Halloween In Scotland And The Hebrides
AS in Ireland the Scotch Baal festival of November was called Samhain. Western Scotland, lying nearest Tara, center alike of pagan and Christian religion in Ireland, was colonized by both the people and the customs of eastern Ireland.
The November Eve fires which in Ireland either died out of were replaced by candles were continued in Scotland. In Buchan, where was the altar-source of the Samhain fire, bonfires were lighted on hilltops in the eighteenth century; and in Moray the idea of fires of thanksgiving for harvest was kept to as late as 1866. All through the eighteenth century in the Highlands and in Perthshire torches of health, broom, flax, or ferns were carried about the fields and villages by each family, with the intent to cause good crops in succeeding years. The course about the fields was sunwise, to have a good influence. Brought home at dark, the torches were thrown down in a heap, and made a fire. This blaze was called "Samhnagan," "of rest and pleasure." There was much competition to have the largest fire. Each person put in one stone to make a circle about it. The young people ran about with burning brands. Supper was eaten out-of-doors, and games played. After the fire had burned out, ashes were raked over the stones. In the morning each sought his pebble, and if he found it misplaced, harmed, or a footprint marked near it in the ashes, he believed he should die in a year.
In Aberdeenshire boys went about the villages saying: "Ge's a peat t' burn the witches." They were thought to be out stealing milk and harming cattle. Torches used to counteract them were carried from west to east, against the sun. This ceremony grew into a game, when a fire was built by one party, attacked by another, and defended. As in the May fires of purification the lads lay down in the smoke close by, or ran about and jumped over the flames. As the fun grew wilder they flung burning peats at each other, scattered the ashes with their feet, and hurried from one fire to another to have a part in scattering as many as possible before they died out.
In 1874, at Balmoral, a royal celebration of Hallowe'en was recorded. Royalty, tenants, and servants bore torches through the grounds and round the estates. In front of the castle was a heap of stuff saved for the occasion. The torches were thrown on. When the fire was burning its liveliest, a hobgoblin appeared, drawing in a car the figure of a witch, surrounded by fairies carrying lances. The people formed a circle about the fire, and the witch was tossed in. Then there were dances to the music of bag-pipes.
It was the time of year when servants changed masters or signed up anew under the old ones. They might enjoy a holiday before resuming work. So they sang:
"This is Hallaeven,
Children born on Hallowe'en could see and converse with supernatural powers more easily than others. In Ireland, evil relations caused Red Mike's downfall (q.v.). For Scotland Mary Avenel, in Scott's Monastery, is the classic example.
"And touching the bairn, it's weel kenn'd she was born on Hallowe'en, and they that are born on Hallowe'en whiles see mair than ither folk."
There is no hint of dark relations, but rather of a clear-sightedness which lays bare truths, even those concealed in men's breasts. Mary Avenel sees the spirit of her father after he has been dead for years. The White Lady of Avenel is her peculiar guardian.
The Scottish Border, where Mary lived, is the seat of many superstitions and other worldly beliefs. The fairies of Scotland are more terrible than those of Ireland, as the dells and streams and woods are of greater grandeur, and the character of the people more serious. It is unlucky to name the fairies, here as elsewhere, except by such placating titles as "Good Neighbors" or "Men of Peace." Rowan, elm, and holly are a protection against them.
"I have tied red thread round the bairns'
throats, and given ilk ane of them a ride-wand of
rowan-tree, forbye sewing up a slip of witch-elm into their
doublets; and I wish to know of your reverance if there be
onything mair that a lone woman can do in the matter of
ghosts and fairies?--be here! that I should have named
--SCOTT: The Monastery.
"The sign of the cross disarmeth all evil spirits."
These spirits of the air have not human feelings or motives. They are conscienceless. In this respect Peter Pan is an immortal fairy as well as an immortal child. While like a child he resents injustice in horrified silence, like a fairy he acts with no sense of responsibility. When he saves Wendy's brother from falling as they fly,
"You felt it was his cleverness that interested him, and not the saving of human life."
--BARRIE: Peter and Wendy.
The world in which Peter lived was so near the Kensington Gardens that he could see them through the bridge as he sat on the shore of Neverland. Yet for a long time he could not get to them.
Peter is a fairy piper who steals away the souls of children.
"No man alive has seen me,
--HOPPER: Fairy Fiddler.
On Hallowe'en all traditional spirits are abroad. The Scotch invented the idea of a "Samhanach," a goblin who comes out just at "Samhain." It is he who in Ireland steals children. The fairies pass at crossroads,
"But the night is Hallowe'en, lady,
"Just at the mirk and midnight hour
--Ballad of Tam Lin.
and in the Highlands whoever took a three-legged stool to where three crossroads met, and sat upon it at midnight, would hear the names of those who were to die in a year. He might bring with him articles of dress, and as each name was pronounced throw one garment to the fairies. They would be so pleased by this gift that they would repeal the sentence of death.
Even people who seemed to be like their neighbors every day could for this night fly away and join the other beings in their revels.
