtic Magazine, and subsequently as an appendix to the 

second, third, and fourth editions of " The Prophecies of 

the Brahan Seer." They were published separately for 

the first time in 1891, and now reprinted,n901. 



Highland Superstitions 



CONNECTED WITH 



THE DRUIDS, FAIRIES, WITCHCRAFT, SECOND-SIGHT, 

HALLOWE'EN, SACRED WELLS AND LOCHS, WITH 

SEVERAL CURIOUS INSTANCES OF HIGHLAND 

CUSTOMS AND BELIEFS. 



• > 



BY THE 

Rev. ALEXANDER MACGREGOR, M.A., 

AUTHOR OF *'tHE LIFE OF FLORA MACDONALD AND THE 
ADVENTURES OF PRINCE CHARLES," ETC. 



^ 



STIRLING : 
ENEAS MACKAY, 43 MURRAY PLACE. 

London : Gibbings & Company, Limited. 

1901. 



/ 



CONTENTS. 

General Superstitions . 4 

Druidism 8 

FAltir&B ' Z2 

\ Witchcraft 20 

^ Second-Sight -•-•••'»-•. 25 

N^ Smaller Superstitions 33 

New- Year Customs 42 

Easter Customs 43 

May-Day Customs 43 

Hallowe'en 44 

Sacred Wells and Lochs 54 



HIGHLAND SUPERSTITIONS. 




r IS lamentable that mankind in all ages of the 
world have been prone to the most degrading 
superstitions. The enlightened ages of an- 
tiquity were no more exenipi from them 
than the most ignorant We know from the 
Bible how difficult it was to restrain the Jews from the most 
idolatrous and superstitious observances, and to confine them 
to the worship of the only living and true God, This re- 
markable tendency of the Hebrew nation was caused, in all 
likelihood, by their sojourning for the loi^ period of 400 
years among the Egyptians, whose system of religion was a 
mass of idolatrous observances. They had a number of 
ideal gods, to whom they erected temples of prodigious size 
and architectural splendour. Their principal deities, 
were Osiris and Isis, whom they considered typical of the 
sun and moon. But they had a great variety of other deities, 
animals of all kinds — (hence the golden calf of the Hebrews), 



389394 



6 HIGHLAND SUPERSTITIONS. 

the dog, the wclf, the hawk, the stork, the cat, and several 
other creatures. They also adored their great river, the 
Nile, personifying it in the crocodile, to which they erected 
temples and appointed priests to serve at their altars. The 
Egyptians also believed in dreams, lucky and unlucky days, 
charms, omens, and magic — in short, they were grossly 
superstitious ! 

The absurdities of Egyptian superstition formed the 
basis of what followed in Greece and Rome. Fifteen 
hundred years before the birth of our blessed Saviour, 
Egypt was at the height of its civilisation, but then, too, it 
was at the height of its superstition. The mythology and 
superstitious observances of the Greeks deserve to be noticed, 
both as a matter of amusement and instruction, but we can, 
in the meantime, hint at but a few particulars. They had no 
idea of the only living and true God. Their notions of 
Divinity were grovelling and contemptible. Their gods 
were, as they believed, at one time heroes and rulers on 
earth, but still having their habitation somewhere within the 
boundaries of the Grecian territories. We are made acquaint- 
ed with the character of these imaginary deities by the numer- 
ous allusions made to them in the works of the Greek and 
Roman poets, as well as by the various sculptured figures 
which have been brought to light in modem times. Jupiter, 
the son of Saturn, was the chief God. But even the great 
Jupiter himself did not enjoy unmolested his supreme 
dignity, for the offspring of Titan, a race of terrible giants, 
set Jupiter at defiance. They piled the mountains of Pelion 
and Ossa on the top of each other, and endeavoured to 
ascend into heaven, and to pull Jupiter down from his 
throne. The gods, in great alarm, fled from Mount 
Olympus into Egypt, where they concealed their true character 
by assuming the form of various animals; but Jupiter, 



THE DAYS OF THE WEEK. ^ 

assisted by Hercules, succeeded in destroying the giants, 
and in reasserting his sovereign sway. And hence he is 
always represented on a throne, with a thunderbolt in his 
hand, and an eagle by his side. Jupiter's brothers and chil- 
dren were the gods and goddesses of a great variety of 
distinct things — in fact, under the complicated mythology of 
Greece, every imaginable thing had its god or goddess. For 
example, Jupiter's brother Neptune was god of the ocean, 
and is painted as a majestic figure, with a crown on his head, 
and a trident in his hand, and drawn in a car over the sea 
by powerful water-horses. Neptune has often appeared in 
his stately chariot on the decks of ships when crossing the 
Equator. Then all on board who had never crossed the 
line before were brought into his presence, laid hold of, and 
plunged into a bath of water, where they received a smart 
shave, with tar for soap, and a rusty hoop for a razor. Only 
the ladies on board were exempted from this unpleasant 
treatment, not because they had no beards, but by the 
powerful talismanic effect of slipping a few sovereigns into 
the hands of the seamen for grog. 

The superstitions of the European Northmen, or Scandi- 
navians (the early inhabitants of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, 
and Iceland), were of a kind remarkably accordant with the 
cold and stem character of the regions which they occupied. 
The dread names of their gods Odin, Thor, and other 
deities of the north are now only perpetuated in the names 
given to some of the days of the week. Thus, our term 
" Wednesday" is derived from "Oden's" or Woden's " day — 
the day of the week on which the northern Jupiter was 
specially worshipped. Our Thursday is from Thor, the 
second dignity among the fabulous gods. As this day was 
called " Dies Jovis " by the Romans, we have a confirmation 
that Thor, the thunderer, was equivalent to the thundering 




. 






4< 



VJO 



HIGHLAND SUPERSTITIONS. 



V 



12 HIGHLAND SUPERSTITIONS. 

fatal to the Druids. They made several attempts to regain 
their dominions, but all were ineffectual They retired tc 
the I-thonn (the isle of waves), that is lona, where their 
order was not quite extinct on the arrival of St Columba on 
that island, in the sixth century. 

Fairies. — ^Among the various spiritual beings to whom 
the credulity of mankind has given an imaginary existence, 
the fairies occupy a prominent place, and are specially 
worthy of notice. The fairy is distinguished by one peculia- 
rity from every other being of a similar order. Other spirits, 
such as dwarfs, brownies, elves, and such like, are represent- 
ed as deformed creatures, whereas the fairy is a beautiful 
miniature of " the human form divine ". It is perfect in face, 
delightful in figure, and more of angelic than human ap- 
pearance. These points of distinction, with generally a dress 
of bright green, mark the personal individuality of the fairy. 
The origin of the fairy superstition is ascribed to the Celtic 
race ; hence in Ireland, the Highlands and Islands of Scot- 
land, and Wales, the fairies are even to this day believed by 
some to exist. They were usually called "good neighbours," 
" Daoine-sithe," men of peace, and yet, if offended, they 
became very inveterate in their spite. They readily kid- 
napped unbaptised children, and even adult men and women, 
particularly young married females, to become nurses to the 
fairy children. They lived under ground, or in little green 
hills, where the royal fairies held their courts. In their places 
all wfts beauty and splendour. Their pageants and processions 
were far more magnificent than any that Eastern sovereigns 
could get up or poets devise. They rode upon milk-white 
steeds. Their dresses were brilliant beyond conception, and 
when they mingled in the dance, their music was more 
55i^lime by far than mortal lips or hands could ever produce. 



• 



« 



* 



FAIRIES. 13 

The fairy legends are numerous and various. From an early 
period every fairy annalist concurred in giving to the king 
and queen of the fairies the name of Oberon and Titania. 
Titania, though not under this name, figures in the tale of 
Thomas Lermont, commonly called Thomas the Rhymer, 
one of the earliest traditions relative to the fairy tribe. 
Thomas was a distinguished poet and prophet, who lived 
near Melrose, and was proprietor of Ercildoune. The year 
of his birth is uncertain, but he was an old man when Edward 
I. was carrying on war in Scotland. His predictions have 
long excited interest in his native country. The following 
adventure, handed down in the words of an ancient ballad, 
befel this individual on the Eildon hills, in Roxburghshire: — 

True Thomas lay on Huntly bank, 

A ferlie spied he with his e'e ; 
For there he saw a ladye bright 

Come riding down by £ildon tree. 

Her shirt was o' the grass-green silk, 

Her mantle o* the velvet fyne ; 
At ilka telt o' her horse's mane 

Hung fifty siller bells and nine. 

The saddle of this visionary beauty*s steed was of ivory, 
inlaid with gold. She had a quiver of arrows at her back, 
with a bow in one hand, and the other led three beautiful 
hounds in a leash. 

True Thomas he pull'd off his cap, 

And louted low down to his knee ; 
'* All hail ! thou mighty queen of heaven, 

For thy peer on earth I ne*er did see ! " 

" O no ! O no ! Thomas," she said, 
'' That name does not belang to me ; 

I am but the queen of fair Elfland, 
That am hither come to visit thee.'* 



14 HIGHLAND SUPERSTITIONS. 

By some spell this fairy queen made Thomas her slave. 
She became changed into a hideous hag, yet he was com- 
pelled to follow her. They entered a cavern, and after 
wading through pools of blood, in pitchy darkness for three 
days, they reached a beautiful orchard, where the lady re- 
sumed her former dignity and stateliness. She took him 
to a gorgeous castle, where he joined with lords, and knights, 
and ladies in dancing to the most exquisite music At the 
end of what he thought a short time, the queen told him that 
he had been seven years in the castle, and that he 
might return home. On parting, she gifted him " with a 
tongue that could never lie ". There are numberless such 
fairy legends, but one is enough for a specimen. Some of 
the poor creatures arraigned in Scotland for witchcraft ad- 
mitted having had correspondence with the fairies. The 
trials of Bessie Dunlop in 1576, and of Alison Pearson in 
1588, illustrate this statement. Bessie Dunlop avowed that 
the ghost of one Thomas Reid appeared to her — a, soldier 
slain at Pinkie in 1547 — that he took her to fairyland, and 
introduced her to the queen. Alison Pearson also admitted 
her familiarity with the fairies, from whom she had received 
herbs for the cure of diseases. It is remarkable that Patrick 
Adamson, an able scholar and divine, who was created 
Archbishop of St. Andrews by James VI., actually took the 
medicines prescribed by this poor woman, in the hope that 
they would transfer an illness with which he was seized to 
the body of one of his horses. , These poor women were 
both convicted, and both were put to death at the stake. 
No doubt there are some in the Highlands and Islands who 
still believe in the existence of the fairy race. The 
" sithiche," or fairy, is the most active sprite in Highland 
mythology. It is a dexterous child-stealer, and must be 
carefully guarded against At birth many covert and 



FAIRIES. 15 

cunning ceremonies are still used to baffle the fairy's power, 
otherwise the new:born child would be taken off to fairyland, 
and a withered, little, living skeleton of a child laid in its 
stead If offended, they are wantonly mischievous, and 
hurt severely, and perhaps kill with their arrows, such as 
annoy them. These arrows are of stone, like a yellow flint, 
and shaped like a barbed arrow-head. They are called 
" saighdean sithe," or fairy arrows. These arrow-heads must 
have been extensively used in their warfare by the aboriginal 
people of the Isles (and not, of course, by the fairies), as 
they are still picked up here and there in the fields, and are 
all much of the same size and shape. In Skye, and in the 
Hebrides in general, the fairies dwelt in green knolls or hil- 
locks, called " sitheanan," and there is hardly a parish or 
district which has not its " sithean," or fairy-hill. I knew 
an old man in Skye who died about thirty years ago, at the 
age of about 100, whose name was Farquhar Beaton. He 
so firmly believed in fairies and other superstitions that in 
his " grace before meat " he prayed thus : — 

O Thi bheannuichte, cum ruinn, agus cuidich leinn, agus na tuiteadh do 
ghras oim mar an t-uisge air druim a' gheoidh. An uair a bhios fear 'na 
eigin air gob rutha, cuidich fein leis; agus bi mu'n cuairt duinn air tir, agus 
maille ruinn. Gleidh an t-aosda agus an t-oga, ar mnathan agus ar paisd- 
ean, ar spreidh agus ar feudal, o chumhachd agus o cheannas nan sithich- 
ean, agus o mhi-run gach droch-shula. Bitheadh slighe reidh romhainn, 
agus crioch shona aig ar turas. 

