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Title: Witchcraft & Second Sight in the Highlands & Islands of Scotland - Tales and Traditions Collected Entirely from Oral Sources
Author: Campbell, John Gregorson
Language: English
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_Uniform with this Volume: Price 6s. net._

Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Collected
entirely from Oral Sources by the late John Gregorson Campbell, Minister
of Tiree


The border line of fairyland once crossed is a bourne from which few
antiquaries return. We have had great difficulty in getting back
ourselves, led on as we were by the seductive John Gregorson Campbell,
assuredly, if ever man was, since Campbell of Islay’s day, in the
innermost secrets of the Elfin folk. Indeed, Campbell’s _Popular Tales
of the West Highlands_, full to overflowing though they are, do not seem
to us to express with anything like the same fullness and body the misty
legend and wayward romance and quaint realism of the Celtic supernatural
as does this plainer and prosaic notebook of an old parish minister
between 1861 and 1891. Folklore whether of Celt or Saxon, henceforward
has to reckon with the posthumous notebooks of John Gregorson Campbell
for an indispensable section of its apparatus of study.—_ANTIQUARY._

The importance of the work from the scientific point of view can hardly
be exaggerated, as its accuracy is absolutely indisputable. And yet being
little more than a collection of stories told in the simplest English, it
is as enjoyable as one of Mr. Lang’s fairy-books.—_THE SPECTATOR._

Altogether the volume is in its way singularly interesting, and forms a
rich mine for the folklorist. Some of the stories may be met with under
other versions, but most of them appear here for the first time and are
wonderfully varied. The light they throw upon the Highlander’s ways of
thinking is remarkable.—_SCOTTISH REVIEW._

Statements and beliefs are given exactly as they reached the author, nor
do I think it would be possible to detect a single instance in which
wider knowledge or prepossession of any kind has induced him to alter
or distort a fact. This rigid conscientiousness will always secure for
Mr. Campbell’s work the confidence and regard of true folklorists....
Campbell of Tiree takes his place by the side of Kirk, and of Walter
Gregor of Pitsligo, among those recorders of folk-lore to whom the
student can always turn with increased confidence and admiration.—MR.

Students of tradition will find much to interest them in this new
collection of Highland folk-lore, for although a good deal of the
information is similar to that contained in previous works of the kind,
yet many details are new, and even those which are already familiar have
this great recommendation—that they were obtained at first-hand from the
peasantry, and not from other books.—_RELIQUARY._

On the whole their can be few richer fields of ancient folk-belief,
especially of the gloomier and sterner sort, than that which was so
successfully cultivated by the lamented author of this book.—_ATHENÆUM._

Mr. Campbell has escaped most of the difficulties by which his
predecessors were beset. A very interesting series of stories has
been collected, and the volume exercises much fascination over the
reader. On the subjects such as divination, spells, the devil, etc.,
much interesting information is given. While scientifically thorough
in treatment, the book is indeed admirably suited for general

The tales are plucked directly from their native soil in the popular
memory; and while few of them are absolute rarities, there is hardly
anyone that does not in some way illustrate the infinite variety and
the vivid imaginative colouring, as well as the wealth of Highland

This volume is posthumous, and we cannot but regret that the author was
not spared to see it safely launched. It is a capital book written in
a thoroughly sane and sober spirit. In this it differs from most books
that deal with the manners, customs, and usages of the Gaels of Scotland,
for in them the wildest theories, based mainly on fanciful ideas, are
treated as facts and enunciated as truths. In gathering his material the
late Mr. Campbell relied solely on oral communications made to himself so
that in every case of doubt he could interrogate his informant.—_SCOTTISH

Altogether the book is a notable and valuable addition to the literature
of British folk-lore not unworthy to take its place alongside Mr. J.
F. Campbell’s classic “Popular Tales of the West Highlands.”—_GLASGOW

The more collections of this sort we get the better will be the verdict
of all who read this interesting book; and those who look at the question
more from the scientific point of view will echo the wish.—_MAN._

The fairies and tales about them, gathered by himself or by
correspondents in all parts of the Highlands and Isles, take up the half
of the book before us, the remarkable feature of which is that the whole
of its contents has been taken down from oral sources. There are many
variants and many common stories which are variously localised. Printed
accounts of the fairies are religiously ignored.—_THE NORTHERN CHRONICLE._

Those who are interested in our west Highlands and Islands—and who is
not?—will find Mr. Campbell’s book a perfect mine of strange, weird
stories and legends, the latter entirely characteristic of the people,
the former dealing with magic, divination, and the superstitions of
fairyland. Indeed it takes a place by itself, and a very important place,
in our folk-lore literature.—_THE BAILIE._

The tales are very diversified. They relate to the “fairies” and
the superstitions regarding them. A chapter is devoted to augury,
another to premonitions and divination, to dreams and prophecies, to
imprecations, spells, and the black art. In short we have a very varied
and manifold collection of Highland beliefs told with great freshness and
vividness.—_OBAN TIMES._

    James MacLehose and Sons

    Publishers to the University
    London and New York: Macmillan and Co., Limited

      *      *      *      *      *      *


      *      *      *      *      *      *

                              PUBLISHED BY
                      Publishers to the University.

                    MACMILLAN AND CO., LTD., LONDON.

                _New York_,       _The Macmillan Co._
                _London_,         _Simpkin, Hamilton and Co._
                _Cambridge_,      _Macmillan and Bowes_.
                _Edinburgh_,      _Douglas and Foulis_.


      *      *      *      *      *      *


Tales and Traditions collected entirely
from Oral Sources

by the late


Author of “Superstitions of the Highlands and
Islands of Scotland”

James MacLehose and Sons
Publishers to the University

Glasgow: Printed at the University Press
by Robert Maclehose and Co.



                        _CHAPTER I_

                     Black Witchcraft

    Introductory                                           1

    Witches and Milk                                       7

    Counter-Charms                                        10

    Going to Sea                                          15

    Raising Storms and Drowning People                    19

    Witches as Sheep                                      30

    Witches as Hares                                      33

    Witches as Cats                                       34

    Witches as Rats                                       42

    Witches as Gulls                                      42

    Witch as Cormorant                                    43

    Witches as Whales                                     44

    Delaying the Birth of a Child                         45

    Clay Corpse                                           46

    Silver Sixpence                                       49

    Saving Horses                                         50

    Tailor and Witches                                    50

    Celebrated Witches                                    50

    Wizard Rising after Death                             52

    How to Detect Witches                                 53

                       _CHAPTER II_

                     White Witchcraft

    Introductory                                          54

    Eòlas                                                 57

    Cure for the Evil Eye                                 59

    Charm for Sprains                                     66

    Charm for Bruises                                     67

    Charm for Rheumatic Pains                             67

    Charm for Consumption                                 68

    For Affections of the Chest                           68

    Charm for Toothache                                   69

    Made for Merrion MacFadyn                             70

    Charms for Cattle                                     71

    Charm against Danger                                  73

    The Old Wife’s Charm for her Cow                      73

    Charm for a Sheep in its Cot                          74

    Against Drowning and in War                           74

    Charm against Dangers in War                          75

    Charm for Cloth                                       77

    Charm for General Use                                 79

    “The Gospel of Christ”                                79

    Charm for conferring Graces                           80

    Charm for the Faces of Young Women                    81

    Love Charm                                            82

    Charm to keep away Harm in a Lawsuit                  83

    Serpent Stone                                         84

    Snail Beads                                           88

    Frog Stone                                            89

    Stones                                                90

    Fairy Arrow                                           91

    Cruban Stone                                          92

    Various                                               93

    Gospel                                                94

    Miscellaneous Cures                                   94

    Warts                                                 94

    Stye                                                  95

    Tetter                                                95

    Hiccup                                                96

    Hooping-cough                                         96

    Stiff Neck                                            96

    Toothache                                             96

    Falling Sickness                                      97

    Madness                                               97

    Axillary Swelling                                     99

    Lumbago                                              100

    Consumption                                          100

    Leprosy                                              100

    Loch Ma Nàr                                          101

    Wells                                                101

    Mountain Ash                                         103

    Pearlwort                                            103

    St. John’s Wort                                      104

    Juniper                                              105

    Yarrow                                               106

    The Enticing Plant                                   106

    The Daughter of the King of Enchantments             107

                       _CHAPTER III_

                      Death Warnings

    Introductory                                         109

    Hugh of the Little Head                              111

                       _CHAPTER IV_

                       Second Sight

    Introductory                                         120

    Spectres of the Living                               132

    Apparitions of the Dead                              137

    Strong and Undue Wishes                              141

    Tàradh                                               144

    Marriage                                             147

    Coming Misfortune                                    148

    Events at a Distance                                 149

    Death                                                150

    Coffin                                               151

    Noise of Glasses to be used at Funerals              154

    Funeral Procession                                   155

    Wraiths seen before Death                            158

    Drowning                                             160

    Horses and Dogs                                      163

    Crying heard before Death                            166

    Lights                                               169

    Spirits seen before Death                            172

    Return of the Dead                                   172

    Bones of the Dead and Place of Burial                176

    Spirits appearing in Dreams                          179

    To get rid of the Second Sight                       180

                        _CHAPTER V_


    Introductory                                         181

    The Bodach, or Carle                                 187

    Fuath                                                188

    Cachlaidh Na Feusaig, Islay                          189

    The Headless Body                                    191

    The Grey Paw                                         194

    Ewen and the Carlin Wife                             198

    The Black Walker of the Ford                         201

    Strowan, Athole                                      203

    The Unearthly Whistle                                204

    The Battle of Gaura                                  205

    The Beast of Odal Pass                               207

    Luideag, “The Rag”                                   208

    Lochan Doimeig                                       208

    Return of the Dead                                   210

    Donald Gorm’s Ghost                                  211

    Taibhse Choimhlig                                    213

    Kingairloch, Argyleshire                             214

    Fladdachuain                                         215

    Haunted Houses                                       217

    Bocain, Goblins                                      220

                       _CHAPTER VI_

                      The Celtic Year

    Introductory                                         224

    Nollaig                                              229

    Calluinn                                             230

    Christmas Rhymes                                     233

    New-Year Night                                       236

    New-Year’s Day                                       238

    The Twelve Days of Christmas                         243

    Winter Season                                        244

    February                                             245

    Earrach beag nam Faochag                             247

    St. Bride’s Day                                      247

    Spring                                               250

    The Whistle                                          250

    The Sharp-billed One                                 251

    The Sweeper                                          251

    Gearran, a Gelding, or perhaps Gearan, Complaint     251

    The Old Wife                                         253

    Three Hog Days                                       254

    Seed-time                                            255

    Shrovetide                                           256

    Lent                                                 258

    St. Kessock’s Day                                    259

    St. Patrick’s Day                                    259

    Lady Day                                             261

    Shore or Maundy-Thursday                             261

    Good Friday                                          262

    Easter                                               263

    All-Fools’ Day                                       266

    Bailc na Bealltainn                                  267

    May-Day                                              267

    Month of May                                         272

    Whistling Week                                       273

    May                                                  273

    The Avoiding Day of the Year                         273

    Whitsuntide, Pentecost                               274

    St. John’s or Midsummer’s Eve                        276

    Dog Days                                             276

    Translation of Martin                                277

    Lammas                                               277

    The Hot Month (_i.e._ August)                        279

    Assumption Day                                       279

    Roodmas, September 14th-26th                         280

    Michaelmas                                           281

    Hallowmas                                            281



Witchcraft introduces us to a class of popular superstitions entirely
different from those connected with Fairies. Fairies, water-horses, and
kindred supernatural beings were distinct from the Evil Spirits that
gave to witches their unhallowed powers. They could not be compelled
or conjured by mortals to appear when wanted, or enter into contracts
of service. The Powers of Darkness, on the other hand, were always at
the service of their votaries, and, by means of charms and incantations
known to the initiated, were made to lend their aid in any scheme of

A belief in magic widely, almost universally, prevails among the tribes
of mankind, and the witchcraft of the Christian era, while it undoubtedly
gained strength and character from mistaken interpretations of Scripture,
owes many characteristics to the delusions of Pagan times.

The Highland witches have of course many points in common with their
sisters of the south, but comparatively there is little repulsive or
horrible in their character. Tales regarding them make no mention of
incubus and succubus, midnight meetings and dances with the devil, dead
men’s fingers, and more of the horrible and awful, the ravings of poor
women driven crazy by persecution and torture. Neither is there mention
of their riding through the air on broomsticks, nor, like the witch
of Endor, raising the dead. Their art was forbidden, and their powers
came from the devil; but it does not appear under what paction, or that
there was any paction, under which this power was to be got. It was in
the name of the devil, and against the name of the Trinity, they set
about their cantrips, but a knowledge of the necessary charms, and the
courage to use them, seem to have been all that was requisite. Those
having the reputation of being witches were (and are, for a few still
survive) usually old women, destitute of friends and means of support,
and naturally ready to eke out a miserable livelihood by working on the
fears or the simplicity of their more prosperous neighbours.

There are instances in which a farmer has bribed a witch by yearly
presents not to do harm to his cattle; and we must remember that in
days of scarcity and famine, poverty with icy hand and slow-consuming
age will make people resort to shifts of which they would never dream
when food was abundant. In most cases, the reputed witch was merely
a superstitious and perhaps ill-favoured old woman, possessing a
knowledge of rhymes and charms for the healing of disease in man and
beast, and taking pains to _sain_ her own cattle, if she had any,
from harm. Sometimes she was also dishonest, desirous of being looked
upon with awe, and taking advantage of nightfall to steal milk from
her neighbours’ byres and corn from their stackyards. Her powers of
witchcraft satisfactorily accounted to the popular mind for her butter
and cheese—even if she had no cows—being abundant when the stores of
others failed. In dark uncultured times a claim to influence over the
unseen powers of nature, and to intercourse with spirits, had only to
be made to be allowed, and the mere pretension too readily invests the
claimant with awe to make it safe for any one to denounce the imposture.
Many believed in the efficacy of the arts they practised, and in their
own possession of the power with which the credulity of mankind was
willing to accredit them. Unusual natural events and phenomena can easily
be turned into proofs of a witch’s claim; imposture readily leads to
delusion, and hence among the poor and uneducated it is no wonder to find
witchcraft practised and believed in.

The power of witches was always at the disposal of those who were willing
to pay for it, and the fact that the rewards of witchcraft did not
sometimes exceed a pound of tobacco, alone shows how much the urgencies
of want had to do with the pretence to supernatural powers. Unless
payment was given the witch could do nothing; her spells were then of
no avail. To explain the anomaly that witches possessed such tremendous
powers and yet remained always in indigent circumstances, it was said
the poor wretches could not benefit themselves; their power, as might
be expected, considering the source from which it was derived, was only
one of mischief and doing harm to others. Much of the superstition is
at variance with this popular explanation, as, for instance, the taking
of milk from the neighbours’ cows and the substance from their butter
and cheese, but contradictions and absurdities never stand in the way of
credulity and superstitious fears.

The Gaelic name ‘_Buidseach_’ is identical in meaning with the
English ‘_witch_,’ a word it also somewhat resembles in form. The
term ‘_Bao_’ is sometimes translated wizard, but is properly only a
careless conversational form of _Baobh_, a wild furious woman, a wicked
mischievous female, who scolds and storms and curses, caring neither what
she says nor what she does, praying the houses may be razed (_làrach
lom_) and the property destroyed (_sgrios an codach_) of those who have
offended her. This is a word used in proverbs. “A raging woman obtains
her imprecation, but her soul obtains no mercy.”[1] _Baoth_, weak,
foolish, is often confounded with it. M’Intosh[2] makes the expression
‘_maca bao_,’ ‘a wizard’s son’ instead of _macan baoth_, a weak or little
child. “Pity of her who is the mother of a helpless child, when May-day
falls on a Thursday,” _i.e._[3] owing to the infant mortality of the

A common answer to the question, What could witches do? is What could
they not do? The classes of actions, however, ascribed to them are not
numerous. They could take the milk from their neighbours’ cattle, bring
fish to their own coasts, make fishermen successful, go to sea for fish
themselves and bring home creelfuls, raise storms, sink ships, drown
those who offended them; give strings to sailors with knots on them, the
unloosening of which raised the wind; they could go to wine-cellars in
London or Ireland, and drink wine till morning; fly through the air with
magic quickness, and cross the seas in the most unlikely vessels, sieves,
eggshells, or dry cowsherds; produce a wasting disease in an enemy,
waylay and endanger the belated traveller, and by their cursed tricks
keep a child in its mother’s womb past its proper time; suck cows, and
assume various shapes. They could benefit, or at least ward away evil
from a favourite, but their power of doing so seems to have been much
feebler than their powers of mischief.

In carrying out their unhallowed cantrips, witches assumed various
shapes. They became gulls, cormorants, ravens, rats, mice, black sheep,
swelling waves, whales, and very frequently cats and hares. The shape
was not always well chosen for the object to be attained, a hare, for
instance, being but ill-formed for sucking cows, or a cat for drinking
wine; neither was a sieve or an eggshell a likely vessel to go to sea
in, nor a piece of tangle for carrying milk in, nor the chimney crook
a probable substitute for the cow’s udder. This, however, is of no
consequence. It is only part of the witch’s diabolical mode of going to
work. The truth is, that these harmless animals whose shapes witches
were said to assume, being seen in unusual places at unusual times,
or conducting themselves in an unusual manner, were converted by the
terrified imagination into witches pursuing their unlawful practices.
Many tales seem to have their origin in vain attempts to stagger
credulity, and in that delight which people of lively imaginations
sometimes take in ‘cramming’ their more stupid fellows.

In addition to change of shape, witches had a machinery of charms,
incantations, red, black, and blue threads, magic caps, and particularly
a magic staff, called ‘_an luirgean_’ ‘_an lorg ohn_.’

There were certain nights of the year on which they were unusually busy.
These were particularly the last night of every quarter. On Beltane
night they were awake all night. Their object seems to have been to
_sain_, _i.e._ keep evil away from, their own cattle or those of the
farmers who employed them for the purpose. Others were no doubt taking
advantage of any neglect in this respect to secure to themselves the
butter and cheese for the next three months. No one, however, knows what
they were after, as a woman who believed in their being awake on Beltane
night piously said, “God and themselves know what they are doing.”[4]

Many tales relating to witchcraft, as has been already remarked, must
have had their origin in attempts to ridicule people out of their belief
and in an unbridled exercise of imagination. They only furnished a proof
that men will believe the incredible.


To the poor a cow is invaluable, and its ailments are naturally a source
of anxiety. Hence the poor man has been most frequently the victim of
imposture, and his cow has the most frequently lost its milk through the
machinations of witches. The folds of the affluent were seldom attacked,
or those byres in which regard was paid to cleanliness and tidiness.

The stories of witches assuming the shape of hares and sucking cows are
numberless. A boy who saw one described the hare as sitting on its hind
legs, with its fore paws resting on the cow’s udder. Some people profess
to have come upon the witch through the night while thus engaged, and
caught her. The hare then became a woman.

When a witch assumes this shape it is dangerous to fire at her without
putting silver, a sixpence or a button of that metal, in the gun. If
the hare fired at was, as indeed it often was, a witch in disguise,
the gun burst, and the shot came back and killed the party firing, or
some mischance followed. Old women used, therefore, to recommend that a
sixpence be put in the gun when firing at a hare.

Parties who entered the house of a reputed witch in Cornaig, Tiree, found
two churns full of water on the floor and a shallow milk-dish (_measair_)
full of butter on the table.

In olden times the master of a ship, dining with the Laird of Coll, was
asked if the butter on the table was not very fine. He said it was for
pig’s butter. The dairymaid was called up and questioned. She confessed
that seeing a whale (_muc-mhara_, lit. sea-pig) passing, and hearing its
bellow (_geumraich_), she had taken the substance (_toradh_) of its milk
from it. If the laird believed her, he was an honest, unsuspicious man,
who never dreamt of any collusion between her and his guest.

A Tiree witch once took all their milk from the Laird of Coll’s cows, and
was on her way home with it in a _duitheaman_, a black seaweed not unlike
a tangle, wrapped round her body. A man met her, cut the black tangle
with his knife, and all the milk flowed out on the ground. Witches also
carried away milk in needles, dung-forks, etc., and have been detected
taking it in a stream from the chimney crook. A sailor, whose ship was on
her way through the Kyles of Bute (_na caoil Bhòdach_), hearing a bull
roaring on the Cowal coast, took the milk from the herd of which it was
lord by cutting the cable with an axe. The milk came streaming from the

It is related of ‘Mr. Lachlan,’ a former minister of Kintail, that going
one day to the house of a reputed witch, without telling who he was, he
induced her, as a specimen of her power, to milk the chimney crook.[5]
The cow from which the milk was to be taken was the minister’s own. The
witch went to work, till all the milk was extracted, and then asked the
minister if he was satisfied. He told her to go on, and she milked the
iron till blood came. When the minister went home he found his cow dead.

A witch in Lochaber had a little pet sheep, by milking which she gathered
to herself the milk from the flocks of all the neighbouring farmers.

Hairy Donald (Dò’ull Molach), a Morven celebrity of last century,
professing great skill in healing or hurting cattle by means of magic
charms, was laughed at for his pretensions by the parish minister, and
his powers were made game of. Donald, at his own request, was shut up
in a room, and a particular cow was named by the minister for him to
exercise his talents upon. Before he finished his incantations the cow
fell over the rocks.

A man bought at a market from a stranger a mart or winter cow. When
killing it, the blows of the axe made no impression. An old man who came
the way, when told of this, examined the cow’s tail, and found a _red
string_ tied round it. On this being taken away, the cow fell at the
first blow.


Of course the spells of witches could be counteracted. It would not
be right that such dangerous powers should be unchecked. Some of the
counter-charms were good disinfectants, but in general the efficacy of
the remedy was as imaginary as the enemy whose machinations were to be
defeated. It was to prevent the taking of milk from cows that nearly all
the counter-charms were used. Anything in which people believed would be
sufficient, but the antidotes in ordinary use were these.

_Juniper_ (_Iubhar-beinne_, _aiteal_), pulled in a particular manner, was
burned before the cattle and put in cows’ tails.

A ball of hair (_gaoisid_), called a _Ronag_, was put in the milk-pail
on Lammas-day or on the Thursday after, to keep its substance in the
milk during the rest of the year. MacSymon (_Mac-Shiomoun_, a sept of
MacArthurs), a native of Balemartin, Tiree, was much resorted to in
former times for these constitution balls. On Lammas-day (_Lùnasdal_) he
gave to all who came to him a little bag of plants, sewn up, to be placed
in the cream jug (_croggan uachdair_) for the ensuing year, that the
cattle and the milk might retain their virtue or substance (_toradh_).

Stale urine (_maistir_) should be sprinkled on the door-posts and about
the byre. It keeps away the evil eye. There was an old woman in Coll who
was taken notice of by her neighbours for sprinkling cows and door-posts
every night. Her intention no doubt was to make assurance doubly sure.

The mountain ash (_Caorrunn_) was the most powerful charm of any.

    “A Rowan-tree and a red thread
    Gars a’ the witches dance to dead.”

Its efficacy was known in England as well as in the Highlands. The peg
of the cow-shackle (_Cnag chaorruinn sa bhuaraich_) should be made of
it, as well as the handle and cross (_crois na loinid_) of the churn[6]
staff. In Islay, not twenty years ago, a man had a rowan-tree collar for
securing his cow at night, and every time the animal visited the bull
he passed this collar thrice through the chimney crook. On Beltane-day
annually he dressed all the houses with rowan. It was said of the man
in Craignish who gathered potent herbs on St. Swithin’s day and studied
magic with one foot in the chimney crook:

    “A tuft of rowan twigs
      From the face of Ailsa Craig,
    Put a red thread and a knot on it,
      And place it on the end of the sprinkler,
    And though the Witch of Endor came,
      Allan could manage her.”[7]

A _horse-shoe_ was of great power for the protection of cattle against
witchcraft. As in England, it must be found by accident. It was put
above the byre door, and a nail from it driven into the lowest hoop
(_cearcal_) of the milk-dish (_mias_) kept its substance in the milk. It
preserved horses when put above the stable door, and ships when nailed
to the mast. An entire horse could not be touched by evil spirits, and
its rider was safe from the attacks of witchcraft. A person in the
neighbourhood of Luing, Argyllshire, returning from a funeral, found
himself unable to make any progress on his road home, though he did his
utmost all night to get on. He was retarded by some unseen influence. He
rode an entire horse, and found himself safe at daybreak. His safety lay
in the horse he rode. The famed _Red Book of Appin_, according to one
version of the tale, was got by one who rode an entire horse to a meeting
of witches, and, having got hold of the book, made off with it in despite
of the devil and all his servants. In a West Highland tale (ii., 87), the
owner of the _Red Book_ advises the shoe of an entire horse to be nailed
on the byre door, to counteract the witches, who were taking the milk
from the cows. The shoes of entire horses probably are the proper kind to
use, though others came into use from being found equally efficacious.

_Tar_, put on the door, kept witches away, and put on the cow’s ear, was
believed to prevent _ceathramh gorm_, or quarter ill.

If, notwithstanding all these safeguards, or through neglect of them, a
cow lost its milk, or the milk ceased to yield butter or cream, there
were several methods by which the witchcraft, which was undoubtedly the
cause, might be counteracted. Some of these remedies appear more like the
inventions of practical jokers than ceremonies from which any rational
meaning can be taken.

When a cow ceases unaccountably to give milk, and witchcraft is
suspected, its owner is to take some of the animal’s urine (_maistir_),
put it in a bottle, and cork it well. The witch who has taken the milk
cannot make a drop of water till the milk is allowed to come back. It
is a common story that the owner of bewitched cows, under the advice of
‘wise’ people of his neighbourhood, put a potful of the cows’ dung on the
fire, and boiled it. He then put in half an ounce of pins and stirred
the compost, till at last the witch appeared at the hole which formed
the window, and entreated him to stop tormenting her, and all would be
well. He stopped, and next morning his cows had milk as usual. It was
also said that by putting pins in the cow’s milk, and boiling till the
dish is dry, the witch is made to appear and confess. A woman once did
this in Tiree, and found her own brother was the guilty party. Old people
in the east side of Skye remember the bull being put on the top of a
suspected witch’s house to bring back their milk to a farmer’s cows. The
more brutal method of _scoring_, or drawing blood from, the witch above
her breath—the object of which could only be to make clowns strike poor
old women on the face with their fists—was unknown in the Highlands. The
plant _mōthan_, pearlwort, put in the milk-pail, was a more gentle but
quite as sure a method of restoring its virtue to the milk. If a piece of
it was in the bull’s hoof at the time of pairing no witch could touch the
offspring’s milk.

In Tiree a person lost several stirks by the stakes falling and
strangling them in the byre. A ‘wise’ woman, reputed a witch, advised,
though her advice was not taken, that the _right hand part of a fore
horse-shoe, with three nails in it_, should be put below the threshold
(_stairsneach_) of the byre, along with a silver coin, and that the hind
quarter of one of the beasts should be taken _west_ and buried beyond the
limits of the farm. This was to prevent a similar calamity in future.


The Lewis witches were accounted the best for raising wind. A large
number of them were at one time destroyed in the following manner. A
tailor, working in a farmer’s house, where there happened at the time to
be a scarcity of seasoning for dinner (_gann-do-dh’annlan_), was told
by the farmer’s wife, this would not be the case to-morrow, if he could
get breakfast past without the goodman saying grace. The tailor managed
this, and his curiosity being roused, remained awake the following night,
to see what the wife would do. He saw a number of women, among whom he
recognised his own wife, assembling in the farm-house and accompanied by
the farmer’s wife, disappearing up the chimney, each in a wicker creel.
In the morning the farmer’s wife came back with her creel full of fresh
herring. The tailor, when he went home, strongly represented to his wife
the propriety of allowing him to accompany the witches in their future
fishing expeditions. Two shares of the fish would then fall to them
instead of one. The proposal was laid before a meeting of the witches,
and in the circumstances they consented. To the number of eighteen the
witches went to sea on a line of worsted thread, the tailor’s wife being
left ashore to hold the ball, or end of the line, in her hand. The tailor
persuaded her to go with the rest, and leave him in charge of the line.
She went and the tailor paid out more line, till he thought the witches
far enough out at sea. He then cut the thread and allowed the whole lot
to drown.

Similarly, somewhere in the north (all marvels of this kind are said in
the south Highlands to have occurred in the north) a tailor was working
in the house of an old woman, who knew the forbidden arts, but at the
time was short of _kitchen_ for dinner. She took a creel, sat in it, and
having muttered some mystic words, disappeared through a hole in the roof
that formed the chimney. In a while she came back with the creel full of
herring. The tailor kept the spell in remembrance, and the first day he
got the old woman out of the way, sat in the creel, and repeated it. He
does not seem, however, to have learned the words quite correctly, for
the creel, instead of making for the hole in the roof, rose straight up
and hit his head violently against the rafters. It then floated along
against the roof, as if in search of an outlet. It bumped his head a
second time against the rafters and he roared out, “Where, in the curse
of God, are you going now?” Instantly at the name of the Deity, the creel
fell down, and the tailor dislocated his hips (_chaidh e as a ghobhal_).
He never again dabbled in the dark science.

In Skye, one of a party of women, assembled at an old woman’s house to
full cloth, went by accident into the barn, and found it full of fish
suspended from the roof. “There are many herrings here,” she said; and
there being no way by which the old woman could have got them but by
witchcraft, she taxed her with unholy practices. The old woman got very
angry at the exposure.

A Barra and a Uist witch one year tried each other’s powers in drawing
the fish to their respective islands. The Barra witch proved the
stronger, and took the fish to Castlebay (_Bàgh Chìosamuill_).

Another year the Uist and Tiree witches had a similar contest. The
latter prevailed, and the men of a bygone generation believed that every
flounder caught that year on the Tiree shores had a hole in its tail,
made by the witches in the struggle.

On the shallows (_oitir_) between Tiree and Coll, the witches of the two
islands were often seen fighting for the flounders that abound in the
locality. The appearance that suggested the fancy was no doubt the same
as is still to be seen on these banks in stormy weather.

A witch, who left home every night, was followed by her husband, who
wondered what she could be about. She became a cat, and went in the
name of the devil to sea in a sieve, with seven other cats. The husband
upset the sieve by naming the Trinity, and the witches were drowned.
So the Skye story runs. In the Sound of Mull the witches went on board
the sieve, “against the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy
Ghost”; and the husband upset the concern by putting his foot on board
in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. In Tiree the
unfortunate women were passing Kennavara hill in eggshells on their way
to Ireland, when the husband of one of them, seeing the fleet, wished
them God-speed. Instantly the eggshells sank, and the women were drowned.


The belief that witches can trouble the sea and raise the wind is
widespread, reaching even to the native Africans. It is part of the
regular traffic of Finland witches to sell wind to mariners,—as in the
case of their Celtic sisters, tied in knots upon a thread. The following
story is common to many places.

A boatman from one of the southern islands was long detained in Lewis
by adverse winds. He was courting a witch’s daughter, and applied to
her mother for a favourable wind. He gave her a pound of tobacco, and,
assisted by neighbouring witches, after three days’ exertion, she
produced a string with three knots upon it. The first knot was called
‘Come gently’ (_Thig gu fòill_), and when he loosened it, as he left
the shore, a gentle breeze sprang up. The second knot was called ‘Come
better’ (_Teann na’ s fhèarr_), and on its being untied the breeze came
stiffer. As he neared the harbour, he out of curiosity loosened the last
knot, the name of which was ‘Hardship’ (_Cruaidh-chàs_). A wind came “to
blow the hillocks out of their places” (_séideadh nan cnoc_), and sent
the thatch of the houses into the furrows of the plough-land, and the
boatman was drowned. In Harris, they say the boat was drawn up on land
and secured before the last knot was untied. She was capsized and smashed
to pieces.

The following, known as “Big Macmhuirich’s Supplication” (_Achanaich Mhic
Mhuirich Mhòir_), is another form of the Celtic belief.

‘Macpherson of power’ (_Mac-Mhuirich nam buadh_), a noted wizard in South
Uist, was on a passage by sea on a calm day. The skipper said to him,
“Ask for a wind, Mac-Vuirich.” He did so, saying:

    “An east wind from the calm aether,
    As the Lord of the elements has ordained,
    A wind that needs not rowing nor reefing,
    That will do nought deceitful to us.”

“Weak and trifling you have asked it,” said the skipper, “when I myself
am at the helm.” Mac-Vuirich answered:

    “A north wind hard as a rod,
    Struggling above our gunwale,
    Like a red roe sore pressed,
    Descending a hillock’s narrow hard head.”

“It does not attain to praise yet,” said the skipper, and Mac-Vuirich
went on:

    “If there be a wind in cold hell,
    Devil; send it after us,
    In waves and surges;
    And if one go ashore, let it be I,
    And if two, I and my dog.”

A sea came, that rolled the boat’s stern over her bows, and all were
drowned but Mac-Vuirich and his dog.

The power of this wizard over the elements was also shown on another
occasion. The MacRanalds were coming to attack the MacNeills of Barra,
to whom Mac-Vuirich was favourable. Their boat was seen coming along the
wild and rocky coast on the west of Skye, and was sunk by the mighty
wizard uttering the following words:

    “A south-west wind toward Eiste point,
    Mist and rain,
    Clan Ranald on a breaking board,
    I reck it not;
    A narrow unsteady vessel,
    A lofty pointed sail,
    A lading of empty barrels,
    And bilge-water to the thwarts,
    A weak irascible crew
    Having no respect one for another.”

As might be expected, such a boat did not go far before sinking.

The usual way witches took to shipwreck a vessel was to put a small round
dish (_cuach_) floating in a milk-pan (_measair_) placed on the floor
full of water. They then began their incantations, and when the dish
upset, the ship sank.

On one occasion three witches from Harris left home at night after
placing the milk-pan thus on the floor, in charge of a servant-maid,
who was straitly enjoined not to let anything come near it. The girl’s
attention was, however, called away for a short time, and a duck came in
and took to squattering about in the water on the floor. The witches
on their return in the morning, asked if anything had come near the
milk-pan. The girl said no, and one of them said, “What a heavy sea we
had last night coming round Càbag head!”

A few years ago a boat was lost coming from Raasa to Skye. The witches,
who caused the calamity, were seen at work in the Braes of Portree,
beside a stream. Three of them were engaged in the evil task, and a man
was present along with them. Jobs of the kind require the presence of a
man. A cockle-shell (_slige coilleig_) was placed floating in a pool, and
a number of black stones were ranged round the edge of the pool. When the
incantation was at its height, the black stones barked like dogs, and the
cockle-shell disappeared.

A farmer in Mull and his little daughter were walking along an eminence
that overlooked the Sound, through which a number of ships were passing
at the time. The little girl asked, “What will you give me, father, if
I sink all these ships?” Thinking she was in fun, he asked her how she
would do it. She stooped down, and looked backwards between her legs at
one of the vessels. The ship whirled round and sank. In this expeditious
manner all the ships in sight were sunk, but one. The man asked why this
one did not sink. The girl said it was because there was rowan-tree wood
on board, and she could not touch it. He then asked who had taught
her all this? She said it was her mother. The man, who was a good man,
and before ignorant of his wife’s dabbling in witchcraft, gathered his
neighbours and burned herself and daughter.

A witch was engaged to destroy a boat coming to Tiree. Another witch,
however, wished its safety. The former came in shape of a gull, that
hovered about the boat, and kept it back (a head wind?). The other came
as a cormorant (_sgarbh_), followed in the wake of the boat (_an uisge na
stiùirceach_, lit. the waters of the rudder), and saved it. (Favourable

A former Lord Macdonald (_Mà-Cònuill_) was on his way by boat to Uist,
and experienced very unfavourable weather. When near his destination,
a towering wave, or, as it is called in Gaelic, ‘a drowning sea’
(_muir bhàite_), nearly overwhelmed the boat, and two birds, a skua
(_croma-ritheachar_) and an ordinary gull, were observed fighting in the
air. The one was Yellow Claws, daughter of Donald, son of Cormac (_spòga
Buidhe ni’ a Dò’uill ’ic Cormaig_), the other Hump-backed Blue-eye from
Cràcaig (_Gorm-shùil chrotach a Cràcaig_), both celebrated witches. The
former was for sinking the boat, the latter for saving it. Sometime
after Blue-eye met Lord Macdonald in Edinburgh, and reminded him of the
incident, and her own services on the occasion. He just remarked, “There
was indeed such a circumstance.”

A ship, sailing from Greenock, was to be destroyed by the Captain’s
wife and two other witches. An apprentice overheard them planning this,
and saying that they would come upon the ship on a certain day as three
rolling waves, and the ship would be sunk, unless the waves were cut with
a sword. At the time said the apprentice was allowed the command of the
vessel, and standing in the bow with a drawn sword, cleft the waves, and
defeated the witches.

A boat from Hianish, Tiree, went out fishing on the day before the New
Year. The morning was calm, but when the boat was returning the wind
rose and the sea became very heavy. The best steersman in the boat took
the helm. Another, sitting on the hindmost thwart (_tota shílidh_),
after looking for a while towards the stern, asked the helm from him,
and being again and again refused, at last took it by force. When he got
the rudder below his arm, he said, “Now, come on!” and the boat reached
shore in safety. He then explained that he had been seeing a gull, unseen
by the first steersman, following the boat, and had recognised her as a
woman of the neighbourhood. This woman had an illegitimate child by the
first steersman, and it was thought her object in raising the storm and
following so close in the wake of the boat, was to snatch her seducer
with her and drown him.

Ian Garve (stout John), laird of Raasa (_Iain Garbh Mac-ille-Challum
Ratharsa_), a man celebrated in Highland song and legend for his great
personal strength, was drowned by a witch who had this mysterious power
of raising storms. The event occurred on Easter Monday (_Di-luain
Càisge_), in the great ‘storm of the Borrowing Days,’ of which a
contemporary historian says “the like of this tempest was not seen in our
time, nor the like of it heard in this country in any age preceding,”
A.D. 1625; yet the traditions of the event are still fresh in popular
memory. The witch was Ian Garve’s own foster-mother (_muime_), and
resided on the islet of Trodda (_Trodaidh_), on the east of Skye. She
overheard a friend of hers say he wished Ian Garve, who was known to
have gone to the Lewis, was drowned, and took up seriously words spoken
only in jest. Others say she was bribed by an enemy to effect the hero’s
destruction. He left Loch Sealg in Lewis to proceed home on a calm day.
The witch was dairymaid (_banachag_) in Trodda, and, seeing the boat
coming, put milk in a large dish, and a small empty dish floating in it.
A boy was placed standing in the doorway, where he could see both the
milk-pan and Ian Garve’s boat. She herself stood with her foot in the
‘swey’ or chimney crook, and began her unholy incantations. Soon the
dish in the milk-pail began to be violently agitated. The boy reported
it first as going round sunwise (_deiseal_), then as going round
against the sun and striking the sides of the basin, and finally as
being capsized and floating bottom upwards (_air a bial foidhpe_). The
storm had been all this time increasing, till at last it blew a perfect
hurricane. That night the heap of shingle on East-side (_Du-sear_),
called _Moll-stabhan_, was washed ashore. Ian Garve’s boat disappeared
simultaneously with the capsizing of the bowl, and all on board perished.
Three ravens hovered about the boat as the storm was rising, and it
became afterwards known that these three were Yellow Claws (_Spòga
Buidhe_) from Màiligeir on East-side, Hump-backed Blue-eye (_Gorm-shùil
chrotach_) from Cràcaig near Portree, and Doideag from Mull. When the
boat was between Bare Skerries (_Sgeire maola_) and Trodda twenty birds
flew about, and some of them assumed the shape of frogs (_muileacha màg_)
on the deck. All the witches in Scotland were there, but were unable to
sink the boat till Ian Garve said to the frogs, “What the brindled one
has brought you here?”[8] After that he became distracted from the number
of birds and frogs coming upon him. A raven lighted on the gunwale of the
boat, and Ian Garve, striking at it with his sword, cleft the boat to the
water’s edge. The first news of the drowning was heard on Minigeig Hill
(_Monadh mhinigeig_) in Badenoch, and the particulars became known by the
telling of other witches. Another account says the hero appeared that
night to his wife in her dreams, and said:

    “On Monday the wind arose,
    And gathered its fury and rage;
    Tell the mother of my body
    ’Twas the evils made the hunt.”[9]

The shade came thrice and repeated this. Next day the wife told the dream
to her mother-in-law, who exclaimed, “Then my beloved is lost” (_tha mo
laogh-sa caillte_).