"This is the nicht o' Hallowe'en
A witches' party was conducted in this way. The wretched women who had sold their souls to the Devil, left a stick in bed which by evil means was made to have their likeness, and, anointed with the fat of murdered babies flew off up the chimney on a broomstick with cats attendant. Burns tells the story of a company of witches pulling ragwort by the roadside, getting each astride her ragwort with the summons "Up horsie!" and flying away.
"The hag is astride
--HERRICK: The Hag.
The meeting-place was arranged by the Devil, who sometimes rode there on a goat. At their supper no bread or salt was eaten; they drank out of horses' skulls, and danced, sometimes back to back, sometimes from west to east, for the dances at the ancient Baal festivals were from east to west, and it was evil and ill-omened to move the other way. For this dance the Devil played a bag-pipe made of a hen's skull and cats' tails.
"There sat Auld Nick, in shape o' beast;
--BURNS: Tam o' Shanter.
The light for the revelry came from a torch flaring between the horns of the Devil's steed, the goat, and at the close the ashes were divided for the witches to use in incantations. People imagined that cats who had been up all night on Hallowe'en were tired out the next morning.
Tam o' Shanter who was watching such a dance
"By Alloway's auld haunted kirk"
in Ayrshire, could not resist calling out at the antics of a neighbor whom he recognized, and was pursued by the witches. He urged his horse to top-speed,
"Now do thy speedy utmost, Meg,
--BURNS: Tam o' Shanter.
but poor Meg had no tail thereafter to toss at them, for though she saved her rider, she was only her tail's length beyond the middle of the bridge when the foremost witch grasped it and seared it to a stub.
Such witches might be questioned about the past or future.
"He that dare sit on St. Swithin's Chair,
--SCOTT: St. Swithin's Chair.
Children make of themselves bogies on this evening, carrying the largest turnips they can save from the harvest, hollowed out and carved into the likeness of a fearsome face, with teeth and forehead blacked, and lighted by a candle fastened inside.
If the spirit of a person simply appears without being summoned, and the person is still alive, it means that he is in danger. If he comes toward the one to whom he appears the danger is over. If he seems to go away, he is dying.
An apparition from the future especially is sought on Hallowe'en. It is a famous time for divination in love affairs. A typical eighteenth century party in western Scotland is described by Robert Burns.
Cabbages are important in Scotch superstition. Children believe that if they pile cabbage-stalks round the doors and windows of the house, the fairies will bring them a new brother or sister.
"And often when in his old-fashioned way
--BUCHANAN: Willie Baird.
Kale-pulling came first on the program in Burn's Hallowe'en. Just the single and unengaged went out hand in hand blindfolded to the cabbage-garden. They pulled the first stalk they came upon, brought it back to the house, and were unbandaged. The size and shape of the stalk indicated the appearance of the future husband or wife.
"Maybe you would rather not pull a stalk that was tall and straight and strong--that would mean Alastair? Maybe you would rather find you had got hold of a withered old stump with a lot of earth at the root--a decrepit old man with plenty of money in the bank? Or maybe you are wishing for one that is slim and supple and not so tall--for one that might mean Johnnie Semple."
--BLACK: Hallowe'en Wraith.
A close white head meant an old husband, an open green head a young one. His disposition would be like the taste of the stem. To determine his name, the stalks were hung over the door, and the number of one's stalk in the row noted. If Jessie put hers up third from the beginning, and the third man who passed through the doorway under it was named Alan, her husband's first name would be Alan. This is practised only a little now among farmers. It has a special virtue if the cabbage has been stolen from the garden of an unmarried person.
Sometimes the pith of a cabbage-stalk was pushed out, the hole filled with tow, which was set afire and blown through keyholes on Hallowe'en.
"Their runts clean through and through
"Jock through the key-hole sent a cloud
--DICK: Splores of a Hallowe'en.
Cabbage-broth was a regular dish at the Hallowe'en feast. Mashed potatoes, as in Ireland, or a dish of meal and milk holds symbolic objects--a ring, a thimble, and a coin. In the cake are baked a ring and a key. The ring signifies to the possessor marriage, and the key a journey.
Apple-ducking is still a universal custom in Scotland. A sixpence is sometimes dropped into the tub or stuck into an apple to make the reward greater. The contestants must keep their hands behind their backs.
Nuts are put before the fire in pairs, instead of by threes as in Ireland, and named for a lover and his lass. If they burn to ashes together, a long happy married life is destined to the lovers. If they crackle or start away from each other, dissension and separation are ahead.
"Jean slips in twa, wi' tentie [careful]
Three "luggies," bowls with handles like the Druid lamps, were filled, one with clean, one with dirty water, and one left empty. The person wishing to know his fate in marriage was blindfolded, turned about thrice, and put down his left hand. If he dipped it into the clean water, he would marry a maiden; if into the dirty, a widow; if into the empty dish, not at all. He tried until he got the same result twice. The dishes were changed about each time.