Which may be translated thus : — 

O Blessed One, provide for us and help us, and let not thy grace fall on 
us like the rain-drops on the back of a goose. When a man is in danger 
on the point of a promontory at sea, do thou succour him ; and be about 
us and with us on dry land. Preserve the aged and the young, our wives 
and our children, our sheep and our cattle, from the power and dominion 
of the fairies, and from the malicious effects of every evil eye. Let a 
straight path be before us, and a happy end to our journey. 

Many throughout the Highlands and Islands entertained 



l6 HIGHLAND SUPERSTITIONS. 

the same firm belief in the existence of fairies as poor old 
Farquhar Beaton did. They were generally deemed harm- 
less sprites — " Daoine-sithe," — beings that loved kindness 
and peace, yet they had their differences and quarrels ; and 
desperate were their disputes when they took place. Old 
Farquhar spoke of many occasions when the fairy fights 
became fast and furious. The Macleods of Dunvegan, and 
the Macdonalds (commonly called the Lords of the Isles) 
at Duntulm, had their particular pipers, and their pipe- 
music colleges. The Macleods had the distinguished race 
of MacCrimmons for centuries, as family pipers, and they 
had their college at Boreraig, a tenement near Dunvegan, 
which they held free. In the same way, the Macdonalds 
had the famed MacArthurs as pipers, with the free posses- 
sion of Peingowen for their college. A continued rivalry 
existed between the MacCrimmons and MacArthurs for 
supremacy in the musical art, and both had their particular 
fairy friends, who were said to supply them with reeds, and 
even, at times, with sets of bagpipes. As the famed Muses 
of Parnassus inspired their favourite bards with poetic powers, 
so the fairies conferred the requisite power on these family 
pipers to progress in the proficiency of their art But at 
times, so keen were these gay coadjutors for the success of 
their particular musical proteges, that they disputed, and 
actually fought for the victory, thereby causing their "sian " 
dwellings to ring with the din of the conflict Old Farquhar, 
when questioned as to his belief in these things, would raise 
his hands, and say, ^' Mo dha shuil fein a chunnaic iad ; mo 
dha chluas fein a chual iad." (My own two eyes beheld 
them; my two ears heard them.) Farquhar was a thin, 
spare, hard-featured, little man, who prided himself on his 
ancestry, as a race distinguished for their knowledge of 
medicinal herbs. He could trace his genealogy from son to 



FAIRIES. 17 

sire, back to ten or twelve generations, as many others in 
Skye could do in regard to themselves. Poor Farquhar had 
a superstitious dislike to bacon or pork. For many years 
before his death he had dinner at the Manse every Sabbath 
by the minister's special request, when he invariably said the 
above grace before commencing his meal It frequently 
happened that the servants' dinner consisted of pork or bacon, 
the look of which Farquhar could not bear, and yet he often 
dined on it The servants, knowing his prejudices, had 
beforehand prepared a quantity of the lean parts of the meat 
for the old man, which they passed of as mutton, and which 
he never suspected. While partaking of it, however, he 
frequently said, to the no small amusement and tittering of 
the domestics — " Bu tu fein an fheoil mhaith, cheart, agus 
cha b'i a' mhuc ghrannda, shalach " ; (Thou art the good, 
right meat, and not the filthy, unclean pig). 

The fairies were said to be very fierce and vindictive when 
altercations and differences took place among themselves, 
and particularly so, when enemies injured or assailed those 
with whom they were on friendly terms. The Jameses, who 
were jolly monarchs, were in general most auspicious parti- 
sans of these fantastic tribes ; at least they considered those 
royal personages as such. Perthshire was of old a noted 
district for the intrigues of the fairies. The Clan Donnach- 
aidh, or Robertson of Struan, were not generally favourites 
with them. During the minority of James V., this powerful 
clan committed bloody outrages over the district of Athole, 
at which the fairies were so enraged that they contrived 
means whereby the enemy waylaid the laird of Struan, while 
visiting his uncle, and basely assassinated him in the presence 
of his relative.* 

In ancient times, the residence of the Athole family was 

* Vide Buch. Lib. xiii. 
B 



l8 HIGHLAND SUPERSTITIONS. 

a lofty, turreted mansion, possessing an air of grandeur 
characteristic of feudal times. It is said that it was within 
this lordly mansion that the cruel assassin of our first James 
meditated his bloody purpose If credit can be given to 
Lindsay, the historian, it was here also, about a century 
afterwards, that an Earl of Athole entertained, in the most 
sumptuous manner. King James V. On that occasion, his 
Majesty entered the district of Athole with a numerous 
retinue, to hunt the deer of the Grampian hills. A banquet 
of extraordinary magnificence and splendour was furnished 
for the Scottish Monarch. A separate banquetting-hall was 
prepared, at a vast expense, for the entertainment of his 
Majesty and his retainers. Lindsay says, " That there was 
no want of meates, drinkes, and delicacies, that were to be 
gotten at that time in Scotland, either in brugh or land. 
So that he (the King) wanted none of his orders mare than 
he had been at home in his own palace. The King remained 
in this wilderness (i.e., Athole) at the hunting the space of 
three days and three nights, as I have shewn. I heard men 
say it cost the Earl of Athole every day in expenses a thousand 
pounds." No sooner had the royal visitor taken his depar- 
ture than Athole, instigated, as was said, by the fairies, caused 
his Highlandmen to set fire to the temporary palace and huts 
which had been reared for the occasion, " that the King and 
the ambassadors might see them on fire ". Then the ambas- 
sador said to the King, " I marvel. Sir, that you should thole 
your fair palace to be burnt, that your grace has been so well 
lodged in ". Then the King answered, — " It is the use of 
our Highlandmen, though they be never so well lodged, to 
bum the lodgings when they depart." 

" It would seem," says Lindsay, " the next visit the King 
paid to his Highlandmen, was not marked with so much 
merriment and banquetting as the former, for when the King 



FAIRIES. 19 

passed into the isles, and there held justice courts, and 
punished both thief and traitor, according to their demerits, 
syne brought many of the great men of the isles captive with 
him ; such as Mudyart, Maconnel, Macloyd, Mackay, Mac- 
loyd of the Lewis, MacNeil, Maclane, Macintosh, John 
Mudyard, Mackenzie, with many others that I cannot re- 
hearse at this time. Some of them he put in ward, and some 
bade in court, and some he took pledges for good rule in 
time coming. So he brought the isles, both north and south, 
in good rule and peace." 

It was believed by the natives in these times, that the King 
had acquired power over these chieftains through the influence 
of the fairies, or some other evil spirits that had not been on 
friendly terms with the natives of the Isles, on account of some 
injuries received at their hands. Superstition in those days was 
at no loss to find a cause for every revolution and change. 

Speaking of the fairies in olden times, they seem to have 
exercised their various pranks in different localities, still 
pointed out in the shires of Fife and Forfar, as well as in the 
counties around. The old Castle of Glammis, a venerable 
and majestic pile of building, has several fairy legends con- 
nected with it. In an underground part of this old edifice, 
there was a secret room, which was only known to two, or at 
most three individuals, at the same time, and these were 
bound not to reveal it, but to their successors in the secret. 
It is said to have been haunted, and at times taken possession 
of by gl^osts and fairies. It has frequently been the object 
of search with the inquisitive, but the search has been in vain. 
Tradition gives one account, that Malcolm II. was murdered 
in this room in 1034, and that the murderers lost their way 
in the darkness of the night, and by the breaking of the ice 
were drowned in the loch of Forfar. Fordun gives a different 
account, and states that the King was mortally wounded in a 



20 HIGHLAND SUPERSTITIONS. 

skirmish near the Castle, and that an obelisk or large stone of 
rude design was erected to commemorate the murder, and not 
to represent the King's gravestone, as he was buried at lona. 

Near the summit of Carmylie hill is a large burrow o^ 
tumulus, which was believed at one time by the natives to" 
be a favourite haunt of the fairies, where, with much splen- 
dour, they held their nightly revels. It still bears the name 
of" Fairy-folk hUlock". 

In the parish of Lunan, in Forfarshire, there is an immense 
variety of "knaps" or round hillocks, in different places. 
Very probably the knaps had been used as beacons in ancient 
times, to give notice of alarm on the approach of an enemy, 
by means of fires lighted upon them. It is, however, the 
case, that various fairy superstitions were connected with 
these " sians " or tumuli, of which mention is made to this 
day. One ancient practice existed, that the relatives of the 
dead, the day after the funeral, carried the chaff and bed- 
straw on which the body had lain to the knap nearest to the 
house, and there consumed them by fire. This superstition 
was prevalent in several parts of Scotland. 

Witchcraft. — This superstition took its rise in the East, 
and at an early period of the world's history. It was re- 
garded as the x>ower of magical incantation through the 
agency of evil spirits. From an early era, it was pursued as 
a trade by crafty wretches, who played upon the weakness of 
their fellow-creatures. Laws were passed against it. Many 
wretches were tortured in order to confess to it; and, to 
avoid these preliminary horrors, hundreds confessed all that 
they were accused of, and were forthwith led to execution. 
It has been calculated that, from the date of Pope Innocent's 
bull in 1484 to the final extinction of these persecutions, no 
fewer than 100,000 were put to death in Germany alone. 



WITCHCRAFT. 21 

Witchcraft was first denounced in England in 1541, in the 
reign of Henry VIII. Previous to that time, however, many 
witch trials had taken place, and severe punishments were 
inflicted. We are all familiar with the fearful account of the 
witches near Forres, in the tragedy of Macbeth. Queen 
Elizabeth, in 1562, directed a statute exclusively against 
witchcraft. Many sad incidents are on record of the effects 
of this statute.* 

The mind of King James VI. was deeply impressed with"^-^ 
the flagrant nature of the crime of witchcraft. Soon after > 
his arrival from Denmark in 1590, to conduct his bride ( 
home, the Princess Anne, a tremendous witch conspiracy J 
was formed against his Majesty's prosperity. One Mrjs, 
Agnes Sampson, commonly called " the wise wife of Keith" / 
(a village of East Lothian), was the principal agent in this ) 
horrible work. She was summoned before the King, and in ) 
the words of her trial it is recorded: — "The said Agnes j 
Sampson was after brought again before the King's Majestief 
and his Council, and being examined of the meetings and \ 
detestable dealings of these witches, she confessed that upon\ 
the night of All Hallowe'en she was accompanied with a great \ 
many other witches, to the number of two hundred, and . 
that all they together went to the sea, each one in a riddle ^ 
or sieve, and went in the same, very substantially, with • 
flaggons of wine, making merry and drinking by the way in 
the same riddles, or sieves, to the Kirk of North Berwick, in 1 
Lothian, and that after they had landed, took hands on the / 
land, and danced this reil, or short dance, singing all with J 
one voice — 

Cummer, goe ye before. Cummer goe ye ; 
GifT ye will not go before, Cummer, let me. 

* For several of these in England and the South of Scotland, see C^HH 
Maganntt VoL III., pp. 52-53, - • - • 



22 HIGHLAND SUPERSTITIONS. 

One Geillis Duncan did go before them, playing this reil 
upon a small trump until they entered the Kirk of North 
Berwick. These made the King in a wonderful admiration, 
and he sent for the said Geillis Duncan, who upon the like 
trump did play the said reill before the King's Majestie. 
Agnes Sampson declared that one great object with Satan 
and his agents was to destroy the King by raising a storm 
at sea when James came across from Denmark," and that 
"the witches demanded of the Divell, why he beare sic 
hatred to the King ? who answered, by reason the King is 
the greatest enemie hee hath in the world." Such an eulogy, 
from such a quarter, could not but pamper the conceit of 
the easily flattered Scottish monarch ! 