By far the most celebrated tale of this class is that of the destruction
of Captain Forrest’s ship by witches in the Sound of Mull.

Viola (_Bheòla_), daughter of the King of Spain, dreamt of a remarkably
handsome man, and made a vow not to rest till she found him. She fitted
out a boat, and in the course of her wanderings came to Tobermory Bay.
Here she saw MacLean of Dowart, who proved to be the man she was in
search of, and, though he was a married man, became too intimate with
him. MacLean’s wife in her jealousy caused her servant Smollett, a south
countryman, to blow up the ship with all on board. After setting fire to
a fuse leading to the magazine, Smollett made his escape, and by the time
the explosion took place reached Pennygown, a distance of ten or twelve
miles. The cook was blown to Srongarve (_sròn-garbh_, rough nose), near
Tobermory, where there is a cleft still bearing the name of the Cook’s
Cave (_Uamh Chòcaire_). The Princess herself fell somewhere in the sound,
and was buried at _Cill_, the Loch Aline burying-ground in Morven.[10]
Upon the news of the dreadful event reaching Spain, Captain Forrest
(whose name is not very Spanish) was sent with a ship to take vengeance
upon the Mull people by taking off the right breast of every Mull woman.
When the ship came the Lady of Dowart sent for _Doideag_, the Mull witch,
and by her means, with assistance procured from neighbouring witches,
Captain Forrest’s ship was sunk before next morning. Doideag shut herself
up in a house alone at Guirman Point (_Rutha Ghuirmein_), near Dowart,
and there made her incantations. A rope was put through a hole in a
rafter, and all night long the handmill (_brà_) was hoisted up to the
beam, lowered, and hoisted again. A native of Tiree reported that, having
come that evening to Doideag’s house, he was compelled by her to hoist
and lower and hoist the mill-stone all night without rest or refreshment,
while the witch herself went away to Tiree and elsewhere for help. On
her return she said that when in Tiree she had been detained a little
in extinguishing a fire, which had been caused by a spark falling among
the fodder in the stirk-house belonging to the man who was her unwilling
assistant. As the quern was raised a gale sprang up, and increased
in fury as the operation went on. At the same time gulls (others say
hooded-crows, others black cats) appeared on the yard-arms of the devoted
ship. Captain Forrest knew the Black Art himself, and went below. As word
was brought him that another gull had appeared in the rigging, he said,
“I will suffice for this one yet” (_Fòghnaidh mi fhìn dhi so fhathast_).
He could keep the ship against some say eight, others nine, witches,
but “ere a’ the play was play’d” there were sixteen, some say eighteen,
on the yards. Their names depend on the fancy of the narrator. All the
Mull witches (_na doideagun Muileach_) were there, and the most powerful
of the sisterhood from the surrounding districts. _Nic-ill’-Domhnuich_
from Tiree is commonly mentioned.[11] All accounts agree that when
Big Blue-eye from Mey (_Gorm-shùil Mhòr bha sa Mheigh_), the powerful
Lochaber witch, came, the ship sank. Shortly before this Captain Forrest
told a sailor to look up and see how many gulls were on the yards (_seall
suas co miad faoileann air an t-shlait_). On being told eighteen, he
said, “We are lost.” In the morning Doideag was told her house had been
unroofed in the gale, but she was comforted by being told the dreaded
ship had gone down opposite Coire-na-theanchoir Bay. “If you are without
a house, Captain Forrest is without a ship” (_ma tha thusa gun tigh, tha
Captain Forrest gun long_).


A native of Tiree was on his way home to the west end of the island in
the evening with a new gun in his hand. When above the beach called
Travay, he observed a black sheep running towards him from across the
plain of Reef. Alarmed by the animal’s motions, he put a silver sixpence
in the gun, and on its coming near enough, took aim. The black sheep
instantly became a woman, whom he recognised, with a drugget coat
wrapped about her head. The same woman had often persecuted him before,
particularly in shape of a cat. She asked him to keep her secret, and he
promised to do so, but one day, when drunk in the village to which the
woman belonged, he told his adventure and the name of the woman. In less
than a fortnight after he was drowned, and the witch (for such the woman
was universally reputed to be) was blamed as the cause.

Hector M’Lean, in Coll, according to his own account, was coming in
the evening from Arinagour to Breacacha, a distance of four miles
along what was then throughout the greater part a mountain track. When
halfway, at Airidh-mhic-mharoich, a black sheep came about his feet,
and several times threw him down. At last he took out a clasp-knife
(_sgian-lughaidh_), and threatened the sheep, if it came near him again,
to stick it with the knife. It, however, again and again came and threw
him down. In endeavouring to stab it, the knife closed upon his own hand
between the finger and thumb, and cut him severely. On coming to the
large open drain or stream below Breacacha Garden, he stood afraid to
jump across, in case the black sheep should come about his legs, and make
him fall in the drain. He was now, however, within hail of his own house,
and whistled loudly for his dog. It came, and was fiercely hounded by him
at the sheep. Every time the dog made a rush and came too near, the sheep
became an old woman, whom Hector recognised as one of his acquaintances,
and jumped in the air. She asked him to call off his dog, and he refused.
She asked him again, and promised, if he would do so, to befriend him in
right and wrong (_an còir’s an eucoir_). At last he did call the dog, but
it would not obey. He caught it by the back of the neck, and it tried to
turn upon himself. He promised to keep his hold till the woman made her
escape. The witch became a hare, and Hector called out to her, as she
seemed to have such wonderful power, to “add another leg to her stern,
to make her escape the faster.” When she was some distance away, he let
go the dog, and went home. The dog did not come home till the following
afternoon; it followed the hare, compelled it to take refuge on a shelf
of rock (_uirigh creige_), and lay below on the watch, till forced by
hunger to go home. The woman upbraided Hector, the first time she met
him, for letting go the dog. Afterwards, when he went as servant-man to
Arileod farm (_aìridh-Leoìd_) in the neighbourhood, the same woman was
often seen by him, in the shape of a hare, sucking the cows. His dog,
whenever it caught sight of her, gave chase, and compelled her to resume
her proper shape. When he left the farm, she was not seen there for some
days. He went in search of her, and accused her to her face of having
been the party that troubled the farm. She got into a rage, and said she
would punish him for raising such a story about her. He answered that the
proprietor of the island had offered a reward for the discovery of the
guilty person, and if all the women in Coll were gathered on one hillock
his speckled dog (_cu breac_) would pick her out as the offender. To this
she made no reply. He asked her to go to Arileod dairy that night, so
that people would not have it to say it was for him the evil had arisen.
She said this was _Wednesday_ night, and it was out of her power to do
anything, but the following night she would go, and he would hear of it.
On Thursday night she loosened the cows in Arileod byre, let in the
calves, and did much mischief.


In addition to the above tales, in which this transformation has been
mentioned, the following may be given as further illustrations of the

A young man, in the island of Lismore, was out shooting. When near
Balnagown Loch, he started a hare, and fired at it. The animal gave
an unearthly scream, and it then for the first time occurred to the
young man that there were no hares in Lismore. He threw away his gun
in terror, and fled home. Next day he came back for the gun, and heard
that a reputed witch of the neighbourhood was laid up with a broken leg.
Ever after the figure of this woman encountered him and gave him severe
thrashings. This preyed on his mind, and he never came to any good. He
proved brooding, idle, and useless.

A Manxman, who was in Tiree a few years ago, told the following story. A
party of sportsmen, engaged in coursing, were at a loss for a hare. An
old woman told her grandson to go to them, tell them they would get a
hare at a certain spot, and get half-a-crown for himself. The boy went,
got his half-crown, and guided the sportsmen to the spot his grandmother
had indicated. When the hare started he cried, “Run, granny, run!” The
hare made straight for the old woman’s house, the dogs lost sight of
it at the back of the house, and the old woman was found sitting at the

In Wigtonshire a hare ran up the chimney, and a suspected witch near hand
was found with burnt feet.


The association of witches with cats is of great antiquity. In the
legends of Greece and Rome, we are told of a woman, who had been
changed into a cat, being chosen as priestess by Hecate, the goddess
of sorcery and magic power, and of Hecate herself, when the gods were
forced to hide themselves in animals, taking refuge in the shape of a
cat. The association probably arose not so much from cats being the
frequent, almost invariable, companions of the poor old women accused
of witchcraft, as from the savage character of the animal itself. Its
noiseless and stealthy motions, its persevering watchfulness, its
extraordinary agility and tenacity of life, its diabolical caterwauling,
prowling habits, deceitful spring, and the luminous appearance of
its eyes in the dark, would alone suffice to procure it the name of
unearthly; but when infuriated, glaring, bristling, and spitting, it
forms a vivid representation of a perfect demon. In the Highlands, it was
not, as in the witchcraft of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries,
looked upon as the familiar or attendant imp of the witch, but merely as
an animal, whose form witches frequently assumed.

There were other superstitions connected with the animal. Were it not
the fear of being swallowed by the ground, a cat would run much faster
than it does. When people have a cat along with them in a boat, they
cannot, or will not, be drowned by witches. By burying a cat alive,
people waiting for a favourable wind get a breeze from the direction in
which its head is put; and a witch, that is, a young one, who is courted
by a sailor, can detain him with contrary winds as long as she likes by
shutting up the cat in the cupboard. A cat scraping is a sign that some
beast, horse, cow, pig, or dog will be found dead on the farm before
long. A cat washing its face portends rain next day, and turning its
back to the fire storm and rain. When removing from one house to another
(_imrich_), it is unlucky to take a cat. The animal was disliked by the
MacGregors, and the Camerons of Glenevis could not tolerate it at all.

A shepherd in Kintail, living alone in a bothy, far from other houses,
after kindling in the evening a bright cheerful fire, threw himself on a
heather bed on the opposite side of the house. About twenty cats entered
and sat round the fire, holding up their paws and warming themselves.
One went to the window, put a black cap on its head, cried “Hurrah for
London!” and vanished. The other cats, one by one, did the same. The
cap of the last fell off, and the shepherd caught it, put it on his own
head, cried “Hurrah for London!” and followed. He reached London in a
twinkling, and with his companions went to drink wine in a cellar. He
got drunk and fell asleep. In the morning he was caught, taken before
a judge, and sentenced to be hanged. At the gallows he entreated to be
allowed to wear the cap he had on in the cellar; it was a present from
his mother, and he would like to die with it on. When it came the rope
was round his neck. He clapped the cap on his head, and cried “Hurrah for
Kintail!” He disappeared with the gallows about his neck, and his friends
in Kintail, having by this time missed him, and being assembled in the
bothy prior to searching the hills, were much surprised at his strange

This is a fair specimen of the popular tale. It forms the foundation
of the Ettrick Shepherd’s “Witch of Fife.” In Skye, the adventure was
claimed by a man nicknamed ‘Topsy-turvy’ (_But-ar-scionn_) as having
occurred to himself. After coming home, he made the gallows into a
weaver’s loom. The hero in Argyllshire made it the stern and keel of a
boat, which may be seen in Lorn to this day. In Harris the hero is a
tailor: and the tale has been even found in the Monach isles, west of

Captain Burt (1730) tells a story of a similar kind which he had heard
from a minister. A laird, whose wine was disappearing mysteriously,
suspecting witches one night, when he thought the plunderers were at
work, entered the cellar, closed the door, and laid about him with a
broadsword. When light was brought, the cats, whose eyes he had seen
glaring at him in the dark, disappeared, and only some blood was found on
the floor. An old woman in the neighbourhood, suspected of being a witch,
was found, on her house being entered, in bed, with her leg cut off and
lying below the bed. The same story is told of the witches of Thurso

A tailor, named Macilduinn, was left in a house alone on Hallowe’en
night, while the rest of the household went to a neighbour’s house to
hold the festivities of the evening. As he sat on a bed, working at his
trade, a great many cats came in, and attacking a bag of flesh at the end
of the bed soon tore it up and devoured it. They then gathered round the
tailor. One said, “The back of my paw to Macilduinn!” Another said, “The
front of my paw to Macilduinn!”[12] These threats were repeated by all
the rest, while they held out their horrid claws, some derisively, some
menacingly, to the poor tailor. Frightened from his wits, he blew out the
light, sprung to the door, and took to his heels. The cats gave chase,
and by the time he reached a neighbours house his back was scratched
into shreds and thongs (_na iallun_) by the claws of the infernal cats.

Cameron of Doïni, or Glenevis, was out hunting, and killed a wild-cat.
The animal, when expiring, asked him to tell, when he went home, that
‘the King of the Cats’ (_Righ nan Cat_) was dead, or according to others
‘the Key of Battle’ (_an Iuchair Chath_), or ‘the streaked Brindled one’
(_a Bhruchail Bhreac_). As he told his story, the little black kitten in
the ash-hole (_an toll na luath_) bristled up and swelled, till it was as
large as a dog. Cameron said, “You are swelling, cat.” The cat answered,
“My feathers and my swellings are growing bigger with the heat,”[13]
and, springing at the chieftain’s throat, killed him. The scions of this
family (_Teaghlach Dhomhainnidh no Ghlinn-Ibheis_) till quite recent
times, would not tolerate a cat in the house, from the memory of this

The same story is told in the following manner, without any locality
being assigned for the incident. A hunter killed a wild-cat, and when he
came home told his adventure. He said,

    “To-night has well prospered with us,
    The big urchal-erchal has been slain.”

A kitten that was listening rose and said, “Has Bald Entrails of the Cats
been killed? If it were not the many nights I have got meat and milk in
your family, I would have your long brindled weasand in my claws. Tell
Streaked Foul-Face, that Bladrum is dead,”[14] and saying this the kitten
went away, and was never seen afterwards.

Near Vaul in Tiree, a man riding home at night, with his son, a young
boy, seated behind him, was met by a number of cats. The boy had his
hands clasped round his father, and the man, pressing them to his sides,
to make surer of the boy’s hold, urged his horse to its speed. The cats
sprang, and, fastening on the boy, literally devoured him. When the man
reached home, with his horse at full gallop, he had only the boy’s arms

A Wexford legend of the same kind (the two stories might have been
originally identical), said to be at least as old as 1584, will be found
in the _Dublin University Magazine_ for September, 1869.

A woman detected a strange cat drinking the milk in her kirn, caught it
by the back of the neck, and rapped its nose against the floor. It went
about mewing in a melancholy manner, till the woman took pity on it, and
called it, saying, “Puss, puss, till you get a drop” (_Puis, puis, gus am
faigheadh tu diar_). The cat answered, “It is not a drop I want, but the
way my mouth is, Mary” (_Cha-ne diar tha mi’g iarraidh ach mar tha mo
bhial a Mhàiri_). It then went away, but came back through the night with
two other cats. One said they would take the back of their paws to the
woman, but the second said the front of their paws. This resolution was
carried by the casting vote of the injured cat, and the woman was torn in

A man, going in the evening to see a girl he was courting, was met at a
lonely part of the road (near the end of Balefetrish Hill in Tiree) by
seven cats, and was so terrified that he turned back and thereby lost his
sweetheart. She married an old man from the village of Hianish, where a
noted witch dwelt. The old man got the blame of bribing the witch to send
the cats.

In olden times a cat belonging to the tenant of Heynish in Tiree was much
addicted, like the rest of its kind, to stealing cheese. It was caught in
the act, and, as a punishment for the past and a lesson for the future,
its ears were taken off. The tenant had occasion to go from home, and on
his return found the cat lying dead, having been hung for theft in his
absence. He took it in his lap, and thus addressed it:

    Did I not tell you, little Duncan,
    You had needs of being wary;
    When you went where the cheeses were,
    The gallows would teach you how to dance.
    Evil is it, earless cat,
    They you have killed, because of cheese;
    Your neck has paid for that refreshment,
    At this time, after your death.

On hearing these expressions of sympathy, the cat began to revive, and
the man went on:

    A hundred welcomes wait you, cat,
    Since in my lap you’ve chanced to be;
    And, though I do not much liberty allow,
    Many have you greatly loved.
    Are you the untamed cat that Fionn had,
    That hunted wild from glen to glen?
    Had Oscar you at the battle of Bla-sguinn,
    And left you heroes wounded there?
    You drank the milk Catherine had,
    For entertaining minstrel and meeting;
    And why should I praise you?
    You ought to be, like any kitten,
    On the hillside seeking mice,
    ’Neath greyish grassy stems and bramble bushes.

On hearing this the cat ran away and was never again seen.

A Tiree boat was tacking out of a loch in the north. A man met it at a
point of land near which it came, and asked to be taken to the other
side. One of the boatmen was willing, but the rest were not, as they
would thereby lose time. Next tack back, the man met the boat again, with
the same result. “Well, then,” he said, “perhaps you will repent it.” At
the mouth of the loch the boatmen heard a howling as of innumerable cats.
A storm arose, and with difficulty they reached shelter at the island of


A Tiree boatman, bringing a load of peats from the Ross of Mull, was met
at the Treshinish Isles by two rats sailing along on dry cowsherds. As
good luck did not direct him, he threw a piece of peat at the rats, and
upset their frail barks. A storm sprang up, and with difficulty he got to
land. The rats were witches, and he should not have meddled with them.


A witch assumed the shape of a gull, delighting in storms, not only to
bring danger or safety to a boat, as already told, but also for payment
to bring back news of fishing boats driven away in a storm.

A boat from Tiree, going for a cargo of wood, was caught in a violent
gale and driven north past Ardnamurchan Point. With difficulty the
boatmen, four in number, secured her in a creek. They remained in a
cave for four days, till the storm abated. The suddenness and violence
of the gale caused much anxiety to their friends, and two women, one
of whom had two sons and a son-in-law in the boat, and the other, a
widow, her youngest and only surviving son, consulted a famous witch,
_Nic-ill’-Dòmhnuich_, in Caolas, as to their fate. The witch told them
to come next day, and she would tell them. Early next morning the
widow went. “Yea,” said the witch, “they live, and they had no little
amusement last night fighting for the _Fallaid_ bannock, and your son had
his own share of it.” When the young men came home, they were questioned
as to their seeing anything the night the witch was sent for news. They
said a grey gull was seen by them sitting on the edge of the rocks that
overhang their place of shelter and peering down at them. One was for
throwing stones at it, but the rest dissuaded him. It was only seen that
night and next morning.


A man named Campbell, in the Long Island, as the outer Hebrides are
called, had two sweethearts, for one of whom he did not very much care.
They were both to be present at a gathering of women for fulling cloth,
and he resolved to go and see them. When he arrived he found only the
one he least liked. He left shortly, and set off to where the other was.
On the way he had to cross a ford on large stepping-stones. As he was
doing so a cormorant (_sgarbh_) came, and splashed him fiercely with
water. He had a cudgel in his hand, and gave the strange bird a whack
on the back. He then passed on, and the distance being considerable did
not return till next day. When returning he had to pass the house of the
slighted damsel. Her mother met him at the door, and said, she could not
understand what was wrong with her daughter; she had got suddenly ill
last night, and was very bad with a sore back. Campbell said he knew the
reason, and would have nothing further to say to her daughter. The woman
then threatened him, but no evil ever came of her threat.


A Skye fisherman gave the following narrative of witchcraft to which he
himself was a witness. He and his brother were at the herring fishing in
Portree in his native isle, and during that season out of all the herring
boats one only was successful. It had only a crew of two, and every night
caught from eight to ten crans of fish. The other boats were empty or
nearly so. One night when the nets were set, the boat, in which he and
his brother were, sprang a leak, and was taken back to the harbour and
beached. The rest of the crew went away to the village, but he remained
till the boat was left dry by the receding tide. In a while he also left,
and as he did so, saw a young girl coming out of a house and tapping at
a neighbour’s window. Another girl came out of that house, and wondering
what the two could be about at that hour of the night, he followed them
from the village. On reaching the green, the two girls began to disport
themselves (_braise_), then of a sudden became hares, and chased each
other round and round. After this they made their way to the shore, and
at the edge of the water (_gob na tuinne_), leapt into the sea and became
whales. They went out from land spouting the water as high as a ship’s
mast. Next morning the boats came in empty. The fishermen said they had
seen during the night two whales throwing up the sea in a dreadful manner
(_smùideadh na fairge gu h-eagallach_), which made them think there was
fish in the neighbourhood. The lucky boat was full as usual.

The meaning of this tale seems to be that the man had been listening the
night before to tales of witchcraft, had fallen asleep in the boat on the
beach, and had a troublous dream.


This infernal cantrip was played by means of a ball of black worsted
thread in a black bag, kept at the foot of the witch’s weaving loom,
where it might not be detected. If the ball was taken away the plot fell
through. In proof of this, there is a story told that a child was once
kept twenty-two years in its mother’s womb by means of witches, and when
born it had hair, beard, and teeth, like a person of that age.

The mother of a celebrated West Highland freebooter, ‘Allan of the
Faggots’ (_Ailein nan sop_), was a servant maid who became pregnant by a
married man. The man’s wife, when she heard of the scandal, got a _bone_
from a witch, which, she was assured, would, as long as it was kept,
delay the birth of the child. Allan of the Faggots was thus kept in his
mother’s womb for fifteen months beyond the usual time. The husband got
word of his wife’s doings, and took a plan to defeat her. He made his
Fool one day come home, pretending to be very drunk, staggering about,
and smashing the furniture. On being called to task, the Fool said he had
been in a house down yonder (that of the servant-maid), where a child
had at last been born, and had got a dram, which went into his head. The
wife, on hearing this, thought the witch had deceived her, and threw the
bone into the fire. It disappeared in blue smoke, and knocked down the
chimney! Allan was then born, with large teeth.

In other tales to the same effect, the trick usually is played on a
married woman, by the mother of a maid who had been slighted on her


The greatest evil that witches can do is to make, for a person whose
death they desire, a clay body or image (_corp creadha_), into which
pins are stuck, to produce a slow and painful disease, terminating in
dissolution. Waxen figures for the same purpose, and melted by exposure
to a slow fire, were known to Lowland superstition. In the Highlands wax
was not accessible to poor bodies, and they had to make clay serve the
turn. It is said that when a person wants a limb he cannot be destroyed
by witches in this manner.

MacIain Ghiarr, the Ardnamurchan thief, stole so many cattle from MacLean
of Dowart that he made that chief his deadly enemy. On one of his roving
expeditions he was passing at midnight the chapel or burying-ground of
Pennygown (_caibeal Peighinn-a-ghobhan_), on the Sound of Mull. Seeing
a light in the chapel, he entered, and found three witches sticking
pins in a clay body (_corp creadha_) intended to represent MacLean of
Dowart. As each pin was stuck in, MacLean was seized with a stitch in
the corresponding part of his body. Only the last pin remained to be
stuck in. It was to be in the heart, and to cause death. MacIain Ghiarr
scattered the witches, took with him the clay corpse, and made his way to
MacLean, whom he found at death’s door. He took out in his presence the
pins one by one, and when the last was taken out MacLean jumped up a hale
man, and remained ever after the warm friend of MacIain Ghiarr.

MacGilvray, a former minister of Strathfillan, in Perthshire, was seized
with burning pains all over his body, and was slowly wasting away by some
malady, of which the nature could not be understood. He lived at Clachan
in that strath, and one morning early a woman from the opposite side of
the river, on her way to call and ask for him, saw another woman going
along before her, who had the reputation of being a witch. Wondering
what her neighbour was about at that early hour, she kept well behind and
watched. The foremost woman, on coming to a hollow, stooped down, buried
something in the ground, and then walked on towards the minister’s house.
The other came and dug up what had been buried. It proved to be a piece
of wood stuck all over with pins. She took it with her to the manse, and
produced it, to the confusion of the witch. On the pins being withdrawn
the minister was freed from his pains and got quite well again.

Ross-shire witches could not destroy ‘Donald of the Ear’ (_Do’uill na
Cluaise_), of whom they had made a clay figure, from being unable to put
on the ear. Donald had lost the ear in battle. Similarly a _corp creadha_
made for Lord Macdonald by _Raonaid a Chreagain_ failed, because the
witches never could put the arm on.

Witches could also produce disease in other ways. Thus, a young man
in Perthshire—the tailor Cumming in Drimachastle, Rannoch—fell into a
decline. He accounted himself for the loss of health, decay, and sweats
at night by witches coming at night when he was in Badenoch (a district
at the time celebrated for witchcraft), and converting him into a horse,
on which they rode through the air to Edinburgh and other places to spend
the night carousing in well-stored cellars. He now saw them often passing
in different shapes and in eggshells, etc. The poor young man did not
understand the sweats of consumption, and his imagination was disordered
by the many tales of witchcraft he had heard.

The same tale, of converting men into horses, is with slight variations
common. In Lorn, a woman came night after night and shook a bridle at the
son of a neighbouring farmer. He immediately became a horse, on which she
rode to London, etc. A younger brother exchanged beds with him, and when
the witches were carousing, secured the magic bridle, converted the witch
herself into a horse, rode home, and before taking off the bridle took
his horse to a smithy, and put on four shoes. Next day an old woman of
the neighbourhood was found with her feet and hands horribly mangled.


As already said, silver fired from a gun will wound a witch, and force
her to assume her proper shape. An English sportsman, according to a
Perthshire version of an old story, was sitting surrounded by his dogs,
in a mountain bothy at the dead hour of night. A cat came in, but the
dogs did not move. It sat with its back to the fire, and swelled till
it was as large as a yearling calf. The Englishman took a silver button
off his clothes, and putting it in the gun, fired at the cat. The brute
scampered out at the door. On going to the strath next day, the sportsman
being a doctor, was sent for to see a farmer’s wife, who had got
suddenly ill. He went, and extracted his own silver button from her right


In Uist, a band of horses wandered on to a ledge in the face of a steep
precipice. It was impossible to take them from their dangerous position
to the top of the cliff by ropes, and to force them from the ledge to
the sea, which washed the base of the precipice, seemed from the height
of the fall, inevitable destruction. An old man, who was reputed to know
more than his paternoster, advised, however, they should be driven over,
and himself began an incantation, beginning “_Casa Gurra, Casa Gurra_,”
whatever that may mean. The horses of their own accord went over the
ledge, and swam safely to land.


A Glen-Quoich tailor, detected among a company of witches, was asked what
had brought him into such society? He said it was “for the pleasure of
the company” (_mar shodan ris a chuideachd_).


The best-known names seem to have been merely nicknames, given perhaps to
more than one old woman. ‘Blue-eye’ (_Gorm-shùil_) is said to originate
from the witch having one eye black or brown and the other blue. It
is, however, a corruption of _Gormla_, an ancient and pretty Gaelic
name, usually rendered Dorothy. _Gormla Mhòr_ from Meigh, Lochaber, was
stronger than all the witches of Mull, and gave the finishing stroke,
as already detailed, to Capt. Forrest’s ship. She met her death when
astraddle on a mountain stream, to intercept a salmon that had made its
way up to spawn. A large fish made a rush, knocked her backwards in the
water, and drowned her. There was a Gormshuil in the village of Hianish,
Tiree, a most notorious local witch, and one in Cràcaig in Skye, equally
notorious. ‘Brindled-Headless-Stocking Foot’ (_Cas a mhogain riabhaich_)
and ‘Rough Foot-gear, the Herdsman’s daughter’ (_Caiseart gharbh ni’n an
Aodhair_) were anywhere but where the person who is telling about them
comes from himself. Shaw, the Lochnell bard, makes them sisters dwelling
in Glenforsa in Mull, when Ossian was a little boy, and contemporaries of
Mac-Rùsluin. ‘Sallow Spot’ (_Ball Odhar_) was from Kintra (_Ceann-trà_)
in Ardnamurchan; ‘Yellow Claws’ (_Spòga buidhe_) from Maligeir on the
east side of Skye; _Doideag-un_ is the well-known name of the Mull
witches, and is given by children to the falling snowflakes, which they
are informed are the Mull witches on their journey through the air. Big
Kate MacIntyre in Fort-William was extensively known some forty years ago
as a person skilled in divinations and possessing mysterious powers.


People who practised forbidden arts, as may readily be supposed, did not
rest after death. When buried they remained quiet like other people, but
till then might be troublesome.

Among the hills of Ross-shire, an old man, who in his time was not
‘canny,’ died in his son’s house, a lonely hut in the hills remote from
other houses. He was stretched and adjusted (_air a ruidheadh ’s air a
chàradh_) on a board in a closet, and the shepherd, leaving his wife and
children in the house, went to the strath for people to come to the wake
and funeral. At midnight, one of the children, playing through the house,
peeped in at the keyhole of the closet and cried out, “Mother, mother!
my grandfather is rising.”[15] The door of the closet was fast locked,
and the dead man, finding he could not open it, began to scrape and dig
the earth below it, to make a passage for himself. The children gathered
round their mother, and in extremity of terror all listened to the
scraping of the unhallowed corpse. At last the head appeared below the
door, the corpse increased its exertions, and the terror of the mother
and children became intense. The body was halfway through below the door
when the cock crew and it fell powerless in the pit it had dug. That pit
could never afterwards be kept filled up to the level of the rest of the

In Tiree, a head-stone, placed at the grave of a man whom report accused
of dabbling in the dark science, would not remain in its place till
secured by a chain. It fell every now and then out of its position, but
after the chain was fastened to it, it remained firm, and is so now
without the chain.


Early in the morning, on the first Monday of each of the four quarters of
the year, the smoke from a witch’s house _goes against the wind_. This
may be seen by any one who takes the trouble of rising early and going to
an eminence, whence the witch’s house can be seen.



In English, a distinction is recognised between _black_ and _white_
witches. The former could hurt but not help; their power was only one of
mischief. White witches were honest, harmless practitioners of sorcery,
“whom our custom and country doth call wise men and wise women.”[16] In
Gaelic, there are no names corresponding to Black and White Witches,
but the distinction indicated is well known. Those to whom the name
_Buidseach_ (witch) properly applies could only do harm. They raised
storms, drowned people, took the milk from cows, etc., etc. There were
others who by magic charms cured disease in man and beast, bestowed luck,
warded off dangers, real and imaginary, and secured various benefits
to those who resorted to them. One or more such wise people were to
be found in every district, and any accusation of _witchcraft_, of
dabbling in forbidden arts, or of being in league with the devil, would
be indignantly resented by them. On the contrary, as in the case of a
shepherd in upper Argyllshire, who was much resorted to for the magic
cure of cattle, they claimed that their powers were given for a good
purpose, and to counteract the Powers of Evil.

The machinery by which they secured these blessings to humanity,
consisted of rhymes or incantations, rites and ceremonies, plants and
stones of virtue, observance of propitious seasons, etc. The use of these
could only lead indirectly to harm by fostering a spirit of credulity,
and preventing inquiry into natural causes. Of themselves, the charms
were like the Sunday plant, according to a common Gaelic saying, “without
benefit or harm.” Any other rhyme or ceremony, plant or stone, would
do equally well, if its use commanded the same amount of belief. The
words or rhymes were praiseworthy commendations addressed to various
saints, and the rites were harmless and merely trifling. This kind of
superstition still prevails among the lower ranks of society to an almost
incredible extent in the south as well as in the Highlands, and ‘wise
people’ are resorted to for the cure of obscure ailments by many of whom
such folly might be little suspected. Not above five years ago[17] the
daughter of a dairy farmer in Cowal came to Ardnamurchan, a distance
of above 100 miles, to obtain from a man of reputed skill a charm to
turn aside the misfortunes and maladies by which her father’s dairy was
afflicted. She went home happy in the possession of a bottle of water,
over which some magic words had been muttered. Occasional newspaper
paragraphs show the practice is not extinct in England or the south of

In the case of sick beasts, when, _e.g._, a horse lies down and refuses
to rise, or a cow ceases to give milk, or gives only milk mingled with
blood, the usual mode of procedure to effect a magic cure is to go to a
person of skill (_i.e._ a white witch), get a bottle of water prepared by
whispering certain words over it, and sprinkle this on the sick beast, or
perhaps put a few drops in its ear. Immediately the beast rises without
anything being the matter with it. Other rhymes and ceremonies are ready
for other occasions, and it would be possible to fill a book with a
collection of incantations in use for various diseases or in different

The general name for trifling superstitious observances of the kind
is _Gisreag, Eapag, Upag_. The different kinds are known as _Eòlas_
(Knowledge) for the cure of disease; _Oradh_ (Gilding) for securing gifts
and graces; _Sïan_ or _Seun_ for protection from danger, and _Soisgeul_
(_Gospel_) for weak minds. The rhymes contain internal evidence of having
come from Roman Catholic times. The invocation of the Trinity and the
Saints, particularly St. Bride and St. Columba, St. Michael and St.
Peter, is common to them all, and whatever be their merit as expressions
of piety, they certainly convey no idea of traffic with the Powers of
Evil. The utmost that truth can urge against those who use them is,
that they are ignorant, facile, and credulous. The opprobrious name
of _buidseachas_ is in every case sincerely and piously repudiated by
themselves, and in reality is unjust.

These charms are not readily accessible. The following have been
collected from many different persons, and are of interest, some as
illustrative of the antiquities of the Scottish Highlands, and some for
their poetical merits. Much of the chosen poetry consists in felicity
of expression, and this is a merit next to impossible to infuse into
a translation. No attempt is here made to do more than give the exact
meaning of the original.


The _Eòlas_ (Knowledge), called also _Teagasg_ (Teaching), was a charm
for the cure of sickness in man or beast. It consisted of a rhyme,
muttered over the sick person, and over water to be drunk by, or
sprinkled over, the sick animal. To render it more impressive, its use
was accompanied by trifling little ceremonies, such as making the sign of
the cross, yawning, making up mysterious parti-coloured strings, getting
particular kinds of water on particular days, dipping stones of virtue in
water, and similar mummeries. Its object was a good one, and this much
can be said in its favour, that if it did not cure, it did not kill.

The ills, for which the _Eòlas_ was used, are generally transitory in
their nature, as toothache, bruises, sprains, etc., and improvement
or cure, following soon after its performance, kept alive a belief in
the efficacy of the incantation. The rhymes are usually found in the
possession of old women of the humblest class, to whom a meal or small
present from a more affluent neighbour, for a bottle of water and a
harmless rhyme, is a welcome gift. These old women, it may be said in
every case, believe in the efficacy of the charm as much as those who
resort to them; but, while the whole company and its proceedings afford
good grounds for ridicule, indignation or reprobation fairly attach
themselves only to those who go to seek such foolish cures for sickness.
The excuse of the poor white witch is to be found in the pressure of
want, and the relief, which the Gaelic saying truthfully but coarsely
embodies, “It is good fun that fills the belly” (_’s math an spōrs a
līonas brū_).

Not a word of any kind was to be spoken by the person going for an
_Eòlas_, till he came home again, to any one but the ‘wise’ person.
This was because Elisha, when he sent his servant before him to the
Shunammite woman (2 Kings iv. 29), commanded him not to speak on the way.
“If thou meet any man, salute him not; and if any salute thee, answer him
not again.”

On the way, the messenger must take up his quarters for the night before
the sun goes down; and no spinning or reading is allowed. There is more
probability of the charm becoming efficacious if he enter no house and
take no meat.


(_Eòlas a chronachaidh._)

An evil eye, according to the Highland belief, is one animated by a
discontented and unhappy mind, full of envy (_farmad_), covetousness
(_sanntachadh_), and such like mean feelings, and looking repiningly on
the good of others, and it may be too earnestly and anxiously on what
belongs to oneself. It injures the object on which it falls, and animals
or persons struck by it are seized with mysterious ailments, dwindle, and
perhaps die.

The believers in the gift assert that the evil eye may exist in man or
woman, in friend or foe, and that it is prudent not to give causes for
the feelings which give rise to it. Thus, for instance, it is advisable
not to allow a cow to go without a full udder. An evil eye may rest upon
it, and the animal be lost. The practice is commendable, though the
reason assigned may not be the correct one. From a similar fear, a pedlar
has been known to go about with his goods only at night. A mother can
hurt her own child, and some have been said to hurt their own cattle. The
traditions of various localities, in the islands and on the mainland,
tell of a man who was not allowed to see his own cattle, from his
possession of the unhappy gift. If he did see them, one of the best cows
was found dead next day.

When a healthy and thriving child is seized with unaccountable illness,
and becomes uneasy and sickly, it is suspected of being struck with the
evil eye, and a ‘wise’ woman of the neighbourhood is sent for. She fills
a bowl with clean water, into which she puts a silver sixpence. The bowl
is then quickly, and dexterously turned upside down. If the sixpence
stick to its bottom, the child is the victim of an evil eye (_air a
chronachadh_), and the usual remedy is adopted.

An elder of the church, who was witness to the ceremony some fifty years
ago, thus describes it (and he is a person very likely to have been
observant even in his boyhood). “When a little boy, I wandered into a
neighbour’s house, very likely with a piece of seaweed in my hand, and
chewing away at it, as the manner of boys is. There was a child in the
house very ill, but I did not think or know of this when I entered. I
suppose the little thing had not sucked its mother’s breast, or taken
any nourishment, for some days previously. An old woman, who came to
inquire for it, on learning its condition, took a bowl half-full of water
from a large tub (_farmail_) that was in the house, and putting it on her
knees began to mutter over it. I was too young at the time to be heeded,
and was not put out of the house. After muttering for a while, the old
woman began to yawn, and such yawning I have never seen in all my days.
She yawned, and yawned, and yawned again, till I thought she was going
to die. The cat’s paws were dipped in the bowl on her knee, and a red
thread, brought by a girl belonging to the house, on being also dipped in
the water, was put round the child’s neck.”

The water used must be that in which the “hunter’s feet” have been dipped
(_uisge casan an t-sealgair_), and the cat is the hunter most readily
available. The muttered words are the charm, which gives the whole
ceremony its efficacy, and the yawning commences when the child’s illness
is being transferred to the person who performs the ceremony.