This spell still remains, as does that of hemp-seed sowing. One goes out alone with a handful of hemp-seed, sows it across ridges of ploughed land, and harrows it with anything convenient, perhaps with a broom. Having said:
"Hemp-seed, I saw thee,
he looks behind him to see his sweetheart gathering hemp. This should be tried just at midnight with the moon behind.
"At even o' Hallowmas no sleep I sought,
A spell that has been discontinued is throwing the clue of blue yarn into the kiln-pot, instead of out of the window, as in Ireland. As it is wound backward, something holds it. The winder must ask, "Wha hauds?" to hear the name of her future sweetheart.
"An' ay she win't, an' ay she swat--
Another spell not commonly tried now is winnowing three measures of imaginary corn, as one stands in the barn alone with both doors open to let the spirits that come in go out again freely. As one finishes the motions, the apparition of the future husband will come in at one door and pass out at the other.
"'I had not winnowed the last weight clean out, and the moon was shining bright upon the floor, when in stalked the presence of my dear Simon Glendinning, that is now happy. I never saw him plainer in my life than I did that moment; he held up an arrow as he passed me, and I swarf'd awa' wi' fright. . . . But mark the end o' 't, Tibb: we were married, and the grey-goose wing was the death o' him after a'.'"
--SCOTT: The Monastery.
At times other prophetic appearances were seen.
"Just as she was at the wark, what does she see in the moonlicht but her ain coffin moving between the doors instead of the likeness of a gudeman! and as sure's death she was in her coffin before the same time next year."
--ANON: A Tale of Hallowe'en.
Formerly a stack of beans, oats, or barley was measured round with the arms against the sun. At the end of the third time the arms would enclose the vision of the future husband or wife.
Kale-pulling, apple-snapping, and lead-melting (see Ireland) are social rites, but many were to be tried alone and in secret. A highland divination was tried with a shoe, held by the tip, and thrown over the house. The person will journey in the direction the toe points out. If it falls sole up, it means bad luck.
Girls would pull a straw each out of a thatch in Broadsea, and would take it to an old woman in Fraserburgh. The seeress would break the straw and find within it a hair the color of the lover's-to-be. Blindfolded they plucked heads of oats, and counted the number of grains to find out how many children they would have. If the tip was perfect, not broken or gone, they would be married honorably.
Another way of determining the number of children was to drop the white of an egg into a glass of water. The number of divisions was the number sought. White of egg is held with water in the mouth, like the grains of oats in Ireland, while one takes a walk to hear mentioned the name of his future wife. Names are written on papers and laid upon the chimney-piece. Fate guides the hand of a blindfolded man to the slip which bears his sweetheart's name.
A Hallowe'en mirror is made by the rays of the moon shining into a looking-glass. If a girl goes secretly into a room at midnight between October and November, sits down at the mirror, and cuts an apple into nine slices, holding each on the point of a knife before she eats it, she may see in the moonlit glass the image of her lover looking over her left shoulder, and asking for the last piece of apple.
The wetting of the sark-sleeve in a south-running burn where "three lairds' lands meet," and carrying it home to dry before the fire, was really a Scotch custom, but has already been described in Ireland.
"The last Hallowe'en I was waukin
--BURNS: Tam Glen.
Just before breaking up, the crowd of young people partook of sowens, oatmeal porridge cakes with butter, and strunt, a liquor, as they hoped for good luck throughout the year.
The Hebrides, Scottish islands off the western coast, have Hallowe'en traditions of their own, as well as many borrowed from Ireland and Scotland. Barra, isolated near the end of the island chain, still celebrates the Celtic days, Beltaine and November Eve. In the Hebrides is the Irish custom of eating on Hallowe'en a cake of meal and salt, or a salt herring, bones and all, to dream of some one bringing a drink of water. Not a word must be spoken, nor a drop of water drunk till the dream comes.
In St. Kilda a large triangular cake is baked which must be all eaten up before morning.
A curious custom that prevailed in the island of Lewis in the eighteenth century was the worhip of Shony, a sea-god with a Norse name. His ceremonies were similar to those paid to Saman in Ireland, but more picturesque. Ale was brewed at church from malt brought collectively by the people. One took a cupful in his hand, and waded out into the sea up to his waist, saying as he poured it out: "Shony, I give you this cup of ale, hoping that you'll be so kind as to send us plenty of sea-ware, for enriching our ground the ensuing year." The party returned to the church, waited for a given signal when a candle burning on the altar was blown out. Then they went out into the fields, and drank ale with dance and song.
The "dumb cake" originated in Lewis. Girls were each apportioned a small piece of dough, mixed with any but spring water. They kneaded it with their left thumbs, in silence. Before midnight they pricked initials on them with a new pin, and put them by the fire to bake. The girls withdrew to the farther end of the room, still in silence. At midnight each lover was expected to enter and lay his hand on the cake marked with his initials.
In South Uist and Eriskay on Hallowe'en fairies are out, a source of terror to those they meet.
"Hallowe'en will come, will come,
But for the most part this belief has died out on Scottish land, except near the Border, and Hallowe'en is celebrated only by stories and jokes and games, songs and dances.