But we had some cases in the north, which showed that 
witchcraft was not confined to the lower classes. Catherine 
Ross, or Lady Fowlis, was indicted by the King's advocate 
for the practice of witchcraft. She was anxious to make 
young Lady Fowlis possessor of the property of Fowlis, and 
to have her married to the Laird of Balnagown. Before 
this could be effected, she had to cut off her sons in-law, 
Robert and Hector Munro, and the young wife of Balna- 
gown. She proceeded to her deadly work by consulting 
with witches, making effigies of her intended victims in clay, 
and shooting at them with arrows, shod with elf-arrowheads. 

The nature of these effigies of clay may be explained. Such 
as were intended to be doomed, or destroyed, were formed 
of clay into hideous figures, or rude statues larger than life- 
size. These were called " cuirp-creadha," or bodies of 
clay. Once formed, incantations and spells were uttered 
over them. Pins, nails, and feathers were pierced into them, 
and fairy arrows darted against them, with fearful oaths and 
imprecations. Such things Lady Fowlis resorted to for de- 
stroying her relatives ; but when all failed, this abandoned 



WITCHCRAFT. 23 

woman had recourse to the poisoning of ales and certain 
dishes, by which she put several persons to death, though 
not the intended victims. By the confession of some of the 
assistant hags, the purposes of Lady Fowlis were disclosed ; 
she was brought to trial, but was acquitted by a local jury. 

These disgraceful proceedings were not without parallel in 
other distinguished families of the day. Euphemia Macal- 
zean, daughter of an eminent judge, Lord Cliftonhall, was 
burned at the stake for witchcraft in 1591. This abandoned 
woman was found guilty by a jury for murdering her own 
godfather, as also her husband's nephew, and others, for 
which she was " burnt in assis, quick to the death". 

In the beginning of the reign of Charles II., Morayshire 
became the scene of a violent fit of the great moral frenzy, 
and some of the most remarkable trials in the course of 
Scottish witchcraft took place there. The last justiciary trial 
for witchcraft in Scotland was that of Elspeth Rule, who 
was convicted in 1708, and banished. The last regular 
execution for this crime took place in Dornoch in 1722, 
when an old woman was condemned to death by David 
Ross, Sheriff of Caithness. It is difficult to compute the 
number of the victims of witchcraft in Scotland, but attentive 
inquirers make out that the black list would include upwards 
of four thousand persons ! And by what a fate did they 
perish ? Cruelly tortured while living, and dismissed from 
life by a living death amidst the flames ! And for what ? 
For an impossible crime. And who were the victims, and 
who were the executioners ! The victims in most cases, 
were the aged, the weak, the deformed, the lame, and the 
blind — those, indeed, whom years and infirmities had 
doomed to poverty and wretchedness ; yes, exactly that class 
of miserable beings for whom Acts of Parliament have now 
made comfortable provision — those unfortunate creatures 



24 HIGHLAND SUPERSTITIONS. 

for whose benefit our more enlightened rulers now provide 
houses of refuge, erect poorhouses like palaces, build large 
asylums, and endow charitable institutions of every kind. 
But who were the executioners ? The wisest, the greatest, 
and the most learned of their time — men distinguished above 
their fellows for knowledge and intelligence — ministers of 
religion and of the law, kings, princes, and nobles. 

It is rather remarkable that, as late as January, 187 1, a 
trial in regard to witchcraft took place in Newtonwards 
Quarter Sessions, in County Down. Hugh Kennedy sued 
his brother John for payment of a sum alleged to be due to 
him for wages and other services. He stated that his 
brother's house and land were frequented by witches, and 
that he had been employed to banish them. The witches 
did not belong to the " good people," and were maliciously 
inclined towards his brother — his land got into a bad con- 
dition, and his cows into a state of settled melancholy. 
There was a certain charm of great repute in the neighbour- 
hood for putting to flight these unwelcome visitors ; but it 
was only useful when properly applied and performed, and 
no other person but plaintiff could be got to undertake the 
task. The method pursued was thus : — The plaintiff locked 
himself in the house alone; he stopped up the keyholes, 
closed up the windows, stuffed up the chimney, and, in fact, 
left no mode of egress to the unfortunate witches whom he 
was to summons into his presence. He then lit a fire and 
put a pot of milk on it, and into the pot he put three rows 
of pins and needles, which had never been sullied or con- 
taminated by use. These he boiled together for half-an-hour, 
during which time the witches were supposed to be suffering 
the most excruciating tortures, and had at last to take to flight 
They had never been seen or heard of since. The cows 
resumed their former healthy condition, and the land its 



SECOND-SIGHT. 25 

wonted fertility. The case being of a rather "complicated " 
nature, it was left to arbitration. Subsequently, it was an- 
nounced in court, that the sum of los had been awarded to 
the plaintiff. 

Second-Sight. — ^This is the faculty of seeing otherwise 
invisible objects. It is neither voluntary nor constant, and 
is considered rather annoying than agreeable to the possessors 
of it, who are chiefly found among the Highlands and Islands 
of Scotland, the Isle of Man and Ireland. The gift was 
possessed by individuals of both sexes, and its* fits 
came on within doors and without, sitting and standing, 
at night and by day, and at whatever employment the votary 
might chance to be engaged. The visions were usually 
about funerals, shrouds, the appearance of friends who were 
at the time in distant countries, the arrival of strangers, falls 
from horses, the upsetting of vehicles, bridal ceremonies, 
funeral processions, corpses, swamping of boats, drowning 
at sea, dropping suddenly dead, and numberless other 
subjects. Very astonishing cases might be mentioned 
wherein it would appear impossible that either fraud or 
deception could exist. Martin, in his book on the Western 
Isles, alludes to many who were undoubtedly, in his belief, 
" Taibhsears," or Seers ; and even to this day this faculty is 
believed by many to exist. Dr. Beattie ascribes it to the 
influence of physical causes on superstitious and unenlighten- 
ed minds, such as the effects which wild scenery, interspersed 
with valleys, mountains, and lakes, have upon the imagina- 
tion of the natives. Others maintain that it arose from 
optical illusions, and others from ignorance, the great mother 
of all superstitions. It is remarkable when Dr. Samuel 
Johnson visited Skye in 1773, and had heard much about 
the second-sight, that he gave credit to it, and expressed 



26 HIGHLAND SUPBRSTITIONS. 

his surprise that it was disbelieved by the clergy, while 
many others were of a different opinion. If space permitted, 
many wonderful cases of second-sight might be given, but a 
few must suffice. It is traditionally stated that the execution 
of the unfortunate Queen Mary had been foreseen by many 
Highland seers, and had been previously described by them 
by extraordinary minuteness. King James alludes to it in 
his " Demonology " ; and it was brought as a charge against 
various Shetland witches in that monarch's reign. Mackenzie 
of Tarbat, afterwards Earl of Cromartie, a talented statesman 
in the reign of Charles II., wrote some account of this 
strange faculty for the use of the celebrated Boyle. He gives 
one instance, as follows : — One day as he was riding in a 
field among his tenants, who were manuring barley, a stranger 
came up to the party and observed that they need not be so 
busy about their crop, as he saw the Englishmen's horses 
tethered among them already. The event proved as the 
man had foretold, for the horses of Cromwell's army in 1650 
ate up the whole field. A few years after this incident, be- 
fore Argyll went on his fatal journey to congratulate King 
Charles on his restoration, he was playing at bowls with some 
gentlemen near his castle at Inverary, when one of them 
grew pale and fainted as the Marquis stooped for his bowl. 
On recovering, he cried, " Bless me, what do I see ? my 
lord with his head off, and all his shoulders full of blood". 
The late General Stewart of Garth, in his ** Sketches of the 
Highlanders," relates a very remarkable instance of second- 
sight which happened in his own family : — " Late on an 
autumnal evening in the year 1773, the son of a neighbour- 
ing gentleman came to my father's house. He and my mother 
were from home, but several friends were in the house. The 
young gentleman spoke little, and seemed absorbed in deep 
thought Soon after he arrived, he inquired for a boy of the 



SECOND-SIGHT. ^^ 

family, then three years of age. When shown into the 
nursery, the nurse was trying on a pair of new shoes, and 
complained that they did not fit the child. * They will fit 
him before he will have occasion for them,' said the young 
gentleman. This called forth the chidings of the nurse for 
predicting evil to the child, who was stout and healthy. 
When he returned to the party he had left in the sitting-room, 
who had heard of his observation on the shoes, they caution- 
ed him to take care that the nurse did not derange his new 
talent of the second sight, with some ironical congratulations 
on his pretended acquirement. This brought on an ex- 
planation, when he told them that as he had approached the 
end of a wooden bridge near the house, he was astonished 
to see a crowd of people passing the bridge. Coming nearer, 
he observed a person carrying a small coffin, followed by 
about twenty gentlemen, all of his acquaintance, his own 
father and mine being of the number, with a concourse of 
the country people. He did not attempt to join, but saw 
them turn off to the right, in the direction of the churchyard, 
which they entered. He then proceeded on his intended 
visit, much impressed with what he had seen, with a feeling 
of awe, and believing it to have been a representation of the 
death and funeral of a child of the family. The whole re- 
ceived perfect confirmation in his mind, by the sudden death 
of the boy the following night, and the consequent funeral, 
which was exactly as he had seen. This gentleman was not 
a professed seer. This was his first and his last vision, and, as 
he told me," says General Stewart, " it was sufficient." 

A very remarkable instance of supernatural vision happen- 
ed a few years ago, in a landed proprietor's house in Skye. 
On a certain evening, probably that of New Year's Day, a 
large party of neighbouring ladies and gentlemen, with the 
youngsters of their families, had been invited to enjoy certain 



28 HIGHLAND SUPERSTITIONS. 

harmless festivities at this proprietor's house, the lady of 
which had been absent at the time in the south, but her sons 
and daughters were at home to entertain the happy guests. 
After dinner the junior members of the party retired to the 
drawing-room to amuse themselves. A quadrille was set 
agoing, but before it had commenced, the figure of a lady 
glided along the side wall of the room, from end to end, and 
was seen by several of those opposite to it " My mother ! 
my mother!" screamed one of the young ladies of the family, 
and fainted. The vision put a sudden termination to the 
hilarities of the evening ; but the most surprising fact was, 
that at the very time the vision appeared, the lady of the 
house had died in a city in the south. 

Besides the many instances of second-sight given by Martin, 
Theophilus Insulanus, and several others, a great additional 
variety might be stated of rather remarkable cases. In the 
village of Earlish, parish of Snizort, in Skye, about fifty 
years ago, a cottar's wife was delivered of a nice baby. 
Soon after the birth, the happy mother was visited by the 
wives of her neighbours, who came, according to the custom 
of the place on such occasions, each with a gift of fowls, 
eggs, and such like. The baby was admired as a nice infant, 
and the usual hopes were expressed that it might be long 
spared to the parents. One female in a corner of the 
apartment whispered in her neighbour's ear, that she was 
afraid the infant would not be long spared, and that it would 
some day be the cause of excessive grief to the poor mother. 
On being questioned for the reason of such a statement, she 
said that she had a vision of the child all mangled, torn up, 
and bleeding. Her neighbour upbraided her for expressing 
a thing so ridiculous in itself, and so very improbable. In 
the course of a month or two, when the infant had progressed 
in health and strength to the desire of his parent's heart, he 



SECOND-SIGHT. 29 

was laid to sleep in the cradle, and the mother, being alone 
at the time, embraced the opportunity of going to the well 
for a pitcher of water. After having talked for a few minutes 
with a neighbour who had met her at the well, she returned 
to her house, when, to her unspeakable horror, she found 
her baby on the floor dead, mangled, torn to pieces, with 
the arms and face eaten away. During the distracted 
mother's absence, a large brute of a pig had been roaming 
about. It entered the deserted apartment, seized upon the 
innocent sleeping babe, and partially devoured it 

About sixty years ago, one of the annual fairs was to be 
held at Portree, the Capital of Skye, to which the natives 
were in the habit of resorting in hundreds from all quarters 
of the Island. In the East-side district of Kilmuir, about 
eighteen miles north of Portree, there lived at that time a 
female advanced in years, who was reported to be possessed 
of the faculty of second-sight. Some time previous to the 
date of the market, this woman was day after day sitting, 
sighing, and lamenting the catastrophe, which she said was 
sure to take place, as she had seen a boat sinking in a storm, 
and so many people drowned. Few, however, paid any 
attention to the cause of her grief at the time, but there was 
reason afterwards to do so. A large boat left Portree on 
the market-day evening for the East-side, which was literally 
crammed with people of all ages, anxious to get home. A 
storm got up, and all were consigned to a watery grave. 