The Evil Eye is deadly to all animals to which the person having it takes
a fancy. In the present day it is said of a man in Tiree, who is accused
by common report of having the gift, that when he comes to buy a beast it
is better to give it to him at his own price than keep it. If he does not
get it, the beast is taken ill and perhaps dies soon after. This is said,
but the maligned man never gets better bargains than his neighbours.

When a stranger having an evil eye meets a rider or person leading a
horse, and praises the animal’s points, the effects of his looks are
soon evident. Before he is out of sight the horse is suddenly taken ill
and falls down. The rider should immediately return after the evil-eyed
stranger, and boldly accuse him of having done the mischief. The more
“bitterly and abusively” (_gu searbh salach_) he does so the better. On
coming back he will find the horse all right. If on his guard at the
first meeting, when the stranger praises the horse, he will praise it a
great deal more. When the stranger says, “That is a good animal,” the
prudent owner will say, “It is better than that,” and however high the
stranger’s praises are, the owner’s should be higher. This will lessen,
perhaps prevent, the power of the evil eye to do mischief.

In the prose part of a Gaelic poem published in M’Kenzie’s _Beauties_,
Gilbride Macintyre, from Ruaig, in Tiree, is said to have killed eighty
hens with one glance of his evil eye, and to have wrecked a big ship of
five cross-trees, notwithstanding her cables and anchors. A man in Rocky
Mound (_Cnoc Creagach_), in Coll, killed a mare and foal with it. It is
said the wife of a former tenant of Heynish, in Tiree (and the story is
localised in several other places), would not allow her husband to look
at his own fold of cattle. As sure as he did so, one of his best cows
was found dead next day. The fear of this calamity made her put a very
pretty cow, to which she herself took a great fancy, in an out-of-the-way
place, near which her husband had never been observed to go. On returning
one day from a stroll in the hill, he asked who put the cow where he had
seen it. The wife’s worst fears were realised. The cow was dead in a few

The credulous (of whom there is a large number everywhere) were assured
that, when any beast belonging to them was praised, all evil consequences
were averted by their saying:

    “God bless your eye,
      A drop of wine about your heart,
    The mouse is in the bush,
      And the bush is on fire.”[18]

There is a Gaelic saying that “Envy splits the rocks” (_sgoiltidh farmad
na creagan_), and in proof of this the following story is told. An
industrious, careful man sold more cheese than his neighbours, and was
much envied when seen, as he frequently was, on his way to market with a
cheese in a bag on his back. One day, instead of a cheese, he put a small
mill-stone in the bag. His neighbours, filled with envy, saw him jogging
along as usual to market, and stood in their doors looking after him and
making remarks. On reaching the market and opening the bag he found the
mill-stone broken in two, a certain proof of the power of envy and of the
truth embodied in the proverb.

The charm for curing the Evil Eye, like many other similar mummeries,
must be made on Thursday or Sunday. The rhyme used varies with different
localities. The following, with slight variations on the part of
different individuals, is the one used in Tiree. The words within
brackets are omitted when the charm is for a sick beast:

    “I will put salve on eye,
    The best salve beneath the sun,
    [The Son of God made for an angel of heaven]
    Throughout the world,
    For small eye,
    For big eye,
    For my own eye,
    For the grey man’s eye,
    For the eye of the nine slim fairy women,
    Who never ate
    Or digested aught,
    In yonder hill,
    Whoever has thee under lock
    Of eye, or malice, or envy,
    On themselves may it fall,
    On their goods, and on their children,
    On their juice, and on their fatness,
    On their long white ground,
    On their choicest herd,
    Their white-backed cows,
    Their sheep and pointed goats,
    Each eye and each envy
    That lies on thee, A. B.
    In the very centre of the east.
    Talkative are folk over thee,
    Christ has taken away their likeness,
    Twelve eyes before every eye,
    Strong is the eye of the Son of God,
    Weak is the eye of the unjust.”

The five last lines probably mean, that the fairies or elves, whom God
has rendered invisible, are speaking among themselves over the sick
person, and the succour of the twelve apostles and of Christ is more
powerful than the injustice of man. Others for these lines substitute the

    “The eye that went over,
    And came back,
    That reached the bone,
    And reached the marrow,
    I will lift from off thee
    And the King of the Elements will aid me.”

A woman in Islay worked wonderful cures with the following. It is a
wretched specimen of superstition, but is given to show how ancient
creeds accommodate themselves to modern modes of thought. The ancient
charm, instead of being entirely abandoned, became a sort of prayer:

    “If eye has blighted,
    Three have blessed,
    Stronger are the Three that blessed,
    Than the eye that blighted;
    The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost;
    If aught elfin or worldly has harmed it,
    On earth above,
    Or in hell beneath,
    Do Thou, God of Grace, turn it aside.”

This was to be said thrice.


(_Eòlas an t-sìochaidh._)

This charm also to be efficacious must be thrice repeated. The variations
in the versions met with, have been almost entirely in the omission of
lines in some that are found in others:

    “A charm in sooth.
    The charm that Colum-Kil applied
    To a young man’s knee
    In the hill
    For pang, for swelling,
    For hurt, for wound,
    For abrasion, for sprain,
    For portions, for divisions,
    For varicose vein, for dislocated bone;
    Christ went out
    At early morn,
    He found the legs of horses,
    Broken by turns;
    When he alighted on the ground,
    He healed a horse’s leg;
    He put marrow to marrow,
    And bone to bone,
    He put blood to blood
    And flesh to flesh,
    Juice to juice, and vein to vein
    As he healed that,
    May he heal this,
    Because of Christ and His Powers together.
    One-third to-day,
    Two-thirds to-morrow,
    And the whole the day after.”

Part of the charm consisted of a handful of earth from a grey mound (_làn
an dùirn an ùir a cnoc glas_) applied to the foot. The sufferer must go
three times _deiseal_ (southwardly) round the mound on Sunday. In the
extreme west of Tiree there is a hillock called _Cnocan an t-sìachaidh_
(the hillock of the sprain), but the practice of using it for cures of
this kind has become obsolete.


(_Eòlas Bruthaidh._)

    “Patera Mary one, Patera Mary two, etc., down to Patera Mary nine,
    Thou wilt flow like woman,
    Thou wilt flow like man,
    Thou wilt flow like royal fish;
    And the nine veins of thy body,
    In one stream together.”


_Eòlas Galar Tholl_ (lit. perforating disease).

    “Close God about thee,
    Look people over thee,
    To Christ, or else—
    Lift from us the gallows,
    Away, away,
    Thy poison in the ground,
    And thy pain in the stone.”


    “An arrow thrown with sudden terror,
    Salt to cure the wound,
    Jesus Christ to keep the Elfin arrow quiet,
    The charm of God about thee,
    Blind are people over thee,
    Thy covering about Colum-Kil,
    And the covering of Colum-Kil about thee,
    To protect thee and watch over thee
    Against the people of this world
    And of the next.”


(_Eòlas na Caitheamh._)

This was to be said on a Thursday and on two Sundays. As in the case of
other charms, some days of the year were more favourable than others, and
the top of the ninth wave should be used in sprinkling the patient:

    “Let me tread on thee, tightness,
    As the swan treads on the shore,
    Tightness of the back, tightness of the chest,
    Tightness of the throat,
    To strip from thee the foul disease,
    From the top of thy head to thy sole,
    To thy two thighs beyond,
    By the might of God and His powers together.”


(_’Air Son Iomairt Cléibh._)

    “I will trample on thee, tightness,
    As on mountain dust to-night;
    On thyself be thy blackening, dwarfing power,
    Evil and painful is that.
    The charm which Patrick put
    On the mother of the son of the King of Iver,
    To kill the worms
    Round the veins of her heart,
    For the four and twenty afflictions
    In her constitution;
    For the water of the running stream of her boundary,
    For the stones of the earth’s waves,
    For the weakness of her heart,
    For jaundice and distemper,
    For withering and for asthma.”


(_Eòlas an Déide._)

It is not difficult to persuade a man distracted with toothache to try
any remedy in reason that offers any hope of relief. It would be curious
if a charm were not forthcoming. The writer has recovered only a portion
of the Gaelic version. The following English charm was obtained ten years
ago in Tiree, and probably came originally from the Isle of Man. It was
to be sewn up in the clothes and worn about the person, and was given to
those who applied for it for a small consideration. This was to be on
Sunday, and payment was not to be asked for. If that had to be done, the
charm was useless. The copy is word for word:

“In the name of lord petter sat on a marble stone aweeping Christ came by
and said what else you petter petter said o lord my god my dok toockage
christ said o lord petter be whole and not thou only but all that carry
these lines in my name shall never have the toock Christ cure the


In a small tract called Peacock’s _Guide to the Isle of Man_ (p. 66), the
following version is given as in use in that island:

    “Peter was ordained a saint
    Standing on a marble stone,
    Jesus came to him alone,
    And said to him, ‘Peter!
    What is it that makes thee shake?’
    Peter replied, ‘My Lord and Master,
    It is the toothache’;
    Jesus said to him,
    ‘Rise up and be healed!
    Keep these words for my sake,
    And thou shalt nevermore be troubled with toothache’.”

The Gaelic is to the same effect:

    “The charm Colum-Kil applied
    To Mal-ii’s right knee,
    For gnawing and lancinating pain and toothache,
    Toothache and disease of the head.
    Then said Peter to James,
    ‘I can get no peace or rest with the toothache.’
    Christ said, ‘Answer the question,
    And the toothache and the verse
    Will never be in the same head together’.”


These were even more numerous than those for the distempers of men.
Cattle are nowadays better housed, fed, and attended to, and hence are
not so liable to ill-understood ailments that gave persons of ‘skill’

In the case of any beast being seized with distemper, this short charm
might prove of use:

    “Whoever has done you this deed of malice,
    A brown man or white woman,
    I send these Three to check them,
    The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”

A more obstinate case demanded the charm for the Evil Eye, water in which
stones of virtue were dipped etc.

When a newly purchased animal is brought home, its return to its former
home is prevented, and its allurement to its new haunts is secured by
blowing into its ear, and saying:

    “A blowing into your right ear,
    For your benefit and not your hurt,
    Love of the land under your foot,
    And dislike to the land you left,
    Your fastening in my hand,
    And an iron lock is on thee, etc.”

When a cow loses its milk, as is sometimes the case, whatever be the
cause (perhaps the eating of a noxious weed), it is necessary to procure
the pearlwort and two other plants known to people of skill, to bring
back the milk. The following words are to be said when pulling the

      “I will pull the pearlwort,
    The plant that Fionn had;
    The son of the angels came,
    When it was bending above it;
    Bridget came home to thee
    With thy curds and thy butter;
    Smooth Mary that hoarded it
    Under her nine round locks,
    A plant of milk it is, a plant of fat,
    And a plant of pairing;
    A plant of happiness and joy
    Wherever it is.

      I will pull the joyful clump,
    Sitting by the top of an eminence,
    I would give it to no man,
    Without more than my blessing.
    I will pull the loving charity,
    ’Tis a loving delicacy, (?)
    It is a crowding together, (?)
    It is a good object of travel and journey,
    And God asked it as one
    And pulled it as two;
    It will give happiness and joy
    Wherever it is.

      I will pull the milk-producing plant,
    As smooth St. Mary pulled it,
    For produce, for fruit,
    For pairing,
    For milking plentifully, for thick cream;
    The benefit of your herd may you have,
    Each for his eye, or malice, or envy,
    May his eye be in the bush of whins
    And the bush be on fire.”


The _seun_ or _sian_, Scot. _sain_, was used for the protection of both
man and beast from particular dangers, such as being taken away by an
enemy, being drowned, or struck by sword, or arrow, or bullet in battle.
It consisted of rhymes, or parti-coloured strings, or plants, and in many
cases its nature remained a mystery. It was said over cows and sheep when
leaving them for the night; it was put round the necks of infants; given
by the fairy mistress (_leannan sìth_) to her earthly lover; sewn by the
foster-mother (_muime_) in the clothes of a beloved foster-son (_dalta_)
about to leave her, etc. After it was once given or said, the two, the
giver and the recipient, must not see each other again. If they did the
charm lost its power. Usually there was some unforeseen danger of the
class which the charm was intended to provide against that proved fatal.
Thus, it is said, a young woman gave a _sian_ to her soldier lover, who
was leaving for foreign wars, telling him the only thing he had to guard
against was his own arms. He went scatheless through a protracted war,
but after his return scratched his forehead with a pin which he carried
in his clothes, and died from the effects.


(_Sian na Caillich mu Bò._)

    “I set the watch to-night
    Against horns of he-goat
    And voice of bull,
    The voice of the dead,
    And each horned, fierce,
    Large-eared, large-buttocked cow;
    The Evil One’s mill-stone
    Be trailing at thy rump
    Till to-morrow morning.”

When a stone was tied to the cow’s tail, and these mystic words were
uttered, the animal was safe to be found in the same spot in the morning.
This was believed to be as much owing to the words as to the anchor


(_Sian na Caora mu’n chrò._)

    “The charm that Mary set
      About a sheep cot,
    Against knives, against dogs,
      And against men;
    Against hound, and wild-dog,
      And thief;
    On the hillock, where they lie down,
      May they safely rise.”


(_Sian roi’ bhàthadh ’s an Cogadh._)

A native of the Island of Coll, who served in the British army from the
taking of Copenhagen, throughout the Peninsular and continental wars,
and only died this year (1874), a most kind-hearted and powerfully built
man, attributed his safe return from the wars in some measure to having
learned this charm in his youth:

    “The charm Mary put round her Son,
    And Bridget put in her banners,
    And Michael put in his shield,
    And the Son of God before His throne of clouds;
    A charm art thou against arrow,
    A charm art thou against sword,
    A charm against the red-tracked bullet;
    An island art thou in the sea,
    A rock art thou on land;
    And greater be the fear these have
    Of the body, round which the charm goes,
    In presence of Colum-Kil
    With his mantle round thee.”


The following is taken from the Gaelic periodical, _Cuairtear nam Beann_,
for January, 1842. It is said to have been got about the year 1800 from
an old man in Glenforsa, in Mull.

    “For himself and for his goods,
    The charm Bridget put round Dorgill’s daughter,
    The charm Mary put round her Son,
    Between her soles and her neck,
    Between her breast and her knee,
    Between her eye and her hair;
    The sword of Michael be on thy side,
    The shield of Michael on thy shoulder;
    There is none between sky and earth
    Can overcome the King of grace.
    Edge will not cleave thee,
    Sea will not drown thee,
    Christ’s banners round thee,
    Christ’s shadow over thee;
    From thy crown to thy sole,
    The charm of virtue covers thee.
    You will go in the King’s name,
    And come in your Commander’s name;
    Thou belongest to God and all His powers.
    I will make the charm on Monday,
    In a narrow, sharp, thorny space;
    Go, with the charm about thee,
    And let no fear be on thee!
    Thou wilt ascend the tops of cliffs,
    And not be thrown backwards;
    Thou art the calm Swan’s son in battle,
    Thou wilt stand amid the slaughter;
    Thou wilt run through five hundred,
    And thy oppressor will be caught;
    God’s charm be about thee!
    People go with thee!”

A smith in Torosa, Mull, was said to have got a charm of this kind from
his father. He afterwards enlisted, and was in thirty battles. On coming
home without a wound, he said he had often wished he was dead, rather
than be bruised as he was by bullets. They struck him, but could not
pierce him because of the charm.

Red Hector of the Battles (_Eachunn Ruadh nan Cath_), a celebrated chief
of the M’Leans of Dowart, had a _sian_, which made him invulnerable in
the many conflicts, from which he derived his designation. It failed
him at the battle of Inverkeithing, in 1652, when he fell with 1500 of
his clan. Surrounded by overwhelming numbers, and sorely wounded, he
maintained a hopeless struggle, his gallant clansmen defending him to the
last, “each stepping where his comrade stood the instant that he fell,”
and calling out, in an expression which has been since proverbial in his
native island, “Another for Hector!” (_Fear eile air son Eachuinn_).

The charm, which his fairy mistress gave to Thinman (_Caoilte_), the
fastest hero of the Fians, has been already referred to.

When washing new-born babes wise women made use of these words:

    “Hale fair washing to thee,
    Hale washing of the Fians be thine;
    Health to thee, health to him,
    But not to thy female enemy.”


After being fulled, new cloth was folded and placed on a table. The
women, who had been engaged in the fulling, then gathered round it and
sang the following charm seven times. During the singing they kept time
to the music by raising their hands simultaneously and beating the cloth
with the tips of their fingers. After each repetition of the charm the
cloth was turned over end:

          “Well do I say my verse,
          As I descend the glen,
    One verse, two verses, etc., down to seven and a half verses.
          Let not the wearer of the cloth be wounded,
            And may he never be torn,
    And when he goes to battle or conflict,
      The full succour of the Lord be his.
    [The little sea-gull yonder swimming
      And the white wave that she loves,
    She swims pleasantly
      And I swim cheerfully spinning;
    When I sow my flax
      And spin my lint
    I will make linen from the awns
      And get seven marks for the yard.]
    Water-cress pulled through flag-stone,
    And given to wife unawares,
    Deer’s shank in the herring’s head,
    And in the slender body of the speckled salmon.”

Then, striking the cloth faster, the singers say:

    “Let this be second cloth, and not enemy’s spoil,
    Nor property of clerk or priest.
    But his own property, and may he enjoy and wear it.”

It is said there is a bone in the herring’s head that resembles a deer’s
foot. Some say the word should not be “deer’s shank” (_Lurg an fhéidh_),
but “deer’s antlers” (_Cuibhn’an fhéidh_). The part of the song within
brackets seems to belong to the music more than to the meaning. The final
wish is that the cloth when turned, or made into a second suit, may prove
as good as new, and not, like cloth found on dead bodies, a perquisite of
the priest’s. In olden times the seventh yard (_slat_) of chequered cloth
(_Clò Breac_) was given to the factor and priest, as well as the seventh
lamb from the fold.


    “Thou wilt be the friend of God,
    And God will be thy friend;
    Iron will be your two soles,
    And twelve hands shall clasp thy head;
    Thy afflictions be in tree or holly,
    Or rock at sea,
    Or earth on land;
    A protecting shield be about thee,
    Michael’s shield be about thee;
    Colum-Kil’s close-fitting coat of mail
    Protect thee from Elfin bolts
    And from the enclosures of pain, (?)
    From the trouble of this world
    And the other world.
    The woman, on her knee
    And on her eye,
    On her choicest flesh,
    And on the veins of her heart,
    Till it reach the place whence it came.
    Every jealous envious woman
    That propagates her flesh and blood,
    On herself be her desire, and envy, and malice.”


Of the same class was the charm to which this name was given. It
consisted of a green string, which was kept in the mouth while the charm
was muttered, and then secured to the charmed person’s right shoulder.
The ceremony must be performed on Thursday or Sunday.

    “May God bless your cross
    Before you go to any garden,
    Any disease that is in it
    May He take from it.
    May God bless your crucifying cross,
    On the top of a house, the house of Christ,
    From drowning, from danger, and from fever.
    When the King was stretched on high,
    The King of the Three Hills
    And a brown branch top
    ... (unintelligible) ...
    May God bless what is before thee.
    When thou goest at their head
    Success at meeting and in battle;
    The grace of God and courteous look of all men be yours;
    The banners of Christ be over thee
    To protect thee from thy crown to thy sole.
    Fire will not burn thee,
    Seas will not drown thee;
    A rock at sea art thou,
    A man on land art thou,
    Fairer than the swan on Loch Lathaich,
    And the sea-gull on the white stream;
    You will rise above them
    As the wave rises,
    On the side of God and His powers.
    Thou art the red rowan tree
    To cause the wrath of men to ebb
    Like a wave from the sea to flood-tide,
    And a wave from flood-tide to ebb.”


(_Oradh nam Buadh._)

    “I will wash thy palms
    In showers of wine,
    In the juice of rasps
    And in honied milk.
    I will put the nine graces
    In thy white cheeks,
    Grace of form and grace of good fortune,
    Grace at meetings and of manners,
    And of goodly speech.
    Black is yonder house,
    And black are its inmates,
    Thou art the brown swan
    Going in among them;
    Their heart is in thy chest,
    Their tongue under thy foot,
    And they will not say to thee
    Word to despite thee;
    An island at sea art thou
    And a castle on land;
    The Lord’s form is in thy face,
    The loveliest form in the universe,
    In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
    The best day in the week,
    And the best week in the year,
    Peter came, Paul came,
    Michael came, John came,
    The King of Virtues came as guide,
    To give to thee his regard and love.”


    “Bounty is in thy countenance,
    The Son of God succour thee
    From the evil men of the world,
    The vigil of loving St. Mary keep thee,
    A smooth modest tongue be in thy head,
    Fair hair in thy two eyebrows,
    Fin, the son of Cuäl, between these;
    Since it be Mary and her Son
    That gave them that charm,
    May the taste of honey be
    On every word you say,
    To commons and to nobles,
    Upon this and each day
    To the end of the year.”


The knowledge of this rhyme is very widespread. It is ascribed by some
to Duncan Ban M’Intyre, the greatest of the Gaelic lyrical poets, and is
printed in some editions of his poems as his composition, but others with
more probability ascribe it to Blind Allan, the Glengarry bard. Allan
eked out a livelihood by the practice of charms of the kind.

    “That is not a love-charm
      Which is a charm of wisps and straws,
    But one to draw with warmth
      The love of the man you like.
    Rise early on Wednesday
      And go to a broad level flag-stone,[19]
    Take with you the people’s blessing,
      And the priest’s cowl,
    Lift then upon your shoulders
      A wooden shovel,
    Get nine stalks of fern,
      Cut with an axe,
    And three bones of an old man
      Taken from a grave;
    Burn that in a fire of brushwood
      Till you reduce it all to ashes,
    And shake it in your lover’s fair bosom
      Against a north-wind,
    And I will go twice security
      That man will not leave you.”
    “You have a hold of him now.”


When a person is pulled up at law for abusive language, let him when
entering the court-house spit in his fist, grasp his staff firmly, and
say the following words. There is then no danger of being found guilty.
The charm was originally got from Big Allan of Woodend (_Ailein Mòr
cheannacoille_), in Kingairloch, who had been a soldier at the time of
the Irish Rebellion, and had himself learned it in his youth. The names
of the saints show the charm to be very ancient.

    “I will close my fist,
      Faithful to me is the wood;
    It is to protect my abusive words
      I enter in.
    The three sons of Clooney will save me
      And Manaman MacLeth,
    And St. Columba, gentle cleric,
      And Alexander in heaven.”

The name “Manaman MacLeth” is probably a corruption of “Manannan
MacLeirr,” the Manx magician, who is said to have covered that island
with a mist, which was dispelled by St. Patrick. _Ni-Mhanainnein_
(_i.e._ the daughter of Manannain) is mentioned in a Gaelic tale as
having remarkably beautiful music in her house, and “the Dairy-maid,
the daughter of Manannan” (_Bhanachag ni Mhannainein_) is mentioned in
another tale as a midwife, whose residence was somewhere near the moon.

In addition to magic cures by means of rhymes, many were effected, and
much security was obtained, by means of beads, stones, and plants. A
collection of these formed a considerable part of the armoury of witches,
black and white.


Of all the means of which superstition laid hold for the cure of disease
in man or beast, the foremost place is to be assigned to the Serpent
Stone (_Clach Nathrach_), also called the Serpent Bead or Glass (_Glaine
Nathair_). It is an undoubted relique of Druidism, and as such worthy of
particular attention.

Pliny (29 c. 3) tells us that the Emperor Claudius put to death a knight
of the Vocontian Gauls for carrying a serpent-egg (_ovum anguinum_) about
him while engaged in a lawsuit. He also gives a description of the manner
in which the egg or bead is manufactured by the serpents. In summer
innumerable serpents enwrap one another, and generate the egg from the
slaver of their jaws and bodies. They then, according to the Druids, cast
it up into the air by their hissings, when it must be caught in a garment
lest it touch the ground. The person who is bold enough to intercept it
must fly away on a horse, for the serpents follow till a river intercepts
them. The test of a true egg is, that it swims against the stream, even
if bound in gold (_si contra aquas fluitet, vel auro vinctum_). The
Druids further say it must be got at a particular season of the moon.
The one Pliny saw was about the size of a round apple. It procures
victory in lawsuits, and entrance to kings.

The tales told in modern times of the Serpent Stone, its manufacture and
wonderful properties, are of a similar class, and leave no doubt that in
these beads and the use made of them we have the remains of an imposture,
if not instituted, at least practised by the Druids.

The ordinary _Glaine Nathair_ (Serpent Glass) is of smaller size than is
indicated by Pliny. The one which the writer saw was about the size of a
gun bullet, and about 1¼ in. long. There was a hole through from end to
end, and depressions on its sides, as if it had once been soft, and had
been taken up gently between the finger and thumb. It is of transparent
glass, but glass unlike that of the present day. There are extremely
brilliant and curious streaks of colour in it. It is now merely a family
heir-loom, but in olden times was in great demand for dipping in water to
be given to bewitched persons or beasts. The sloughed skin (_cochull_)
of the serpent itself was used for the same purpose. Water in which it
was dipped was given to sick beasts. The tale as to the manner in which
it was originally got is the same as is told of other beads of the same
kind. The serpents are assembled in a coiling mass, with their heads in
the air hissing horribly, slavering, and out of their slaver making the
serpent stone. The spittle, in course of becoming solid, was known as
_meall èochd_. That the story was not implicitly believed is shown by the
addition that, when the bead is finished, one of the serpents puts its
tail through it. Thus the hole by which it is perforated is made.

In the case of the Bead which the writer saw, the person who came upon
the serpents at their work is said to have waited till the reptiles
slept. He then worked the bead out of their circle with a straw or twig
of heather. As he took it up between his finger and thumb, and made off
with it, he observed that the pressure of his fingers marked it, it
being still soft, and this made him put a straw through it to carry it
home. This story fairly accounts for the shape of the bead and the marks
upon it. The marks look as if they were so made when the stone was soft.
Another account says that the finder came on a rock above where the
serpents were at work, and, rolling his plaid into a ball, threw it down
the rock near them. Instantly the serpents made a dash at the plaid, and
while they were reducing it to shreds he made off with the Adder Stone.
By means of a sharp-pointed stick, prepared for the purpose, and thrust
through the soft bead, he raised it to the top of the rock, and, taking
it between his finger and thumb, ran home.

Similar legends of the Adder Stone were current in the Lowlands. Scott
says the name is applied “to celts and other perforated stones.” In
the Highlands the name is not applied to stones. In Wales and Ireland
the Bead is known as “Druid’s Glass.” A more than historical interest
attaches to it, from the means it gives of tracing, beyond the
possibility of mistake, the use of amulets and superstitious charms to
the times and teaching of the much-lauded Druids, and raises, if it does
not throw light upon, questions as to the early intercourse of nations.

The manufacture of serpent beads is involved in obscurity. There
is nothing known to create a probability that they are of Celtic
workmanship. The Phœnicians from a very early date knew the art of
glass-making, and their commerce extended far and wide, and as far as the
shores of the British Isles, then the remotest part of the known world.
It is, therefore, possible these beads came from Phœnician sources. They
are, it is said, found on the coasts of the Baltic and Mediterranean,
in England and France, as well as in Ireland and Scotland, and it is
possible enough their diffusion was owing to traders from Phœnicia and
her colonies in Gaul and at Massilia. Similarly, idols are exported, at
the present day from England to India. Fully as much, however, can be
urged in behalf of a supposition that the beads are of Egyptian origin,
and were obtained by the Celtic priests from the ancient Egyptian
enchanters. The Egyptians from the earliest times used glass extensively,
and could cut, grind, and engrave it, inlay it with gold, imitate
precious stones in it, and colour it with great brilliancy. A bead found
at Thebes is ascribed to B.C. 1500, and relics of a similar class are not
unfrequently found in the Egyptian catacombs. If they could be said to be
of exactly the same manufacture with the Celtic beads, the question is
nearly set at rest. Meyer gives it as his view that the first westward
stream of Celtic immigration passed through Egypt, along the north coast
of Africa, and entered Europe by the Straits of Gibraltar. Ancient
Irish history, if there be any truth in its fables, points to a similar
conclusion. The subject is one of which nothing certain is known, and its
decision is of value in showing whether the Celtic priests got their aids
to superstition from their Egyptian brethren.

SNAIL BEADS (_Cnaipein Seilcheig_).

Snails also are said to form themselves into a mass and manufacture a
stone of great virtue as a charm (_Clach shianaidh_). It protects its
lucky possessor against all danger. Its name is “a snail bead” (_Cnaipein
seilcheig_), or “a snail stone” (_Clach na seilcheig_). Four or five
snails are engaged in the manufacture of each stone. Water in which it is
dipped is good for sore eyes and for mouths broken out with tetter.


The King Frog has in its head a stone of immense value. “The Frog Stone”
(_Clach nan gilleadha cràigein_) is said by Pennant to be merely a kind
of fossil tooth, known as bufonite. It has been made the best known of
this class of physical charms, from Shakespeare’s comparison of adversity
to the toad, which, though “ugly and venomous,” yet “wears a precious
jewel in its head.”

The swamp at Achagaval in Morvern was tenanted by a King Frog or Toad,
the reputation of which was widespread. It was called _Seid_, a word of
which the usual meaning is “a truss of hay or straw.” One, who stayed
in the neighbourhood of the fen, said, he heard, not once but scores
of times, the cry of the animal from as great a distance as the top of
a neighbouring hill, _Beinn nam Bearrach_, and he could compare it to
nothing so much as the yelping of “a soft mastiff whelp” (_bog chuilein
tòdhlair_). The part of the fen which the King Frog most frequented was
called _Lòn na Seid_, and in winter, when it was frozen over, a tame
otter was let down through a hole in the ice in the hope of driving the
frog to the opening. Otters must come occasionally to the surface to
breathe, and the one in question having come for that purpose, its owner,
in his eagerness to secure the jewel, mistook it for the King Frog, and
gave it a rap on the head that killed it on the spot.


In addition to jewels found in animals, superstition made use of stones
of various forms, spherical and pointed, plain and ornamented, of unknown
origin, but bearing evidence of having been reduced to form by human art.
These were carefully preserved in families as heirlooms, and are found
in tumuli, graves, and road-cuttings, dredged from rivers, and turned up
by the plough. They are undoubted relics of a remote past, and have been
referred by antiquaries to a prehistoric age and savages who lived before
iron was invented. The ingenuity of those who advocate this view of their
origin is sufficiently tested in finding a practical use for the stones
as weapons of war or the chase, as employed in games of chance, or as
articles of domestic use, corn-crushers, hatchets, or personal ornaments.
No doubt many of them were originally intended for such purposes; but
the uselessness of others and the absence of fitness for any known or
conceivable purpose of utility, indicate a different origin. It is not
easy, for instance, to assign any ordinary use to such a stone-ball as
that pictured in Wilson’s _Prehistoric Annals of Scotland_, i., 195, and
to many others of still more curious appearance and with more elaborate
ornaments. The incised ornaments forbid the idea of their being of
ordinary service, and the prevalence of witchcraft, with its armoury of
curiously-shaped stones and mysterious natural productions, among all
savage tribes, makes it highly probable they were the implements of the
prehistoric conjurer’s craft, and were from the first associated with
strange virtues. As a lethal weapon the first stone picked up from the
ground was as serviceable. They have been associated with the popular
superstitions of very modern times. It is not unlikely that from the
beginning they were so associated.


The most common of these primitive relics was the Fairy Arrow or Elf-bolt
(_saighead shith_, pron. _saït hee_), which was believed to be thrown by
the Fairies at cattle and men. It was said in the Highlands the elves
could not throw it themselves, but compelled some mortal, who was at
that time being carried in their company, to do so. When friendly, he
missed his aim, and so disappointed his instigators. A person struck
instantaneously lost the power of his limbs, and was taken to the Fairy
dwelling. Only his semblance remained. He appeared to die, or an old Elf
was substituted for him, to animate the powerless frame and receive the
kindness bestowed by mortals on what they thought was their afflicted
friend. Similarly elf-struck cattle devoured all the food and gave all
the trouble of healthy cattle, but yielded no return; they neither gave
milk nor grew fat.

The Elf-bolt is a flint flake reduced with patient ingenuity to the form
of an arrow-head, and is in length from one to six inches. Archæologists
say these flints formed the arrow and the lance heads of a primitive
stone race, but their unsuitableness for being firmly secured to a
proper shaft alone makes this supposition not always likely. An arrow
with a flint for a head must have been too weighty at one end, and the
Allophylian (if there was such a person) must have been very destitute of
ingenuity if he could not make a more serviceable arrow-head from bone
splinters or hardened wood. When men believed in Fairies these flint
heads made their appearance as readily as images do under a system of

Whoever had one of these arrows in his possession was safe from Fairy
attacks, and water in which it was dipped restored to health man or beast
struck with sudden illness.

Similar virtues were ascribed to the Fairy Spade (_Caibe sìth_), a
smooth, slippery, black stone (_mìn sleamhuinn du_), supposed to resemble
a spade. It was also put in water to be given to sick people and cattle.


The Cruban Stone (_Clach a Chrùbain_) cured diseases in the joints. It
is said by Pennant to have been that species of fossil-shell called
gryphite. Its name is from _crùban_, a sitting, or squatting, or
crouching attitude in man or beast, the result of a disease in the feet
that makes them unable to stand. A stone of this kind in Breadalbane was
lent only under a pledge of two cows (_an geall càraid cruidh_). If the
stone was not returned the cows were to be forfeited.


A round stone, exactly resembling the one above referred to, as pictured
by Wilson, with six regularly arranged circles carved upon it, was long
in the possession of a family in Knapdale, and is now in Tiree. It was
used for the relief of colic pains and other internal gripings, and was
believed to cast a skin (_tilg rusg_) when put in the water to be used.
It was called _Clach a Ghreimich_, the Gripe Stone. There was a companion
stone of the same size for the cure of the Evil-Eye. Mary Macintyre, the
noted Fort-William witch, a native of Barra, had a stone called _Clach na
Léig_, the pebble of healing virtues, with a hole in it, through which
she thrust her tongue previous to making divinations. It was of a blue
colour, and by means of it Mary could give young women accounts of their
sweethearts, secure for seamen and others who came to Fort-William with
flesh and other commodities a sale for their goods, etc.

There is a stone in Caolas, Tiree, called _Clach na stoirm_, the Storm
Stone, almost entirely buried in the ground. If taken out of the ground,
cleaned, and set upright, it will cause a storm to arise.

The Ardvoirlich Stone (in Perthshire) was used for the cure of murrain in
cattle. A person going for it must not speak, or sit, or enter a house,
or be found outside a house after sunset. He must take up his quarters
for the night before the sun sets.

_Soisgeul_, GOSPEL.

A “Gospel” consisted of a verse of Scripture, or a hymn, or some good
words, usually got from the priest, and sewn in the clothes to keep the
wearer from weakness of mind, and as a protection from spite (_air son
inntinn lag ’s droch rùn_). When going for it, a person must not speak to
anyone on the way, and must take up his lodgings for the night before the
sun goes down.


Besides all these magic cures, there were others practised by boys and
resorted to by the superstitious, without much thought as to there being
magic in them or not. The cure in many cases was supposed to be effected
or the desired gift conferred by natural means.

WARTS (_Foineachun_).

These were cured by putting in a bag as many knots or joints of straw or
grass (_glùinean shop_) as there were warts to be banished, and leaving
them on the public road. The first person who lifted the bag was to have
the warts in future. Another equally efficacious plan was to take a
grain of barley (_spilgein eòrna_) for every wart and bury it in some
retired spot, where it was never to be disturbed. Should both these
simple cures fail, pig’s blood was applied to the warts and rubbed off
with a clout. This cloth was made up into a parcel and left on the road.
The warts were removed to the hands of the first person who opened it.

STYE (_Neònagan_).

A stye on the eye (pron. _sleònachan_) was cured by putting one end of
a stick in the fire, pointing the burning end towards the sore eye, and
whirling it round rapidly in a circle, saying, “A stye one, a stye two, a
stye three,” etc., down to “a stye nine,” and then adding, “take yourself
off, stye.” The charm was also performed by repeating, while the stick
was being whirled, “Go back, go back, go back, stye” (_air ais, air ais_,
etc.). Others placed great faith in rubbing the eye with gold.


Boys troubled with eruptions on the mouth were infuriated by a rhyme:

    “A tetter on your mouth,
    Your step-mother laid an egg,
    And you hatched the brood.”[20]

The first part of the name is _teine_, a fire, and a curious question
arises as to what _dé_ is. It occurs also in _dearbadan dé_, a butterfly.
It looks like the genitive of _dia_, god.

HICCUP (_an aileag_)

was cured by accusing the person who had it of theft. This stands
somewhat to reason in the case of children. If they be ingenuous, such an
accusation skilfully made rouses their nature to such an extent that the
hiccup disappears.

HOOPING-COUGH (_an trigh_, _an trîugh_).

It was a saying: “Whoever drinks mare’s milk with an aspen spoon will
have hooping-cough but slightly” (_Fear sam bi dh’ òlas bainne capuill le
spàin chrithionn, cha ghabh e’n trigh ach aotrom_).


such as may be got from sleeping with too high a pillow or the head awry,
was cured by squeezing the neck between the legs of the tongs.

TOOTHACHE (_Déide_).

This excruciating disease was supposed to be capable of cure by putting
a dead man’s finger or a coffin nail in the mouth, and people have been
known in their agony to try both expedients. The person resorting to
this cure must go for the nail or dead man’s finger to the graveyard
(_roluig_), though very likely this part of the experiment was rarely
tried. As in the case of those who go to have a tooth pulled, the pain
disappeared on the way.

FALLING SICKNESS (_an tuiteamas_).

When a new-born child is being washed, a straw rope (_sioman_) twined
round it, and then cut in pieces, is a safeguard during life against
epilepsy, falling sickness (_tinneas tuiteamas_), or as it was
euphemistically called, “the out sickness” (_an tinneas a-muigh_). In
Sutherlandshire, a second attack was supposed to be prevented by burying
a cock alive when the first occurred.


In the Highlands, as elsewhere, rough usage (often amounting to
brutality) was believed to be the most suitable treatment for those
suffering under this the greatest of human misfortunes, mental aberration.