Here is another remarkable instance. A worthy parish 
minister in Skye, about seventy years ago, went to visit a 
brother of his, a Captain Macleod, who had been ailing, and 
lived near Portree. Captain Macleod had a numerous 
family of sons and daughters. In the evening, the minister 
mounted his horse to return home, a distance of about nine 
miles. The weather became so boisterous and stormy, that 



30 HIGHLAND SUPERSTITIONS. 

the good old gentleman deemed it pradent to pass the night 
at Scorribreck, where Widow Nicolson and her family resided. 
She was a sister of the late Adjutant-General Sir John Mac- 
donald. Mrs. Nicolson welcomed her reverend guest, and 
was delighted at his unexpected appearance. At that remote 
period most of the large farmers' dwellings in Skye^ were 
comfortable thatched houses, with trap-stairs to the upper 
flats, where they deposited all kinds of lumber. In a certain 
corner up-stairs in this domicile, the parish mort-cloth was 
kept for safety, as the burying-place was near by. Mrs. 
Nicolson ascended the stairs on some business in the dark, 
and left the reverend gentleman with her family for a few 
minutes in the parlour. Immediately thereafter a scream 
was heard, instantly followed by the noise of a fall on the 
upper floor. Two or three rushed up with a light, and found 
Mrs. Nicolson in a fainting fit, quite insensible. On her re- 
covering, and at a subsequent hour of the evening, she 
reluctantly told her reverend friend that she beheld a very 
brilliant light on the mort-cloth, which was spread on a table, 
and in the middle of the light she saw the distinct image of 
his niece's face, a daughter of the said Captain Madeod. 
The circumstance, no doubt, created some concern in the 
minds of the family circle, but ere bed-time, the conversation 
turned on something else. Shortly thereafter, however, the 
young lady alluded to, took ill, and died, and her bier was 
the first to require the use of the mort-cloth in question after 
that eventful evening. 

Another instance equally marvellous took place in the 
northern district of Skye, at a considerably later date than 
that of the event just recorded. The parish clergyman on 
his rounds, visited the miller's house, and met the miller's 
wife evidently in a very excited state, standing on the kitchen 
floor. In that part of the Island great quantities of timber 



SECOND-SIGHT. 3I 

were frequently found on the sea-shore, drifted thither from 
wrecked vessels. On this occasion the miller's kitchen was 
benched all round with batons and planks of timber, in order 
to be seasoned by the heat of the fire, which is placed in 
these dwellings in the middle of the floor. . The clergyman 
had scarcely time to speak, when the goodwife, a very res- 
pectable woman, told him that she was always glad to see 
him, but particularly so on this occasion. She explained 
that Christy Macleod, a female of known repute as a seer, 
had just been sitting on that plank, warming herself by the 
fire, when she suddenly fainted and fell on the floor. She 
further stated that she carried Christy ben the house, and 
laid her on a bed until she would recover. " But,** said the 
matron to the minister, " you must go to see Christy, and 
insist upon her telling what she saw, as I am in terror that 
she had an unlucky sight of some of my own children.** 
The minister very reluctantly complied, and, on entering 
the apartment, found Christy so far recovered as to bear 
being questioned. He asked the cause of her ailment, and, 
in short, put the query whether she had seen anything? 
She refused to reply, except by the uttering of some evasive 
answers. He then told her to tell at once what she had 
seen, as otherwise he would not leave her until she did. 
Eventually she expressed herself in timid, tremulous terms, 
and said, that while seated on the wooden bench by the fire, 
she happened to cast her eyes upon a plank on the opposite 
side, and beheld stretched on it the mangled, bleeding body 
of a lad, Macdonald, then alive and well. Having told this, 
she solicited the minister not to divulge it. On his leaving 
the seer, he was instantly pounced upon by the landlady, 
and asked, in breathless anxiety, "What did she see? 
What or whom did she see ?** His reverence had no alter- 
native but to tell the good matron, for the comfort of herself 



' i 



32 HIGHLAND SUPERSTITIONS. 

and her domestic circle, what the dreaded woman had 
revealed. All parties were then contented, and the affair 
looked on as a mere revery. Six weeks or so thereafter, 
there was a marriage in the upper district of the parish, to 
which the young man, Macdonald, was invited, and went. 
On returning home alone about midnight by a hilly pathway, 
in the extreme darkness, he lost his way, fell over a precipice 
about a thousand feet high, and was dashed to pieces in the 
clefts of the debris below. He was eventually missed at 
home. Messengers were sent in quest of him, hither and 
thither, and when no tidings could be found concerning him, 
the population of the district went forth in hundreds on the 
search. After a day or two*s minute ransacking of every hill 
and dale, lake and river, the mangled corpse was discovered 
by a boy, jammed hard and fast in a crevice at the base of 
the huge precipice already named. The crowd assembled 
around the shattered remains, and a cry was uttered as to 
what was best to be done ? The torn body could hardly 
be handled, and a proposal was immediately agreed to, that 
four men should run to the miller's house for a door or plank, 
to convey the remains to the father's home. This was done 
— the men rushed forward to the miller's, and snatched away 
the identical plank on which the woman, Macleod, had seen 
the vision already related. 

Many similar instances of second-sight in the Western 
Isles are alleged to have existed, which as yet have not been 
recorded. 

It is stated in the Statistical Account of lona, that St. 
Columba was the first on record who had the faculty of 
second-sight. He is said to have told the victory of Aidan 
over the Picts and Saxons, on the very instant it happened. 
The same authority states, that when St Columba first at- 
tempted to build on lona, the walls, by the operation of 



SMALLER SUPERSTITIONS. . 33 

some evil spirit, fell down as fast as they were erected. 
Columba received some supernatural information that they 
would never stand unless a human victim was buried alive. 
According to one account, the lot fell on Oran, the companion 
of the Saint, as the victim that was demanded for the success 
of the undertaking. Others pretend that Oran voluntarily 
devoted himself, and was interred accordingly. At the end 
of three days, Columba had the curiosity to take a farewell 
look at his old friend, and caused the earth to be removed 
accordingly. Oran raised his swimming eyes, and said, 
"There is no wonder in death, and hell is not as it is 
reported". The Saint was so shocked at this monstrous 
impiety, that he instantly ordered the earth to be flung in 
again, uttering the words, " Uir 1 Uir ! air beul Orain ! mu'n 
labhair e tuilleadh comhraidh !" — that is. Earth ! Earth ! on 
the mouth of Oran, that he may blab no more I This passed 
into a proverb, and is in use in the Highlands at the present 
day. It is not improbable that the story was invented by 
some of Columba's Druidical enemies to expose him and his 
Christian doctrines to ridicule. 

Smaller Superstitions. — Somewhat resembling this al- 
leged faculty, yet different from it, are certain prognosti- 
cations of death, which are said to be seen in the shape of 
blue, quivering lights, resembling the feeble flame of a taper. 
These have been observed moving along in the course which 
some funeral procession would soon take, or perhaps twink- 
ling in or about the bed on which some individual was soon 
to die. Many intelligent people firmly believe in the 
existence of these lights. 

Some years ago, if not even still, many in the Western 
Isles believed in the existence of the " Gruagach," a female 
spectre of the class of Brownies to which the Highland 





34 HIGHLAND SUPERSTITIONS. 

dairymaids made frequent libations of milk. The Gruagach 
is said to have been an innocent, supernatural visitor, who 
frisked and gambolled about the cattle-pens and folds. She 
was armed only with a pliable reed, with which she switched 
all who annoyed her by uttering obscene language, or would 
neglect to leave for her a share of the dairy produce. Even V 
so late as 1770, the dairymaids who attended a herd of 
cattle in the Island of Trodda, at the north end of Skye, 
were in the habit of pouring daily a quantity of milk on a 
hollow stone for the Gruagach. Should they neglect to do 
so, they made sure of feeling the effects of her wand next 
day. The Rev. Dr. Macqueen, then minister of Kilmuir, of 
whom Dr. Johnson spoke so highly, and who is buried 
within a few yards of Flora Macdonald*s grave, went pur- 
posely to Trodda to check this gross superstition. He might 
then have succeeded for a time, but it is known that many 
believed in the existence of the Gruagach long after that 
worthy clergyman had been gathered to his fathers. Besides 
the votaries of this ridiculous superstition, there are others 
who confidently believe in the existence of an evil eye, by 
which cattle and all kinds of property are said to suffer 
injury. The glance of an evil eye is, therefore, very much 
dreaded. It deprives cows of their milk, and milk of its 
nutritive qualities, and renders it unfit for the various 
preparations made from it This superstition can certainly 
lay claim to great antiquity. Virgil, Ossian, and other 
writers, seem to have dreaded the effects of it, at least they 
allude to its existence. Virgil says (Eclog. III., 103) — 

Nesdo quis teneros oculus mihi fascinat agnos. 

(I know not what malignant eye bewitches my tender lambs). 

But equally superstitious are the means resorted to for the 
cure of these sad afHictions, such as the use of certain charms. 



SMALLER SUPERSTITIONS. 35 

the repetition of strange rhymes, putting living trout in a 
portion of the injured milk, and many other such ridiculous 
appliances. 

There is an endless variety of superstitions in regard to 
things which are unlucky or unfortunate to be done. It is 
unfortunate if a stranger counts the number of your sheep, 
cattle, or children. It is quite common if one asks, " How 
many children have you ? " to add the words, " Bless them " 
to the question. It is unlucky for an odd number to sit at 
a table, such as 7, 9, 11 ; and 13 in particular is so unfor- 
tunate that unless rectified, one of the party is sure to die 
that year. It is unlucky if a stranger walks across a parcel of 
fishing-rods on the sea beach, over ropes, oars, or sailing gear, 
when a boat is about to go to sea. Means are used for 
getting the stranger to retrace his steps. It is unlucky to 
drink the health of a company, or to serve them round a 
table except from left to right, as the sun goes in the fir- 
mament, or the hands on the dial-plate of a watch. It is 
unlucky, in setting off, to row in a boat, or to commence a 
procession at a marriage or funeral, but to the right. It is 
unlucky to hear the cuckoo, or see a foal or snail before 
breakfast As to this there is a Gaelic rhyme as follows, 
viz. : — 

Chunnaic mi an searrachan 'sa chulaobh rium, 

Chunnaic mi an t-seilcheag air an lie luim ; 

Chual mi' a' chuag gun ghreim 'nam bhroinn, 

Is dh' aithnich mi fein nach rachadh a' bhliadhn' so leam. 

These lines may be translated — 

With its back to me tum'd I beheld the young foal, 
And the snail on the bare flag in motion so slow ; 
Without tasting of food, lo ! the cuckoo I heard, 
Then judged that the year would not prosperously go. 