On a Thursday (it should be no other day), a person was to take the
lunatic behind him on a _grey_ horse, and gallop at the horse’s utmost
speed three times round a boundary mark (_comharra criche_), and then to
an immovable stone. On making the madman speak to this stone the cure was

A plan (of which there are traditions in the Hebrides) was to put a rope
round the madman’s waist and drag him after a boat till he was nearly

In Strathfillan (_Srath Fhaolain_), of which the common name is “the
straths” (_sraithibh_), in Perthshire, is a pool in the river, which
winds through the strath, and the ruins of a chapel at Clachan, about
half a mile distant, which at one time enjoyed a wide reputation for
the cure of this affliction. One who was alive a few years ago and used
to assist at the ceremonies to be observed in the chapel, remembered as
many as twelve madmen being left tied there at a time. Tradition says St.
Fillan had in his possession a stone of marvellous virtue. Some people
were taking it from him by violence when he threw it in a deep pool in
the river, and from this the pool derived its miraculous virtue. Mad
people were made to go three times _deiseal_ (_i.e._ keeping the pool
on their right hand) round the linn, and then were plunged headlong in.
On being taken out, three stones were lifted from the pool and placed
in a cairn, which may still be seen. A stone bowl was filled with water
to be consecrated and poured on the patient’s head. The madman was
taken to the chapel and placed on his back on the ground, stretched
between two sticks, and laced round with ropes in a very simple manner.
If he succeeded in extricating himself before morning good hopes were
entertained of his recovery. The ropes were so arranged that he could do
so easily. He had only to push them from him towards his feet, but if he
was outrageous he was hopelessly entangled. The pool lost its virtue in
consequence of a mad bull having been thrown into it. It is now known as
“the bull’s pool” (_linne ’n tairbh_).


A swelling of the axillary glands (_fàireagun na h-achlais_) is an
ailment that soon subsides or breaks into an ulcer. The ‘skilful’
professed to cure it in the following manner, and no doubt when the
swelling subsided, as in most cases it did, the whole credit was given
to their magic ceremony. On Friday (on which day alone the ceremony was
efficacious) certain magic words were muttered to the blade of a knife
or axe (the more steel the better), which was held for the purpose close
to the mouth, and then, the blade being applied to the sore place, the
swelling was crossed and parted into nine, or other odd numbers or
imaginary divisions. After each crossing, the axe was pointed towards
a hill, the name of which commences not with _ben_, a lofty hill, but
_mam_, a round mountain. For instance, in Mull and neighbourhood, the
malady was transferred (_do chuids’ air_, _tha sid air_, _do roinn-sa
air_, etc.) to _Màm Lìrein_, _Màm an t-snòid_, _Màm Doire Dhubhaig_, _Màm
Chlachaig_, _Màm Bhrathadail_, etc., all hills in that island. When the
swelling was ‘counted’ (_air àireamh_) the axe was pointed to the ground,
saying, “the pain be in the ground and the affliction in the earth” (_a
ghoimh san làr, ’s a chrádh san talamh_).

LUMBAGO (_Leum droma_).

When the back is strained and its nerves are affected so that motion is
painful, the afflicted person is to lie down on his face, and one who was
born feet foremost is to step thrice across him, each time laying his
full weight on the foot that treads on the patient’s back. There is no
cure unless the person stepping across has been born feet foremost.

CONSUMPTION (_Caitheamh_).

On the farm of Crossapol in Coll there is a stone called _Clach Thuill_,
_i.e._ the Hole Stone, through which persons suffering from consumption
were made to pass three times in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy
Ghost. They took meat with them each time, and left some on the stone.
The bird that took the food away had the consumption laid upon it.
Similar stones, under which the patient can creep, were made use of in
other islands.

LEPROSY (_Mùr_).

The waterfall at Scorrybreck, near Portree in Skye, called _Easa suc
Con_, forms in the rock a natural trough or basin about the length and
breadth of a man. A daughter of Lochlin, suffering from an incurable
skin disease (_mùr_, leprosy?), in the course of her journeys in search
of a cure (there being a prophecy that her cure was to be found in a
northern island), came to this waterfall. The trough was emptied, and she
was placed lying in it. She lay there till it again filled, and her cure
was effected.

_Loch Ma Nàr_,

in Sutherlandshire, if entered on the first Monday of August, was
believed to cure any and every disease or sickness.


Throughout the Highlands there are wells to which wonderful powers
in the healing of disease were ascribed in olden times. They were
generally, but not always, called after some saint, and their waters
were drunk on certain days or at a particular hour of the day and with
certain ceremonies and offerings. The importance of these wells and the
pilgrimages to them disappeared with the Roman Catholic religion, and
hardly a trace now remains of their former honours beyond the name.

“The well of the Fian flag-stone” (_Tobar Leac nam Fiann_) in Jura cured
every disease. When the sick person went to it he had to leave in it a
pin, a needle, a button, or other article, and if this was afterwards
taken away there was no cure.

In a cave beyond Sanna in Ardnamurchan, and near the village of
_Plòcaig_, there was about thirty years ago a hole, holding about a
bowlful, made in the floor of the cave by water dripping from the roof.
The waters of this receptacle were decreed of great efficacy in making
those who drank it gay and strong. It was in request by young men of a
lively disposition, women rising from childbed, etc. When entering, a
copper coin, a metal button, or a nail, was placed somewhere near the
door, and unless this was done it was not safe to enter. At the time
mentioned the shelves of the cave were full of these offerings.

In North Uist, between Loch Maddy and Dïusa in Merivale, there is a
well that cures the toothache. In the islet of St. Cormick, on the east
of Cantyre, there was a well that cured the jaundice till an old wife
from Breadalbane asked the saint in rude or uncivil terms to cure her
distemper (_vide_ Old Statistical Account).

In Coll, near the _tung_ or family burying-ground of the M’Leans of Coll,
there is a well called “the well of stones” (_tobar nan clach_), and not
far from it a sunken rock in the sea called _Cairgein_. It was a saying
that as long as a person got water from the one and dulse from the other
he need never die of want.

At the back of Hough Hill, in Tiree, there is a well called “the well
of the nine living” (_Tobar na naoi bèo_), which in a season of great
scarcity supported a widow and her eight children without any nourishment
but itself and shellfish. Hence its name.


The efficacy of the wicken tree against witches, already described, was a
widespread belief, found in England as well as in the Highlands, where it
was also said to make the best rod for a fisherman. If he takes with him

    “Ragged tackle,
    A stolen hook,
    And a crooked wicken rod,”[21]

he is most likely to be in luck. The reason is that no evil or envious
eye will rest upon himself or his equipments (_cha laidh sùil orra_).

PEARLWORT (_Mòthan_).

The Trailing Pearlwort (_Sagina procumbens_), which grows in very dry
places and on old walls, was one of the most efficacious plants against
the powers of darkness. This efficacy was attributed to its being the
first plant trodden on by Christ when He came on earth. Placed on the
lintel of the door (_san àrd dorus_), it kept the spirits of the dead,
if they returned, from entering the house. If in the bull’s hoof, at the
time of being with the cow, the offspring’s milk could not be taken away
by witches. When placed below the right knee of a woman in labour, it
defeated the machinations of the fairy women. It must be pulled with
certain words:

    “I will pull the pearlwort,
        The plant that Christ ordained,
    No fear has it of fire-burning
        Or wars of Fairy women.”[22]

ST. JOHN’S WORT (_Achlasan Challum Chille_).

The Gaelic name of the Upright St. John’s Wort (_hypericum pulchrum_)
means literally St. Columba’s axillary one. Why so called does not
appear. To be of use it must be found when neither sought for nor wanted.
If sought for, it has no efficacy more than another plant, but if
accidentally fallen in with, and preserved, it wards off fever and keeps
its owner from being taken away in his sleep by the Fairies. One version
of the rhyme to be said in pulling it is in these words:

    “The axillary plant of Colum-Cill,
      Unsought for, unwanted,
    They will not take you from your sleep
      Nor will you take fever.
    I will pull the brown-leaved one,
    A plant found beside a cleft,
    No man will have it from me,
    Without more than my blessing.”[23]

Another version runs:

    “I will pull the axillary one,
    ’Tis the plant of fair women,
    ’Tis the graceful feast
    And the luxurious court;
    A male plant, a female plant,
    A plant the birds of the streams had,
    A plant the Good Being had in his need,
    And Christ had among strangers,
    So better be its reward to the right hand
    That holds it.”[24]

JUNIPER (_Iubhar-beinne_, lit. Mountain Yew).

This plant is a protection by sea and land, and no house in which it is
will take fire. It must be pulled by the roots, with its branches made
into four bunches, and taken between the five fingers, saying:

    “I will pull the bounteous yew
      Through the five bent ribs of Christ,
    In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
      Against drowning, danger, and confusion.”[25]

The plant is also called _aiteal_ in Gaelic.

YARROW (_Chathair làir_).

This plant of power was also pulled with mystic words, of which but four
lines have been recovered.

    “I will pull the yarrow,
    As Mary pulled it with her two hands,
    I will pull it with my strength,
    I will pull it with the hollow of my hand,”[26] etc.

In many parts of the Highlands the yarrow is called _Cathair-thalanda_,
which means the same as _c. làir_, lit. the ground chair.

“THE ENTICING PLANT” (_Lus an tàlaidh_).

This plant grows in soft places among heather, and has a purple flower.
From the descriptions given of it, it seems to be the purple orchis or
wild hyacinth. It has two roots, one larger than the other, and it is
in these its magic power consists. The largest represents the man, the
lesser a woman, whose affections are to be gained. The plant is to be
pulled by the roots before sunrise, with the face directed to the south.
Whichever root is used is to be immediately placed in spring water,
taking care that no part of the sun’s surface is above the horizon. If it
sinks, the person whose love is sought will prove the future husband or
wife. If the charm is made for no one in particular, the root reduced to
powder and put below the pillow causes dreams of the person to be married.


(_Neghinn Righ Sionnach_).

The daughter of _Righ Sionnach_ was found in the hunting hill by a party
of hunters, as the writer heard the story, and they took her home with
them. The Chief married her, and she lived with his mother in the same
house, and had three children before she was heard to utter a word.
Afterwards, on the occasion of a feast being prepared, they gave her a
candle to hold when she said:

    “On thine account candle
    Put in my hand to hold
    Standing in the smoke
    That was not my customary wont
    In my mother and father’s house.”

Her mother-in-law answered:

    “At your leisure, my good woman,
    Well I knew the company,
    One cow with three teats,
    And nine people.”

She replied:

    “That was not the custom
    In my father and mother’s house
    There was not one cow three teated
    Nor a company of nine in number
    But nine chains of pure gold
    Hung in the house of the King of Enchantments.”[27]

By her words it was found out whose daughter she was, and whence she had



Death has always been deemed the greatest evil that afflicts humanity,
and the terrors and awe which its advent inspires have given superstition
its amplest scope. The “King of Terrors” no doubt throws its shadows
before it, but that foreshadowing belongs to medical diagnosis. The
superstition connected with it consists in making unusual appearances
and natural phenomena, having no relation to it beyond an accidental
proximity in time, forerunners of its dread approach. The mind loves
to dwell on the circumstances connected with the death of a departed
and dear friend, and amid a sparse population, death is not an event
of that frequency and daily occurrence which make it to the townsman
little heeded, till it affects himself and his friends. Besides, doubt
and scepticism are not spontaneous in the human mind, and whenever any
one states positively that he saw supernatural indications connected
with the death or spirit of one departed, he naturally and readily
finds credence. By being frequently told the tale becomes more and more
certain, and traditions, once they have attained the rank of beliefs, are
very slow in dying out. That the excitable and imaginative mind of the
Celt should, therefore, have a firm belief in supernatural fore-warnings
of death is not at all surprising.

Certain families and septs had death-warnings peculiar to themselves,
and whenever any of them was on his death-bed, particularly when the
death of a chief was at hand, some one about the house was sure to see
or hear the warning. Before the death of any of the Breadalbane family,
the descendants of Black Duncan of the Cowl (_Donncha du a churraichd_),
a bull was heard at night roaring up the hillside. The bellowing grew
fainter as it ascended the mountain, and died away as it reached the top.
The origin of this superstition probably is, that Black Duncan is accused
of having once had a bull’s head brought in at a feast as a signal for
the massacre of a number of the M’Gregors, whom he had invited in a
friendly manner to the castle. The clan Maclachlan were warned of death
by the appearance of a little bird; a sept of the M’Gregors, known as the
children or descendants of Black Duncan (_Clann Dhonncha dhui_), by a
whistle; another family of the same clan, “the children of little Duncan”
(_Clann Dhonncha bhig_), by a light like that of a candle. Other signals
were shouting (_sgairt_), cries of distress, screaming (_sgriachail_),
sounds of weeping, etc. When any of them foreboded death, it was heard
where no human being could be, and there was an unearthly tone about it
that struck a chill into the hearer’s heart.

Before the death of a duine wassal (_duin uasal_, a gentleman), a
light or meteor called _Dreag_ or rather _Driug_, was seen in the sky
proceeding from the house to the grave in the direction in which the
funeral procession was to go. It was only for ‘big men,’ people of
station and affluence, that these lights appeared, and an irreverent
tailor once expressed a wish that the whole sky were full of them.

HUGH OF THE LITTLE HEAD (_Eoghan a chinn bhig_).

This was the best known and most dreadful spectre in the West Highlands,
the phantom of a headless horseman, which made its appearance whenever
any of the Maclaines of Lochbuy, in Mull, were near their dissolution.
The spectral horseman is mounted on a small black steed, having a white
spot on its forehead, and the marks of the hoofs of which are not like
those of other horses, but round indentations as if it had wooden legs.
Whenever any of the sept which he follows are on their death-bed Hugh
is heard riding past the house, and sometimes even shows himself at
the door. He does not sit straight on his horse’s back, but somewhat to
one side, and the appearance of the almost headless body is that of a
water-stoup tied on the horse’s back. The history of the man who is thus
doomed to attend at the death of any of his clan is curious. Tradition is
not always uniform on the subject, but the following statement reconciles
most of the accounts and substantially agrees with them all.

Hugh was the only son of Hector the Stubborn (_Eachunn Reuganach_), first
chief of Lochbuy, in the fourteenth century, and brother of Lachlan
the Wily (_Lachunn Lùbanach_), first chief of Dowart. He got the name
of “Hugh of the Little Head” in his lifetime, and from the actions
ascribed to him fully bears his own testimony to the truth of the adage,
“A big head on a wise man and a hen’s head on a fool” (_Ceann mōr air
duine glic ’s ceann circ avi amadan_). Sayings of his, which tradition
has preserved, illustrate the curious shrewdness sometimes found in
connection with limited intellect. Thus, when his mother was being
carried for burial, he thought the pall-bearers were carrying the body
too high, and he told them not to raise her so high, “in case she should
seek to make a habit of it” (_mu ’m bi i ’g iarraidh a chleachdaidh_),
and the phrase has since continued, “to seek to make a habit of anything,
like Hugh of the Little Head’s mother.” He was married to a daughter of
the house of Macdougall of Lorn; and she proved but a very indifferent
wife. Tradition ascribes to her several nicknames, all of them extremely
opprobrious, “The Black-bottomed Heron” (_Chorra thòn du_), “Stingy,
the Bad Black Heron” (_Gortag, an droch chorra dhu_), “The Macdougall
Heron” (_Curra Dhùghaill_), and _Dubhag tòn ri teallaich_. He was a
fearless soldier, and altogether a very likely person to have been made a
wandering spectre of after his death.

Lochbuy first belonged to the Macfadyens. Maclaine (so the family spell
the name) having obtained a grant of the place from the Lord of the
Isles, deceitfully asked Macfadyen for a site for a sheep-fold (_crò
chaoraich_), and, having obtained a hillock for the purpose, proceeded
to build a castle. When the place was sufficiently fortified he shot
an arrow from it at Macfadyen, who sat at some distance picking bones
(_spioladh chnàmh_) at his dinner. In the end Macfadyen had to leave his
own land and go to Garmony (_Gar’moin’ an fhraoich_), where he supported
himself by coining gold, gathered in _Beinn an Aoinidh_, Mull, whence his
descendants became known as “the Seed of the Goldsmith’s” (_Siòlachadh
nan òr-cheard_). After this Lochbuy and Dowart quarrelled. The properties
of the two brothers adjoined, and between them lay a piece of ground, the
ownership of which they disputed. A ploughman belonging to Lochbuy was
ploughing on the debateable ground, when a friend of Dowart, who was out
hunting, shot him. Sometime after this Dowart’s two boys were on a visit
to Lochbuy, whose wife, being a relative of the murdered ploughman, went
a piece of the way home with the children, and at a well, since called
“The Well of the Heads” (_Tobar nan ceann_), took off their heads and
threw them into the well, leaving the bodies on the bank. For this foul
deed a deadly feud sprang up between the two houses, and Hugh’s wife,
being a foster-sister (_co-dhalta_) of Dowart’s wife, did not care though
her husband and the house of Lochbuy should be worsted.

This feud, joined to the other grievances of the “Crane,” led to
there being so little peace at Lochbuy that the old chief gave Hugh a
separate establishment, and allotted to him the lands of Morinish. Hugh
built himself a castle on an islet in _Loch Sguabain_, a small lake
between Lochbuy and Dowart. His wife urged him to go and get the rights
(_còiricheaa_), _i.e._ the title deeds, of the lands of Lochbuy, or
perhaps to go and get more, from his father, and at last he went. It was
explained to him that on his father’s death he would have a right to the
whole property, and he went away pacified. His wife, however, urged that
it would be a small thing for Lachlan the Wily, his father’s brother, to
come and take from him everything he had. He went again, an altercation
ensued, and he struck his aged father a violent blow on the side of
the head. This came to the ears of the old man’s brother, the chief
of Dowart. Glad of an excuse to cut off the heir presumptive and make
himself master of Lochbuy, and gratify his desire for revenge, Dowart
collected his men and marched to take Hugh to some place of confinement
or kill him. Hugh collected his own men and prepared to give battle.

Early on the morning of the fight, others say the evening before, Hugh
was out walking, and at the boundary stream (_allt crìche_) saw an Elfin
woman rinsing clothes, and singing the “Song of the M’Leans.”[28] Her
long breasts, after the manner of her kind (according to the Mull belief
regarding these weird women), hung down and interfered with her washing,
and she now and then flung them over her shoulders to keep them out of
the way. Hugh crept up silently behind her, and catching one of the
breasts, as is recommended in such cases, put the nipple in his mouth,
saying, “Yourself and I be witness you are my first nursing mother.” She
answered, “The hand of your father and grandfather be upon you! You had
need that it is so.” He then asked her what she was doing. She said,
“Washing the shirts of your mortally-wounded men” (_Nigheadh leintean
nam fir ghointe agad-sa_), or (as others say) “the clothes of those who
will mount the horses to-morrow and will not return” (_aodach nam fear
theid air na h-eich a màireach ’s nach till_). He asked her, “Will I
win the fight?” She answered that if he and his men got “butter without
asking” (_Im gun iarraidh_) to their breakfast, he would win; if not, he
would lose. He asked if he himself would return alive from the battle
(_an d’thig mise as beò?_), and she either answered ambiguously or not
at all; and when going away left him as her parting gift (_fāgail_) that
he should go about to give warning of approaching death to all his race.
The same morning he put on a new suit, and a servant woman coming in just
as he had donned it, praised it, and said, “May you enjoy and wear it”
(_Meal is caith e_). It was deemed unlucky that a woman should be the
first to say this, and Hugh replied to the evil omen by saying, “May you
not enjoy your health” (_Na na meal thusa do shlàinte_).

For breakfast, “Stingy, the Black Heron,” sent in curds and milk in broad
dishes. She did not even give spoons, but told Hugh and his men to put
on hen’s bills (_gobun cheare_) and take their food. Hugh waited long to
see if any butter would come, rubbing his shoes together impatiently,
saying now and then it was time to go, and giving every hint he could
that the butter might be sent in. At last he threw his shoe down the
house, exclaiming, “Neither shoes nor speech will move a bad housewife”
(_Cha ghluais bròg no bruidhinn droch bhean tighe_), and demanding the
butter. “Send down the butter, and you may eat it yourself to-morrow”
(_cuir anuas an t-ìm, ’s feudaidh tu fhein itheadh a màireach_). She
retorted, “The kicker of old shoes will not leave skin upon palm” (_Cha’n
fhàg breabadair na seana-bhròig craicionn air dearnaidh_). When the
butter came, Hugh said he did not want her curds or cheese to be coming
in white masses through his men’s sides (_tighinn na staoigean geala roi’
chliathach nam fear aige_), kicked open the milk-house door and let in
the dogs, and went away, leaving the breakfast untouched. The fight took
place at _Onoc nan Sgolb_, at the back of Innsri (_cùl na h-Innsribh_),
near _Ceann a Chnocain_, and not far from Torness in Glenmore. As might
be expected of fasting men, Hugh and his followers lost the fight. The
sweep of a broadsword took off the upper part of his head (_copan a
chinn_). Instead of falling dead, he jumped on the top of his horse, a
small black steed with a white spot on its forehead, and ever since is
“dreeing his weird” by going about to give warning when any of his race
are about to die.[29]

The ghostly rider of the black horse (_marcaich an eich dhui_), crosses
the seas in discharging his task. When coming to Tiree (where there
are now but two or three persons claiming to be of the sept of the
Lochbuy Maclaines), he takes his passage from _Port-nan-amhn’_ near
_Ru-an-t-sléibh_, in Treshinish, Mull. About fifty years ago a Mull
woman, living there, insisted that she had often, when a young woman,
heard him galloping past the house in the evening and had seen the sparks
from his horse’s hoofs as he rode down to the shore on his way to Tiree.

It is told of an old man of the Lochbuy Macleans in Tiree, that on his
death-bed the noise of a horse clanking a chain after it, was heard
coming to the house. Thinking it was Hugh of the Little Head, he said,
“The rider of the Black Horse is clanking on his own errand” (_straoilich
air ceann a ghnothuich fhein_). On looking out the awe-struck company
found the noise was caused by a farm-horse dragging a chain tether
(_langasaid_) after it.

On the high road between Calachyle and Salen in Mull, a strong man of
the name of Maclean was met at night by Hugh. The horseman spake never a
word, but caught Maclean to take him away. Maclean resisted, and in the
struggle caught hold of a birch sapling and succeeded in holding it till
the cock crew. The birch tree was twisted in the struggle, and one after
another of its roots gave way. As the last was yielding the cock crew.
The twisted tree may still be seen. The same story is told of a twisted
tree near Tobermory, and a similar one is localised between Lochaber and

Other premonitions of death were the howling of dogs, the appearance of
lights, loud outcries and sounds of weeping, apparitions of the doomed
person’s “fetch,” or coffin, or funeral procession, etc. These sounds and
appearances were more apt to precede an accidental and premature death,
such as drowning, and to understand them properly it will be necessary to
enter into an examination of the doctrine of the Second Sight.


SECOND SIGHT (_an da shealladh_).

Freed from a good deal of mystery in which an imperfect understanding
of its character has involved it, the gift of second sight may be
briefly explained to be the same as being “spectre-haunted,” or liable
to “spectre illusions,” when that condition occurs, as it often does,
in persons of sound mind. The phenomena in both cases are the same; the
difference is in the explanation given of them. In the one case the
vision is looked on as unreal and imaginary, arising from some bodily
or mental derangement, and having no foundation in fact, while the
other proceeds on a belief that the object seen is really there and
has an existence independent of the seer, is a revelation, in fact,
to certain gifted individuals of a world different from, and beyond,
the world of sense. Science has accepted the former as the true and
rational explanation, and traces spectral illusions to an abnormal state
of the nervous system, exhaustion of mind or body, strong emotions,
temperament, and others of the countless, and at times obscure, causes
that lead to hallucination and delusion. But before optical and nervous
delusions were recognised by science, while the spectres were believed to
be external realities having an existence of their own, the visions were
necessarily invested with an awe approaching to terror, and the gift or
faculty of seeing them could not but be referred to some such explanation
as the doctrine of the second sight offers.

“The shepherds of the Hebrid Isles” are usually credited with the largest
possession of the gift, but the doctrine was well known over the whole
Highlands, and as firmly believed in Ross-shire and the highlands of
Perthshire as in the remotest Hebrides. Waldron describes it as existing
in his time in the Isle of Man. It is a Celtic belief, and the suggestion
that it is the remains of the magic of the Druids is not unreasonable.
In every age there are individuals who are spectre-haunted, and it is
probable enough that the sage Celtic priests, assuming the spectres to be
external, reduced the gift of seeing them to a system, a belief in which
formed part of their teaching. This accounts for the circumstance that
the second sight has flourished more among the Celts than any other race.

The Gaelic name _da-shealladh_ does not literally mean “the second
sight,” but “the two sights.” The vision of the world of sense is _one_
sight, ordinarily possessed by all, but the world of spirits is visible
only to certain persons, and the possession of this additional vision
gives them “the two sights,” or what comes to the same thing, “a second
sight.” Through this faculty they see the ghosts of the dead revisiting
the earth, and the fetches, doubles, or apparitions of the living.

The world to which apparitions belong is called by writers on the
second sight “the world of spirits,” but the expression does not
convey correctly the idea attached to visions of the kind. The object
seen, usually that of a friend or acquaintance, the phantasm, phantom,
apparition, or whatever else we choose to call it, was recognised to be
as independent of the person whose semblance it bore as it was of the
person seeing it. He knew nothing of the phantom’s appearance, it was
not his spirit, and played its part without his knowledge or his wish.
The seer, again, could not, or did not, trace it to anything in himself;
it did not arise from any suggestion of his hopes or fears, and was not
a reproduction of any former state of his mind or thought. As to its
owing its origin to anything abnormal in himself, he was (as far as
he could judge) as healthy in mind and body as other people. As long,
therefore, as men believed the phantasm to be an external reality, they
were compelled to believe in doubles, or semblances, that move in a world
which is neither that of sense nor that of spirits. The actions and
appearances of these doubles have no counterpart in any past or present
event, and naturally are referred to the future and the distant.

The object seen, or phantasm, is called _taibhs_ (pron. _taïsh_), the
person seeing it _taibhsear_ (pron. _taïsher_), and the gift of vision,
in addition to its name of second sight, is known as _taibhsearachd_. It
is noticeable that many words referring to spirits and ghosts begin with
this syllable _ta_. The following are worth noticing:

_Tannas_, or _tannasg_, a spectre, generally of the dead, and in the
idea attached to it more shadowy, unsubstantial, and spiritual than a

_Tamhasg_ (pron. _taüsg_), the shade or double of a living person, is
the common name for apparitions by which men are haunted, and with
which, according to the doctrine of the second sight, they have to hold

_Tàchar_, a rare and almost obsolete word, but the derivatives of which,
_tacharan_ and _tachradh_, are still in common use. The only instances
known to the writer of its occurrence are in the names of places.
_Sròn an tàchair_, the Ghost-haunted Nose, is a rock between Kinloch
Rannoch and Druim-a-chastail, in Perthshire, where faint mysterious
noises were heard, and on passing which the wayfarer was left by the
mysterious sprite which joined him in the hollow below. _Imire tàchair_,
in the island of Iona, is a ridge leading from near the ecclesiastical
buildings to the hill, and, till the moor through which it runs was
drained in recent years, formed an elevation above a sheet of water,—a
very likely place to have been haunted by goblins. The natives of the
island have no tradition or explanation of the name. The derivatives
_tachradh_ and _tacharan_ are applied to a weak and helpless person: when
the first syllable is long, in pity; when short, contemptuously, as,
_e.g._, _an tăchradh grànda_, “the ugly wretch.”

_Tàslaich_, a supernatural premonition, felt or heard, but not seen.
Also applied to the ghosts of the living. For instance, a native of Skye
being asked the reason why dogs were barking at night near a churchyard,
said it was because they saw _tàslaich nan daoine beò_, the ghosts of the
living, the premonition of a funeral.

_Tàradh_, noises (_straighlich_) heard at night through the house,
indicating a change of tenants, a premonition by mysterious sounds of a
coming event.

_Taran_, the ghost of an unbaptised child (Dr. Macpherson, p. 307), not
now a common word.

_Tàsg_, perhaps a contraction of _tamhasg_, used commonly in the
expression _eigheach tàisg_, the cry or wail of a fetch. Cf. _taghairm_,
the spirit-call.

The whole doctrine of these apparitions of the living, or, as they are
called in Cumberland, _swarths_, and premonitions of coming events,
proceeds on the supposition that people have a counterpart or other
self, an _alter ego_, which goes about unknown to themselves, with
their voices, features, form, and dress, even to their shoes, and is
visible to those who have the unhappy gift of the second sight. This
phantasm, or other self, is not the life or the spirit of the person whom
it represents. He has nothing to do with it; he may, at the time it is
seen, be sunk in unconscious sleep, or his attention and wishes may be
otherwise taken up, and death may not be at all in his thoughts. At the
same time, it is not without some connection with him. Strongly wishing
is apt to make one’s _tàradh_ be heard at the place where he wishes to
be, and if the person whose spectre is seen be spoken to the apparition
disappears; but in general the _taibhs_ is independent of all thought,
or action, or emotion of the person whom it represents. The doctrine
does not assert that all men have got such a double, much less that
those who are most largely gifted with the second sight see it always,
or even frequently. The spectres are visible to the seer only under
exceptional circumstances, in certain situations, and at certain times.
The most usual of these are after dusk and across a fire, when a sudden
or violent death has occurred, or is to occur, when a friend is ill, when
strangers are to come, or any event is impending calculated to make a
deep impression on the mind.

Spectres are often seen with as much distinctness as external objects,
and it would be a great injustice to the poor man, who claims to have
visions of things that are not there at all, to say he is telling an
untruth. To him the vision is really there, and it is but natural for
him to think it has an existence separate from himself, instead of
referring it to an abnormal state of his mind and nervous system. Some
spectres “move with the moving eye,” being what the poet calls “hard
mechanic ghosts”; others have their own proper motion, and probably arise
in the brain. The former are the most common, and it was a test among
_taïshers_, whether the figure seen was a wraith or not, to stoop down
and raise themselves up again suddenly. If the figure did the same, it
was an apparition, a _tamhasg_.

The gift of second sight was not in any case looked upon as enviable or
desirable. Seers frequently expressed a wish that they had no such gift.
In some instances it ran in the family; in others, but rarer cases, the
seer was the only one of his kindred who “saw sights” (_chì sealladh_).
Some had it early in life, upon others it did not come till they were
advanced in life. These characteristics alone show it to be in its
origin the same as spectral illusions. It arose from hereditary disease,
malformation, or weakness of the visual organs, and derangements of mind
or bodily health. It was not _voluntary_; the visions went and came
without the option of the seer, and his being visited by them was deemed
by himself and others a misfortune rather than a gift. A difference
was also recognised in the kinds of apparitions visible to different

When the figure of an acquaintance was seen, the manner in which the
_taibhs_ was clothed afforded an indication to the skilful seer of the
fate then befalling, or about to befall, the person whose _taibhs_ it
was. If the apparition was dressed in the dead-clothes, the person was
to die soon; but if in every-day clothes, his death would not occur
for some time. If the clothes covered the entire face, his death would
be very soon; if the face was uncovered, or partly covered, death was
proportionately more remote. Others saw the dead-clothes first about
the head, and lower down at each succeeding vision. When the feet were
covered death was imminent. There were, however, grave-clothes of good
fortune (_lion-aodach àigh_) as well as grave-clothes indicative of death
(_lion-aodach bàis_), and it was considered extremely difficult for the
most skilful seer to distinguish between them. He required, he said, a
close view of the spectre to tell which it had on.

The time of day at which the vision was seen was also an indication. The
later in the day, the sooner the death. If as late as 5 p.m., soon; but
if as early as 2 a.m., the man might live for years.

If the person seen was to be drowned at sea, phosphorescent gleams
(_teine-sionnachain_), such as are common in the Hebridean seas on summer
nights, appeared round the figure, or its clothes seemed to drip, or
there was water in its shoes.

The _swarths_, or doubles, were believed to go through all the actions
and occupy the places which the originals would afterwards perform or
occupy. This was particularly the case with regard to funerals. They
went for the glasses to be used on the occasion, for the coffin, and
even for the wood to make it, and marched in melancholy procession to
the churchyard. When the funeral procession was seen, the seer was
unable to say, except by inference, whose funeral it was. For anything
he could directly tell, it might be, as it sometimes was, his own. He
could only tell the dress, position in the procession, and appearance
of those performing the sad duty. It is dangerous to walk in the middle
of the road at night, in case of meeting one of these processions, and
being thrown down or forced to become one of the coffin-bearers to the
graveyard. Persons in the latter predicament have experienced great
difficulty in keeping on the road, the whole weight of the coffin seeming
to be laid upon them, and pushing them off the path. If the seer goes
among the swarths he will likely be knocked down, but in some districts,
as Moidart, he is said to have one of the staves or bearers (_lunn_) of
the coffin thrust into his hand, and to be compelled to take his part in
the procession till relieved in due time. In Durness, in Sutherlandshire,
the cry of “Relief!” there used at every change of coffin-bearers, has
been heard at night by persons whose houses were near the high-road
called out by the phantasms in their ghostly procession. Persons have
been caught hold of by those reputed to have the second sight, and pulled
to a side to allow a spectral funeral to pass; and it was universally
believed that when the seer saw a procession of the kind, or, indeed,
any of his supernatural visions, he could make others see the same sight
by putting his foot on theirs and a hand on their shoulder. He should,
therefore, never walk in the middle of the road at night. Taïshers never
did so. At any moment the traveller may fall in with a spectral funeral,
and be thrown down or seized with the oppression of an unearthly weight.

The visions of the seer did not always relate to melancholy events,
impending death, funerals, and misfortunes. At times he had visions of
pleasant events, and saw his future wife, before he ever thought of
her (at least so he said), sitting by the fireside in the seat she was
afterwards to occupy. He could tell whether an absent friend was on his
way home, and whether he was to have anything in his hands when coming.
He could not tell what the thing was to be, but merely the general
appearance of the absent man when returning, and whether he was to come
full or empty handed.

It has been said that the phantasm (_taibhs_ or _tamhasg_) was
independent of all thought and volition on the part of those whom it
represented, as well as on the part of the seer himself. At the same
time, it was part of the creed that if the person whose double was seen
was spoken to and told to cease his persecutions, the annoyance came to
an end. The person spoken to, being utterly unconscious that his phantasm
was wandering about and annoying any one, got very angry, but somehow
the spectre ceased to appear. Before taking a final leave, however, it
gave the person whom it had haunted (as an informant described it) “one
thundering lashing.” After that it was no more seen.

When a double is first met, if it be taken to be the man himself whose
semblance it bears, and be spoken to, it acquires the power of compelling
the person who has accosted it to hold nightly assignations with it in
future. The man, in fact, from that hour becomes “spectre-haunted.”
Hence it was a tenet of the second sight never to be the first to speak,
on meeting an acquaintance at night, till satisfied that the figure
seen was of this world. The seer did not like, indeed did not dare, to
tell to others whose figure it was that haunted him. If he did so, the
anger of the spectre was roused, and on the following evening it gave
him a dreadful thrashing. When he resisted, he grasped but a shadow,
was thrown down repeatedly in the struggle, and bruised severely. This
form of the disease was well known in the Western Islands. The haunted
person, as in the case of those who had Fairy sweethearts, had to
leave home at a certain hour in the evening to meet the spectre, and if
he dared for one night to neglect the assignation he received in due
course a sound thrashing. Sometimes at these meetings the spectre spoke
and gave items of information about the death of the seer and others.
Ordinarily, however, it had merely an indistinct murmuring kind of speech
(_tormanaich bruidhinn_).

People noted for the second sight have been observed to have a peculiar
look about the eyes. One of them, for instance, in Harris was described
as “always looking up and never looking you straight in the face.”
Those who are of a brooding, melancholy disposition are most liable to
spectral illusions, and it is only to be expected that the gloom of their
character should appear in their looks, and that many of their visions
should relate to deaths and funerals.

Among a superstitious and credulous people the second sight, or a
pretence to it, must have furnished a powerful weapon of annoyance, and
there is reason to believe that, in addition to cases of nervous delusion
and of men being duped by their own fancies, there were many instances of
imposture and design. So much, indeed, was this the case, that a person
of undoubted good character, born and brought up among believers in the
second sight, and himself not incredulous on the subject, said: “I never
knew a truthful, trustworthy man (_duine fìrinneach creideasach_) who
was a taïsher.” While being spectre-haunted was honoured by the name of
a Second Sight, and was invested with mystery and awe, no doubt many laid
claim to it for the sake of the awe with which it invested them to annoy
those whom they disliked, or to make capital out of it with those anxious
about the future or the absent.


Some thirty years ago a man in Tiree, nicknamed the Poult (_am Big-ein_),
was haunted for several months by the spectre of the person with whom he
was at the time at service. The phantom came regularly every evening for
him, and if its call was disregarded it gave him next evening a severe
thrashing. According to the man’s own account, the spectre sometimes
spoke, and, when he understood what it said, gave good advice. Its speech
was generally indistinct and unintelligible. The person whose spectre it
was, on being spoken to on the subject, got very angry, but the visits of
the spectre ceased.

Only a few years ago a young man, also in Tiree, was on his way home
about midnight from the parish mill, where he had been kiln-drying corn.
He had to go against a strong gale of north-west wind, and, having his
head bent down and not looking well before him, ran up against a figure,
which he took to be that of a young man of his acquaintance. He spoke to
it, and the figure answered in broken, inarticulate speech (_tormanaich
bruidhinn_). Every evening afterwards during that half-year he had to
leave the house in which he was at service to meet, he himself said, the
spectre that had thus met him. A person who doubted this followed one
evening, and saw him, immediately on leaving the house, squaring out in
boxing style to some invisible opponent, and falling at every round. The
haunted youth said the apparition gave him much information. It said
the person whose semblance it itself bore was to die of fever, that the
coffin was to be taken out of the house by certain individuals, whom it
named, and was to be placed on two creels outside the door. On speaking
to the lad whose apparition haunted him, the persecution ceased. The
common opinion was that this was a case of imposture and design.

Near Salen, in Mull, a workman, when going home from his employment in
the evening, forgot to take his coat with him. He returned for it, and
the apparition (_tamhasg_) of a woman met him, and gave him a squeezing
(_plùchadh_) that made him keep his bed for several days.

In the same island a man was said to have been knocked off his horse by
an apparition.

A crofter (or tenant of a small piece of land of which he has no lease)
in Caolas, Tiree, went out at night to see that his neighbour’s horses
were not trespassing on some clover he had in his croft. He was a man
who had confessedly the second sight. He observed on this occasion a
man going in a parallel direction to himself, and but a short distance
off. At first he thought it was only a neighbour, Black Allan, trying to
frighten him, but, struck by the motion and silence of the figure, he
stooped down, and then raised himself suddenly. The figure did the same,
proof of its being a _tamhasg_ or phantasm. The seer reached home, pale
and ready to faint, but nothing further came of his vision.

Three years ago a man, who claims to have the second sight, was on his
way home at night to Barrapol, in the west end of Tiree, from the mill
(which is in the centre of the island) with a sack of meal on his back.
He laid down the sack, and rested by the wayside. When swinging the
burden again on his shoulder he observed a figure standing beside him,
and then springing on the top of the sack on his back. It remained there,
rendering the sack very oppressive, till he reached home, some miles
further on.

The son of a seer in Coll was away in the south country. The seer
when delving saw his son several times lending assistance, and on two
occasions when coming home with a creelful of peats, after taking a rest
by the way, saw him helping to lift the creel again on his back. Before
long word came of his son’s death.