It is unlucky to stand between an epileptic man and fire or 



i 



36 HIGHLAND SUPERSTITIONS. 

water. In Shetland there was once an idea that it was un- 
lucky to save drowning men. It is unlucky to throw out 
water after sunset, and before sunrise. It is unlucky to have 
a grave open upon Sunday, as another will be dug during the 
week for some of the family. If a corpse does not stiffen 
after death, there will be another death in the family before 
the end of that year. Fires and candles afford presages of 
death. Long hollow coals spirted from the fire are coffins. 
Winding-sheets are indicated when the tallow of the candle 
curls away from the flame. The howling of a dog at night, 
and the resting of a crow or magpie on the house-top, are 
warnings of death. It is unlucky to weigh infants ; they are 
sure to die. Cats sleeping near infants suck their breath 
and kill them. When children begin to walk they must go 
up-stairs before they go down-stairs, otherwise they will not 
thrive in the world, and if there is no stair they should climb 
a chah:. 9 A mother after the birth of a child must not go^ 
outside beyond her house door until she goes to be kirked./ 
If you rock an empty cradle you will soon rock a new baby 
in it. It is quite curious to see the face of alarm with which 
a poor woman, with her tenth baby in her arms, will dash 
across the room to prevent " the baby but one" from the 
dangerous amusement of rocking the empty cradle. It is 
unlucky that a stray swarm of bees should settle on your 
premises unclaimed by their owner. It is customary in 
many parts of England when a death takes place to go and 
tell the bees of it, to ask them to the funeral, and to fix a 
piece of crape upon their hives ! It is unlucky to catch a 
sight of the new moon through a window. It is a token of 
fine weather to see the old moon in the arms of the new ; 
and so is the turning up of the horns of the new moon, as 
they retain the water which would fall to the earth if the 
horns were turned down. It is unlucky to enter a house, 



SMALLER SUPERSTITIONS. 37 

which you are to occupy, by the back door. If, when fishing 
you count what you have taken, you will catch no more. If 
you break your bones by accident, it is unlucky and useless 
to employ a physician or surgeon to bind them, as it is 
believed that, however skilful these may be in curing all 
other maladies, they know nothing whatever about the setting 
of broken bones. 

Many other remarkable cures are resorted to, such as 
healing sore eyes by putting gold rings in the ears, by 
rubbing them with jewels of pure gold, and by repeating 
certain rhymes. Warts are removed by washing them in 
rain-water or swine's blood. Serpents' heads are preserved 
for years to heal their own sting wounds. If a man, cow, or 
any animal be stung by a serpent, let the dried serpent's head 
be cast into water, let the wound be washed in it, and it soon 
heals. Fried mice are a specific for small-pox. Whooping- 
cough is cured by whatever is recommended by a person 
riding a piebald horse. A spider put into a goose-quill, well 
sealed, and put round 2lj child's neck, will cure it of the 
thrush. In the Island ck Soa, near Skye, it was customary 
when the head of the family died to have a large lock of 
hair cut off his head and nailed fast to the door-lintel to keep 
off the fairies. Sailors are sometimes very superstitious. 
They greatly dread the stormy petrel, or Mother Carey's 
chickens, as they flutter at night around their masts and 

^ yards. These birds are regarded as objects of superstitious 
fear, believing that they are possessed of supernatural agency 
in creating danger for the poor, hard-toiled mariner. At 
one time, a horse-shoe nailed to the mast of the vessel was 
great security against all evil agencies, such as witches, petrels, 

' fairies, and evil eyes. To recapitulate all such superstitious 
frets would be an endless task. There are many similar 
fanciful notions in regard to births, baptisms, marriages, and 



i 



38 HIGHLAND SUPERSTITIONS. 

deaths, but it is impossible to enlarge much upon them. 
It was once prevalent when a child was baptised, that the 
infant was neither washed nor bathed that night, for fear of 
washing off the baptismal water before it had slept under it 
Frequently too, the water used in baptism was bottled up as 
an effectual recipe for various disorders. Parents took all 
possible care lest their female infants should be baptised with 
the same water used for male children, for if they should, 
the females would grow up with beards I A few years ago, I 
was baptising two or three children at the same time, in a 
village near by, when the first presented was a boy, and 
the next a girl After the water had been sprinkled on 
the face of the boy, and when I was about to do the same 
to the girl, an old worthy granny present hastily snatched 
away the bowl containing the water, poured it out, and filled 
it afresh, muttering aloud, " Na leigeadh Ni Math gum biodh 
feusag air mo chaileig" (Goodness forbid that my lassie 
should have a beard). 

It is reckoned very unlucky in some parts of the country 
to have a child left unbaptised beyond the year in which it 
was bom. For example, should a child come into the world 
on the 30th December, 1877, the parents would feel very 
uncomfortable, and consider it a neglect of duty, if they did 
not get the infant baptised either on that or next day. 

Even in England peculiar frets are still observed in regard 
to infants. In a late number of an English paper, the 
following paragraph appeared : — " A certain act of barbarity 
and superstition is practised in many parts of the country. 
Children who are sickly are taken to a woman for the pur- 
pose of being cut for a supposed disease, called the Spinnage. 
The infants are, on a Monday morning, taken to this woman, 
who, for threepence, with a pair of scissors, cuts through the 
lobe of the right ear, then makes a cross with the blood 



SMALLER SUPERSTITIONS. 39 

upon the forehead and breast of the child. On the following 
Monday the same barbarous ceremony is performed upon 
the left ear, and on the succeeding Monday the right ear is 
again doomed to undergo the same ceremony. In some 
cases, it is deemed necessary to perform this ridiculous 
operation nine times. It is not the lower classes alone who 
are chargeable with this and similar follies. Some of the 
higher classes likewise observe them. It is quite common 
to make the children partake of a roasted mouse as a cure 
for whooping-cough." 

The cold-bath was so much esteemed by the Highlanders 
in ancient times that,, as soon as an infant was bom, he was 
plunged into a running stream, and then carefully wrapped 
in a warm blanket. Immediately thereafter, the little 
creature was forced to swallow a large quantity of fresh 
butter. It was made into a ball of no ordinary size,' and 
was pressed down its little throat, in a manner sufficient to 
create a fear of the poor child being suffocated. Another 
fret was observed, that immediately after a child was baptised, 
he behoved to be secured from the power of the fairies, and 
of all evil spirits. For this purpose a basket was taken, 
which was half filled with bread and cheese, wrapped up in 
a clean linen cloth. Over this parcel the child was laid as 
if in a cradle. The basket was then taken up by the oldest 
female in the family circle at the time, carried three times 
round the fire, and then suspended for a few seconds from 
the crook that hung over the fire. The child was then re- 
moved from its temporary berth, while the bread and cheese 
were divided among the company present, as nourishment to 
guarantee their health for another year. There was still 
another superstition, that soon after the birth of a child, 
when all the duties necessary on such occasions had been 
performed, it was customary to make a dish of " crowdie " 



40 HIGHLAND SUPERSTITIONS. 

by mixing oaten meal and water together, of which each of 
the company required to take three horn-spoonfuls, for the 
protection of the infant. This superstition was, until of 
late, very prevalent in the Highlands of Perthshire. It was 
likewise the custom that the mother of the infant dare not 
perform any work, or engage herself in any of her domestic 
affairs, until she had been kirked. After she had performed 
this religious rite, and had dealt out a portion of bread and 
cheese to every one she met on her way home from the 
place of worship, she was invested with free liberty to attend 
to her ordinary household concerns. Until then, however, 
everything she did, and every object she handled, was 
reckoned unclean, and would not be meddled with by any 
in the family circle. 

It was also alleged by carpenters that, while in bed at 
night, they heard their saws, hammers, and planes at work 
before being employed next day in making a coffin. High- 
landers in particular speak confidently of the expected nature 
of the weather, from the figure, appearance, colour, coming, 
and stages of the moon. They avoid slaughtering sheep, 
pigs, and cattle in the wane of the moon, as the meat would 
shrink in cooking. In the same way they study to shear 
com, to mow grass, to fell trees, and to cut peats and turf in 
the wane of the moon, as the best time for drying and 
seasoning these commodities. 

There was a superstition in Ross-shire whereby it was 
believed that the soul did not finally and completely leave 
the body until the corpse had been laid in the grave. There 
was a similar superstition in Perthshire, whereby it was 
believed that at the moment of dissolution, whether by a 
natural death or by accident the soul or spirit was visibly 
seen leaving the body in the shape of a little creature like a 
bee. Witches frequently put themselves into the appearance 



SMALLER SUPERSTITIONS. 4I 

of animals, such as a hare, but when arrows were pointed at 
them, barbed with silver, or muskets loaded with silver coins 
for shot, the semblance of the hare disappeared at once, and 
some shrivelled, decrepit hag of a witch wife stood before 
the shooter in full size 1 

The natives of Easter Ross, particularly the fishermen on 
the sea-coast from Tain to Cromarty Bay, are influenced to 
this day by remarkable superstitious frets which they observe 
on marriage occasions. It is the practice among them that 
couples, once the marriage festivities are past, must go to be 
kirked on the Sunday. This devout duty is easily performed 
when there is but one marriage in the place. But should 
there be two or three, as frequently occurs, in the same week, 
the kirking afiair is entirely altered, and becomes a matter of 
no small difficulty and concern. Sabbath comes, and each 
marriage party, bridegroom and bride, with their attendants, 
prepare themselves for the parish church ; duly arrive there 
in good time ; and perhaps desert their usual seats, through 
a desire to occupy those that happen to be nearest to 
the door. The sermon is impatiently listened to, when, 
without waiting perhaps for the benediction, the parties rush 
out, like so many bees from a hive, and run homewards as 
fast as their feet can carry them. Thus, one marriage party 
strives with another, in running the lucky race. Frequently, 
in their haste, the bridegroom outruns the bride and others 
of the party. All this arises from an old superstition, that 
the marriage party which first arrives at home from the 
kirking are sure to be prosperous and happy in after life, 
whereas those left behind, should it only be a distance of 
a few yards, run the risk of becoming the victims of mis- 
fortune and adversity. 

The Highlanders, as well as many other ancient tribes, 
looked upon certain days as lucky or unlucky in themselves. 



42 HIGHLAND SUPERSTITIONS. 

The 14th of May was considered an untoward day ; so 
much so, that the day of the week on which the 14th day of 
May fell, was deemed unlucky during the whole of that year, 
and nothing of consequence was undertaken on that day. 
May and January were considered unfortunate months to 
marry in, as also the Friday of any week. 

On the death of a Highlander, many silly superstitions 
were practised. In some districts it was believed that when 
death ensued, the spirit still kept close to the body, as if it 
were to guard it until after the burial, when dust was con- 
signed to dust, and ashes to ashes. The relatives, friends, 
and neighbours of the deceased, deemed it their duty like- 
wise to watch the corpse of the dead, both by night and by 
day. This was called the " late wake," at which the most 
absurd fooleries were practised, such as music, called the 
"coronach," dancing, leaping, riddles, games, singing of 
songs, and the most boisterous revelry. These manners and 
customs are now, however, almost extinct There are many 
superstitious observances at certain seasons of the year, of 
which we must treat briefly. 

I. "La Calluinn" and "Oidhche Challuinn" (New Year's 
Day and New-Year's Night). Besides the " first-footing,'^ 
which is a common practice still, the Highlanders observed 
many in-door and out-door ceremonies. On New-Year's 
Eve, they surrounded each other's houses, carrying dried 
cow-hides, and beating them with sticks, thrashing the walls 
with clubs, all the time crying, shouting, and repeating 
rhymes. This is supposed to operate as a charm against 
fairies, demons, and spirits of every order. They provide 
themselves with the flap, or hanging part of the hide on 
the cow's neck, which they called " caisean-uchd," and which 
they singed in the fire and presented to the inmates of the 
family, one after another, to smell, as a charm against all 



EASTER AND MAY- DAY CUSTOMS. 