Alexander Sinclair, from Erray, in Mull, was grieve at Funery in
Morven. Two, if not three, of the servant women fell in love with him.
He had to cross one night a bridge in the neighbourhood, between Savory
and Salachan, and was met by the apparitions of two women, whom he
recognised as his fellow-servants. One, he said, was the figure of a
dark little woman, and lifted him over the parapet. The other was that
of the dairymaid, in the house in which he was, and it rescued him. The
adventure ended by his marrying the dairymaid.

A man, going home at night to Ledmore (_Leudmòr_), near Loch Frisa,
in Mull, saw the kitchen-maid of the house in which he was at service
waiting for him on the other side of a ford that lay in his way.
Suspecting the appearance, he went further up the stream to avoid it,
but it was waiting for him at every ford. At last he crossed, and held
on his way, the apparition accompanying him. At the top of the first
incline, the apparition threw him down. He rose, but was again thrown. He
struggled, but the figure, he said, had no weight, and he grasped nothing
but wind. On the highest part of the ascent, called _Guala Spinne_, the
apparition left him. After going home, the man spoke to the woman whose
spectre had met him. “The next time,” he said, “you meet me, I will stab
you.” This made the woman cry, but he was never again troubled by her

A native of Glenbeg in Ardnamurchan, Henderson by name, was at service
in Kilfinichen in Mull. One of the servant maids there made him a present
of a pair of worsted gloves. After returning home from service, he
had, one evening towards dusk (_am bial an anmuich_, lit. in the mouth
of lateness) to go from Glenbeg to Kilchoan, by a path across a steep
incline on the side of the lofty Ben-shianta, towards the projection
known as “The Nose of the Macleans” (_Sròin Chloinn Illeathain_). Steep
mountain paths of this kind are called _Catha_, and this particular catha
is called _Catha na Muice_ (the pig’s pass). Near the top of the ascent
(_aonaich_), and where the difficult path ceases (_bràighe na Catha_),
there is a narrow step (_aisre_), which only one person at a time can
cross, leading towards another ascent (_aonaich_). When going up the
first ascent, or cadha, Henderson was joined by the apparition of the
woman who had made him the gloves in Kilfinichen. She was on the up side
of him, and he saw, when he came to the _aisre_, if she chose to give him
a push, he would be precipitated into the black shore (_du-chladach_),
which the rocks there overhang, and become a shapeless bundle (_seirgein
cuagach_). He blessed himself, and taking courage crossed in safety.
When he got on more level ground, over towards Correi-Vulin, he took the
gloves she had given him, and threw them at her, saying “that is all the
business you have with me.” He stayed that night in _Laga Fliuch_, and
next day went to Kilchoan. On his return he looked for the gloves, and
saw them where he had thrown them. He had no return of the vision.


A taïsher in Tiree came upon a dead body washed ashore by the sea. The
corpse had nothing on in the way of clothing but a pair of sea-boots.
Old people considered it a duty, when they fell in with a drowned
body, to turn it over or move it in some way. In this case, the seer
was so horrified that, instead of doing this, he ran away. Other
people, however, came, and the body was duly buried. Afterwards the
dead man haunted the seer, and now and then appeared and terrified him
exceedingly. One night on his way home he saw the corpse before him,
wherever he turned, and on reaching the house it stood between him and
the door. He walked on till close to the house, and then called to his
wife to take the broomstick and sprinkle the door-posts with urine. When
this was done, he boldly walked forward. The spectre, on his approach,
leapt from the ground, and stood above the door with a foot resting on
each side on the double walls. The seer entered between its legs, and
never saw the horrible apparition again.

A taïsher in Coll had no second sight till some time after his marriage.
Working one day with a companion near the shore, he left for a short
time, but stayed away so long that, on his return, he was asked what
kept him? He said he had been looking at the body of a drowned man, which
the waves were swaying backwards and forwards near the rocks. Others,
however, were of opinion he had found the body on the shore, ransacked
its clothes, and then thrown it again into the sea, and that the second
sight was a curse sent upon him for the deed. Certain it is that from
that day he had the second sight. His friends at first doubted him, when
he said he saw visions, till he one day told his sister a certain rope in
the house would be sent for before morning, to be used about a body lying
on the “straight-board.” This proved to be the case, and his reputation
as a taïsher was established.

A noted seer, named _Mac Dhòmhnuill Oig_, in Kilmoluag, Tiree, was
sitting one day at home, when his brother entered, and opening a chest
in the room, took out some money. In reply to the seer’s inquiries, the
brother said he was going to pay such and such a shoemaker for a pair
of shoes recently got from him. The brother died soon after, and the
shoemaker claimed the price of the shoes. The seer warmly resisted the
claim, as he himself had seen his brother taking the money expressly to
pay them. That same night, however, he saw the shade of his deceased
brother crossing the room, and, as it were, fumbling in a particular
place on the top of the inner wall of the house. Next day the seer
himself searched in the same spot, and found there the money that had
been taken out of the chest to pay the shoes. He could only think it had
been placed there by his brother when alive, and had been forgotten.

A taïsher, whose house was at Crossapol, where the burying-ground of
the island of Coll is, on his way home from the harbour of Arnagour,
about six miles away, experienced many mischances (_driod-fhortain_),
such as falling, etc. He arrived at home to find his only child, a boy
about twelve years of age, dead in the burying-ground, where he had gone
to play and fallen asleep. Its entrails (_màthair a mhionaich_) were
protruding. The seer, in his distraction, belaboured the surrounding
graves with his stick, accusing their tenants, in his outcries, of
indifference to him and his, and saying he had many of his kindred among
them, though they had allowed this evil to befall his child. That night a
voice came to him in his sleep, saying, he should not be angry with them
(shades of the dead), seeing they were away that day in Islay keeping
“strange blood” from the grave of Lachlan Mor (_cumail na fuil choimhich
a uaigh Lachuinn Mhòir_), and were not present to have rescued the child.
This Lachlan Mor was a man of great stature and bodily strength, chief of
the Macleans of Dowart, and therefore related to the Macleans of Coll,
who had been killed at the bloody clan battle of Gruinard Beach, in
Islay, and was buried at Kilchoman Churchyard. On hearing of the seer’s
vision the Laird of Coll dispatched a boat to Islay, and it was found
that on the day the child was murdered an attempt had been made to lift
the chief’s gravestone for the burial of a sailor, whose body had been
cast ashore on a neighbouring beach. The attempt had failed, and the
stone was left partly on its edge (_air a leth-bhile_). The shades had
laid their weight upon it, so that it could not be moved further.

This story the writer has heard more than once adduced as positive
proof of the reality of the second sight (_tabhsearachd_), that is, of
the capacity of some men to see and hear spirits, or whatever else the
spectres are. The power of the dead to lay a heavy weight upon persons as
well as things, and even to punish the living, is shown by the following

In the same island of Coll the wife of Donald the Fair-haired (_Dòmhnull
Bàn_) was lying ill. She had strange feelings of oppression and sickness
(_tinneas ’us slachdadh_). Donald’s father was a taïsher, and came to see
her. After sitting and watching for some time he told her she had herself
to blame for her sickness, that she must have done some act of unkindness
or wrong to her mother, and that her feelings of oppression were caused
by the spirit of her dead father coming and lying its weight upon her.
The seer professed to see the spirit of the dead leaning its weight upon
the sick person.

A woman (the tale, which comes from Perthshire, does not say where),
being ill-treated by her husband, wished, too strongly and unduly, her
brother, who had some time previously died in Edinburgh, were with her
to take her part. Soon after, when she was alone, her brother’s shade
appeared, and in a tone of displeasure asked her what was wrong, and what
she wanted him for. She told. Her husband was at the time ploughing in a
field in front of the house. The woman saw the shade going towards him,
and when it reached, her husband fell dead.


It is in fact part of the creed in the Second Sight that a person should
never indulge in strong wishes, lest he overstep proper bounds, and
wish what Providence has not designed to be. Such wishes affect others,
especially if these others have anything of the Second Sight.

A woman in the island of Harris, known as _Fionnaghal a Mhoir_, was
celebrated for her gift of Second Sight. A young man related to her went
to Appin, in Argyleshire, with a boat. One day, when taking a smoke, he
expressed a wish that _Fionnaghal a Mhoir_ had a draw of his pipe. Next
day, and long before it could be known in Harris the youth had expressed
such a wish, Flora, daughter of the Big Man (for that is the meaning of
her name), told her friends that a pipe was being offered her all night
by the young man, and that she was anxious enough to have a smoke from
it, but could not.

A young girl in Kennovay, Tiree, holding a bowl of milk in her hands,
expressed a wish a certain woman (naming one, who was a _taibhsear_) had
the bowl to drink. Next day the woman indicated in the wish told the girl
she had a sore time of it all night keeping the bowl away from her lips.

In very recent times, not above four years ago, as the driver of
the mail-gig was going through the Wood of Nant (_Coill an Eannd_),
between Bonawe and Loch Awe, at night, he was met by the figure of his
sweetheart, and received from it such a severe thrashing that he had to
turn back. On telling this to herself, afterwards, she acknowledged,
that on the night referred to she was very anxious about him, and wished
she could intercept him in case, at his journey’s end, he should go to a
house where fever had broken out.

A woman in Lismore, making a bowl of gruel (_brochan blàth_) in the
evening, expressed a wish her husband, who was then away at the fishing
at Corpach, near the entrance to the Caledonian Canal, had the drink she
was making. When her husband came home, he said to her, “I tell you what
it is, you are not to come again with porridge to me at Corpach.” He said
he had seen her all night at his bedside offering him his gruel.

The power ascribed to strong wishes, or rather the evil consequences by
which they may be followed, is still more forcibly illustrated by the
following tale.

A young woman at Barr, Morvern, beautiful and much esteemed in her own
neighbourhood, was about to be married. Other maidens were in the house
with her, sewing the dresses for the marriage. As they sat at work, she
sighed and said, she wished her intended was come. At that moment, he
was on his way coming over the shoulder of Ben Iadain, a lofty mountain
near hand, of weird appearance and having the reputation of being much
frequented by the Fairies. He observed his sweetheart walking beside him,
and as the shadowy presence threw him down, he struck at it repeatedly
with his dirk. The bride got unwell, and, before the bridegroom reached
the house, died. The ‘fetch’ left him shortly before his arrival, and her
death was simultaneous with its disappearance.

It has been said that the appearance of the spectre was considered
entirely independent of the thoughts or volition of the person whose
image it bears. Yet the tales of the Second Sight indicate some
mysterious connection between men and their doubles. Strongly wishing, as
in the above instances, causes at times a person’s likeness to be seen or
heard at the place where he wishes to be, and the original (so to call
him) may be affected through his double.

A man in Islay encountered a ghost, and threw his open penknife at it.
The weapon struck the phantom in the eye, and at that moment, a woman,
whose likeness it bore, though several miles away, was struck blind of an

A young woman, residing in Skye, had a lover, a sailor, who was away
in the East Indies. On Hallowe’en night she went, as is customary in
country frolics, to pull a kail plant, that she might know, from its
being crooked or straight or laden with earth, what the character or
appearance or wealth of her future husband might be. As she grasped a
stock to pull it, a knife dropped from the sky and stuck in the plant.
When her lover came home, she learned from him, that on that very night
and about the same hour, he was standing near the ship’s bulwark, looking
over the side, with a knife in his hand. He was thinking of her, and in
his reverie the knife fell out of his hand and over the side. The young
woman produced the knife she found in the kail-stock, and it proved to be
the very knife her sailor lover had lost.


When a person strongly wishes to be anywhere, as for instance when a
person on a journey at night wishes to be at home, his footsteps coming
to the house, or the sounds of his lifting the door latch are heard, or
a glimpse of his appearance is seen, at the time of his conceiving or
expressing the wish, and even without any wish being present to the
absent person’s mind, sights or sounds indicative of his coming may be
seen or heard. This previous intimation is called his _tàradh_, and
his double or shade, which is the cause of it, his _tàslach_. These
mysterious intelligences are also called _manadh nan daoine bèo_, “the
omens of living men.” The family, sitting round the evening fire, hear
a footstep approaching the house, and even a tapping at the door. The
sounds are so life-like that some one goes to open the door, but there
is no one there. The sound is only the _tàradh_ of an absent friend,
storm-tossed or wayworn, and wishing he were at home.

The _tàradh_ may be that of a complete stranger, who is not thinking of,
and perhaps does not even know the place to which his _tàradh_ has come.
When there is to be a change of tenants the advent of the stranger is
heralded, it may be years beforehand, by his double. It is said “_thàinig
a thàradh_,” _i.e._ his wraith or forewarning has come. When a shepherd,
for instance, from another part of the country, is to come to a place,
his likeness, phantom, or _tàradh_, is seen perhaps years beforehand on
the hills he is afterwards so frequently to traverse. It is not every
kind of men who have this phantom or double, neither does it appear
wherein those who have it differ from other men. At all events if all men
have it, it is not always to be seen.

A feeling of oppression at night, and the sound of footsteps through the
house and the noise of furniture being moved about, is the omen of a
change of tenants, and the _tàradh_ of the incoming tenant.

In the island of Coll, the chiefs of which in former times were among the
most celebrated in the West Highlands, and where the return of the former
lairds is talked about, and believed in, and prayed for among the few of
the native population left, the figure of the Laird who is to come is
said to have been seen by the castle servants, sitting in an empty chair,
with a long beard flowing down to his breast.

A young man, sleeping alone in a house, in which a shop was kept by his
father at Scarinish, Tiree, one night felt such an oppression on his
chest that he could not sleep, and heard noises as if there were people
in the house. He got up and made a thorough search, but found no one.
Before long there was a change in the occupancy of the house.

On the uninhabited and lonely islet of _Fladdachuain_, to the east of
Skye, some storm-stayed fishermen were boiling potatoes in a deserted
bothy, and heard the noise of voices outside. On going out they could
find no one. This occurred thrice. Some days after, and before the
fishermen got away, a boat passing to the outer Hebrides was forced by
stress of weather to take refuge in the same islet. The voices of its
crew were exactly those previously heard. Nothing further occurred in
connection with the sounds.

The spirit, thus coming in a visible or audible form about a treasure,
by which the thoughts are too much occupied, or where a person wishes
too much to be, is also denominated “_falbh air fàrsaing_,” _i.e._ going
uncontrolled (?)


Those gifted with the second sight were sometimes able to tell the
appearance of a person’s future wife. They saw her taïsh, or appearance,
sitting beside her husband, and this long before the event occurred, or
was spoken of. For instance, a seer has been known to remark to a young
man, who did not dream of marrying at the time, “I think your wife must
belong to a big house, for she has a white apron on,” etc.

The event has proved the vision to be real. The woman was housemaid in
a gentleman’s house. Seers also said they saw their own future wives
sitting opposite to them at the fireside.

A native of Coll, Hugh, son of Donald the Red (_Eoghan MacDhòmhnuill
Ruaidh_), while serving with his regiment in Africa, said he saw, almost
every evening, for a period of five years, glimpses of the woman whom
he afterwards married, and whom he never saw in reality till his return
from the wars. Wherever he sat, after the day’s march, the figure of a
woman came beside him, and sometimes seemed to him to touch him lightly
on the shoulders. On each occasion he merely caught a glimpse of her.
When he left the army, and was on his way home, he came to the village
at Dervaig, in Mull, from the neighbourhood of which the ferry across to
Coll lay. He entered by chance a house in the village, and his attention
was unexpectedly attracted by the sound of a weaver’s loom at work in the
house. On looking up he saw sitting at the loom the identical woman whose
figure had for five years haunted him in Africa. He married her.


A taïsher in Caolas, Tiree, was observed to have great objections to
going home to take his meals. Being questioned on the subject, he said
that at home he saw a horrible-looking black woman, with her head
“as black as a pot,” and if he chanced to catch a glimpse of her at
meal-times, her hideous appearance made him rise from his food. He said
he did not recognise the woman, and was unable to say who or what she
was. This was continued for three months, when the place was visited with
smallpox, and the seer’s own sister took the disease very badly. Her
head became hideous, and literally “as black as a pot,” and the people
understood the meaning of the vision.

A celebrated seer in the same village, Donald Black (_Domhnull Mac an
dui_), was married for the fourth time. In his day lucifer matches
were unknown, and when corn was kiln-dried a person had to sit up all
night to keep the fire alive. As Donald sat at this work in a solitary
hut—such as small kilns are still kept in—the figure of his first wife
appeared, and told him to beware, for “the terror” (_an t-eagal_) was
coming, it was at the Horse-shoe (_crudh an eich_), a spot on the public
road leading to Caolis, about a mile and a half distant, deriving its
name from the plain likeness of a horse-shoe indented in the rock. He,
however, was dozing over into sleep again when his second wife, in more
distressed tones, warned him the “terror” was nearer hand—at the Gateway
of the Fuel enclosure (_Cachlaidh na Cuil Connaidh_). He neglected this
warning also, and was dozing again when his third wife warned him the
“terror” was at the upper village (_Bail’ uachdrach_). He immediately
went home, and had hardly got into bed when a sound like the rushing of
a violent blast of wind passed, and the whole house was shaken, so that
the walls were like to fall. If this was not “the terror” of which he had
been so strangely warned, Donald could give no other explanation.


Some sixty years ago a seer in Ruaig, Tiree, the neighbouring village to
the preceding, was one day employed in the harvest-field, tying sheaves
after the reapers, a work assigned to old people. One of his sons was
away in the Ross of Mull for a cargo of peats. All of a sudden the old
man cried out “Alas! alas! my loss!” (_och! och! mo chreach!_) His
children gathered round him in great anxiety as to the cause of his
distress. He told them to wait a minute and in a short time said it was
all right, his son was safe. It turned out that at the very time of his
exclamation, the boat in which his son was on its way from the Ross of
Mull, was run into by another boat at the Dutchman’s Cap (_Am Bac Mòr_),
a peculiarly shaped island on the way, and his son was thrown overboard,
but was rescued in time. The view of this incident which his mystic gift
gave the seer was the cause of his exclamation.


Visionary delusions are so frequently to be traced to a brooding, gloomy
disposition, that it is no wonder sorrowful sights were those usually
seen by persons having the Second Sight, or that death was an event of
which taïshers had particular cognisance. The doctrine is, that the
whole ceremony connected with a funeral is gone through in rehearsal by
spectres which are the shades, phantoms, appearances, taïshs, doubles,
swarths, or whatever else we choose to call them, of living men, not
merely by the shade of the person who is to die, but by the shades of all
who are to be concerned in the ceremony. The phantoms go for the wood
that is to make the coffin, the nails, the dead clothes, and whatever
else may be required on the occasion; the sounds of the coffin being
made are heard, of presses being opened, of glasses rattling; and the
melancholy procession has been met in the dead of night wending its way
to the churchyard. These weird sights and sounds have been seen and heard
by others as well as taïshers. The only difference is, that he who has
the Second Sight is more apt to see them.


The shades that go for a coffin are called _tathaich air ciste_, _i.e._
frequenters for a chest. They are heard at night long after the joiner
has ceased his day’s labour. The workshop is closed, and the wright has
retired to rest, when the sound of a hammer, a shuffling for nails, and
the working of a plane, are heard as if someone were at work. If anyone
has the courage to enter the workshop, nothing is to be seen, and no
answer is given though he speak.

Some fifty years ago there was a wright in Kinloch Rannoch, in
Perthshire, who complained of having the Second Sight, and who, in
emigrating to Australia, assigned as his chief reason for leaving his
native land, the frequency with which he saw or heard people coming
beforehand for coffins. The tools of his trade, plane, hammers, saw,
etc., were heard by him at work as distinctly as though he himself were
working, and the frequency of the omen preyed so much on his mind that
he left the country in the hope of relief. The shades were not those
of the people whose death was imminent, but those of their friends and
acquaintances, who afterwards proved actually to be the parties who came
for the coffin.

A few years ago a medical student, in the west of Inverness-shire, sat
up late on a summer night “grinding” for his examination. A joiner’s
workshop adjoined the house in which he was. About two o’clock in the
morning he heard the sound of hammers, plane, etc., as though some one
were at work in the shop. The sounds continued till about three. The
evening was calm. Next day when he told what he had heard his friends
laughed at him. Next night again, however, the noises were resumed and
continued till he fell asleep. They were this night heard also by the
other inmates; and as they were repeated every night for a week, every
person in the house, including the joiner himself, who was brought in
for the purpose, heard them. Shortly after a woman in the neighbourhood
died in childbed, and the joiner, in whose workshop the noises were
heard, made her coffin. The mysterious hammering only discontinued when
the coffin was finished. The person who heard the noises were neither
taïshers nor sons of taïshers.

A Tiree man assured the writer that he and a brother of his heard most
distinctly (_ga farumach_) the sound of a hammer all night till morning
on a chest in an empty room, near which they slept. A woman next door
died suddenly on the following day, and it was on that chest another
brother of his made her coffin. The truthfulness of the persons who told
this can be assured, whatever be the explanation given of the noise.

A very intelligent informant says that the only thing of the kind he
himself was personally witness to occurred above fifty years ago, when he
was a young lad. An old woman of the neighbourhood lay on her death-bed,
and while the rest of the household, of which he was a member, sat up, he
was on account of his youth packed off to bed. Through the night he heard
what he took to be the trampling of dogs on a loft above his sleeping
place, and this he heard so distinctly that he asked his father next day
what made him put the dogs there. He also heard a plank sliding down
from the loft and striking on end in the passage between the doors. The
following night the old woman died, and the lad himself was sent up to
the loft to bring down planks to make her coffin. A plank slipped from
his hands, and, falling on end in the passage, made exactly the same
noise as he had before heard.

Some forty or fifty years ago the trampling of horses and the rattling
of a conveyance (_stararaich agus gliongarsaich_) were heard after dark,
coming to the farm-house of Liaran in Rannoch. Every person in the house
thought a conveyance was really there. The horses were distinctly heard
turning round in the courtyard. On looking out nothing was to be seen
or heard. In four or five days after, a hearse (a kind of conveyance
till then unknown in the country) came from Appin of Menzies (_Apuinn na
Meinearach_) with the remains of a cousin of the family, who had been
suddenly killed by a kick from a horse.

As late as 1867 a coach was seen proceeding silently through the streets
of a village in Ayrshire to the burying-ground, and was believed by the
common people to be that of a rich lady in the neighbourhood, known as
Brimstone Betty, who died shortly after, not in the odour of sanctity.


Some thirty years ago in Appin, Argyleshire, noises were heard in a
cupboard upstairs, above a room which formed part of a neighbour’s house,
as if some one were fumbling among bottles. The noises were heard by the
inmates of both houses for several nights previous to a somewhat sudden
death occurring in the house below. It turned out that bottles from that
cupboard were used at the funeral.

It was also a belief in Tiree that glasses, to be used before long for
refreshments at a funeral, were heard rattling, as if being moved. Not
many years ago there was an instance of this in the village of Kilmoluag.
Skilful women professed to be able to tell by the baking board and the
“griddle” whether the bread of that baking would be used at a funeral.


A boy in Rannoch was playing with his companions in sight of the public
road, when all of a sudden he exclaimed, “Lord! will you not look at my
grandmother’s funeral?” (_Dhia! nach fhaic sibh tòrradh mo sheanamhair._)
His grandmother was ill at the time, but was not thought near her
dissolution. In a few days after her funeral took place, as the boy
described it, with a red-haired character of the neighbourhood dancing at
its head.

The following incident is told by a person whose truthfulness is beyond
question. He is a person of talents and education, and a clergyman of the
Church of Scotland.

“A young lad, herd-boy in the village in the Western Islands to which I
belong, was one day with me on the moors (_sliabh_), above the cultivated
land, when he said he saw two men carrying a coffin between them from
a wright’s workshop then in sight to the door of a house, which he
mentioned. He called my attention to the vision, but I could see nothing
of the kind. He described the dress the two men had on, particularly grey
trousers, such as seafaring people of the place then wore. In about ten
days after an event exactly corresponding occurred.”

A Tiree taïsher told how he had seen a funeral procession leave a certain
house, and persons whom he named acting as coffin-bearers when leaving
the house. This was at Beltane, the first day of summer. Next Christmas
a death occurred in that house, and one of those to whom the seer had
told his vision, took a good look at the funeral, to see if matters would
prove as the seer had said. They did so exactly.

“On one occasion,” said a native of Harris, “I was out fishing till
twelve or one o’clock in the morning, with several others, of whom one,
a man about 35, was reputed to have the Second Sight. As we were coming
home, I kept the middle of the road, thinking it was the safest place,
and that no evil could come near me there. Suddenly the man, who had the
Second Sight, caught me by the shoulder and pulled me to the side of the
road. As he laid his hand on my shoulder I saw a funeral procession—a
coffin and men carrying it. I was afterwards at that funeral myself, and
at the place where I met the taïsh, the men were in the same order in
which I had seen them.”

A young man going home at night, along the south side of Loch Rannoch,
was joined by a funeral procession. One of the poles of the bier was
thrust into his hands, and he had to march in the procession above a
mile. He was on the lochside of the coffin, and had great difficulty in
keeping on the road. The other bearers of the ghostly coffin were laying
the weight to push him off the road.

A woman, near Loch Scavaig (_Scathabhaig_), in Skye, saw a funeral
procession, with the coffins, passing along a hillside, where no road
lay, and no one was ever observed to pass. After the woman’s death, and
two years after her vision, a boat was lost in Loch Scavaig, and the
bodies of three persons lost in her were buried near the shepherd’s house
at the loch side. They were afterwards raised and carried along in the
direction the woman had pointed out as that taken by her vision.

One of these mystic processions was seen in Strathaird, in the same
neighbourhood, carrying something in a grey plaid. A man was drowned in
a river there, and his body was not recovered for a week. It was then
carried in a grey plaid in the same direction the spectral procession had

A man in Skye met at night a funeral procession, and some occult
influence made him walk along with it till he came to Portree churchyard.
He then for the first time asked whose funeral it was. He received for
answer, “Your own.”

A man living in the Braes of Portree went daily to Portree, four miles
away, to work. A neighbour, whose house was a little further away, was
engaged in the same work, and was in the habit of calling him as he
passed in the morning. The two then walked together to the scene of
their labour. One clear moonlight night he was awakened by what he took
to be his companion’s call. He hastily threw on his clothes and followed.
Every now and then he heard a call before him on the road telling him
to make haste. He followed, without thought, till he came to Portree
churchyard. It did not strike him till then that the call was from no
earthly voice.


When a person was about to die, especially if his death was to be by
violence or drowning, his wraith or phantom was seen by those who had the
Second Sight, or it might be by those who had no such gift.

In the island of Lismore, in the beginning of the nineteenth century, the
minister was said to have seen the fetch of the man at whose funeral the
custom was introduced of having the refreshments (_cosdas_) after the
funeral. In former times it was the practice in the Highlands to have
the refreshments before starting, and consequently the funeral party
were sometimes far advanced in drink before starting on their melancholy
journey. There are even stories of their having forgot the coffin.

On the farm of Kirkapol, in Tiree, where the burying-place of the east
end of the island is, the figure of a man in a dress not belonging to the
island—light trousers and blue jacket with white buttons—was seen about
forty years ago by several people in the evenings going in the direction
of the kirkyard. A celebrated seer in the neighbouring village saw it,
and said it was not the taïsh of any man or any man’s son in Tiree. Some
time after a ship was wrecked in the east end of Tiree, and one of the
sailors, whose dress when his body was found corresponded to that of the
taïsh, was taken and buried in Kirkapol. After that the apparition was no
more seen.

The body of a young man drowned in the same neighbourhood, before being
coffined, was laid first on a rock and then on the green sward. A person
who came to the scene after the body was laid on the grass asked if
the body had been laid on the rock mentioned. He was told it had, and
was asked why he enquired. He said his uncle had told him that his
grandfather, who was a taïsher, had said a dead body would yet be laid on
that rock. This shows that the fulfilment of the seer’s vision does not
necessarily take place soon after, or even within a number of years.

The taïsher in Caolas, Tiree, already mentioned as having seen the fetch
of his sister in the smallpox, on a New-Year night accompanied his
brother-in-law, who had spent the evening with him (and from whom the
story has been got), a piece of the way home. When his brother-in-law
urged him to return, as he had come far enough, he asked to be allowed,
as this was the last New Year he would be with his friends. He was asked
what made him think so gloomily of the future. He said the matter was
to be so, and there was no chance of its being otherwise, for he had
seen his own phantom three or four times. In March following the man was

A Tiree taïsher was going out to Tobermory, and taking his passage along
with him was a neighbour going to consult the doctor. There was no
medical officer in those days resident in Tiree. The seer said to one
of the boatmen, he wished he had not the sight he had, for he saw his
fellow-passenger with the dead clothes up to his eyes. “You may,” he
said, “take off my ear if the man’s death is not near hand.” The event
proved the correctness of his vision, and the right to take off his ear
did not arise.


It is a common story that a taïsher saw the figure of an acquaintance
passing with dripping clothes and water in its shoes (_aodach fliuch agus
bogan na bhròig_). Soon after word was received of the drowning of the
person, whose resemblance it was, at the time the figure was seen.

The seeing of spectres about boats in which people are to be drowned,
is also common. When the superstition was in full force, a sure way of
making a boat useless was to say that voices had been heard about it
when it was drawn upon the beach, or that figures had been seen, which
disappeared mysteriously, “whether the earth swallowed them, or the sky
lifted them.” After that no one having a regard for his own life would
put his foot in that boat.

A person from Tiree went for wood to Loch Creran, and at Tobermory
forgot the parcel in which he had a change of clothes. One day he got
wet, soaked through to the skin, and had to sit all evening in his wet
clothes. On his return home to Tiree a woman, who was reputed to have
the gift of second sight, asked him if, on a certain day of the week
(mentioning the one on which this accident occurred), he had got himself
wetted, that she had seen him, and thought he had been drowned. The man
himself tells the story, and says he cannot conceive of any ordinary
channel of information by which the woman could have become aware of his

A man named Conn was drowned at Sorisdal, in Coll. A seer, who had been
at daily work with him, had long seen his boots full of water (_bogan
uisge_), when there was no water in them in reality; and for twelve
months after the event, was haunted wherever he went by the vision of
Conn’s drowning.

A seer in Skye saw, when in reality there was no such object, a woman
sitting in the stern of a boat, which afterwards drowned people in
Portree Bay.

A fishing boat or skiff belonging to the people of Gortendonald, in the
west end of Tiree, was sold, because “things” were said to have been
seen about it, till no one belonging to the village would venture to sea
in it. It was bought by some persons in Scarinish, in the east end of
the island, who professed not to believe in _taibhsearachd_, or second
sight. They gave the loan of it to people in Vaul, on the north side of
the island. Here sights began again to be seen about it, and it was even
said that at a time when it was hauled up on dry land, six men were seen
rowing in it and one steering. At last no one at all would venture to sea
in the boat, and it was sent back to Scarinish. So strong was the feeling
that the Vaul men would not venture with it through the Black Water (_am
Bun dubh_), as the sound between Coll and Tiree is called, but drew it
across the land to Gott Loch, whence the Scarinish people took it home.
After this, its odour in the east end of Tiree became so bad that it
was sold again to villagers in the west end, at some distance from the
place it originally came from. Here it terminated its career in Tiree by
drowning six men.

Sights were similarly seen about a boat in Iona, and it had to be sold.
It went to Islay, and the visions were believed to have received their
fulfilment from the boat being employed to convey dead bodies from a ship
wrecked on the Rhinns of Islay (_an Roinn Ileach_, lit. the sharp edge of

Not many years ago, a man told about a boat on the south side of Tiree,
that he had heard voices about it, like those of people talking, but on
going near found no person there. He did not know, he said, whether the
air had lifted the people whom he thought were there, or the earth had
swallowed them, but he had heard voices, and no person was there. The
boat became worthless, it would drown some one some day, and no one would
go out to fish in it. The owner, therefore, summoned the seer before the
Sheriff and got him fined.


These animals were deemed to have the gift of seeing spectres in a larger
measure than the best seers. They are observed to be frightened, or to
have their fury raised, without any visible or intelligible cause; they
show signs of terror and distress when human eyes can see no cause,
and it is part of the Celtic belief in the second sight that this
excitement is caused by seeing the taïsh, or shades of the living, in
those circumstances, and engaged in those services in which the persons,
whose similitude they are, will afterwards be. Dogs bark at night, and
when this occurs on clear moonlight nights, they are said in English to
“bay the moon.” The Celtic belief does not deny that they often bark
at the moon, but it asserts further their clamour arises, as the event
afterwards proves, from their seeing the forms of that world, in which
fetches and doubles move, the omens of an impending death. Horses are
better spectre-seers than even dogs. At places where a violent or sudden
death is to occur, they take fright, and no effort of the rider can get
them to pass the spot, till at last he has to dismount and lead them
past. This is caused by their seeing the “fetch” of the subsequent event,
but ordinary people pass it over merely as an “unaccountable fright.”

“I have heard,” said a Skyeman, “scores of times the dogs howling before
a funeral was to take place in Kilmuir churchyard. It was because they
saw the wraiths of the living” (_tàslaich nan daoine beò_). It is a
universal Highland belief that certain dogs cry at night when any one in
the house is to die.

In Lorn, a woman, going with leather to a neighbouring shoemaker, had on
her way to cross a wooden bridge thrown over a mountain stream. She was
accompanied by a young child, whom she left, while she herself crossed
the bridge to leave the parcel of leather on the other side. As she was
crossing a second time, leading the child, the stream came down in flood,
as mountain streams do, and carried away the bridge. The woman and child
were drowned, and their bodies were found further down the stream, at a
place where, for fourteen days previously, a grey tailless bitch (_galla
chutach ghlas_), belonging to a neighbour, used to go and howl piteously.

The fierce growling of a dog at night, when nothing is known to be in
the house to excite its fury, is also supposed to arise from its seeing
spirits, or the spectres, it is not known which, of the living or of the
dead. Stories of this class usually run in the same groove. A shepherd
or servant-man has a very good dog, which is in the habit of sleeping in
the same room with himself. One night it suddenly gets up growling, and
is heard making its way to the other end of the room. It returns howling
faintly, springs into bed, and, lying with its forepaws resting on its
master, snarls fiercely at something invisible. The occupant of the bed,
not seeing anything to account for the dog’s fury, puts his head below
the bedclothes and quakes with fear till daylight.

A horse in Vaul, Tiree, ordinarily a quiet beast used, when carting, to
be most unaccountably startled especially when passing a certain boat,
drawn up on the beach. This same boat has been mentioned already as
having, in consequence of being spectre-haunted, been sold by people in
the west end of Tiree to some villagers in the east end, who gave the
loan of it to Vaul people. Lights began also to be seen about it, and it
was ultimately sent back to the lenders, who again sold it to people in
the west end. Here a melancholy loss of life occurred in it. A gale off
the land suddenly sprang up, when the boat, with its six of a crew, was
within a few hundred yards of the shore. The men were seen rowing hard
to bring the boat to land, but they had at last to give up the attempt.
Some days after, the boat came ashore in Coll, with only one of the crew
in it. He was reclining on one of the thwarts dead. It was the horse and
cart mentioned that took home his body. After that day the horse was
never known to be unaccountably startled or frightened. Its former fits
entirely forsook it.


A wailing or unusual cry heard at night, where no one is known to be,
or can be, is an indication that at that place some one will break into
lamentation for the death of a friend, of which he will there first
receive intimation, or will have otherwise cause to cry. The voice heard
is not that of the “fetch” of the man, who is to be killed or drowned,
but that of some mourner—a wife, or sister, or near relation. In these
cries before a sudden death, the voices of women are the most frequently

A cry or scream, indicative of death, and believed to be uttered by a
wraith, was called _tàsg_, and _éigheach tàisg_ or _éigheach tàsg_,
_i.e._ the cry of a wraith.

In the case of a man accidentally drowned on Trabay Beach in Tiree, a cry
described as “a healthy cry” (_glaodh fallain_) was heard at night in the
west end of the island several days previous to the disaster, and four
miles from the scene of the accident, at the spot where the man’s brother
first received the melancholy intelligence. The cry consisted of “òh”
said thrice, and each time at the full length of a man’s breath (_fad

At the old quay in Port Appin, Argyleshire, the wailing of a woman was
heard at night. Some days after, the mother of a young man who had been
accidentally killed in Glasgow, there met the remains, which came by
steamer, and she broke into loud lamentation.

At the Big Bridge (_an Drochaid Mhor_) above Portree Manse, on the
road to Braes, in the Isle of Skye, strange sounds are heard by people
passing there at night, such as the moaning of a dying person, sounds of
throttling, etc. Mysterious objects, dogs, and indistinct moving objects
are also seen at the haunted spot. These are supposed to denote that a
murder will some time be committed here.

Weeping and crying were heard at midnight near the mill-dam in Tiree,
on a dark and rainy night, by a young man going for a midwife for his
brother’s wife. He heard the same sounds on his return. The woman died in
that childbed, and it was observed that at the very spot where the young
man said he heard the sounds of lamentation, her two sisters first met
after her death, and burst into tears and outcries. The person to whom
this incident occurred is now past forty years of age, is intelligent,
and to be relied on as a person who would not tell a lie. There can be no
doubt he heard the lamentation, whatever may have been the cause of his
impression. Strange noises, of which the natural cause is not known, are
readily associated with the first incident that offers any explanation.

In the island of Mull, lamentation (_tuireadh_) was recollected to have
been heard where a young man was accidentally killed ten years after.

Thirty years ago horrible screaming and shouting (_sgiamhail oillteil
agus glaodhaich_) were heard about eight o’clock on a summer evening
across Loch Corry in Kingairloch. In a line with the shouting lay a ship
at anchor, and the burying-ground on the other side of the loch. The cry
was like that of a goat or buck being killed, a bleating which bears a
horrible resemblance to the human voice. Next night the master of the
ship was drowned, no one knew how. The man on the watch said that when
sitting in the stern of the ship he saw the skipper go below, and then a
clanking as if the chain were being paid out. He heard and saw nothing
further. The night was fine.

In July, 1870, a ship struck on a sunken rock in the passages between
the Skerryvore lighthouse and Tiree, and sprang a leak. The shore was
made for at once, but when within 150 yards of it the ship sank. The crew
betook themselves to the rigging, and were ultimately rescued; but the
skipper, in trying to swim ashore, was caught by the current that sweeps
round Kennavara Hill, and drowned. The crying heard in Kennavara Hill
four years previous was deemed to have portended this event.

Crying was heard several times on the reefs to the east end of Coll, and
to the best of the hearer’s belief, it was in English. In the same year
(1870), a boat or skiff with two East Coast fishermen, following their
calling in that neighbourhood, went amissing, and was never heard of.
Many were of opinion it must have been lost on the reefs, where the cries
had long previously been heard.


It was deemed a good sign when lights were seen previous to a person’s
death. The _dreag_ was a light seen in the sky, leaving a tail
(_dreallsach_) behind it, and, according to some, stopping above the
house where the death was to occur; according to others, proceeding from
above the house to the churchyard, along the line the funeral was to
take. The _dreag_ was seen only when a person of consequence was near
his dissolution. Hence an irreverent tailor in East-side, Skye, said he
wished the sky was full of dreags.

It was also a belief that the death-light went along the road a funeral
was to take.