43 



injuries from fairies and spirits. A specimen of the rhymes 
repeated, with loud chorus, is as follows : — 



Mor-phiseach air an tigh, 
Piseach air an teaghlach, 
Piseach air gach cabar. 
Is air gach ni saoghalt' ann. 

Piseach air eich a's crodh, 
Piseach air na caoraich, 
Piseach air na h-uile ni, 
'S piseach air ar maoin uil'. 

Piseach air beann an tighe, 
Piseach air na paistean, 
Piseach air each caraide, 
Mor-phiseach agus slaint dhuibh. 



Great good luck to the house, 
Good luck to the family, 
Good luck to every rafter of it, 
And to every wordly thing in it. 

Good luck to horses and cattle, 
Good luck to the sheep. 
Good luck to every thing, 
And good luck to all your means. 

Luck to the good-wife. 
Good luck to the children, 
Good luck to every friend. 
Great fortune and health to all. 



II. " Di-domhnuich-caisg " (Easter Sunday). This period 
is observed in the Highlands by preparing and eating certain 
kinds of pan-cakes made of eggs, milk, meal, or flour. To- 
gether with this the young people provide themselves with 
large quantities of hard-boiled dyed eggs, which they roll 
about, and finally eat The English hot cross buns at Easter 
are only the cakes which the Saxons ate in honour of their 
goddess " Eastre," and from which the Christian clergy, who 
were unable to prevent people from eating them, sought to 
expel the Paganism by marking them with the cross. Hence 
the hot cross buns. 

III. " La Bealtuinn " (May-day, Whitsuntide). The de- 
monstrations of this day are now all but extinct The first 
of May was held as a great Druidical festival in honour of 
the mighty Asiatic god, Belus. Fires were kindled on the 
mountain-tops, through which all the cattle of the country 
were driven to preserve them till the next May-day. On 
this day all the hearth-fires were extinguished, in order to 
be kindled from this purifying flame. Hence the word 
Bealtuinn is " Beil-teine," the fire of Belus. So that " La 
Bealtuinn" (Whitsunday) is " the day of Belus' fire". Of old 



44 HIGHLAND SUPERSTITIONS. 

in the Highlands the young people went to the moors on 
this day, made a circular table on the grass, cut a trench 
around it, kindled a huge fire, baked a large cake, which they 
cut into as many similiar pieces as there were persons present 
They daubed one of the pieces with charcoal, and made it 
perfectly black. Then they put all the bits of cake into a 
bonnet, from which all of them, blindfolded, drew a bit. 

Whoever drew the black bit was the person who was 
doomed to be sacrificed to Baal ; and in order to avoid the 
execution of this doom, he was compelled to leap six times 
over the flames. Even in Ayrshire, Baal's fire was kindled 
till about the year 1790. 

Hallowe'en. — The only other season noted for super- 
stitious observances is that of Hallowe'en. Hallowe'en in 
Gaelic means " Samhuinn," that is " Samhtheine," the fire of 
peace. It is a Druidical festival, at which the fire of peace 
was regularly kindled. There is no night in the year which 
the popular imagination has stamped with a more peculiar 
character than Hallowe'en. It was the night, above all 
others, when supernatural influences prevailed. It was the 
night for the universal walking abroad of all sorts of spirits, 
fairies, and ghosts, all of whom had liberty on that night It 
was customary in many parts of Scotland to have hundreds of 
torches prepared in each district for weeks before Hallowe'en, 
so that, after sunset on that evening, every youth able to 
carry a blazing torch, or " samhnag," ran forth to surround 
the boundaries of their farms with these burning lights, and 
thereby protect all their possessions from the fairies. Hav- 
ing thus secured themselves by these fires of peace, all the 
households congregated to practice the various ceremonies 
and superstitious rites of that eventful evening. As these 
are pretty fully alluded to in Bums' poem of " Hallowe'en," 



HALLOWE'EN. 45 

it is unnecessary to enlarge here. There is still a remarkable 
uniformity in these fireside customs all over the kingdom. 
Nuts and apples are everywhere in requisition. These the 
old matron of the house has generally in store beforehand 
for the youngsters' good luck on that night, or as the Ayr- 
shire Bard has so naturally expressed it — 

The auld guidwife's weel hoordit nits 

Are round and round divided, 
And mony lads' and lasses' fate 

Are there that night decided. 
Some kindle couthie, side by side, 

And bum thegither trimly ; 
Some start awa' wi' saucy pride, 

And jump out-owre the chimley, 
Fu' high that night 

The ceremonies of the evening were numerous — such as, 
ducking for apples in a tub of water, the pulling of kail stocks, 
the three dishes or " luggies," the wetting of the shirt sleeve, 
the sowing of hemp seed, pulling the stalks of com, throwing 
the clue of blue yam into the pit of the kiln, the white of 
eggs put into a glass of water, reading of fortunes in tea- 
cups ; these and many more were the superstitious ceremonies 
of Hallowe'en. 

Perhaps there is no part of the Highlands of Scotland 
where the practice of using the flaming torches of Hallowe'en 
is so much observed, even still, as in the braes of Aberdeen- 
shire. Not later than last year, our Gracious Majesty, no 
doubt in order to preserve those relics of ancient times, 
caused these blazing torches to be kindled by the youth of 
the place, around Balmoral Castle. The torches are con- 
sidered by the natives to be the means of protecting, not only 
their farms and other possessions from the ravages of the 
fairies, but likewise mothers and newly-bora infants. While 



46 HIGHLAND SUPERSTITIONS. 

the landed possessions were duly surrounded that evening by 
the torch-bearers, the dwellings where children had been 
bom were encompassed with still greater care, for the safety 
* of the mothers and their young offspring, which the fairies 
were on the watch to snatch away. The torch-bearers used 
great care in carrying their fire in the right-hand, and there- 
with running around their premises from right to left, thus 
observing the " Deas-iuil," or the right hand direction. The 
" Tuath-iuil," being the left-hand, or wrong direction, would 
render their precautions entirely abortive. In this manner 
they protected their properties, and prevented the fairy thieves 
from snatching away the unbaptised infants from their mo- 
thers' bed, placing in their room their own ugly and deformed 
children. Martin, in his History of the Western Isles^ 
informs us, " That this was considered an effectual means to 
preserve both the mother and infant from the power of evil 
spirits, who are ready at such times to do mischief, and 
sometimes carry away the infants, and return poor, meagre 
skeletons ; and these infants have voracious appetites. In 
this case it was usual for those who believed that their 
children were thus taken away, to dig a grave in the fields on 
quarter-day, and there to lay the fairy-skeleton till next 
morning, at which time the parents went to the place, where 
they doubted not to find their own child instead of the 
skeleton." They had also, in other localties, recourse to 
the barbarous charm of burning, with a live coal, the toes 
of the suffering infant, the supposed changeling. The Fairies 
were not contented with abstracting handsome children — 
beautiful maidens and wives sometimes disappeared. 

" The Miller of Menstrie," in Clackmannan, who possessed 
a charming spouse, had given offence to the fairy court, and 
was, in consequence, deprived of his fair helpmate. His dis- 
tress was aggravated by hearing his wife singing in the air — 



HALLOWE'EN. 47 

Oh ! Alva woods are bonniei 

Tillicoultry hills are fair ; 
But when I think o' the bonnie braes o' Menstrie, 

It mak's my heart aye sair. 

After many attempts to procure her restoration, the miller 
chanced one day, in riddling some stuff at the mill-door, to 
use a posture of enchantment, when the spell was dissolved, 
and the matron fell into his arms. The wife of the Black- 
smith of Tullibody was carried up the chimney, the fairies, 
as they bore her off, singing — 

Deidle linkum doddie ; 

We've gotten drucken Davie's wife, 

The smith o* Tullibody. 

"Those snatched to Fairyland," says Dr. Buchan,* "might 
be recovered within a year and a day, but the spell for the 
recovery was only potent when the fairies made, on 
Hallowe'en, their annual procession." Sir Walter Scott 
relates the following : — " The wife of a Lothian farmer had 
been watched by the fairies. During the year of probation, 
she had repeatedly appeared on Sundays in the midst of her 
children, combing their hair. On one of these occasions 
she was accosted by her husband, when she instructed him 
how to rescue her at the next Hallowe'en procession. The 
farmer conned his lesson carefully, and, on the appointed 
day, proceeded to a plot of furze to await the arrival of the 
procession. It came, but the ringing of the fairy bridles so 
confused him, that the train passed ere he could sufficiently 
recover himself to use the intended spell. The unearthly 
laugh of the abductors, and the passionate lamentations of 
his wife informed him that she was lost to him for ever." 



« 



Dr. Buchan, Secretary of the Lancashire Insurance Company at In- 
verness, a gentleman rarely surpassed in his knowledge of Celtic Legendary 
Traditions and Folklore, and to whom the writer is much indebted for 
these remarks on Hallowe'en. 



48 HIGHLAND SUPERSTITIONS. 

" A woman," says Dr. Buchan, " who had been conveyed 
to fairyland, was warned by one she had formerly known as 
a mortal, to avoid eating and drinking with her new friends 
for a certain period. She obeyed, and when the time ex- 
pired, she found herself on earth restored to the society of 
mankind." 

A matron on another occasion was carried to fairyland to 
nurse her new-born child, which had been previously 
abducted. She had not been long in her enchanted dwelling 
when she furtively anointed an eye with the contents of a 
boiling cauldron. She now discovered that what had pre- 
viously seemed a gorgeous palace, was, in reality, a gloomy 
cavern. She was dismissed, but one of the wicked wights, 
when she demanded her child, spat in her eye, and extin- 
guished its light for ever. 

About the middle of last century, a clergyman at Kirk- 
michael, Perthshire, whose faith was more regulated by 
the scepticism of philosophy, than the credulity of super- 
stition, would not be prevailed upon to yield his assent to the 
opinion of the times. At length, however, he felt from ex- 
perience that he doubted what he ought to have believed. 
One night, as he was returning home at a late hour, from a 
meeting of Presbytery, and the customary dinner which 
followed, he was seized by the fairies, and carried aloft into 
the air. Through fields of ether and fleecy cloud he 
journeyed many a mile, descrying the earth far distant below 
him, and no bigger than a nut-shelL Being thus sufficiently 
convinced of the reality of their existence, they let him down 
at the door of his own house, where he afterwards often 
recited to the wondering circle, the marvellous tale of his 
adventure. Some people will believe that "spirits" of a 
different sort had a little to do with the worthy minister's 
conviction, and that his "ain gude grey mare" had 



HALLOWE'EN. 49 

more to do with bringing him to his own door than the 
fairies 

It is difficult to describe a Hallowe'en as enjoyed by a 
family circle in olden times. An eye-witness has given the 
following account of it : — '* When I entered the house, the 
tide of enjoyment was rolling on in full career. I listened 
and thought I heard an unusual noise in the apartment 
immediately above. The noise, however, was by no means 
of an alarming kind. It appeared to be the obstreperous 
romping of a parcel of youngsters. I found that the ladies 
of the house had brought together a number of young friends 
to bum nuts and duck for apples. I ascertained that 
previous to my appearance, they had already gone through 
the greater part of the ceremonies of the evening. They 
had pulled stocks, burnt nuts, and were now collected with 
earnest and somewhat awe-stricken faces, round a table on 
which stood two or three wine-glasses full of pure water. 
They were, in fact, about to commence the ceremony of 
dropping the egg — a ceremony which is performed by 
puncturing a fresh egg with a pin, when the person whose 
destiny is to be read holds it over a glass of pure water, into 
which he allows a few drops from the egg to fall. The glass is 
then held up to the candle, and some important event in the 
future life of the inquirer is found exhibited hieroglyphically 
in the glass, — the egg droppings assuming an endless 
variety of shapes, in which the skilful in these matters dis- 
cover a resemblance to things, which, by association, clearly 
point out coming circumstances and events. All this was 
done by an old, weird sybil, who had been invited for the 
special purpose of reading to the young folks the various 
signs and indications of this privileged right We all tried 
our fortunes after the most approved manner of egg-dropping, 
by the direction of the withered sybil already alluded to, and 



50 HIGHLAND SUPERSTITIONS. 

who, indeed, looked the very * beau ideal ' of a witch, or 
fortune-teller of coming events. She was old, shrivelled, and 
haggard — had a shrill, sharp voice, and was withal mar- 
vellously, loquacious. She seemed to be deeply in earnest, 
and to be strongly impressed with the solemnities which were 
going forward, and was more than once highly displeased 
with what she considered our irreverence for these matters, 
and the unbecoming and ill-timed levity with which we heard 
each other's fortunes foretold. We had all now tried our 
luck, with various results, but there was one young gentleman, 
who, I thought, seemed rather disinclined to go through the 
ceremony — and indeed, he finally endeavoured to back out 
altogether by a forced joke. We all urged him on, however, 
and at length fairly drove him to the experiment. * Come 
awa, come awa, my bonny man, — excuse me for speaking 
that way, but ye ken IVe kent ye sin ye was a bairn, and hae 
dandled ye mony a time on my knee. Come awa, and lat's 
see what luck is to be yours, I'm sure it'll be gowd in 
goppins, and true love to brook it— a bonnie lady wi' a 
bonnier tocher.' Whilst the old woman was speaking, the 
youth, having advanced close to the table, was in the act of 
dropping, with rather an unsteady hand, the egg into the 
glass. This done : * Here Janet,' he said, with an affected 
laugh, and at the same time handing the glass to her across 
the table — ' Now, give me all the good things of this life, let 
not one be awanting on your peril' Well, all awaited in 
silence the announcement of our friend's future fortune, as 
we felt a degree of interest, nay of awe, stealing in upon us, 
which gradually allayed the light spirit with which we had 
entered the apartment. The old woman had now gently 
raised the glass between her eye and the candle, and having 
peered through it for a second — * Eh ! gude guide us, Sirs,' 
she exclaimed, * Gude guide us, what's this we hae here; but 



HALLOWE'EN. 51 

it canna be, it canna be, let me see,* and she looked with aa 
increased intensity at the fatal signs. * Ay ! ay ! ' she said 
again, ' it's but owre true, my bairn, my bairn,' she added, 
and laying down the glass on the table. ' Are ye sure it was 
your glass ye gae me ? ' * Sure enough, Janet, sure enough, 
what's all this fuss about ? ' * What is it, Janet, what is% 
what is't ? * now burst from both old and young, all being 
wound up to a pitch of the most intense interest to know 
what was that fate which Janet's expressions so particularly 
and fearfully hinted at ' I insist on knowing,' said the 
young gentleman, striking his hand on the table with a sort 
of good-natured energy, for he affected to be laughing at the 
time. ' I insist upon it,' he said, ' for the edification of all 
present Come then, Janet, any thing you like short of per- 
mature death and ruin, and crossed love.' * But it's short o' 
neither, my bairn ! Alas ! it's short o' neither,' said the 
old woman gravely and seriously. *It's indeed short o' 
neither — there's a winding sheet there wi' a fearful rent in it, 
and that ye ken, betokens a violent death ; there's a' — here, 
perceiving that things were getting rather serious, I suddenly 
burst in with an affected shout of hilarity, overturned the 
glass, talked loudly and obstreperously, and insisted upon 
our adjourning to the apartment we had left So, with a 
wild, but assumed glee, we hurriedly descended to the room 
below. 

" We endeavoured to enjoy ourselves, but still a weight 
seemed to have been laid upon the spirits of us all, which 
nothing could remove. We all felt the absurdity of per- 
mitting such a frivolous circumstance as the egg-dropping to 
depress us, but we could not hide from ourselves the fact 
that it had depressed us, and more particularly so, as our 
excellent host — a kind-hearted youth of twenty-three — had 
evidently taken the sybil's vaticinations too severely to 



52 HIGHLAND SUPERSTITIONS. 

heart. Under this feeling, and after our kind host had 
made such ineffectual attempts to restore the gaiety of the 
evening, the party broke up, each went his own way, and I 
retired to bed. * Confound that old hag,' said my friend, 
just as I was about to part with him for the night ; 'confound 
her, she has spoiled our evening's enjoyment with her non- 
sense. Wasn't it evident,' he said, ' that our friends were 
damped by the fooleries up-stairs?' I said, avoiding a 
direct answer, *that we had spent a very pleasant night, 
and if there was any feeling of the kind he alluded to, a 
night's sleep would entirely remove it.' I met my friend 
and his aunts next morning at breakfast, where he more than 
once alluded to the circumstance during our meal ; and in- 
deed fairly allowed that, in despite of the contempt with 
which he viewed such things, he could not help the idea 
of the rent winding-sheet still retaining its hold on his 
imagination. 

'* It will serve no purpose to relate the history of this un- 
fortunate youth. The impression of the old hag's prediction 
never left him, but increased in intensity as some years 
passed on. He became addicted to intemperate habits, and 
utterly heedless of his worldly affairs. He squandered his 
patrimonial estate, and ruined his aged aunts, who lived 
with him. Ultimately, he wandered in beggary to a neigh- 
bouring city, and frequented the lowest haunts of dissipation, 
where he was found by a friend, who had gone in search of 
him, but found exactly an hour after he had swallowed a 
vial of laudanum. He opened his eyes, and knew his friend, 
who had just procured a surgeon; but all in vain. His 
last words were — ' Oh ! the winding sheet ; the rent wind- 
ing-sheet ! ' and in less than two hours, he gently expired." 

There are instances of the minds of some having been 
unhinged through the influence of undue credulity in certain 



!i 



HALLOWE'EN. 53 

practices of this nature. It has frequently happened besides, 
that personal injury has been inflicted, unintentionally no 
doubt, by the frolics and fooleries of that evening. The 
throwing of cabbage runts and large round turnips down 
the " lums," or chimneys of the cottars' dwellings, have often 
struck violently upon the family group around the cosy 
ingle, and inflicted serious injuries. The ceremony of 
throwing the clue of blue yarn into the pit of the kiln is one 
that has been attended with unhappy results. Kilns for 
drying com are generally erected in lonely places, apart 
from the other dwellings, owing to their liability to catch fire. 
On the other hand, the kiln-logies or pits, are dreary, dark, 
deep receptacles, of circular form, narrow below and wide 
above, like hollow cones inverted. During the romping 
frivolities of the domestic circle in performing as many of 
the games as they can, lots are cast as to the maiden who 
must resort to the kiln at the dark hour of midnight, with 
her clue of blue thread in her hand, to meet with her 
sweetheart, or to hear his name. The selected "lass" 
mast go, and go alone, however dark and stormy the night 
It requires no small fortitude to enter tlie damp, dark kiln, 
to climb to the upper ridge of the kiln-logie, and to sit in 
that weird position in utter darkness. By this time, how- 
ever, a number of the young men, unknown to the girl, had 
resorted to the kiln, and concealed themselves in and around 
the place. The girl, with palpitating heart cast her clue in 
to the kiln-logie, retaining the end of the thread in her hand, 
and exclaiming, with tremulous voice, "Co e sud th'air 
ceann mo rbpain ? ' (Who is there at the end of my rope or 
thread ?) Some of the youths, hidden in the kiln, would 
enter the aperture or fire-place below, lay hold of the clue in 
the pit, and cry with a feigned-unnatural voice, " I am here, 
what want ye with me?" "Who art thou, and what thy name, 






54 HIGHLAND SUPBRSTITIONS. 

bold swain?" The replies to this query were various. 
Some said that they were the girFs sweetheart, others, that 
they were wizards or beings of the supernatural order. 
Some even wickedly feigned to be the prince of darkness, 
when the preconcerted shrieking and howling of the hidden 
fellows so terrified the trembling young female above, as to 
render her a helpless maniac for life. 

Sacred Wells and Lochs. — The veneration that has 
been paid for ages to " Sacred Wells," and the confidence 
placed in their charms all over the kingdom for the curing 
of diseases, both mental and bodily, falls next to be noticed. 
It appears of old that if a well had a peculiar situation, if its 
waters were bright and clear, it was dedicated to some 
tutelary saint, by honouring it with his name. Thus we 
have St. Fillan's, St ConePs, St. Catherine's, St Bernard's, 
St. Cuthbert's wells, and a host of others in Scotland. We 
have hundreds of holy wells in England, such as St. Chad's, 
St John's, St Mary's, St Madern's wellsi all remarkable for 
something. We have St Winifred's holy well in Flintshire, 
the most famous in the three kindgoms, at whose shrine 
Geraldus Cambrensis offered his devotions in the twelfth 
century. The vast majority of holy wells were frequented 
for any disease, while some wells were visited for special 
ailments, for the cure of which they had been celebrated. 
St Tegla's well was patronised by sufferers from the falling 
sickness ; St John's, Balmanno, Kincardineshire, by rickety 
children, and sore eyes. The waters of Trinity Cask, Perth- 
shire, will render all baptised therein proof against every 
plague. In the Island of St Kilda there are two wells — 
" Tobar nam buadh " (the spring of virtues), celebrated for 
deafness, and "Tobar a' chleirich " (the clerk's well) — which, 
though covered twice a day by the sea, never becomes 



^uk 



SACRED WELLS AND LOCHS. 55 

brackish. At Kirkden, in Angus, there is a well said to 
cure all sores, by mere washing, after the applications of 
skilled physicians had proved ineffectual. But by far the 
most interesting wells in this country are those formerly re- 
sorted to for the cure of insanity. Of these may be mention- 
ed St. Fillan's well, near Tyndrum, Perthshire, as well as St. 
Nun's celebrated fountain in Cornwall The curing process 
at St. Fillan's may be described as a specimen. The lunatics 
were first plunged into the water, wherein they were tumbled 
and tossed about rather roughly. They were then carried 
into the adjacent Chapel of St. Fillan's and there secured 
with ropes, tied in a special way. A celebrated bell, which 
has a history of its own, was then placed with great 
solemnity on the patient's head. There the poor creature 
was left all night alone in the dreary chapel, and, if in 
the morning he was found unloosed, hopes were enter- 
tained that he would recover his reason, but the case was 
hopeless if found still in his bonds. Very frequently 
the patients were released from the bonds and tormentors 
by death, caused by the cold, and all the cruelties in- 
flicted upon them. St. Catherine's well, near Edinburgh, 
was regarded in olden times with great awe, because 
there appeared a black substance on its surface which 
could be set on fire. This dark-looking, greasy sub- 
stance or oil, was supposed to proceed from the strata of 
coal underneath, and it was believed to cure all sorts of 
cutaneous diseases. In the north end of Skye, and a little 
beneath the towering cliffs of the far-famed Quiraing, there 
is a conflux of pure, fresh-water springs, which form a small 
elliptical pond of considerable depth. It is a beautiful spot, 
pleasantly hemmed in with shrubs and bushes. It is called 
" Loch Sianta," or the Holy Lake. Owing to the natural 
beauty of this little Hebridean Siloam, the natives conceived 



iULv' 