An old man in Druim-a-chaoin, in Lower Rannoch, being sceptical on this
point, was one night called to the door to believe his own eyes. His
house overlooked the public road, and stepping boldly down he stood in
the middle of the road awaiting the approach of the death-light. When it
reached him, it also stood, right before him. The old man gazed fixedly
at the unearthly light, and at last an indistinct and shadowy form
became visible in the middle of it. The form slowly placed the palms of
its two hands together, and extended them towards him. With a startling
suddenness it said “Whish!” and passed over his head. That old man never
afterwards said a word against death-lights.

In another instance of the death-light proceeding along the highway in
the same district, a hare-brained young man went to meet it, and stood
waiting it behind his dirk, which he stuck in the middle of the road.
When the light came to the dirk it stopped, and the young man gazing at
it, at last saw a child’s face in its feeble glare. He then stooped down
and drew his dirk from the ground. As he did so the light passed over his

Lights were also seen where a violent or accidental death was to occur,
and might be seen by the person whose death they fore-tokened. Thus, at
Brae-Glen (_Bràighe Ghlinne_) in Glen-Iuchar, where a river falls into
Loch Sgamadail, in Lorn, lights were seen two years previous to the
drowning of a man of the name of Maclachlan, in the stream when drunk.
Maclachlan had seen these lights himself.

Lights, to which these mysterious meanings are attached, are generally
mere _ignes fatui_. They have of late years become prevalent in the
Hebrides, and various explanations are given of them. In Tiree they are
called “Fairy light” (_Teine sìth_), and are said to be produced by a
bird. In Skye and the northern islands they are called the “Uist light”
(_Solus Uithist_), and the following extraordinary account is given of
their origin:

A young girl one Sunday night insisted, in spite of her mother’s
remonstrances, on starting with a hook and creel to gather plants in the
field for some species of dye before the Sabbath was expired. Finding her
counsels of no avail, the mother in a rage told her to go then and never
return: the young girl never returned, but her hook and creel were found
in the fields, and marks of fighting at the spot. When encountered, the
light jumps three times, and its appearance is that of human ribs with a
light inside of them. It is only an odd number that can see this light.
Two will not see it, but three can. Like other supernatural appearances
it could only speak when spoken to. A young lad once had the courage
to speak to it. The light answered that it was the young girl whom the
above fate befell: that she had done wrong in disobeying her mother, and
breaking the Sabbath day; that it was her mother’s prayer that was the
cause of her unrest; and that she was now doomed to wander about in the
shape of this light till the end of the world.


Shortly before death greenish bright lights were seen moving from one
place to another, when no other light was in the room. These were said
to be spirits awaiting the soul of the dying person. When the body
lay stretched out, previous to being coffined, these lights were seen
hovering near, and perhaps seven or eight butterflies (_dealan-dé_)
fluttered through the room. They moved about the chest, in which were the
bannocks to be used at the funeral, or the winding-sheet (_blà-lìn_),
and about the cupboard in which the glasses were. The belief in these
appearances was not commonly entertained.

A belief in the occurrence of something supernatural at the moment of
death seems to have been not altogether uncommon. On an occasion already
mentioned of a sudden death at Port Appin, Argyleshire, which was
preceded by the noise of bottles rattling, a girl opened the door of a
side room at the moment of the sick man’s dissolution. She returned in
a state bordering on hysteria, cursing and swearing, that she would not
take the world and go in. She said every article in the room seemed to
meet her at the door.


The plant _mòthan_ (_sagina procumbens_), or Trailing Pearlwort, was
placed by old women in Tiree above the door, on the lintel (_san
àrd-dorus_), to prevent the spirits of the dead, when they revisited
their former haunts, from entering the house, and it was customary in
many places to place a drink of water beside the corpse previous to the
funeral, in case the dead should return.

There is a sept of Macdonalds called MacCannel, of whom it is said in
Tiree, that when one dies and the body is laid out to be waked, all the
dead of the race enter the room, go round the body, upon which each lays
his hand, and then in solemn procession march out again. This is the case
at every death of one of the sept, but only those who have the second
sight can see the shades. A man married to one of the MacCannels, whose
father had been long dead, enraged her beyond measure, on the occasion
of the death of one of the sept, by asking her why she had not gone to
Ballevullen (where the death had occurred), last night to see her father.

The spirits of the dead came back to reveal secrets and give good advice.
Those who hid iron during their lifetime, and died without telling
where, could not rest till they had told their secret. Notoriously bad
men, misers, oppressors of the poor, and all whose affections were set
too much on the things of this world, were believed after death to
wander about their former haunts. They seek to be where they left their
treasure. They do not speak till they are spoken to, and it requires
great courage in a living person to address the spirits of the dead. The
last buried had to watch the churchyard till the next funeral; and if the
strings of the winding-sheet were not untied, it was also a belief that
the spirit could not rest.

It is very imprudent to enter into a compact with another, that whoever
dies first will come back to tell his fate to the survivor. The agreement
is unholy, and will entail sorrow, whether the dead man’s position is in
weal or woe.

Two herdsmen at the summer pastures for the cattle (_bothan àiridh_) in
“the wilds of far Kintail” entered into a compact of this kind. One of
them died, and a substitute came in his place. The newcomer observed that
his companion was anxious not to be alone for any time, however short,
but one day he had to go to the strath for yeast (_deasgainn_), the two
being engaged in brewing spirits, and did not return till far on in the
night. The survivor of the two who had made the paction, being thus left
alone, when night came on took to mending his shoes and singing at his
work to keep his courage up. His thoughts constantly reverted to his dead
companion, and the bargain made with him, and the more he thought the
more uneasy he became. At midnight a scraping noise began on the top of
the house, as if some one were trying to make an entrance. The scraping
became louder and louder, and the shoemaker, in the agony of terror, but
pretending to think the noise was made by his comrade who had gone to
the strath, called out, “I know it is you trying to frighten me” (_cuir
eagal orm_). As soon as he spoke, a man, whom he recognised as his dead
companion, entered the hut, wrapped in the grave clothes, but after
saying it was a good thing for him where he (the dead man) had gone, went
away and left him unharmed.

In another case of a similar agreement between two youths in the same
district, the survivor forgot all about the paction, till one night he
was met on the public road by the figure of his departed friend, which
told him to meet it alone at a certain place (which it named) at a
certain hour, otherwise it would be worse for himself. The man, terrified
beyond measure, consulted the parish minister as to what he ought to do,
but the minister merely advised him to pray that no evil would come of
his rash and unguarded compact. He consulted an old man, who told him to
go to the place appointed and take a ball of iron in his hand, and hold
it out to the ghost when shaking hands. The man went, the ghost crushed
the ball of iron and the man escaped, otherwise the spirit, which could
only have come from a bad place, would have crushed his hand into atoms.

A woman in Flodigarry, in Skye, whose husband had been killed by
witchcraft (_buidseachd_), saw him after his death sitting by the
fireside. On being spoken to, the ghost asked, why they had not shaved
him before putting his body in a coffin?[31]


It was part of the lesson impressed on the young Highlander, to treat
that which belonged to the dead with reverence. The unnecessary or
contemptuous disturbing of graves, bones, or other relics of humanity
was reprobated, and sometimes warmly resented. This praiseworthy feeling
towards the dead was strengthened by the pride of race and ancestry,
which formed so prominent a feature of the Highland character, and by
sundry tales of wide circulation.

The story has been already told of the tailor who irreverently gave a
kick to a skull, and was ever after haunted by the man to whom it had
belonged. It is told of one who disturbed a grave at night, that, on his
taking up a skull in his hand, a feeble voice, that of the disturbed
spirit, said, “That’s mine.” He dropped that skull and took up another,
when a like voice said, “That’s mine.” The man cried out, “Had you two

Tradition says the island of Islay derives its name from Ile, a
Scandinavian princess, who went to bathe in a loch there, and sticking
in the soft mud, was drowned. The head and footstones of her grave are
some distance from each other, and of three persons, who successively
attempted to open the grave to see what the bones were like, each died
mad! Very likely this was the fate awaiting them at any rate. Their
action in opening a grave, to satisfy an idle curiosity, was in keeping
with a morbid character, and they only died as they lived.

Stones from a disused burying-ground, called “The Burial-place of the Big
Women,” on the farm of Heynish, in Tiree, were used for building one of
the farm out-houses. In this house, a servant man from Mull was sent to
sleep. Through the night he was disturbed by his dog jumping into bed,
between him and the wall, and with its fore feet resting upon his body,
snarling fiercely at something he could not see. He heard feeble voices
through the house, saying, “This is the stone that was at my head.”
Nothing more came of this visit of the spirits, than that the Mull man
(who was likely the victim of a hoax) positively refused to sleep in that
house again.

The manner in which shades haunt the places where their bodies are, is
very clearly shown in the following tale.

The body of a woman was cast ashore by the sea on the North Beach,
called the Beach of Fell (_Tràigh Feall_), in the island of Coll, and
was buried in the neighbouring sandbanks. After this, the semblance of a
woman was seen in the evenings on the beach, close to the tide. Maclean,
the then tenant of Caolas, a farm near hand, ridiculed the belief. One
evening, however, when going home across the North Beach, at the White
Stream (_Sruth Bàn_), he thought of the numerous stories he had heard of
the apparition, and, looking seaward, saw a woman sitting by the tide,
rocking herself (_ga turruman fhein_), and apparently in the utmost
distress. He went where she was, and asked her what she was doing? “Hand
of cleverness” (_làmh thapaidh_), she answered, “I have been long here;
I try to go home, but I cannot. I was a poor woman belonging to Uist; I
was lost on a rock; my body came ashore here, and I try to go home, but
cannot; my body keeps me.” Maclean asked what reward she would give, if
he took her body home. She promised to be with him in every quarrel or
fight, in which he might be involved. This offer he declined, saying his
own hand was strong enough to extricate him in any difficulty of that
kind. She then offered him the gift of knowing the thief, if anything
should be stolen in Coll. This gift he accepted, and the stones that
marked the grave being told him, he sent for the woman’s brothers, the
body was taken home, and the spectre was no more seen on the North Beach.


A deceased sister’s ghost appeared to a woman in a dream, and told her,
their brother had been buried the day before in Ireland. She also told
the signs, by which next day the truth of the dream was to be proved. The
words of the ghost form in Gaelic a singularly beautiful and plaintive
song. Each line is repeated twice in singing, first with one and then
another of those meaningless choruses to be found in Gaelic melody, and
suiting well with the genius of the language.

        E ha na hoo-roo
    Loving sister, are you sleeping?
        Ho lo va, hoo-roo,
        E ha na hao-lo-ro hee.
    Loving sister, are you sleeping?
    The brother, whom we had in Erin,
    Went yesterday away on bearers.
    I was there, but no one saw me.
    A while on foot, a while on horseback,
    Another while my hands wringing.
    I will give proofs of thy vision,
    The big byre, where the kine are,
    Will be wrapped in flames to-morrow,
    And the infant in your bosom,
    You’ll find dead on your bedside.

It is told of a widower, who was unkind to his children, that the ghost
of his deceased wife in a similar manner appeared to him, and said:

    “Man, who hast shut the door upon me,
      And left me lying here!
    Before the Christmas comes
      A greater loss will befall you.
    Man, who hast the children,
      Rearing them unpeaceably,
    If oft your hand be raised,
      I will not be long at peace with you.”


It was a belief in the island of Coll that a person afflicted with the
second sight might get rid of his unhappy gift, and, as it were, bind
it away (_nasg_) from himself, by giving alms (_déirc_) and praying the
gift may depart. A seer living near Arinagour in that island had two sons
in the army, then engaged in foreign wars, and in his visions saw what
was happening to them. The visions preyed so much on his mind that, to
rid himself of them, he gave half-a-crown to an old woman, and prayed
his second sight might be taken away. After this he saw nothing of his
sons, and, anxious to know their fate, he went to Tiree for a celebrated
taïsher, and brought him to Coll with him. He placed him beside the fire,
which was on the middle of the floor. It was held by the best seers that
visions are best seen through the fire (_roi’ n teine_). Before long the
Tiree seer began to sweat, and the other, who knew that this was caused
by a painful vision, begged him to tell what he saw, and hide nothing.
He told that both the sons were killed—the one by a bullet through the
head, the other shot through the heart and through the neck. Soon after a
letter came to the Laird of Coll corroborating the seer’s vision.



The term _Bòchdan_ (pron. Baucan) is a general name for terrifying
objects seen at night, and taken to be supernatural, bugbears, ghosts,
apparitions, goblins, etc., in all their variety. The word conveys as
much the idea of fright in the observer as of anything hurtful or violent
in the object itself. It is derived from _bòchd_, to come in a swelling
and resistless flood, not an unapt description of the manner in which
fear takes possession of its victims. Any object, indistinctly seen, may
prove a hobgoblin of this kind. It may be merely a neighbour playing
pranks by going about in a white sheet, a stray dog, a bush waving and
sighing in the night wind, or even a peat-stack looming large in the
imperfect light. There is a story of a man on Loch Rannoch-side who
fought a bush, in mistake for a ghost, in a hollow, which had an evil
name for being haunted. The conflict continued till dawn, when he was
found exhausted, scratched, and bleeding.

Sometimes the Baucan, or terrifying object, causes fright by its mere
appearance, sometimes by the noises it makes, and sometimes by its
silence. In appearance it is commonly a man or woman moving silently
past, and not speaking till spoken to, if even then; but it has also
been encountered as a black dog, that accompanies the traveller part of
his way, as a headless body (a particularly dangerous form of ghost),
as a he-goat, or simply a dark moving object. At other times it is
terrific from having a chain clanking after it, from its whistling with
unearthly loudness, by horrible and blood-freezing cries and sounds of
throttling, and sometimes it makes its presence known only by faint and
hardly audible sounds. In fact, the number and variety of things by which
superstitious terror may be awakened at night are countless.

In most cases the Baucan is deemed the precursor of a sudden or violent
death to occur at the place where it is seen or heard. It is remembered
after the event that an unaccountable light was seen there at night, or a
horse had become uneasy and could not be induced by its rider to pass, or
something extraordinary had been observed, which the popular imagination
connects with the subsequent event. At other times the Baucan is the
spirit of the dead revisiting the earth, that it may be spoken to, and
unburden itself of some secret that disturbs its rest. Sometimes it is an
evil spirit on some message of darkness and sometimes merely a sound or
indistinct object by which the wayfarer is frightened, but of which he is
unable to give any lucid description. Fright is destructive of curiosity,
and a person ready to faint with terror cannot be expected to be critical
in his observations, nor afterwards coherent in his statements. Besides,
vagueness or indistinctness as to the cause—an element to which the
obscurity of night lends a ready aid—tends to render fear more frantic.
If the observer had a distinct view of the object of his alarm, and
knew exactly what it was, even though it were a spirit of darkness, his
terror would be less. _Omne ignotum pro magnifico_ is an axiom that holds
especially true in such cases, and it is ignorance of its own cause that
gives terror its wildest forms. A ghost or apparition seen in the day
time, if that were possible, would not be at all so dreadful.

It may be said, that every Highland village has near it a locality
where a ghost or _baucan_ is, or was, to be seen. A favourite haunt
for these unearthly visitants is by the fords of rivers (_beul àth na
h-aimhne_), where generally bridges have been built in modern times,
near churchyards, on dark moors, and in hollows, or rather at the top of
the ascent from hollows, traversed by the public road. Not unfrequently
there is a projecting rock (_sròin creige_) near the spot, and this may
have its own share in producing that sense of loneliness and awe, which
makes the belated peasant prone to convert stray animals and unusual
appearances into ghosts and spirits. It is a noticeable feature in
ghost stories, that it is principally to those travelling alone, and not
accustomed to walk the night, that ghosts are visible. They have been
seen in houses, and even in towns, but ordinarily they affect lonely
places, where naturally men are more apt to be timorous.

The “Black Shore” (_du-chladach_) as it is called, _i.e._ the shore below
the line or roll of seaweed thrown up by the tide (_ròlag ròid_), is,
according to Highland belief, an asylum from all kinds of supernatural
beings that haunt the night, fairies, ghosts, or evil spirits. No being
“at all, at all” of the kind (_seòrsa sam bith, sam bith_) can go below
the tide mark. The confidence of the timorous in this place of refuge is
confirmed by the assurance that they are not exposed to a similar danger
from the sea. It is a saying, “Evil comes not from the sea” (_Cha d’thig
olc sam bith o’n fhairge_).

Ghosts and evil spirits cannot cross a running stream, a belief which had
its origin before the days of bridges. The shock given to the nerves by
the cold water, when it was of any depth, served to dispel the optical
delusion caused by unfounded terror.

When about to encounter a Baucan the dirk should be partly drawn from its
sheath, otherwise it will prove impossible during the encounter to draw
the weapon. In the event of the evil spirit asking its name it should
not be called by its proper name, “a dirk” (_biodag_), but “my father’s
sister” (_piuthar m’athar_), “my grandmother’s sister” (_piuthar mo
sheanamhair_) or by some similar title. This prevents enchantments being
laid upon it to render it useless. The effect of these is, that instead
of giving the ghost its _quietus_, the weapon merely makes a tinkling
noise (_gliong_) against it. Evil spirits cannot bear the touch of cold
steel. Iron, or preferably steel, in any form is a protection, though it
is not obvious how or why, against the fairies,—an iron ring on the point
of a staff is as good as a sword, but evil spirits are subdued by it only
when made into a lethal weapon.

In the struggle the ghost is in the hands of its opponent, soft as a bag
of wool or impalpable as air. At every tussle, therefore, the unfortunate
man is thrown down and injured.

In the presence of an evil spirit, a dog defends its master, or crouches
in terror about his feet, but a bitch jumps at his throat, and if it
can will tear him. It is, however, rendered harmless, by taking blood
from its ear, or tying a collar (_conghal_ i.e. _ceangal_), usually its
master’s garter, about its neck. Similarly an entire horse was said to
defend its master, but a mare attacked him. It was also a belief, that an
entire horse could not be injured by witches or evil spirits.

The best protection is a circle drawn round one’s self on the ground with
the point of a sapling or dirk, saying “The Cross of Christ be upon us”
(_Crois Chriosd oirnn!_) All the spirits that infest the night may dash
in fury against this circle, but they can no more pass it, than the most
threatening waves of the sea the rocks that form their appointed bounds.
As already suggested, this circle is the superstitious representative of
a person’s own integrity, within which he is safe from the attacks and
wiles of the devil. It is known also in Ireland, as the following story
told in Arisaig, Inverness-shire, by an Irish packman, shows.

A priest’s brother having died, a young man, who had been a bosom friend
of his, expressed an ardent wish some weeks after to see him again. That
same evening he was met by the shade of his dead companion, and the two
had a long talk together. They spoke of the pleasure, they had in each
other’s society, and the dead man got the other to promise to meet him
at the same spot the following evening. It added, “To make you sure it
is indeed I, you will tell my brother the priest of such and such an
occurrence [describing it], which nobody knows but he and I.” On his way
home, the young man called upon the priest, and told what he had seen.
“It is not my brother’s ghost at all,” said the priest, “but the devil,
who is trying to decoy you into his power; I will go with you to-morrow
night to meet him.” The two went together to the place of appointment,
the priest taking with him a dirk, with which he traced a circle round
them, and an iron hoop, inside of which also they stood. A figure in face
and form like the priest’s brother, “most like, yet not the same,” came,
but on finding itself outwitted, and a Bible being opened before it, went
away in a flame of fire.

THE _Bodach_, OR CARLE.

The _bodach_ (lit. a carle, an old man) is perhaps the commonest form of
Baucan, so common that in some districts, _e.g._ the Lord Reay country
(_Dùthaich Mhic Aoi_), as the seven parishes nearest to Cape Wrath are
called, they have no other name for apparitions or terrifying objects
seen at night. It is the figure of a man, who is no “living wight,”
seen at night, and as may readily be imagined, this kind of apparition
is frequently seen when children are obstreperous, querulous, or crying
without cause, as their manner is. The Beckoning Old Man (_Bodach an
Sméididh_) appears about the corners of houses, making signs with his
hand for people to come to him. The _Corra-lòigein_, whatever his name
may mean, stands in places which it is desirable to keep children from
wandering to after dark, and will ill-treat any of whom it gets a
hold. The principal of these _Lemures_ is “The Son of Platter-pool,”
whose full title is, “The Son of Platter-pool from grey spike, silken
spike, great caterpillar.”[32] This, as his name indicates, is really a
frightful bugbear; he looks in at windows, flattens his face against the
panes, sharpens his teeth with much noise, and takes away children in a
twinkling, unless they keep quiet. Neither he, however, nor any of his
brother bugbears, enter a house unless called in. The threat of doing so
is generally quite sufficient to silence the most ill-grained child.


This word means literally aversion, hatred, but in Ross-shire is a common
word to denote an apparition, ghost, spectre. In this latter sense, it is
rare in Argyleshire. In the poem of the _Muireartach_ or _Muileartach_,
which may be translated, “Western Sea,” foster-mother of Manus, King of
Lochlin, describing her attack upon Fin MacCoul and his men, it is said:

    “The name of the daring spectre (fuath)
    Was the bold, red, white-maned Westlin Sea;
    Her face was dusky, of the hue of coal,
    The teeth of her jaws crooked red;
    In her head there glared a single eye,
    That swifter moved than bait-pursuing mackerel;
    And on her head there bristled dark-grey hair,
    Like brushwood covered with hoar-frost.”[33]

The attributes of the _Fuath_ are different in different tales, and
Mr. Campbell (_Tales of the West Highlands_, ii. 191) has fallen into
the error of conjoining attributes ascribed in several stories, and
representing the _Fuath_ as a water spirit, having web-feet, tail, mane,
etc. The name of a desolate moor near Ullapool, in Ross-shire, “The
Flat-stoned Declivity of Fuaths” (_Leathad leacanta nam Fuath_), is alone
convincing it was not deemed particularly a water spirit.

The following tales will illustrate the character of Highland hobgoblins
and such-like objects of terror better than a lengthened disquisition.


At the bottom of a dell, or hollow, through which the public road lies,
in the island of Islay, there was a gate across the road, bearing the
above name, which means “The Beard gateway.” At this place things
unearthly were encountered after dark. One night a man saw an indistinct
object coming towards him. He could give no account of it, but that
its mouth was wide open, as if to devour him, and that from the width
of its gape he could see its lungs (_sgamhan_) down its throat. He was
accompanied, fortunately, by a large Newfoundland dog, which rushed
between his legs at the “thing,” and a terrific fight ensued. He ran away
home, leaving them at it. In the morning the dog came without any hair on
its body, and shortly after its return expired.

About the middle of February, a party was coming home from the
market held on the Level Ridge (_Imire Còmhnard_) at Ballygrant (Ugly
Town). Before parting they entered a roadside inn. One of them, Ewen
M’Corkindale, had, after leaving, to pass through the Beard gateway and
the haunted dell. His companions made fun of him, and asked him if he
was not afraid of the _Bodach_, the carle, or old man, who haunted the
dell. Out of fool-hardiness, Ewen proposed “the health of the _bodach_,
the old man, and let the _cailleach_, the old wife, go to the dogs.”
When he reached the haunted spot two apparitions, an old man and an old
woman, met him. The old woman endeavoured to attack him, but the old man
kept her off, and ever after, at every opportunity, the same scene was
rehearsed, the old wife attacked him and the old man defended him. The
latter also told him to go to a smithy in Ireland, others say to two
brothers in Cantyre, and get a dirk made, and as long as he kept this on
his person the old woman would not venture to attack him. The dirk bent
three times in the making, and from its possession Ewen acquired the
title of “Ewen of the Dirk” (_Eoghan na biodaig_). As he was working one
evening by moonlight in the harvest field, he left the dirk on a stook of
corn, along with his vest. The carlin wife got between him and the dirk,
and gave him such a squeeze that he put out three mouthfuls of blood. The
_bodach_ came, but too late, to his rescue. It however, told him, that if
he survived till cock-crowing, five years would be added to his life.
Ewen woke up now and then to ask if the cock crew yet, but when it did
it was too late. Very likely the poor man died of some rupture or heart
disease. The dirk was preserved by his son.

THE HEADLESS BODY (_Colann gun cheann_).

At the shore and forming part of the boundary between North and South
Morar,[34] on the west coast of Inverness-shire, there is a large rocky
mound (_cnoc mòr creige_), which was long the cause of terror in the
district. At the base of the mound a road can be taken along the shore
when the tide is out. No one, however, taking it alone after nightfall,
lived to tell the tale. His remains were found next day among the large
boulder stones (_eòmach mòr chlach_), of which the shore is full,
mangled, and bearing traces of a ghastly and unnatural death. Persons
who had the second sight looking over the rocks that overhang the shore
said they saw a phantom or “something” haunting the place, having the
shape of a headless human figure. Macdonall or MacCuïl, as he is styled,
of South Morar (_Mac Dhughaill mhòrair_), whose house was not far from
the scene of the Headless Body’s violence, unexpectedly became the means
of expelling it from its haunt. He was one winter evening unexpectedly
visited by a friend. He had no one to send to Bracara across the river,
to invite some more friends to come and join in the entertainment of
his guest but his son and heir, then about 18 years of age. He strictly
enjoined the youth not to return that night unless men came with him,
for fear of the Headless Body. The young man did not find the friends he
was sent for at home, and with the temerity natural to his years came
back alone. The Body met him and killed him, and in the morning were
found traces of a fearful struggle, large stones displaced and clots of
blood, as if the youth had put out his heart’s blood. MacCuïl made a
solemn vow neither to eat nor drink till he avenged his son’s death. All
that evening his friends tried to persuade him to remain at home, but
to no purpose. The Headless Body never appeared but to those who passed
its way alone, and the chief’s friends had to return while he went on
unaccompanied to the haunted rocks. The Body came out and said, “You have
come to take your son’s ransom (_éiric_); take counsel, and go home.” To
this the chief replied by clasping his arms round the hated apparition. A
furious struggle commenced, and to this day the stones may be seen which
were rolled out of their way in the dread encounter. At last the strong
and fearless chief got the Headless Body under, and drew his dirk to stab
it. The Body cried, “Hold your hand, MacCuïl, touch me not with the iron,
and while there is one within the twentieth degree related to you (_air
an fhicheadamh miar_) in Morar, I will not again be seen.”

When this story was heard some years ago there were only two alive within
this relationship to the ancient chief, one a harmless idiot, the other
a poor woman in Fort William. One or other of them must be still alive,
for the Headless Ghost has not yet made its reappearance. The person from
whom it was heard, was a firm believer in its truth, and in his youth,
half a century ago, was well acquainted with the district in which the
events were said to have occurred. He had learned and practised the
tailoring trade there.

Another, and somewhat different, version of the tale will be found in
Campbell’s _West Highland Tales_, ii. 89. In it the subduing of the
ghost is ascribed to Stout John, Laird of Raasay, a proof of the manner
in which floating popular tales attach themselves to known characters.
The words ascribed to the Body as it went away, were composed in the
East Indies by a piper of the name of Bruce from East-side, Skye. _Beinn
Heidera_ and _Bealach a Bhorbhain_ are both in East-side, Skye. The
words are an adaptation of an old tune, “_Thogainn fonn air gille an

The tale quoted by Scott (_Lay of the Last Minstrel_ note Q) from Henry
the Minstrel, of Sir William Wallace’s encounter with the Headless
Body is also known in the Hebrides, and has been told to the writer
by a native of the extreme west of Tiree. According to this version,
Macfadyen’s head was cut off by Wallace to avoid his falling alive into
the hands of the English. Macfadyen was an old man and not able to keep
up with the rest of the retreating company. When Wallace himself went
to open the door, the Headless Body stood holding the head by the hair
in its hand, and threw it at Wallace. Wallace picked it up and flung it
out at the door as far as he could. The Headless Body went in search of
it and Wallace made his escape by a window on the opposite side of the

There is a rhyme with which probably some legend was formerly connected:

    “When Fionn went to the hill
    He met Headless Body.”[35]

It was deemed very foolhardy in a boy to go out after dark alone and say,

    “Headless Body
    Come and take me away.”[36]

THE GREY PAW (_Spòg liath_).

In the big church of Beauly (_Eaglais mhor na manachain_, _i.e._ of
the Monastery) mysterious and unearthly sights and sounds were seen
and heard at night, and none who went to watch the churchyard or
burial-places within the church ever came back alive. A courageous tailor
made light of the matter and laid a wager that he would go any night, and
sew a pair of hose in the haunted church. He went and began his task.
The light of the full moon streamed in through the windows, and at first
all was silent and natural. At the dead hour of midnight, however, a big
ghastly head emerged from a tomb and said, “Look at the old grey cow that
is without food, tailor.”[37] The tailor answered, “I see that and I sew
this,” and soon found that while he spoke the ghost was stationary, but
when he drew breath it rose higher. The neck emerged and said, “A long
grizzled weasand that is without food, tailor.”[38] The tailor went on
with his work in fear, but answered, “I see it, my son, I see it, my son,
I see that and I sew this just now.”[39] This he said drawling out his
words to their utmost length. At last his voice failed and he inhaled a
long breath. The ghost rose higher and said, “A long grey arm that is
without flesh or food, tailor.”[40] The trembling tailor went on with
his work and answered, “I see it, my son, I see it, my son; I see that
and I sew this just now.” Next breath the thigh came up and the ghastly
apparition said, “A long, crooked shank that is without meat, tailor.” “I
see it, my son, I see it, my son; I see that and I sew this just now.”
The long foodless and fleshless arm was now stretched in the direction of
the tailor. “A long grey paw without blood or flesh, or muscles, or meat,
tailor.”[41] The tailor was near done with his work and answered, “I see
it, my son, I see it, my son; I see that and I sew this just now,” while
with a trembling heart he proceeded with his work. At last he had to
draw breath, and the ghost, spreading out its long and bony fingers and
clutching the air in front of him, said, “A big grey claw that is without
meat, tailor.”[42] At that moment the last stitch was put in the hose,
and the tailor gave one spring of horror to the door. The claw struck at
him and the point of the fingers caught him by the bottom against the
door-post and took away the piece. The mark of the hand remains on the
door to this day. The tailor’s flesh shook and quivered with terror, and
he could cut grass with his haunches as he flew home.

This is perhaps the most widely known and most popular story in the
Highlands. Its incidents can be reproduced on a winter evening with
frightful distinctness by means of a shadow on the wall. This gives
it a wonderful attraction for children, and if fear can under any
circumstances be called into healthy action (and dread, like any other
power or capacity of the mind must have a proper and healthy action),
it is in listening to this or similar stories. Their baneful effects,
if such there be, soon disappear. There is hardly an old church in the
Highlands, where the event has not been said to have occurred. A writer
in the last statistical account (Argyleshire, p. 682 note) claims it
for the old church of Glassary. In Skye it is placed in the _Eaglais
Uamhalta_ in Conasta near Duntulm. The old church of Beauly has the most
popular claim, though to a youthful audience the truth of the story is
much confirmed by putting the scene in some place that they know.

In the cathedral of Iona, there is a small nook pointed out, called “the
tailor’s hole” (_Toll an taìllear_), where it is said the monks kept the
tailor who made their clothes. They kept him too long, and too busy at
his work, and at last “things” began to trouble him at night. The worst
of these was a fleshless hand that used to show itself on the wall, and
say, “a great grey paw that is without meat, tailor.”

Another form of the tale is that the tailor was at the _aire chlaidh_,
_i.e._ watching the graveyard, of a friend, in a chapel (_caibeal_)
when the foodless figure began to emerge from a tomb. The tailor did
not run away till the figure had got up as far as the knees, and said:
“_Sliasaid liath reamhar_,” etc.


One of the commonest of Gaelic sayings is, “Whether he would or not, as
the old wife came upon Ewen,” to which is frequently added, “a wife as
big as his mother” (_a dheòin no dh’aindeoin, mar thainig a chailleach
air Eoghan, bean cho mòr ri mhathair_). There are various versions of the
origin of this tale, but none of them common.

The celebrated Ewen Cameron of Locheil (who is characterised by Macaulay,
in his _History of England_, as the Ulysses of the Highlands, a gracious
master, a trusty ally, and a terrible enemy), was on a journey, as the
story goes, from Aberdeen to Inverness. He was at the time a young man,
and on entering the inn, in which he stayed at Aberdeen, the evening
before starting, he found sitting before him an old woman he had never
seen before. On seeing Ewen she wrinkled up her nose, tossed her head,
and said “hĭh.” Ewen, being of a witty humour, replied by wrinkling up
his own nose, tossing his head, and saying “hŏh.” Next morning when
starting, he found the hag waiting for him at the door. She said, “Step
it out, Ewen” (_Ceum ann, Eoghain!_) He said nothing, but went on his
way. All day the old woman walked alongside, and, whenever his steps
flagged, repeated her challenge to him to step it out. Ashamed to be
beat by an old woman, and agile as a wild cat, Ewen held on at a headlong
pace, and before nightfall the pair were in Inverness, 108 miles away.
Ewen was sadly fatigued, as may well be supposed from the distance and
the pace. That night he consulted an old man, who advised him to answer
the old wife’s challenge also in words, and no evil would result from
his walk. Next day the hag, as before, was waiting for him at the door,
and said, “Step it out, Ewen” (_Ceum ann, Eoghain!_) He answered: “A
step for your step, and a step additional, old woman!” (_Ceum air do
cheum, agus ceum a bharrachd, a chailleach!_) This day they walked to
Patrickson Sound (_Caolas ’ic Phadruig_), as the ferry across Loch Leven
at Balachulish is called, a distance of 75 miles. Ewen got into the ferry
boat first, and pushed off from the shore. When the hag saw herself about
to lose him, she called out, “My sincere wishes are yours, Ewen” (_Mo
dhùrachd dhut fhéin, Eoghain!_) He replied: “Your sincere wishes be upon
your own sides, and on yonder grey stone, old wife!” (_Rùn do chridh’ air
do chliathaich ’s air a chloich ghlais ud thall, a chailleach_). The old
wife looked at the grey stone, and it split in two, as may still be seen
by any one passing that way.

Another version of the parting of Ewen and the Old Wife is, that the pair
came to Ewen’s foster-mother’s house. That night his foster-mother put
him to sleep on a hard deal board, and placed a crock of butter[43] to
his feet, while she put the old wife in a soft and luxurious bed. In the
morning Ewen was as fresh as a lark, his feet had soaked in the whole of
the butter during the night, but the Carlin wife was dead!

Another, and probably older, tale of the origin of the saying, is of a
wilder cast. Ewen was a jolly young fellow (_óganach grinn_) who went to
a wedding. He had a switch in his hand, with which, when the ceremony was
being performed in the church, he tapped a skull in the church window,
saying to it every word the minister said to the couple marrying. That
night on going to bed he was seized by a shivering cold, and an old
woman (_cailleach_) came and claimed him as her husband. She said, they
were married as surely as the couple in church that day. She came night
after night, and Ewen, whose thoughtless fun had turned to such terrible
earnestness, could not get rid of her, do what he could. An old man,
whom he consulted, said, there was a bad chance of her going away while
he lived, but that he ought to consult Michael Scott. Michael said, “I
will separate you from her, but perhaps you will not live after. Here is
a book, which you are to take to bed with you, and when she goes away,
open the book, and follow her wherever she goes. While the book is open,
she cannot leave you by walking. Before you come back, you will see the
bed prepared for me, and will be able to tell me what it is like.” The
hag went to hell, and Ewen followed.[44] Several subordinate demons came
first to the door, but Ewen demanded an interview with their chief. He
then requested, that the old wife should be bound with chains, to keep
her always in her infernal abode. This was done, but when he offered
to go away, she followed. She was then put below a caldron (_fo bhial
coire_) on the bed of brimstone prepared for Michael Scott, and she is
probably there still. Ewen came back to tell Michael, that his bed was
ready, and did not live long after his terrible adventure.


Rather more than a century ago,[45] there lived at Amhulaich, in
Rannoch, a miller, much addicted to the use of tobacco, and when unable
to get it, was like most smokers very short and quick in the temper.
On one occasion, he ran out of tobacco, and sent for a supply by some
Lochaber men, who were passing through Rannoch on their way to Perth.
The mill-stream ran close to his house, and he had to cross it on
stepping stones in going to and from the mill. As he was returning home
one evening in the dusk, and was about to enter the house, he heard the
sound of footsteps coming to the ford. He called out, who is there? but
received no answer. Being crusty for want of tobacco, and thinking it
might be the Lochaber men returning, he called out a second time, very
peremptorily and impatiently. He still received no answer. He called out
a third time, turning down to the ford, and saying aloud, that, whether
it was man or devil, he would make it answer. The thing then spoke, and
said it (or he) was the Black Walker of the Ford (_Coisiche du beul an
àth_). What further passed between the two never transpired, but every
evening after that, for a year or more, the miller left home at dusk,
crossed the stream, and went to a small clump of trees about half a
mile away, whence loud cries and yells were heard during the night.
Before daybreak he came home, with his knife or dirk covered with blood.
When examined by the light, the blood proved to be merely earth. An
attempt was made on one occasion by some young men to follow him to the
rendezvous, but he became aware in some mysterious way of the attempt,
and turning back warned them not to follow. It was enough, he said, for
himself to go, without their perilling their souls. On the last night of
his going to meet the Black Walker, such terrific outcries were heard
from the clump of trees, that the people of the neighbouring villages,
Amhulaich and Cragganoür, came to the doors to listen. It was a winter
night, and next morning marks of a foot or knee were found in the snow,
along with the miller’s own footsteps, as if something had been engaged
in a struggle with him. Some years after this, a man, who had been away
in America, entered Amhulaich Mill. The miller at the time was dressing
the mill-stone, and whenever he observed the American, threw at him the
pick he had in his hand, and nearly killed another, who was standing
near. He told him never to appear in his presence again, that he had
had enough of him. Many surmised it was this man, who had troubled him
before, but whether it was or not never appeared.


Within the present century, a native of Glen Erochty (_Gleann
Eireachdaidh_), the valley that leads from Athole to Rannoch, was
similarly afflicted. Every evening he went to meet the evil spirit, at
a small circle of trees, on the top of the hill above the clachan of
Strowan. The last occasion of his doing so, was after the shinty playing
on New-Year’s day. He took with him a large stick, which had been cut
that same day in the wood, and had served one of the players for a
shinty stick. Next day this stick was found at the scene of the nightly
meetings, twisted like a withe, while all round within a circle the snow
was trampled, as if there had been a struggle. There were marks of a
man’s foot and of a knee.