56 HIGHLAND SUPERSTITIONS. 

it to be favoured with its divinity, to whom, in the days of 
darkness and superstition, they were extremely punctual in 
making offerings of various kinds. Invalids resorted thither, 
drank of its waters, washed themselves therein, and received 
cures thereby for their mental and bodily ailments. These 
superstitions have, however, long ceased, and Loch Sianta, 
though beautiful as ever, has lost its ancient charms in this 
more enlightened age. On the first Sunday of May (old 
style) the well at ** Creagag " or Craigie, in Munlochy Bay, 
was believed to possess powerful charms against diseases, 
witchcraft, fairies and such like. For weeks before the time, 
old and young prepared for their pilgrimage to this well 
All behoved to bring their offerings. Coloured threads and 
rags of cloth were brought in thousands, and hung upon the 
rocks and brushwood, as propitiatory gifts to the saint of the 
healing waters. Even in St. Kilda the divinities of " Tobar 
nam buadh " and " Tobar a' chleirich " had to be propitiated 
by offerings, in the shape of shells, pins, needles, pebbles, 
coins, or rags, otherwise their tutelary saint would be inexor- 
able. So common, indeed, was this habit, that at the Rug- 
well, near Newcastle, the shrubs and bushes near the spring 
were densely covered with rags. And many of my readers 
are old enough to have seen crowds of the good citizens of 
the Highland Capital flocking on a May morn eastward to 
the well at CuUoden to taste of its waters, and to cover with 
their offerings of rags the branches of the surrounding trees. 
There is a place beyond Kessock Ferry, near the point of 
Kilmuir, called " Craigie-How," where there is a cave close 
to the sea-beach. In this cave a little water falls down from 
the roof in drops on the stones below. These drops are to 
this day considered a complete cure for deafness, if properly 
applied. The patient lies down, and lays his head on the 
flags, and lets the water fall first into the one ear and then 



SACRED WELLS AND LOCHS. 57 

into the other. After some formalities are gone through, 
the patient rises, and the deafness is believed to be gone I 

Loch Maree also has its Sacred well The scenery of 
this part of Gairloch, in Ross-shire, is unsurpassed, and 
perhaps rarely, if at all equalled, by that of any other quarter 
of the kingdom. The mountains which surround Loch 
Maree are of great height, and of beautifully characterised 
outline. Their lofty, jagged, serrated peaks, like Macbeth's 
witches, " so withered and so wild in their attire," present the 
finest specimens of the grand and picturesque to be met 
with anywhere. The gigantic Slioch (Sliabhach) towering 
to a height of more than 4000 feet, is seen from afar, even 
from the remotest of the Northern Hebrides. Within the 
bosom of these mountains lies enshrined the far-famed Loch 
Maree, with its many wooded islets, so varied in size and so 
different in appearance. About twenty-seven of these lie in 
a cluster near the middle of the lake (opposite the Loch 
Maree Hotel), which is eighteen miles in length, and two in 
average breadth. 

Dr. M*Culloch writes — " It was with some difficulty that 
we explored our way through the labyrinth of Islands in the 
centre of this lake ; as they are little raised above the water, 
and covered with scattered firs, and thickets of birch, alder, 
and holly, while they are separated by narrow and tortuous 
channels." The scene indeed, is so grand, wild, and 
fantastic, that words are at fault to describe it Some years 
ago it was visited by tourists, whose admiration of it cannot 
be better expressed than in their own words. " When this 
majestic scene first burst upon our view, the effect was as 
surprising and enchanting, as it was unexpected. The lake 
sparkled bright in the evening sun. The lofty mountains 
were, at their summits, tinged with his golden rays, while in 
the hollows, and nearer their ^ base, they were wreathed in 



58 HIGHLAND SUPERSTITIONS. 

mist and light clouds. The effect of this was to increase to 
a prodigious degree, the apparent height of the mountains, 
to make every hollow on their rugged sides, seem a deep 
and inaccessible glen, and to enlarge to an almost immeasur- 
able extent the lake, and the hills which rose at its extreme 
distance. It was altogether a scene of enchantment never 
to be forgotten. The white piqued summits of the File- 
Mountain sparkled like the spires and turrets of an emerald 
palace, the work of some eastern magician, or of the genii 
of Arabian romance, and forming a splendid contrast to the 
dark and rugged Slioch, which rises from the opposite side 
of the lake 1" 

It is by no means surprising that Superstition, in her 
fantastic freaks, should have, in ages long byegone, selected 
this weird locality for the manifestation of not a few of her 
favourite proteges. 

This superb sheet of water, from its almost unfathomable 
depth and other dimensions, furnished a befitting receptacle 
for brownies, water-horses, uruisgean, kelpies, and such like, 
while one of the islets of this beautiful lake became the arena 
of various superstitious practices, and of curing therewith 
some of the most inveterate diseases. The largest of these 
Islands are Eilean Suthain (St Swithan's Isle), Eilean 
Ruairidh Mhoir, and Eilean Ruairidh Bhig. Eilean Maree 
is the most celebrated^ and was, as some think, dedicated 
to the Virgin Mary ; others assert that it is named after St. 
Malrube ; but more probably it is called after a Prince, or 
petty King who occupied the Island — is, in short, "Loch-ma- 
Righ," or Loch of my King. It has a burying-ground with 
tombstones bearing inscriptions and hieroglyphical figures, 
which cannot now be deciphered. There is in the Island 
also a Sacred Well, in which, as in the pool of St Fillan's, 
lunatics were plunged and healed, and, in short, all manner 



SACRED WELLS AND LOCHS. 59 

of diseases cured Around this sacred spot the usual ob- 
lations were made to the tutelary saint, and coins of every 
descriptions stuck into a tree that grew out of the bank. 
The sacred water of this well was deemed so effectual in 
curing the insane, that they were brought to it from the 
remotest quarters of the north. The treatment they received 
was no doubt somewhat severe. Before they drank of its 
waters, it was reckoned indispensable to the permanency of 
their cure, that they should be dragged at the stern of a 
boat twice round the Island, pulled by a rope made of horse- 
hair, fastened under their arms and around their shoulders. 
They were then dipped in the well, and drank of its 
water. 

Her Gracious Majesty, Queen Victoria, recently paid a 
visit to this romantic district, and held a religious service on 
the Island. In commemoration of this welcome visit she 
has been pleased to sanction a memorial inscription, by the 
proprietor of Gairloch, on a large stone opposite the Loch 
Maree Hotel, in which she took up her abode. In this 
manner our beloved sovereign, whose eye is always keen to 
observe, whose taste is exquisite to admire, and whose 
sensibility is great to appreciate all that is grand and beauti- 
ful in Nature's workmanship, has conferred a lasting honour 
on the true-hearted Highland Chief, Sir Kenneth S. Mac- 
kenzie, Baronet ; on his loyal and delighted tenantry ; as 
well as on his romantic property in Gairloch. 

It may be remarked that there is hardly a lake, or peren- 
nial fountain in Scotland of any magnitude, but has certain 
traditional stories connected with it, bearing reference to 
something wild or supernatural The celebrated Hugh 
Miller relates the following regarding the " Fiddler's Well," 
near Cromarty : — " There is a little path which, in the 
eastern part of the parish, goes winding over rock and stone 



6o HIGHLAND SUPERSTITIONS. 

along the edge of a range of low-browed precipices, till it 
reaches a fine spring of limpid water, that comes gushing out 
of the side of a bank, covered with moss and daises. This 
beautiful spring has been known to the people of the town, 
for a century and more, by the name of Fiddler's Well Its 
waters are said to be medicinal; and there is a tradition 
still preserved, of the circumstance through which its virtues 
were first discovered, and to which it owes its name. Two 
young men of the place, who were much attached to each 
other, were seized at nearly the same time by consumption. In 
one the progress of the disease was rapid ; he died two short 
months after he was attacked by it ; while the other, though 
wasted almost to a shadow, had yet strength enough left to 
follow the corpse of his companion to the grave. The sur- 
name of the survivor was Fiddler, a name still common 
among the seafaring men of the town. On the evening of 
the interment, he felt oppressed and unhappy, his imagina- 
tion was haunted by a thousand feverish shapes of open 
graves, with bones smouldering round their edges, and of 
coffins with the lids displaced; and after he had fallen 
asleep, the images, which were still the same, became more 
grissly and horrible. Towards morning, however, they had 
all vanished ; and he dreamed that he was walking alone by 
the sea-shore in a clear beautiful day in summer. Suddenly, 
as he thought, some person stepped up behind, and 
whispered into his ear, in the voice of his deceased companicn, 
* Go on, Willie, I shall meet you at Stormy '. There is a 
rock in the neighbourhood of Fiddler's Well, so called from 
the violence with which the sea beats against it, when the 
wind blows strongly from the east. On hearing the voice, 
he turned round, and seeing no one, he went on as he 
thought, to the place named, in the hope of meeting with his 
friend, and sat down on a bank to wait for his coming ; but 



SACRED WELLS AND LOCHS. 6l 

he waited long, lonely and dejected ; and then remembering 
that he for whom he waited was dead, he burst into tears. 
At this moment, a large field-bee came humming from the 
west, and began to fiy round his head. He raised his hand 
to brush it away; it widened its circle, and then came 
humming in to his ear as befora He raised his hand a 
second time, but the bee could not be scared off; it hummed 
ceaselessly round and round him, until at length its mur- 
murings seemed to be fashioned into words, articulated in 
the voice of his deceased companion. ' Dig, Willie, and 
drink,' it said, * Dig, Willie, and drink.' He, accordingly, 
set himself to dig, and no sooner had he torn a sod out of 
the bank, than a spring of clear water gushed from the 
hollow ; and the bee, taking a wider circle, and humming in 
a voice of triumph that seemed to emulate the sound of a 
trumpet, flew away. He looked after it, but as he looked, 
the images of his dream began to mingle with those of the 
waking world ; the scenery of the hill seemed obscured by a 
dark cloud, in the centre of which there glimmered a faint 
light ; the rocks, the sea, the long declivity faded into the 
cloud ; and turning round, he saw only a dark apartment, 
and the first beams of morning shining in at the window. 
He rose, and after digging the well, drank of the water, and 
recovered. And its virtues are still celebrated ; for though 
the water be only simple water, it mubt be drunk in the 
morning, and as it gushes out of the bank ; and with pure 
air, exercise, and early rising for its auxiliaries, it continues 
to work cures." * 

* Since this was first published, the late Alexander Frascr, Registrar, 
Inverness, a well-known Northern Antiquarian, wrote four iiill and most 
interesting papers, entitled, Northern Folk-lore on Wells and Water; with 
an Account of some interesting Wells in the neighbourhood of Inverness and 
the Norths which appeared in the Celtic MagazinCt VoL III., pp. 348, 370, 
419, and 456. 



62 HIGHLAND SUPERSTITIONS. 

It has been remarked, that almost all our lakes, fountains, 
pools, waterfalls, rocky crevices, and caves, have been 
tenanted, by superstition, with water-horses, kelpies, uruisgean, 
and brownies. Of this there are many instances in the High- 
land districts of Perthshire, which are now made classic 
ground by the magic pen of the author of Waverley. Beinn 
Venue is a lofty mountain which rises from the south-east shore 
of Loch Katrine. The celebrated " Coir-nan-Uruisgean," or 
Goblin's Cave, is situated at its base. It is guarded by pre- 
cipitous rocks, which lie strewed in immense fragments on 
every side, and this well-defended corrie or cave, affords a 
safe asylum for foxes, badgers, and wild-cats ; as also one 
equally safe, if the natives be credited, for the goblins, kel- 
pies, and uruisgean. The uruisgean are, in short, no 
strangers in various quarters of Perthshire, as well as in most 
parts of the Highlands. Dr. Graham says that they are " a 
sort of lubberly supernaturals, who could be gained over by 
kind attention, to perform the drudgery of the farm ; and it 
was believed that many Highland families had some of the 
order so tamed, as to become attached to them". Sir 
Walter Scott states that "tradition has ascribed to the 
uruisgean, a figure between a goat and a man; in short, 
however much the classical reader may be startled, precisely 
that of a Grecian Satyr." 

It is related of an honest farmer's wife in Glenlyon, that . 
one wet morning, as the decent matron was in the act of 
making the porridge for the family breakfast, she had an 
unexpected visit from an "uraisg," who came in quite 
unceremoniously, cold, dripping with rain, and squatted her- 
self close by the cheering fire. There the huge, slippery- 
skinned, uncouth monster lay, enjoying the genial warmth, 
but awkwardly impeding the worthy good-wife from cooking 
the family meal. Sadly annoyed at the monster's impertin-