About seventy years ago, a young man, a native of the village of Cornaig,
in Tiree, went in the evening to another village, _Cruaidh-ghortain_,
about two miles distant. When he reached it, he reclined on a bed,
and being tired fell fast asleep. He awoke with a start, and thinking
from the clearness of the night (it was full moon) daylight had come,
hurried off home. His way lay across a desolate moor, called the Yellow
Ridge (_Druim Buidhe_), and when halfway he heard a loud whistle behind
him, but in a different direction from that in which he had come, at a
distance, as he thought, of above a mile. The whistle was so unearthly
loud, he thought every person in the island must have heard it. He
hurried on, and when opposite the Sharp-pointed Rock (_An Carragh
biorach_) he heard the whistle again, as if at the place where he himself
had been when he heard it first. The whistle was so clear and loud,
that it sent a shiver through his very marrow. With a beating heart he
quickened his pace, and when at the gateway adjoining the village he
belonged to, he heard the whistle at the Pointed Rock. He here made off
the road, and managed to reach home before being overtaken. He rushed
into the barn, where he usually slept, and, after one look towards the
door at his pursuer, buried himself below a pile of corn. His brother
was in a bed in the same barn asleep. His father was in the house, and
three times, with an interval between each call, heard a voice at the
door saying, “Are you asleep? Will you not go to look at your son? He is
in danger of his life, and in risk of all he is worth” (_an geall na’s
fhiach e_). Each call became more importunate, and at last the old man
rose and went to the barn. After a search he found his son below a pile
of sheaves, and nearly dead. The only account the young man could give
was, that when he stood at the door, he could see the sky between the
legs of his pursuer, who came to the door and said it was fortunate for
him he had reached shelter; and that he (the pursuer) was such a one who
had been killed in the Field of Birds (_Blàr nam Big-ein_) in the Moas, a
part of Tiree near hand.

In its main outline, this tale may be correct enough. A hideous nightmare
or terror had made the fatigued young man hide himself under the corn,
and things as strange have happened, in the history of nervous delusions,
as that he should have gone himself to the door of the dwelling house to
call his father.


This was the battle in which Cairbre and Oscar, the son of Ossian,
were killed. It was fought in Ireland about the fifth century, and
from the poem or ballad, in which Ossian describes the battle and the
circumstances of his son’s death, and which is still extant in popular
tradition, has always been the most celebrated of Celtic battles.
Macpherson has worked up the popular accounts in the first Book of
Temora, but not very successfully.

One night a little man, of the name of Campbell, was going home from the
smithy, with the ploughshare and coulter on his shoulder, and in a narrow
glen encountered a gigantic figure, that stood with a foot resting on
each side of the valley. This figure asked him, “What is your name?” He
answered boldly (as became one of the clan), “Campbell.” It then asked,
“Were you at the Battle of Gaura?” He answered “Yes.” “Show me your hand,
then, that I may know if you were at the Battle of Gaura.” Instead of
his hand, Campbell held out the ploughshare and coulter, and the figure
grasped them so tightly, that they were welded together and had to be
taken back to the smithy, to be separated. “I see,” said the apparition,
“that you were at the Battle of Gaura, for your hand is pretty hard.”

Two men were during the night on their way, it is said, to steal sheep.
One beguiled the way by telling the other about the Battle of Gaura. Two
figures of immense size appeared, one on the top of each of two high
hills in the neighbourhood. The gigantic apparitions spoke to each
other, and one said, “Do you hear these men down there? I was the second
best hero (_ursainn chath_, lit. door-post of battle) at the Battle
of Gaura, and that man down there knows all about it better than I do


From Kyle-rhea (_Caol-Redhinn_), the narrowest part of the Sound of Skye,
the Pass of Odal stretches westward and forms one of the most striking
Pass views in the Highlands. It was through it, that the first public
road was made in Skye, about sixty years ago. At the time it was being
made, the Pass was haunted by “something” awful—the more awful that its
character was not distinctly known,—that enjoyed an evil reputation far
and wide as “The Beast of Odal Pass” (_Biasd Bealach Odail_). This thing,
whatever it was, did not always appear in the same shape. Sometimes
it bore the form of a man, sometimes of a man with only one leg; at
other times it appeared like a greyhound, or beast prowling about; and
sometimes it was heard uttering frightful shrieks and outcries, which
made the workmen leave their bothies in horror. It was only during the
night it was seen or heard. Travellers through the Pass at night were
often thrown down and hurt by it, and with difficulty made their way to
a place of safety. It ceased when a man was found dead at the roadside,
pierced with two wounds one on his side and one on his leg, with a hand
pressed on each wound. It was considered impossible these wounds could
have been inflicted by human agency.

_Luideag_, “THE RAG.”

At a small loch between Broadford and Sleat, in Skye, called “The Lakelet
of Black Trout” (_Lochan nan dubh bhreac_), thirty or forty years ago,
the figure of a young woman with a coat about her head was commonly to be
seen at night in the neighbourhood of and on the public road that passes
that way. She went by the name _Luideag_, _i.e._ the Rag, or slovenly
female. She did not answer when spoken to, and disappeared as silently
and mysteriously as she made her appearance. The place is lonely and far
from houses, and there was no conceivable reason why any one, much less
a female, should nightly frequent it. An excise-man passing the way once
spoke to _Luideag_, first in English and then in Gaelic, but she answered
not a word. A man was found lying dead on the road at the place, and she
never appeared afterwards.

_Lochan Doimeig._

On the skirts of Schiehallion, the steepest and one of the highest hills
in the kingdom, there is a small loch or tarn, near Crossmount, in Lower
Rannoch, the vicinity of which about 50 years ago was the scene of
strange terrors at night. The road leading over the shoulder of the hill
to Weem lay along the shores of this lake, and, where it was crossed
by a small stream that falls into the loch, those who passed the way
after dark were scared by strange sights. After crossing the ford the
traveller was accompanied for about twenty yards by a dog, a he-goat, a
dark moving mass, or some other object, which, from the unaccountable
manner of its appearance and disappearance, could not be deemed earthly.
A native of Kilchonan, in Rannoch, who had been for some time in the
south as a gardener, came on a visit to his friends, and had to pass in
the neighbourhood of the loch. It was ascertained that at Cashieville
(_Cois-a-bhile_), where he left the strath of the Tay to cross the skirts
of Schiehallion, he had taken a drink of porter. It was fourteen days
after before it was ascertained he never reached Kilchonan. A search
was instituted; men gathered from Appin and Athole and Rannoch, and the
whole country round about, and continued the search for three or four
days, even as far as Glenlyon, but without success. One of the exploring
parties when above Crossmount was met by a woman, who advised them to
search round _Lochan Doimeig_, for she had dreamt last night she was
cutting rushes there. Soon after a man met them, who gave them the same
advice, and said he had had the same dream. On going round the loch
they found the dead gardener lying on a green mound on the brink of the
stream, already mentioned as crossing the road, in the attitude in which
he had stretched himself to take a drink.


A former minister of East-side, Skye, was in his lifetime addicted to
visiting his cattle fold. His whole heart was given to his herds, and
after his death his ghost was to be seen revisiting his former haunts. An
old man undertook to meet and lay the ghost. The two met and saluted each
other in the usual manner. When shaking hands, however, the man, instead
of his hand, offered the ploughshare. After that the ghost never came

In the same neighbourhood, about thirty years ago, a man died suddenly.
His wife watched the cows in harvest soon after this, lest they should
leave the fank or enclosure, in which they were put at nights to keep
them from wandering into the crops. She had occasion one night to leave
her charge and go to a shop two miles away. On her return she went to
close a gap (_beàrn_) in the fold (_buaile_). She found there her late
husband, who told her not to be anxious, as he was watching in her stead.
Every night after this he was visible to anyone who chose to go and look
for him. He even came to the house to _ceilidh_, _i.e._ to while away
the time, a favourite recreation in the Highlands (λέσχη of the ancient
Greeks) of spending the evening, by gathering in a neighbour’s house
to listen to gossip and tales and idle talk. The dead man’s attentions
at last made the wife resolve to sell all she had and go to America.
On the day of the sale the cattle could not be gathered; they seemed
to be taken possession of by an undefinable terror, and the sale and
projected emigration had to be abandoned. A little bird hovering about
was evidently the cause of the wildness of the cattle. After this day the
visits of the dead man ceased.


In 1616 a batch of West Highland and Island chiefs were brought before
the Privy Council in Edinburgh, and bound over in restrictions as to
the quantity of wine they were respectively to use in their houses.
The narrative upon which the Privy Council proceeded is quoted by
Gregory (_History of the Western Highlands_, p. 395): “The great and
extraordinary excesse in drinking of wyne, commonlie usit among the
commonis and tenantis of the Yllis is not only ane occasioun of the
beastlie and barbarous cruelties and inhumanities that fallis oute
amongis thame, to the offens and displeasour of God, and contempt of law
and justice; but that it drawis numberis of thame to miserable necessitie
and povartie, sua they are constrainit, quhen they want from their awne,
to take from their nichtbours.”[46] Among these lawless and reckless
chiefs was Donald Gorm Mor (Big Blue Donald), of Sleat, in Skye, the then
Lord Macdonald of the Isles. He was prevented from attending the Council
by sickness, but ratified all their proceedings. “He named Duntulm, a
castle of his family in Trouterness (in Skye), as his residence; and six
household gentlemen and an annual consumption of four tun of wine was
allowed him.” He died that same year, and was succeeded by his nephew,
Donald Gorm Og (Young Blue Donald). So far history; the following
tradition is well known in Skye:

Some family document went amissing, and its loss was likely to be of
serious consequence to young Donald Gorm. At the same time the figures
of Donald Gorm Mor and two companions were repeatedly seen on the road
leading to Duntulm Castle. Efforts were made to accost them, but the
three figures passed those who met them in some mysterious manner without
being noticed, and without giving any opportunity of being accosted. They
were then seen to enter the castle. An old man of the neighbourhood
advised that seven staves of pine (_gathannan caol giuthais_), according
to others seven spindles of oak (_seachd dealgun daraich_), with fire
at their points, should be taken, and entry be made into the room in
which the ghosts each day took up their quarters. This was done, and the
phantoms, Donald Gorm Mor and his two companions, were found drinking. To
give confidence to the intruders, that they might hear his tale, Donald

    “I was in Edinburgh last night,
    I am in my own mansion to-night,
    And worth a mote in the sunbeam
    I have not in me of strength.”[47]

He then told where the lost document was to be found, and disappeared,

    “If it were not the slender lances of pine,
    This would be to thy hurt, Young Donald Gorm.”[48]


Peter Brown, at Dun Crosg, in Glen Lochy, hid a ploughshare (_coltair_),
and died without telling where. In consequence his ghost long haunted a
waterfall in the neighbourhood (_Eas Choimhlig_), but no one had the
courage to speak to it and ascertain the cause of its unrest. In every
settled community, the ploughshare is of greater value, though less
glory is attached to it than the sword or any other weapon, and in the
Highlands, the same terrors were attached to the hiding of so useful an
instrument, which afterwards, and in a more commercial state of society,
were believed to follow the secreting of gold. The unhappy man who hid
it, and died without revealing his secret, could not rest in his grave.
Peter Brown’s ghost was commonly seen as a roebuck (_boc-earba_), that
followed people passing the ravine of Coilig after dark, but also as
a horse, dog, man, etc., and disappeared only about forty years ago.
A weaver had the courage to meet it, and had a long talk with it. He
was told what would happen to his family, and that his daughter, whose
marriage was then spoken of, would never marry. When he returned home he
took to his bed and never rose. There is now a bridge where the ford was
formerly, and it was at the top of the bank above the ford the ghost was
seen. It once fought a strong man, and the marks of the conflict long
remained on the ground and trees.


A skiff was upset at Maodlach, the most rugged part of the coast of this
rugged district. Of the two men who formed its crew, one was saved by
clinging to the boat, but the other, a powerful swimmer, in trying to
swim ashore, was drowned close to land. He omitted to put off his shoes
and got entangled in the seaweed. Some time after his brother was coming
from the smithy late at night along the shore, carrying an iron bolt on
his shoulder. When opposite the place where his brother’s body had been
found, this man was joined by a figure which, it was said, resembled a
he-goat. He had at the time two dogs along with him, one of which cowered
about his feet, but the other, a bitch, leapt up at his throat, and he
had again and again to strike it down with the bolt he carried on his
shoulder. The figure spoke, but it never clearly transpired what it said.
It gave messages to deliver to former associates, especially to one
thoughtless individual, warning him to amend in time. When the brother
reached a house and came to the light, he fainted away.


In this islet, which lies on the east coast of Skye, there lived
at one time a native of Mull and his wife. In the place there is a
burying-ground called “The Monks’ burial-ground” (_Cladh a Mhanaich_),
the existence of which adds much to the feelings of awe natural to so
lonely a place—a solitary islet several miles from land in a stormy sea.
A dead body came on the shore, and was buried, after being stripped
of its clothes. After this the dead man came to the hut in which the
Mull man stayed regularly at midnight, and sat warming himself at the
fire which was left burning all night on the floor. As he bent over the
fire, and held his feet and his hands to it, he said, “I will softly
warm myself, I will softly warm myself” (_Ni mi mo theóghadh ’s mo
theóghadh_), and then add,

    “Wife, who took my trousers off,
    And my nice black shoes from me,
    And the shirt my sister gave me,—
    To it, to it, cold feet of mine,
    Many a sea you’ve traversed.”[49]

After the Mull man left the place, a party of fishermen, being in the
neighbourhood, sent one of their number ashore, Red-headed Donald
(_Dòmhnull Ruadh_) to prepare dinner for them in the bothy. As Donald
was bending down to kindle a fire, something struck him violently on the
skull and knocked him flat. Every time he attempted to lift his head the
thing knocked him on the skull again. He felt sure it must be the ghost
which warmed itself at the Mull-man’s fire, the _Teóghan_ of which his
companions had warned him. Finding it would not allow him to rise, he
lay on his back as he had been knocked down, and, not daring to look at
his assaulter, wriggled himself along the floor till he got hold of a
post, up which he clambered, to hide himself among the rafters. When his
companions arrived the ghost was found to be a pet ram, addicted, like
its kind, to butting.


Some half a century ago or more a native of Rannoch resided at Bonskeid
(_Bonn-sgaod_) in the neighbouring parish of Blair Athole. He was married
to a Badenoch woman, who had brought servants with her from her own
country. In fact the only servants about the house were from Badenoch.
In obedience to the law, which ascribes that which is mysterious to that
which is remote, Badenoch was at that time esteemed a great place for
witchcraft and things “uncanny.” A series of unaccountable noises and
appearances began about the house in Bonskeid. Turnips and peats, thrown
by unseen hands, flew about the house, lights were blown out, furniture
was mysteriously moved, bedclothes were pulled off, and no one could be
sure that an article would be found by him where he had left it. In all
this there was no appearance of mortal agency, and the whole business was
at once assumed to be the work of evil spirits. A friend from Rannoch,
who had been on a visit to the house, declared solemnly (and he was a
God-fearing, trustworthy man) that he himself heard the spinning-wheel
coming down stairs, and saw it falling in pieces on the floor of the room
in which he and the family were sitting, without any visible agency, and
without any part of it being broken or injured. He put it together again,
and with his own hands carried it upstairs and left it in its original
place. He had not sat long after coming down when the wheel again came in
the same mysterious manner, and fell in pieces on the floor. On another
occasion, as he stood in the byre, a turnip came and knocked the candle
out of his hand. To his certain knowledge there was no one in the byre
who could have thrown it. These flying turnips came sometimes as if they
had been hurled through the wall. The unhappy man, in whose house this
occurred, endured the persecution for more than a year, and was sadly
broken in health and spirits by the trouble. One day as he stood on the
hearth-stone, warming the back of his feet to the fire, the hearth-stone
began to move. A Badenoch dark hussy (_Caileag dhubh_) was at the time
standing by, with her elbow rested on the kitchen ‘dresser,’ and her chin
on her hand. He observed her smiling, and it struck him she was at the
bottom of all this bedevilment. He turned her and all the rest of the
Badenoch servants away, and no further disturbance took place.

About twenty years ago, a house in Kilmoluag, Tiree, was the scene of
similar disturbances. With one or two exceptions, all the people of the
island believed them to be produced by some supernatural evil agency, and
all the superstition that with the spread of education had been quietly
dying out was revived in renewed vigour. No one could deny the agency
of spirits when the evidence was so clear. The annoyance began by the
trickling of dirty water, mixed with sand, from the roof. The burning
peats were found among the bedclothes, and pebbles in bowls of milk,
where no peats or pebbles ought to be; linen was lifted mysteriously from
the washing, and found in another room; articles of furniture were moved
without being touched by visible hands, and stones flew about the house.
The disturbances did not occur during the day, nor when a large company
assembled at the house. Several went to lay the ghost, and a good deal of
powder and shot was wasted by persons of undoubted courage in firing in
the air about the house. The annoyance became so bad, and the advice of
“wise people” so positive, that the family removed to another house, in
the hope the evil would not follow. The removal, however, had no effect,
and it is privately rumoured, the disturbances ceased only when some
money that had gone amissing was restored. The cause was never clearly
ascertained, but there is reason to suspect it was caused, as all similar
disturbances are, by some one suborned for the purpose and shielded from
suspicion by a pretended simplicity and terror.

Numerous similar cases, which have occurred in the Highlands,
might be instanced. Instances occurring in England, from that of
Woodstock downwards, and in the south of Scotland, differ only as
the circumstances of the countries do. They all seem to have the same
characteristic, the tricks are such as it is perfectly possible for human
agency to perform, but it is believed there is no human being about the
place who does them. Stones come flying through the windows, as if they
were thrown from the sky, and are found lying on the floor; the leg of
a wheelbarrow startles two persons engaged within the house in earnest
conversation, by coming flying between them through the window, and
striking the opposite wall with violence; a peat strikes the incredulous
stranger between the shoulders, and he goes home a believer, etc. These
cantrips are exaggerated by fear and rumour, till at last the devil is
believed to be unusually busy in the locality. Once this belief becomes
popular, the delusion is easily carried on.

_Bòcain_, GOBLINS.

The number of these, resembling _Luideag_, seen about fords or bridges,
and near the public road in lonely places, as has been already said, are
numberless. Every unusual sight and sound, in the locality which has the
name of being haunted, becomes a goblin to the timorous, and one of the
most tiresome forms of ghost stories is, how the narrator was nearly
frightened out of his wits (the quantity of which is not mentioned) by a
horse standing with outstretched neck, and its head towards him, which he
mistook for a gigantic human figure, by a white he-goat in the face of
a rock, the plaintive cries of an owl, etc., etc. Most ghosts, however,
are dependent not so much on the imagination of the individual spectator
as on accumulated rumours, and their explanation is to be sought in
men’s love of the marvellous and tendency to exaggeration. On the high
road leading from the wood of Nant (_Coill’ an Eannd_) to Kilchrenan on
Lochaweside, two or three summers ago, the traveller was met by a dark
shadow, which passed him without his knowing how. On looking after him,
he again saw the shadow, but this time moving away, and a little man in
its centre, growing less as the shadow moved off. The little man was
known as “_Bodach beag Chill-a-Chreunain_.”

About the same time a ghost haunted the neighbourhood of Inveraray, and
caused great annoyance to the post and others travelling late. A man
had a tussle with a ghost at _Uchdan a Bhiorain dui_ in Appin, and said
it felt in his arms like a bag of wool. Phantom men were to be seen at
_Uchdan na Dubhaig_ above Balachulish; at _Ath-flèodair_, a ford near
Loch Maddy in Uist, ‘things’ are perpetually seen, and it takes a very
courageous man to go from Portree home to Braes, in Skye, after dark. A
mile above the manse, where the road is most lonely, and near the top of
a gradual ascent, sounds of throttling are heard and dark moving objects
are seen.

In the island of Coll, the top of the ascent above Grisipol had at one
time an evil reputation as a haunted spot. At the summit of the pass,
there is a white round rock called _Cnoc Stoirr_. One night a man, on his
way to the west end of Coll, reached the place about midnight, and was
joined by a man on horseback. The rider said not a word, and accompanied
him for near three miles to the “Round House,” as a house, built for
the accommodation of the farm-servants of Breacacha Castle was called.
Whenever he attempted to enter any of the houses on the way, the silent
horseman came between him and the house and prevented him. When they came
to the Round House, the cock crew, and the horseman disappeared over the
gate in a flame of fire. The man was lifted into the house, pouring with
sweat, and going off in fainting fits.

In Glen Lyon, in Perthshire, there is a village called _Caisle_, and near
it a ford (now a bridge) and ravine called _Eas a Chaisle_. In the early
part of the present century, clods and stones were thrown by unseen hands
at parties crossing this ford at night. At last, no one would venture to
cross. A harum-scarum gentleman of the neighbourhood, popularly looked
upon as an unbeliever and a man without fear of God or man, crossed one
night, and the clods as usual began to fly about him. He cried out,
“In the name of God I defy all from the pit”; and on his saying this a
mysterious sound passed away up the ravine, and clod-throwing at the
place was never afterwards heard of.

The district, now forming the parishes of Kilmartin and Kilmichael,
at the west end of the Crinan Canal, is known in the neighbourhood as
Argyle (_Earra-ghaidheal_), probably from a Celtic colony from Ireland
having settled there first. The people, for instance, of Loch Aweside say
of a person going down past Ford, that he is going down to Argyle. In
course of time the name has been extended to the county. The public road
leading through the district was once infested by a ghost, which caused
considerable terror to the inhabitants. A person was got to lay it. He
met the ghost and exorcised it in the name of Peter and Paul and John and
all the most powerful saints, but it never moved. At last he called out
peremptorily, “In the name of the Duke of Argyle, I tell you to get out
of there immediately.” The ghost disappeared at once, and was never seen



_Bliadhna_, a year, has been derived by writers on Celtic antiquities
from _Bel-ain_, “the ring or circle of Baal,” but the derivation is
at variance with etymological analogies, as well as inadmissible from
there being no satisfactory evidence that Baalim worship ever extended
to the Celtic tribes. It can only be regarded as part of that punning
affectation with which Gaelic scholarship is disfigured. The initial _bl_
occurs in many words which have in common the idea of _separation_, and
_bliadhna_ is likely connected with such words as _bloigh_, a fragment;
_ball_, a spot, a limb, and denotes merely a division, or separate
portion, of time.

The notations of the Celtic year belong to the Christian period, old
style. If there are any traces of Pagan times they are only such as are
to be gathered from a few names and ceremonies.

The four seasons are known as _earrach_, spring, _samhradh_, summer,
_fogharadh_, harvest, and _geamhradh_, winter. The final syllable in
each of these names is _ràidh_, a quarter or season of the year, a space
of three months; and the student of Gaelic will note that the long and
heavy vowel, of which it consists, is, contrary to the common rule
affecting long vowels, shortened and made an apparently indifferent
terminal syllable. It is still deemed, in many parts of the Highlands,
unlucky to be proclaimed in one quarter of the year and married in the
next, and the circumstance is called being “astride on the seasons”
(_gobhlach mu’n ràidh_). It is an old saying, that the appearance of a
season comes a month before its actual arrival; _mìos roi gach ràidh
choltas_, _i.e._ a month before each season, is seen its appearance. The
character of the seasons is described in an old riddle,

    “Four came over,
    Without boat or ship,
    One yellow and white,
    One brown, abounding in twigs,
    One to handle the flail
    And one to strip the trees.”[50]

There can be no doubt the origin of the names given to them belongs to a
period anterior to Christianity.

_Earrach_, spring, is derived from _ear_, the head, the front, the east.
In naming the four quarters of the heavens, the face, as in the case
of the Hebrew names, is supposed to be toward the east. The right hand
(_deas_) is the name given to the south, and the adjective _tuaitheal_,
from _tuath_, the north, means “wrong, to the left, against the sun.”
Hence also, _toirt fo’n ear_, lit. to take a thing from the east, means
to observe; _earalas_, foresight, _i.e._ the having a thing in view;
_earar_, the day after to-morrow, _i.e._ the day in front of it. The
Latin _bos_, and the Greek ἔας or ἦς would indicate that the ancient
Celtic name of the season was _fearrach_, and if so it may be connected
with _fear_, vir, a man, the first _par excellence_, _for_, before,
_furasda_, easy, etc. _Eàrr_ means the tail, and the long syllable shows
it to be only another form of _iar_, west, behind, after, the opposite of
_ear_. Frequently these names for east and west are known as _sear_ and
_siar_, as _e.g._ _cha-n fhearr an gille shiar na’n gille shear_, “the
lad from the west is no better than the lad from the east,” that is, it
is but six of the one and half a dozen of the other.

_Samhradh_, summer, according to old glossaries, is from obs. _samh_,
the sun, and means the sun season or quarter. This corresponds with the
English name, which is evidently a softened form of _sun-mer_. _Samh_
is now used to denote “the suffocating smell produced by excessive
heat.”[51] In Tiree, it is the name given to the hazy heavy appearance of
the Western ocean, and few expressions are more common than _samh chuain
t-siar_, the oppressive feeling of which the uneasy sea on the west side
of the island is productive. In the North Hebrides _samh_ means the ocean
itself. A common description over the whole Highlands of an intolerable
stench is _mharbhadh e na samhanaich_, _i.e._ it would kill the savage
people living in caves near the ocean, as giants were fabled to do.

_Fogharadh_, autumn, is likely connected with _fogh_, said to mean ease,
hospitality, and _foghainn_, to suffice, with the same root idea of

_Geamhradh_, winter; Lat. _hiems_, Gr. χεῖμα. No doubt _geamh_ is of
the same origin as the Greek and Latin words, but it does not find
its explanation in the Greek χεω, to pour. From its being found in
_gèamhlag_, a crow-bar, _gèimheal_, a chain, _geamhtach_, short, stiff,
and thick, there seems to have been a Gaelic root implying to bind, to be
stiff, which gives a suitable derivation for the name of the season of
frost and ice.

_Mios_, a month, is supposed to be connected with _mias_, a round
platter, from the moon’s round orb completing its circle within the
month. Greek μήν, Eol. μεις, a month; Lat. _mensis_; Sanscr. _mâsas_, a
month, _mâs_, the moon. These show that undoubtedly the origin of the
word is connected with the moon. The names in the Greek, Latin, and
Teutonic languages show that there was originally an _n_ in the word, and
the Gaelic, as well as Sanscrit, bears testimony to the same fact, by
the long vowel. It is a common thing in Hebrew for _n_ at the end of a
syllable and in the middle of a word to be assimilated to an immediately
succeeding consonant, and it is more likely it so disappeared in some
languages than that it was assumed by others. Another Gaelic name for the
moon, _ré_, is also used to denote a portion of time; _ri mo ré_, during
my lifetime.

Computation of time, however, by months and days of the month, as at
present, was entirely unknown to the Highlander of former days; and
even yet, the native population do not say “on such a day of such a
month,” but so many days before or after the beginning of summer or other
season, or before and after certain well-known term days and festivals,
as St Bride’s day, St Patrick’s day, Whitsunday (_caingis_), Hallowtide
(_Samhuinn_), etc. The time is always reckoned by the old style, and this
difference of notation is at first confusing to a stranger. For instance,
when told that the ling fishing on the West Coast lasts from the middle
of spring till five weeks of summer, it will take a little thought on his
part to realise that this means from the beginning of April to about the
18th of June. Names for the months are to be found in dictionaries, but
they are obviously manufactured from the Latin names, and confined to
modern printed Gaelic.

A connected account of the festivals and days by which the year was
marked, must begin with the festivities by which its advent was


The seven days from Christmas to the New Year were called _Nollaig_, and
in the good easy-going olden times no work was done during them, but men
gave themselves up to friendly festivities and expressions of goodwill.
Hence the sayings, “The man whom Christmas does not make cheerful, Easter
will leave sad and tearful,”[52] and “There is no Christmas without
flesh.”[53] Christmas day was called “the day of big Nollaig” (_Latha
Nollaig mhór_), and the night before it “the night of Cakes” (_oidhche
nam bannagan_); while New-Year day was known as “the day of little
Nollaig” (_Latha Nollaig bhig_), and the night before it “the night of
blows” (_oidhche nan Calluinnean_).

The name _Nollaig_ is from the Latin _natalis_, as is made certain by
the Welsh word being _Nadolig_; and therefore corresponds to the English
Christmas. Various explanations are given of the name of the night before
it. Some say _bannag_ means “a feast of women,” from _bean_, a wife, a
feast of rejoicing, such as is customary when a child is born, being
prepared by women this evening in memory of the birth of Christ. Others
say the _bannag_ is the cake presented by them to every one who entered
the house that night. If the word means a cake, it is only applied to
Christmas cakes or those used on this day. When there was a person
of means, he took every one he met that week, especially the poor, to
his house, and gave him his _bannag_, a large round cake (_bonnach mòr

New-Year’s night, or Hogmanay, was variously known as “the night of the
candle” (_oidhche Choinnle_) and “the night of the blows or pelting”
(_oidhche nan Calluinnean, a Challuinn_). The former name may have been
derived from some religious ceremonies being performed by candle-light,
as is suggested to be the origin of the English name Candlemas (2nd
February), or from a candle being kept lighted till the New Year came in.
The other name is said to be from the showers of rattling blows given to
a dry cow’s hide used in the ceremonies of the evening, _colluinn_ being
also used to denote a thundering blow, or what is called in the Lowlands
“a loundering lick” (_stràic mhòr_). Thus, _thug e aon cholluinn air_ (he
gave him one resounding blow); _bi tu air do dheagh cholluinneachadh_
(you will be severely beaten). The word, however, as was long ago pointed
out by Lhuyd (_Archæologia Britannica_, 1707) is from _Calendae_, the
first day of every month, this being the beginning of the whole year, and
the night being in the Highlands reckoned as preceding the day.


Towards evening men began to gather and boys ran about shouting and
laughing, playing shinty, and rolling “pigs of snow” (_mucan sneachda_),
_i.e._ large snowballs. The hide of the mart or winter cow (_seiche a
mhairt gheamhraidh_) was wrapped round the head of one of the men, and he
made off, followed by the rest, belabouring the hide, which made a noise
like a drum, with switches. The disorderly procession went three times
_deiseal_, according to the course of the sun (_i.e._ keeping the house
on the right hand) round each house in the village, striking the walls
and shouting on coming to a door:

    “The _calluinn_ of the yellow bag of hide,
    Strike the skin (upon the wall)
    An old wife in the graveyard,
    An old wife in the corner,
    Another old wife beside the fire,
    A pointed stick in her two eyes,
    A pointed stick in her stomach,
      Let me in, open this.”[54]

Before this request was complied with, each of the revellers had to
repeat a rhyme, called _Rann Calluinn_ (_i.e._ a Christmas rhyme),
though, as might be expected when the door opened for one, several pushed
their way in, till it was ultimately left open for all. On entering each
of the party was offered refreshments, oatmeal bread, cheese, flesh, and
a dram of whisky. Their leader gave to the goodman of the house that
indispensable adjunct of the evening’s mummeries, the _Caisein-uchd_,
the breast-stripe of a sheep wrapped round the point of a shinty stick.
This was then singed in the fire (_teallach_), put three times with the
right-hand turn (_deiseal_) round the family, and held to the noses of
all. Not a drop of drink was given till this ceremony was performed. The
_Caisein-uchd_ was also made of the breast-stripe or tail of a deer,
sheep, or goat, and as many as choose had one with them.

The house was hung with holly to keep out the fairies, and a boy, whipped
with a branch of it, may be assured he will live a year for every drop of
blood he loses. This scratching and assurance were bestowed by boys on
one another, and was considered a good joke.

Cheese was an important part of the refreshments, and was known as the
Christmas cheese (_Càise Calluinn_). A slice, cut off at this feast, or a
piece of the rind (_cùl na mulchaig_), if preserved and with a hole made
through it, has strange virtues. It was called _laomachan_, and a person
losing his way during the ensuing year, in a mist or otherwise, has only
to look through the hole and he will see his way clearly. By scrambling
to the top of the house, and looking through it down the _fàr-lus_ (the
hole in the roof that served in olden times for chimney and window), a
person can ascertain the name of his or her future husband or wife. It
will prove to be the same as that of the first person seen, or heard
named. A piece of _laomachan_ is also valuable for putting under one’s
pillow to sleep over.

In this style the villagers, men and boys, went from house to house,
preceded in many cases by a piper, and drowning the animosities of the
past year in hilarity and merriment.

CHRISTMAS RHYMES (_Rann Calluinn_).

In general the rhymes used, when seeking admittance, varied but little in
different districts. Sometimes an ingenious person made a rhyme suitable
to the place and people, and containing allusions to incidents and
character that increased the prevailing fun. The following is one of the
most common of the class:

    “I have come here first
      To renew the Hogmanay;
    I need not tell about it,
      It was kept in my grandfather’s time.
    The Calluinn Breast-stripe is in my pocket,
      A goodly mist comes from it;
    The goodman will get it first,
      And shove its nose into the fire upon the hearth.
    It will go sunwise round the children,
      And particularly the wife will get it;
    ’Tis his own wife best deserves it,
      Hand to distribute the Christmas cakes.
    Rise down, young wife,
      And young wife who hast earned praise;
    Rise (and come) down, as you were wont,
      And bring down our _Calluinn_ to us.
    The cheese, that has the smooth face,
      And butter eye has not blinked;
    But if you have not that beside you,
      Bread and flesh will suffice.
    There is water in my shoes,
      And my fingers are cut,
    There is in beside the fire,
      What will cure my complaint,
    And if you have room to move,
      Rise and bring down the glass.”

The following New-Year’s rhyme must have tried the breath of the speaker
and the patience of his listeners considerably. It consists probably of
several separate rhymes tagged together, and the allusions it contains
to the “big clerk of the street,” etc., make it highly probable the
ceremonies of the evening were remains of the Festival of Fools, and had
their origin in the streets of Rome. The rhyme is given as it came to

    “Bless this cheerful dwelling,
      With a musical voice,
    That it be like a royal palace,
      Without being wasteful.
    Bless each man
      Who surrounds this gathering,
    From the one grown grey with seniority
      To the one of infant’s age.
    Bless our gentle men,
      And our young children,
    All who chance at this time
      To come to Donald’s.
    Men! this begins my tale
      And I must tell it.
    Ho! each black, black generous one!
      Hò-go! each generous one!
    Divide this portion
    My servant harrowed!
    More produce!
    Then it was that Margaret said,
      ‘O dear! more produce!’
    Then said Mary,
      ‘My dearest dear!
    Martin is behind the door,
      Listening to us!’
    ‘That is his excuse,’ said she.
    Hu fudar! hei fedar!
    Up with you, you cajoler!
    Fierce icinesses rose
      On Donald,
    He levelled at Margaret
      Fair abuse!
    He gave a tap to the harp,
      And the strings sounded.
    He quickly drew a _crambat_
      And tried to tune it.
    ‘You have done a mischief,’ said the clerk,
      ‘That I don’t regret!
    Utter ruin has come upon you,
      With your broken stick!’
    ‘You have a healing vessel,’
      Said the harper.
    ‘When you are tried with it a second time,
      ’Twill make the stick whole;
    So your share be yours of the healing cup.
      O dearest sir!
    May that stick of many virtues
      Be full of produce!’
    I went on candle night to hold New Year revel,
    In the house of fat puddings,
    I asked admittance at the door,
      Coaxingly with fair words;
    The big clerk of the street spoke
      A senseless word,
    ‘If my gold crook were in my hand,
    I would not let your head whole from the door.’
    I took the north turn to the door,
      That was a north turn of mischief to me;
    I struck the big toe of my foot
      In the face of a stone,
    The pin fell, the pan fell,
    The harrows in the door fell,
    They made a cling clang clattering!
    Rise down, young wife,
      And honest dame, that hast carried praise,
    Be womanly as thou wert wont,
      And bring our Christmas gifts to us.
    The smoothed-faced cheese,
      And entrails prepared with juice;
    But if these are not convenient,
      Bread and cheese will suffice.
    It was not greed with open mouth
      That brought me to the town,
    But a hamper
      On my servant’s back!
    A white servant catch me,
    Fatness burns me!
      Open and let me in!
    ‘True for him,’ said the goodman, ‘let him in.’”

The following rhyme was appointed for all who had nothing else to say:

    “I do not dislike cheese,
      And have no aversion to butter;
    But a little drop from the cask
      My throttle is in quest of.”


It was a practice not to be neglected to keep the fire alive in the
house all night. No one was to come near it but a friend, and, as an
additional security against its going out, candles were kept burning.
Hence, the other name given to the night, _Oidhche Choinnle_, _i.e._
candle night. There was a rhyme (which the writer has not been able to
recover) to be said when feeding the fire. By this means evil was kept
away from the house for the subsequent year. If the fire went out no
kindling could be got next day from any of the neighbours. The first day
of the year was a quarter-day, on which it was unlucky to give fire out
of the house. It gave the means to witches and evilly-disposed people to
do irreparable mischief to the cattle and their produce. The dying out
of the fire was, therefore, a serious inconvenience in days when lucifer
matches were unknown. The women made use of the occasion to bake bread
for next day.

Old men, provident of the future, watched with interest the wind the
old year left (_ghaoth dh’fhàgas a Choluinn_). That would prove the
prevailing wind during the ensuing year, and indicated its chief
characteristics, as the rhyme says:

    “South wind—heat and produce,
    North wind—cold and tempest,
    West wind—fish and milk,
    East wind—fruit on trees.”[55]


(_Latha na Bliadhn’ ùr_); also called the Day of Little Christmas (_Latha
nollaige bige_).

On getting up in the morning the head of the family treated all the
household to a dram. After that a spoonful of half-boiled sowens
(_cabhruich leth-bhruich_), the poorest food imaginable, was given for
luck. Sometimes the sowens were whole boiled, and in some places the
well-to-do farmer’s wife left a little over night at the house of every
poor man on the farm. The custom of having this dish of sowens was known
in the central Highlands, and in Lorn, but does not seem to have extended
to Mull, Morven, or the Western Islands. The salutations of the season
were duly given by the household to one another, and to every person they
met: “A good New Year to you” (_Bliadhna mhath ùr dhuit_), “The same to
you, and many of them” (_Mar sin duit fhein is mòran diu_). The boys
rushed away out, to play at their everlasting game of shinty, and a more
sumptuous breakfast than ordinary was prepared.

Nothing was allowed to be put out of the house this day, neither the
ashes of the fire nor the sweepings of the house, nor dirty water, nor
anything else, however useless, or however much in the way. It was a
very serious matter to give fire out of the house to a neighbour whose
hearth had become cold, as the doing so, as already said, gave power to
the evil-minded to take away the produce from the cattle. Indeed it
was ominous that death would occur in the household within the year.
Hospinian tells that at Rome, on New-Year’s Day, no one would allow a
neighbour to take fire out of his house, or anything composed of iron
(Ellis’s _Brand’s Antiquities_, i. 13).

It was unlucky for a woman to be the first to enter the house, or if the
person were empty-handed. A young man entering with an armful of corn
was an excellent sign of the year’s prosperity; but a decrepit old woman
asking kindling for her fire was a most deplorable omen. The same belief
that some people are lucky as first-foots led to the “curious custom”
in the Isle of Man known as the _Quaaltagh_ (Ellis’s _Brand_, i. 538).
That word differs only in spelling from the Gaelic _còmhalaich_, or
_còmhaltaich_, a person, the meeting of whom is ominous of good or bad
fortune. To ensure a good omen, a party of young men went in every parish
in Man from house to house on New-Year’s Day singing luck to the inmates.
It was deemed an omen of good to see the sun this day.

Towards mid-day the men gathered in some suitable place, the largest
and most level field in the neighbourhood, for the great Shinty Match
(_Iomain mhòr_). A match was formed between adjoining districts and
villages, or, if the village itself was populous, by two leaders,
appointed for the purpose, choosing one alternately from those present
till the whole gathering was gone through. It was decided who was
to choose first by the one leader holding his shinty stick (_caman_)
vertically, or up and down, and throwing it to the other, who caught
somewhere about the middle. The two then grasped the stick alternately,
the hand of the one being close above that of the other, and the one who
grasped the end, so that he could swing the stick three times round his
head, had the first choice. Sometimes, to decide the point quickly, one
asked the other which he would have, “foot or palm” (_chas no bhas_),
meaning which end of the shinty stick he made choice of, the “foot” being
that by which the stick is held, the “palm,” that with which the ball
is struck. On a choice being made the club was thrown into the air, and
the matter was decided by the point of it that pointed southwardly more
summarily than by the “heads and tails” of a copper coin.

In the game a wooden ball (_ball_) was used in the daytime, when men
could guard themselves against being struck by it; but when the game was
played at night, in the dusk or by moonlight, a ball of hair or thread
called _crìod_ was used. The object of the game was to drive this ball
“hail” (_thaghal_), that is between and beyond certain marks at the two
ends of the field. Of course the two parties had opposite “hails.” The
play commenced by setting the ball in a suitable place, and giving the
first blow, called _Buille Bhàraich_, to the chief, proprietor, priest,
minister or other principal person present. A player stood opposite to
him, and if the ball was missed at the first blow, as sometimes happened
from excessive deliberation, want of skill and practice, etc., whipped
it away in the other direction, and, without further ceremony, every
person ran after it as he chose, and hit it as he got opportunity. Two
or three of the best players on each side were kept behind their party,
“behind hail” (_air chùl taghail_), as in the game of football, to act as
a guard when their adversaries too nearly sent the ball “home.” Sometimes
the company was so fairly matched that nightfall put an end to the sport
without either party winning “a hail.” Every player got as much exercise
as he felt inclined for. Some did little more than walk about the field,
others could hardly drag themselves home at night with fatigue. Much can
be said in behalf of the game as the best of out-door sports, combining
healthy, and, when the player chooses, strong exercise with freedom from

A piper played before and after the game. The women, dressed in their
best, stood looking on. At the end the chief, or laird, gave a dinner,
or, failing him, a number were entertained in the house of a mutual
friend. In the evening a ball was given, open to all.

New-Year’s Day, like the first of every quarter of the year (_h-uile
latha ceann ràidhe_), was a great _saining_ day, _i.e._ a day for taking
precautions for keeping away evil from the cattle and houses. Certain
ceremonies were carefully observed by the superstitious; juniper was
burnt in the byre, the animals were marked with tar, the houses were
decked with mountain ash, and the door-posts and walls, and even the
cattle, were sprinkled with wine.

By New-Year’s Day the nights have begun to shorten considerably. It is
a Gaelic saying that there is “an hour of greater length to the day of
little Christmas” (_uair ri latha Nollaige bige_), and this is explained
to be “the hour of the fuel lad” (_uair a ghille chonnaidh_). The word
uair means “a time” as well as an hour; and the meaning perhaps is, that
owing to the lengthening of the day the person bringing in firewood has
to go one trip less frequently for fuel to make a light.

Christmas Day (_La Nollaige mòire_) was said to lengthen _fad coisichean
coilich_, a cock’s stride or walk, and the expression was explained to
mean that the bird had time to walk to a neighbour’s dunghill, crow three
times, and come back again.

The same sayings are current in the Highlands as in the south. “A green
Yule makes a fat kirkyard” has its literal counterpart in _’S i Nollaig
uaine ni an cladh miagh_ (_i.e._ _reamhar_) and in _’S blianach Nollaig
gun sneachda_ (_i.e._ Lean is Yule without snow).

There is no reason to suppose that any Pagan rites connected with
the period of the winter solstice were incorporated with the Yule or
_Nollaig_ ceremonies. The various names connected with the season are
of Christian origin; the superstitions, as that of refusing fire and
allowing nothing out of the house, can be traced to Rome; the custom of
a man dressing himself in a cow’s hide, as suggested by Brand (i. 8),
with every probability, is a vestige of the Festival of Fools, long held
in Paris on New-Year’s Day, and of which it was part that men clothed
themselves in cow-hide (_vestiuntur pellibus pecudum_). The holding of
a singed piece of skin to the noses of the wassailers is more likely to
have originated in the frolics of the same festival than in any Pagan
observance. The meaning of the custom is obscure, but its character is
too whimsical to be associated with any Pagan rite.


(_Da latha dheug na Nollaig._)

These were the twelve days commencing from the Nativity or Big _Nollaig_,
and were deemed to represent, in respect of weather, the twelve months
of the year. Some say the days should be calculated from New-Year’s Day.
“Whatever weather there is on the twelve days beginning with the last
of December, the same will agree with the weather in the corresponding
month” (Pennant). In Ireland the twelve days were held to stand for the
twelve Apostles, and “on Twelve Eve in Christmas they used to set up as
high as they can a sieve of oats, and in it a dozen of candles all round,
and in the centre one larger, all lighted. This in memory of our Saviour
and his Apostles, lights of the world” (Brand, i. 25). The same, no
doubt, was the origin of the Highland notation. They are also looked upon
as the twelve days between old and new style. There is evidence in the
saying, that “an hour and a half is added to Candle Day” (_uair gu leth
ri Latha Coinnle_), that some such custom was known of old in Scotland as
in Ireland; and though Candle Night (_Oidhche Choinnle_) is now a name
given to Christmas night, there is a probability it originally denoted
Twelve Eve, or the Feast of the Epiphany.


The period during which the above festivities occurred, and sometime
before and after _Nollaig_, was popularly known as “The Black cuttings of
Christmas” (_Gearra dubha na Nollaig_), from its liability to tempestuous
weather. The sky is then lowering and dark, the “level” sun gives little
warmth, and high winds prevail.

The _Dùlachd_ of winter extended over the six weeks preceding the middle
of spring (_gu meadhon an Earraich_). Some (_e.g._ _Highland Society’s
Dict._, _sub voce_) call it _Dùbhlachd_, and translate it simply “wintry
weather.” Others call it _Dùdlachd_, and denote by it “the depth of
winter.” The word is a contraction of _duaithealachd_, from _duaitheil_,
extremely coarse and rough, an epithet applied to stormy weather.
Thus, _nach duaitheil an t-sìd?_ is it not desperately coarse weather?
_Ceann reamhar an duaithealais_, “the thick end of coarseness,” denotes
extremely rough usage.

Handsel Monday (_Di-luain an t-sainnseil_) was the first Monday after
New-Year’s Day, and was the principal day in the whole year for
_deachainn_, _i.e._ for making trials and forecasts of the future. It
derives its name from _sainnseal_, Scot. handsel, a present or gift in
his hand given this day to every visitor to a house. _Sainnseal sona_
is “a happy or fortunate present.” In some districts cock-fighting was
practised in the schools, and children brought a gratuity (in money)
to the schoolmaster. In other districts this was not the case till
Shrovetide (_Di-màirt Inid_).

In Skye the day is called _Di-luain Traosda_; and it is from it the 12
days, corresponding in weather to the 12 months of the year, are computed.

FEBRUARY (_Faoilleach_).

The name _Faoilleach_ is said to mean “Wolf-month,” from _faol_, wild,
whence also _faol-chu_, a wolf, lit. a wild dog. It embraces the last
14 days of winter and the first 14 days of spring, the former being
called the winter Faoilleach (_am Faoilleach geamhraidh_), the latter
the spring (_am Faoilleach Earraich_). It is also known as “the Dead
Month” (_a’ marbh mhiòs_). Winter is still ruling the inverted year, and
all nature seems to be dead. The trees have long lost their foliage, the
grass gives no sign as yet of returning growth, and fields and fallows
are bare. When over all there is a coating of snow the name of “Dead
Month” appears peculiarly appropriate. The time, being reckoned by old
style, corresponds almost exactly to the present month of February, and
the saying that “every month in the year curses a fair February.” is
amply corroborated by the Gaelic sayings regarding it. Old men liked it
to commence with a heavy storm and end with a calm, or (to use their
own words) “to come in with the head of a serpent and go out with a
peacock’s tail” (_tighinn a stigh le ceann na nathrach, ’s dol amach
le earball peucaig_). There are to be three days of calm during it,
according to the saying, “Three days of August in February, and three
days of February in August” (_trì la Faoilleach san Iuchar, ’s trì la
Iuchar san Fhaoilleach_). Both the February calm and the August storm,
however, have become proverbial for their uncertainty and short duration.
“February calm and August wind” (_Fia’ Faoilleach is gaoth Iuchar_) are
the most fickle things in the world. In the north it was said mist in
February means snow next day (_Ceò san Fhaoilleach, sneachda maireach_).
Old people said, “Better the land be plundered than a calm morning in
February.”[56] The most unreasonable of expectations is to expect black
“brambles in February” (_smeuran dubha san Fhaoilleach_).

It is unfortunate if the heat of this season is such, as old men say they
have seen it, that the cattle run with the heat; but it is a healthy sign
of the season if men go about with their hands wrinkled with the cold
till they resemble an animal’s hoof, and kept in their pockets (anciently
belts) for warmth.

    “Wild month, wild month, hoof in belt
    Much rejoicing should be held;
    Cows and sheep running in heat,
    Weeping and wailing then are meet.”[57]

It was said to be as unnatural to hear thunder at this time as to hear
a calf lowing in its mother’s womb (_laogh a geumraich am broinn a

_Earrach beag nam Faochag._

“The little Spring of Whelks” is the period from Christmas (_Nollaig_) to
St Bride’s day, or beginning of February. That species of shellfish is
then at its best, and the soup made from it, called _siabh_ or _brochan
fhaochag_, was deemed as good as flesh.


St. Bridget’s, or St. Bride’s day (_Feill Brìde_, _Brithid_) is the first
day of spring, consequently the middle of the _Faoilleach_, the 1st of
February, O.S., but the 13th New Style. It is frequently confounded
with Candlemas, but that day is the 2nd February, whereas St. Bride’s
Day is the 1st—this mistake is made by Martin (_West. Isl._, 1716, p.
119). He says that on the 2nd of February “the mistress and servants of
each family take a sheaf of oats, and dress it up in woman’s apparel, put
it in a large basket, and lay a wooden club by it, and this they call
Briid’s Bed; and then the mistress and servants cry three times, Briid is
come, Briid is welcome” (Brand, i. 56). The custom is long extinct in the
parts of the Highlands with which the writer is acquainted and the only
particulars connected with it he has heard are, that on St. Bride’s Day
a bed of birch twigs (_leaba bharraich_) was made by the women, and that
they then cried at the door, “Bride, Bride, come in, your bed is ready”
(_Brìde, Brìde, thig astigh, tha do leaba dean-te_).

As in the case of many Gaelic festivals, ceremonies, and other
antiquities, the origin of St. Bride’s Day is to be traced directly to
Ireland. St. Bridget, we are told, was the first nun in Ireland, and
founded her first cell where the city of Kildare now stands, in 585. She
was a native of Ulster, and, after building monasteries and performing
miracles, became Patroness of Ireland. In 1185 her body was found in
the same vault with those of St. Patrick and St. Columba. A well near
her church in Fleet Street, London, gave its name, Bridewell, to a
palace given by Edward VI. to the city, for a workhouse and a house
of correction. The honoured name of St. Bride, who during many ages
was celebrated for her sanctity and piety, has thus by accident become
associated with the criminal population.

It is a sign of the approaching spring that on this day the raven begins
to build, and larks sing with a clearer voice. It has been explained in
another part of this work, that there was a belief, the serpent had to
come out of its hole seven days previous. The rhyme regarding the raven

    “A nest on St. Bridget’s day,
    An egg at Shrovetide,
    And a bird at Easter;
    If the raven have not these,
    Then it dies.”[58]

The corrections of the observations which it embodies is confirmed by
White (_Nat. Hist. of Selborne_), who gives Feb. 14-17 as the period at
which the raven builds.

In Tiree this was the day on which cock-fighting was practised, and
gratuities were given to the schoolmaster. In the evening it was
customary to have a ball.

The period from _Nollaig_ to _Feill Brìde_, was reckoned at one month and
three days.


The _Faoilleach_ introduces a series of names, peculiarly Celtic, and (so
far as the writer is aware), having no equivalents in any other language.
The divisions of time denoted by them extend to the beginning of summer,
each name, in accordance with the genius of the Gaelic language, as shown
in names of places, nicknames, etc., is descriptive. Almanacs have long
superseded the ancient notations, and it is not now an easy matter to
arrange them in their proper order, or to reconcile the accounts retained
by tradition with Almanac notation. The length of time ascribed to each
seems to have varied in different districts.

_Feadag_, THE WHISTLE,

succeeds immediately to the Wolf-month (_Faoilleach_), though some place
it before _Cailleach_, and about St. Patrick’s day. In M’Leod and Dewar’s
Dictionary it is said to be the third week in February, which reckoned
by O.S. is from 1st to 8th March, N.S. It is thus made to succeed the
_Faoilleach_, and the same seems the opinion of Hugh M’Lachlan, of
Aberdeen, a most learned and accomplished man. In a poem on spring, he

    “Season in which comes the flaying Wolf-month,
    Cold hail-stones, a storm of bullets,
    _Feadag_, _Sguabag_, the _Gearran’s_ gloom
    And shrivelling _Cailleach_, sharp bristled.”

It extends to three days, and its boisterous character is shewn in the

    “Feadag, Feadag, mother of the cold Faoilleach,
    It kills sheep and lambs,
    It kills the big kine one by one,
    And horses at the same time.”[59]


lasts for a week, others say three, four, and nine days.

_Sguabag_, THE SWEEPER,

seems the same as the three days called “The Eddy winds of the Storm
Month” (_Ioma-sguaba na Faoilleach_). The appearance of spring is now to
be seen, but the bad weather is not yet past. The worst weather comes
back occasionally, and there are fewer gusts of wind, uncertain in their
coming and duration, that well deserve the name of “Eddy winds from


It is quite possible the latter may have been the original name, as there
is always associated with it a period called _Caoile_, Leanness. It
extends over a month, and in Skye is made to succeed to the _Faoilleach_.
There was a rule known to old men, that “the first Tuesday of March
(O.S.) is the last Tuesday of Gearran” (_a chiad Di-mairt de’n mhàrt an
Di-mairt mu dheire de ’n Ghearran_). In Tiree, from which the lofty hills
of Rum form a conspicuous sight, and to the green appearance of which in
frosty weather, their snow-covered summits form a striking contrast, it
is said, that at the season “the big mare of Rum turns three times to her
colt,” _i.e._ from cold and hunger. The expression refers to times when
a little hardy breed of horses was found in the Western Islands, like
Shetland ponies, and left to shift for themselves during winter. It was
also said:

    “Then said Gearran to Faoilleach,
    Where left you the poor stirk?
    I left it with Him who made the elements,
    Staring at a stack of fodder.
    If I catch it, said the May month,
    With the breath in the points of his ears,
    I will send it racing to the hill
    With its tail upon its shoulders.”[60]

The beast will pull through if it can “lift its ear higher than its
horn,” which at that age (one year), it ought to do.

The high winds coming at this time, and well known in the south as the
winds of March, were said in their violence to “send seven bolls of
driving snow through one augur hole” (_Chuireadh an Gearran seachd bola
catha, stigh air aon toll tora, leis co gailbheach’s a bha ’n t-sìd_).

The Gearran is deemed the best time for sowing seeds. The high winds dry
the ground, and all agricultural seeds are the better of being put in
“a dry bed” (_leaba thioram do’ n t-sìol_). It is a disputed point what
precise date.

The Perthshire rhyme also testifies to the still stormy character of the
weather. The calling the Gearran short supports the opinion of many, that
it was properly only seven days:

    “Then, said the short Gearran,
    I will play you a trick that is no better,
    I will put the big cow in the mud,
    Till the wave comes over its head.”[61]

Some say the Gearran is the month before St. Patrick’s day O.S., others
fourteen days before it and fourteen days after, _i.e._ before and after
29th March.

_A Chailleach_, the old wife.

This old wife is the same as the hag of whom people were afraid in
harvest, the last done with the shearing had to feed her till next
harvest, and to whom boys bid defiance in their New-Year day rhyme, viz.:
“The Famine, or Scarcity of the Farm.” In spring she was engaged with a
hammer in keeping the grass under.

    “She strikes here, she strikes there,
    She strikes between her legs,”

but the grass grows too fast for her, and in despair she throws the
hammer from her, and where it lighted no grass grows.

    “She threw it beneath the hard, holly tree,
    Where grass or hair has never grown.”[62]

_Trì làithean nan ōisgean_, THREE HOG DAYS.

In the rural lore of the south of Scotland, the three hog days are held
to be the last three days of March, and to have been borrowed by that
month from April (Brand, ii. 42). Dr. Jamieson (_Etym. Dict. of Scot.
Lang._) says, “Some of the vulgar imagine, that these days receive their
designation from the conduct of the Israelites in borrowing the property
of the Egyptians.”

There is a Highland explanation also connecting them with the departure
from Egypt. They were days borrowed by the Israelites for the killing of
the Paschal lamb. “Some went on this side of the hillock, some on that”
(_Chàidh cuid an taobh so ’n Chnoc_, etc.).

They are perhaps the days called in Tiree “_trì latha na bo ruaidhe_”
_i.e._ “the red cow’s three days.”

_Mhàrt_, SEED-TIME.

This name is doubtlessly derived from the Latin _Mars_, in which case
it ought to correspond to the month of March, O.S. It does not commence
till the 24th of that month. The word has come to signify a busy time
of the year, whether seed-time or harvest, usually, however, the
former. _Saothair a Mhàrt_ is the “busiest time of spring”; _a ghaoth
luath luimeineach Mhàrt_ means “the bare swift March wind,” frequently
mentioned in _Winter Evening Tales_ to denote great speed, and _a Mhàrt
tioram blath_ means “dry genial March.” It is a favourable sign of the
season when the ground is saturated with wet at its beginning. Old men

    “The full pool awaiting March,
    And house-thatch in the furrows of the plough land;”[63]

and deemed it a good sign if the violence of the wind stripped three
layers of thatch (_trì breathan de thugha_) from the houses. The advice
for sowing seed now is:

    “Let past the first March (_i.e._ Tuesday),
    And second March if need be,
    But be the weather good or bad,
    Sow thy seed in the true March.”[64]

Others say, “though you cannot send a pebble against the north wind”
(_ged nach cuireadh tu dòirneag an aghaidh na gaoth tuath_) you are to

“A night in March is swifter than two in harvest” (_Is luaithe oidhche sa
Mhàrt na dhà san fhogharadh_).


The Gaelic name is from Lat. _Initium_, this being the beginning of Lent.
It was always reckoned as “The first Tuesday of the Spring Light” (_chiad
Di-màirt de’n t-solus Earraich_), _i.e._ of the new moon in spring. It is
a moveable feast, and this is a simple way of calculating it. The plan
adopted by the English Church is more complicated—Shrovetide is always
the seventh Tuesday before Easter, and Easter is “the first Sunday after
the first full moon, which happens on or after the 21st March; but if the
full moon is on a Sunday, Easter day is the Sunday following.”

Shrovetide was called “_an Inid bheadaidh_” (shameless Shrovetide),
because the day of the festival was held to precede the night, while,
in the case of all the other festivals, the night or vigil was held
to precede the day. A good reason for this will be found in a natural
aversion to begin the austerities of Lent.

It has been already told[65] (art. Diabolus) how Michael Scott, or,
according to Skye tradition, Parson Sir Andro of Rigg, near Storr in that
island, went to Rome, riding on the devil, and first ascertained from
the Pope the rule for calculating the day.

In schools it was the day for cock-fighting, and giving gratuities to the
schoolmaster. The latter custom was observed with more correctness on
the first Monday of the year, being the day allotted for presents. The
practice of cock-fighting is extinct in the Highlands, but presents to
the schoolmaster are universally practised. The boy and girl who give the
largest donation (and it seldom exceeds a shilling) are declared King and
Queen of the school, and have the privilege of asking “a play” (_i.e._ a
holiday) for the school.

The names connected with cock-fighting, still to be found in the
Highlands, being Latin, shew the practice is not of native growth. Each
boy came to the school with a dunghill cock under his arm. The head of
the bird was covered and its tail taken out, to make it more ready to
fight, and fight better when let loose opposite another bird.

Runaway cocks were called _fuge_, and the name is still given to boys who
shirk fighting. Shouts followed the defeated bird of “run, run, cock with
one eye” (_fuge, fuge, coileach cam_), and its owner had to pay a penalty
of some pence.

Shrovetide was one of the great days for _saining_ cattle, juniper being
burned before them, and other superstitious precautions were taken to
keep them free from harm.

Those curious or anxious about their future husbands or wives made a cake
of soot (_Bonnach sùith, B. Inid_), of which they partook, putting the
rest below their pillows to dream over.

It was believed that if there was fair weather at _Inid_ it would be foul
weather at Easter, and _vice versâ_, as the rhyme has it:

    “Shrovetide said to Easter,
      Where will I get a place to play myself?
    Give to me a winter palace,
      And I will build a summer house for you.”[66]

_Carghas_, LENT,

is the period from Shrovetide to Easter. It extends to 40 days, and
refers to the miraculous fasts of Moses, Elias, and our Lord. The Gaelic
mode of calculation was, “Seven short weeks from Shrovetide till Easter”
(_seachd seachdainean gearr goirid Eadar Inid is Càisg_). The name
_Carghas_ is a corruption _Quadragesima_, Ital. _Quaresimo_, 40, just as
_Inid_ is from _Initium_. _Inid a charghuis_ is just “the beginning of
the forty days.”[67]

ST. KESSOCK’S DAY (_Féill mo Cheasaig_)

was March 10/22. It is said, “On the Feast of St. Kessock every eel is
pregnant” (_Latha Feill mo Cheasaig bithidh gach easgann torrach_).

The Saint was Bishop in Scotland in 560, and has given a name to
Kessock Ferry (_Port a Cheasaig_), near Inverness, and to a market held
at Callander, Perthshire, for hiring, on the 22nd March, or 10th old
style. The fair is known as “Tenth-day,” but among the Gaelic-speaking
population as “_Féill mo Cheasaig_.” A rock at the west end of the
village is known as “_Tom a Cheasaig_.”

ST. PATRICK’S DAY (_Feill Pàruig_)

is the middle day of spring and that on which the night and day are of
equal length, March 17/29. A certain sign of the day is held in the
Hebrides to be a south wind in the morning and a north wind at night.

The saint comes from Ireland to see his parishioners in Barra and other
places on the west of Scotland, and has a favourable wind coming and
returning. He is in Highland lore described as “Patrick who blessed
Ireland” (_Pàdruig a bheannaich Eirinn_), and is said to have been
married to the daughter of Ossian, bard, and last, of the _Feinne_.
He was born A.D. 373, but it is disputed whether his native place was
Scotland, or Wales, or England, or France. There can be no question
that in Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland the more lively and kindly
recollections of him have been retained. Numerous places called after him
are found scattered over Scotland, Wales, and Ireland.

After this day (_seach gun leum an Fhéill Pàruig_) (lit. once Patrick’s
Festival has jumped) the limpet is better than the whelk, and is said in
consequence to treat it with great indignity.

    _Latha Feill Pàruig_
    _Muinidh bhairneach air an fhaochaig._

Another piece of shore information connected with this season is that
with the advance of spring “as horses grow lean, crabs grow fat” (_mar is
caoile ’n t-each, ’s ann is reamhrad am partan_). Others have it, “When
the horse is lean, the whelk is fat” (_Nuair bhios an t-each caol bi ’n
fhaochag reamhar._)

The reviving influences of the spring are now making themselves visible,
according to the saying, “There is not an herb in the ground, but the
length of a mouse’s ear of it is out on St. Patrick’s Day” (_Chaneil
luibh san talamh, nach’ eil fad cluas luch dhi mach, latha Féil Pàruig_).

Old men liked the days immediately preceding it to be stormy, and to
see, as they said, “the furrows full of snow, of rain, and the thatch of
houses” (_a chlaisich làn sneachda, làn uisge, ’s tugha nan tighean_).

There are particularly high tides on St. Patrick’s Day, and the
annunciation of the Virgin Mary, according to the saying,

    “The spring tides of Lady Day
    And the mad tides of St. Patrick’s Day.”[68]

_Marbhladh na Feill Pàruig_, the deadening of St. Patrick’s Day, means
the quiet calm waters that sometimes occur at this season; others say
_Bogmharbhlainn_, and say it means the swelling (_tòcadh_) observable at
the time in the sea (from the increasing heat).

LADY DAY (_Féill Moire_).

This was known as _Féill Moire an t-sanais_ (St. Mary’s Vigil of
annunciation) to distinguish it from _Féill Moire Mòr_ (the Big St.
Mary’s-day), the assumption of the Virgin, which was the middle day of
autumn. It is March 25/April 6.


This was the Thursday before Easter, and was known in the Hebrides as
“_La Brochain Mhòir_,” the Day of the Big Porridge. It was now getting
late in the spring, and if the winter had failed to cast a sufficient
supply of seaweed on the shores, it was time to resort to extraordinary
measures to secure the necessary manure for the land. A large pot of
porridge was prepared, with butter and other good ingredients, and taken
to the headlands near creeks where seaweed rested. A quantity was poured
into the sea from each headland, with certain incantations or rhymes, and
in consequence, it was believed, the harbours were full of sea-ware. The
ceremony should only be performed in stormy weather. Its object no doubt
was, by throwing the produce of the land into the sea, to make the sea
throw its produce on the land.

GOOD FRIDAY (_Di-haoine na Ceusa_).

The Gaelic name means literally Crucifixion Friday. The day was the
Friday before Easter, and was observed in memory of our Lord’s Passion.
There was hardly any belief that had a stronger hold on the Highlander’s
mind than that on no account whatever should iron be put in the ground
on this day. So great was the aversion to doing so that the more
superstitious extended the prohibition to every Friday. As a matter of
course no ploughing was done, and if a burial was to take place, the
grave was opened on the previous day, and the earth was settled over the
coffin with a wooden shovel. The origin of the observance perhaps was
that our Saviour’s sepulchre had been previously prepared, being a new
tomb hewn out in the rock.

It was said that if the day be cold, it is colder than any other, in fact
the coldest day of the whole year.

EASTER (_Càsg_).

The proper day for keeping this festival, the anniversary of our Lord’s
resurrection, was at one time the cause of bitter controversies in the
Christian world. It was first a subject of keen dispute between the
Eastern and Western Churches, and again between the Church of Rome and
the Irish and British Churches. The feast is moveable, and depends on
the time of the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Owing to
rectifications of the calendar introduced at Rome, but unknown to the
British Churches, two different days had come to be observed, and by the
seventh century the discussion as to which day was the correct one had
become so warm and the difference so scandalous that the civil powers
interfered and the question was settled in favour of the Church of Rome
by Oswy, King of Northumbria, at Whitby in 664. The Celtic clergy were
accused of being Quartodecimans (a very good word in a controversy), that
is, of keeping the festival, according to the Jewish mode of calculation,
on the fourteenth day of the month Nizan, whether that day fell on a
Sunday or not. The accusation is now universally acknowledged to be
ill-founded, but it is likely they followed the Alexandrian rule on the
point, by which the Easter festival could not begin till the eighth of
March, a rule which had been at one time observed by the Church of Rome
itself. Neither the cycle followed during the controversy by the Celtic
Church, nor that followed by the Romish Church, is that now prevailing,
so that if one day was of more value than another for the festival, both
parties were in the wrong.

The rule now observed in the Highlands is “seven short weeks from
Shrovetide to Easter,” Shrovetide being “the first Tuesday of the New
Moon in Spring,” or, Easter is “the first Sunday of the second wane of
the moon in spring” (_chiad Di-dòmhnaich de ’n dara earra-dhubh san

The name “_Càsg_” is but the Gaelic form of the Hebrew _Pascha_. The
change of P into C, K, or Q is well known in philology, and the most
noticeable difference between the Welsh and Gaelic branches of the
Celtic tongue is, that the latter has an aversion which the former
has not to _p_ as an initial consonant, preferring _c_ instead. Lhuyd
(_Arch. Brit._, p. 20) says, “It is very remarkable that there are
scarce any words in the Irish (besides what are borrowed from the Latin
or some other language) that begin with P, insomuch that in an ancient
alphabetical vocabulary I have by me, that letter is omitted; and no
less observable that a considerable number of those words whose initial
letter it is in the British begin in that language with a K or (as they
constantly write) C.” He then quotes as illustrations, W. _Pask_, Easter,
Ir. _Kasg_; Corn. _Peneas_, Whitsuntide, Ir. _Kinkis_; W. _pen_, a head,
Ir. _keann_, etc. He quotes from Vassius instances of a similar change in
the interrogatives and relatives of the Greek Ionic dialect. A readily
recognised instance is the change of the Greek ἱππος into the Latin

On Càisg Sunday, the sun was believed in the Highlands of Scotland, as
in Ireland, to dance soon after rising, and many respectable people are
to be found who say they saw the phenomenon. The alternate glancing and
darkening of the sun on a fitful spring morning was no doubt often so
construed by those who stared too long at a brilliant object.

A liability to north wind has made “_Gaoth tuath na Càisg_” (the north
wind of Easter) a proverbial expression. The most trying part of the
spring is still to come, and it is an expression employed to moderate
excessive joy, and to put people in mind that the cares of life are not
all past yet, that there is “a long spring after Easter” (_Earrach fada
’n déigh Càisg_).

Another expression, reminding men that it is not too late to acquit
themselves of their duties or hold rejoicings, is “a Feast can be kept
after Easter” (_Gleidhear cuirm an déigh Càisg_).

Easter was a particular holiday with the young, and preparations were
made for it long beforehand. Every egg that a boy could steal or lay his
hands on unobserved, was hid by him in the thatch of an out-house, or
in a hole in the ground, under a turf, or wherever else he thought his
treasure would remain undiscovered. When the great day came, he and his
companions, each with his collection of eggs, went away to some retired
spot, at a distance from the houses, and beyond the probability of being
disturbed by their seniors. Here they had a grand feast of pancakes,
and enjoyed themselves uncontrolled. The eggs were deemed of no use
unless they had been secreted or stolen, and this originated, perhaps,
in a feeling that with honestly or openly got eggs the feast was not so
entirely independent of the older people.

The reason why eggs were used at all is supposed to be from an egg being
emblematic of the resurrection.

Two Sundays were held as Càisg. The second was distinguished only by
a better feast than usual in the houses. The first Sunday was called
“Big Easter” (_Càisg mhòr_), and the Sunday after it “Old Men’s Easter”
(_Càisg nam bodach_), corresponding to the English Low Sunday.


is variously known in the Highlands as “The Day of going on Fools’
errands” (_Latha na Gogaireachd_), “Cuckoo Day” (_Latha na Cuthaig_), and
“The Day of Tricks” (_Latha nan Car_). Its observance is on the first
of April, N.S., and this argues its very recent introduction into the
Highlands. The tricks and practices of the day are the same as elsewhere,
the sending of acquaintances on sleeveless errands. Sometimes, but only
rarely, there is some ingenuity displayed in taking advantage of local
and passing events to throw the most suspicious off their guard, and send
them on fools’ messages. It is not difficult to impose on men with a
serious face and a plausible story, when it entails but little trouble to
see if so likely a story or so pressing a message is real.

_Bailc na Bealltainn_.

The fourteen days preceding May-day were known as _Bailc na Bealltainn_,
“the balk or ridge of Beltane.” The sea is then as it were awakening,
and is more obedient to the winds. _Balc_ means a ridge, also swelling,
strength, _onfhadh_, _foghail_. The weather threatens frequently without

    “If warm May day be swollen [threatening],
    And it be dry the third day,
    And it be an east wind after that,
    There certainly will be fruit on trees.”[69]

_Bealltainn_, MAY-DAY.

The advent of summer is everywhere hailed with joy, and the day
recognised as the first of the season is naturally one of the most
important days in the calendar. Another day of equal importance in
the Celtic year was the first of winter, and the names of the two
days, _Bealltainn_ and _Samhainn_, cannot be traced, like so many
other notations of the year, to ecclesiastical sources. Like the names
_Faoilleach_ (the Storm month), and _Iuchar_ (the Hot month), they are
best referred to Pagan times.

_Bealltainn_ is commonly derived from _Bel teine_, the fire of Baal or
Belus, and is considered as sure evidence of the Phoenician origin of
the sacred institutions of the Celts. It is a derivation, however, that
wants all the elements of probability. There is a want of evidence that
the Phoenician Baal, or any deity resembling him, was ever worshipped
by the Celts, or that the fires kindled and observances practised on
this day had any connection with the attributes ascribed to him; while
the analogies of the Gaelic language prevent the supposition that “the
fire of Baal” could be rendered “Beall-tein’.” Besides, the word is not
_Beall-teine_, but _Bealltainn_, a difference in the final syllable
sufficiently noticeable to a Gaelic ear. It is the difference between
the single and double sound of _n_. Baal and Ashtoreth were the supreme
male and female divinities of the Phoenician and Canaanitish nations,
and are supposed to be personifications of the generative and receptive
powers of nature, and to be identical with the sun and moon. In Hebrew
and kindred languages, _Baal_ is a mere title of honour, signifying “Lord
or Possessor of,” and in Gaelic the Sun and Moon are both feminine
nouns, merely descriptive of the appearance of these planets. There is
nothing that indicates their ever having been looked on as divinities,
or ascribing to them any attribute such as belonged to Baal. In Gaelic
the noun limited or possessed always precedes the qualifying noun, and
it would require strong evidence to show that “Baal’s fire” could be
“Beltane” _i.e._ Baal-fire, and not “Tane-Bel” (_Teine-Bhàil_), _i.e._
fire of Baal. The contrast between English and Gaelic in this respect is
often very striking, and a safe rule in etymology!

The final syllable is the same as in _Samhainn_, the end of summer,
which is thought by Lhuyd, to be from _fuinn_ (connected with the Latin
_finis_), an end. In this case _t_ is simply accresive. _L_ has an
attraction for _t_ after it, as _m_ has for _b_, and _n_ for _d_. _Beall_
is likely connected with the other words that have _bl_ in their initial
syllable, with a root idea of separating, parting, opening; and claims
kindred with _blàth_, a blossom, _bial_, the mouth, _bealach_, a pass,
more than with the title of a Semitic deity. It is the opening day of the
year, when the rigours of winter are parted with, and the seasons, as it
were, separate. Behind lay winter, cold, and unfruitfulness of the earth,
but before was warmth and fertility and beauty. The final syllable has no
more to do with fire than it has in _gamhainn_, a stirk, _calltainn_, a
hazel tree.

It was said, with truth, that whatever day New Year day fell upon,
Beltane fell on the day following. “New Year’s day to-day, Beltane
to-morrow” (_Nollaig an diugh, Bealltainn a màireach_).

There is sometimes very cold weather at this time, and this was denoted
by the expression “The mournful linnet of Beltane” (_Glaisein cumhach
na Bealltainn_). Snow at the time was known as “Snow about the mouth of
May-day” (_Sneachda mu bhial na Bealltainn_).

On the night preceding it, _i.e._ Beltane eve, witches were awake, and
went about as hares, to take their produce (_toradh_), milk, butter, and
cheese, from the cows. People who believed in their existence were as
earnest to counteract their machinations. Tar was put behind the ears of
the cattle, and at the root of the tail; the animals were sprinkled with
urine to keep them from fighting; the house was hung with rowan-tree,
etc., etc. By having a churning past and a cheese made (_muidhe ’s
mulchag_) before sunrise, the Fairies were kept away from the farm for
the rest of the year. If any came to ask for rennet (_deasgainn_), it
should not on any account be given to them. It would be used for taking
the substance out of the giver’s own dairy produce.

When the day arrived, it was necessary, whatever the state of the
weather, though people sank ankle deep in snow, or (as the Gaelic idiom
has it), though snow came over the shoes, to get the cattle away to the
summer pastures among the hills (_àiridh_).

No fire on this, or any other first day of a quarter of the year (_latha
ceann raidhe_), was given out of the house. It gave the borrower the
power of taking the milk from the lender’s cows.

People had a feast in their houses with better food than ordinary. The
arrival of the cuckoo was looked for, and boys shouted “Cuckoo! cried
the ‘gowk’ on yellow Beltane day” (_Gug-ùg ars’ a Chuthag latha buidhe

In the Statistical Account of Scotland, 1794, XI. 620, there is a custom
described, as existing at Callander in Perthshire, of boys going on this
day to the moors, and kneading a cake of oatmeal, one part of which was
daubed black. The bread was then put in a bonnet, from which each drew
a piece. The boy, to whose share the black piece falls, is obliged to
leap three times through the flames, at which the repast was prepared.
The minister of Logierait (V. 84), says the festivities of the day were
chiefly observed by herdsmen, and Pennant (_Tour_, p. 90), describes
a similar feast of herdsmen, in which pieces of the cake were offered
to the fox, hoodie-crow, eagle, etc., with a request that they would
avoid the cattle during the year. In the south of Ireland, we are told
(_vide_ Brand on May-day customs), cows were made to leap over lighted
straw. All this has been referred to Baal and human sacrifices, and the
going through the fire and other observances, have been assumed to be
the remains of Syrian rites. They seem to be nothing but parts of the
numerous superstitious observances for the _saining_ of cattle.

A _Sop seilbhe_, or “Possession Wisp,” was burned on land, of which
possession was to be taken at Whitsunday. The wisp was of fodder or
heather. The burning of it on the land, as already explained, insured
possession (_bha e ceangailte aige tuille_).

_Céitein_, MONTH OF MAY.

This is the month of which Beltane day, O.S., forms the centre, and
consists of the last fourteen days of spring, and the first fourteen days
of summer. Its derivation is from _ceud_, first, it being the beginning
of the summer season. It is identical with the present month of May.
“Better is snow in May, than to be without rain” (_’S fhearr sneachda sa
Céitein na bhi gun uisge_).

The month preceding Beltane was called _Céitein na h-òinsich_, “the
May-days of the silly one,” the word _òinseach_ denoting both a silly
woman and a cuckoo. The habits of the bird, which has no nest of its own,
and goes about all day aimlessly uttering its peculiar note, has earned
for it the reputation of being silly, as is witnessed also by the Scotch
word _gowk_, and premature glimpses of fine weather are supposed to
mislead it as to the advent of May.


_Seachdain na feadaireachd_, the whistling week, is the first week of
summer, and the name is in allusion to the loud, whistling winds, that
are apt to occur at the time. It is unlucky during it to proceed with
field operations.

_Màigh_, MAY.

The name _Màigh_, for the first month of summer, is quite common in the
Highlands, and is to be found in songs and proverbs. This is mentioned as
shewing incontestably that Roman (or rather ecclesiastical) notations of
time were adopted into the ancient Celtic calendar.


(_Latha seachnach na Bliadhna._)

This is the third day of summer, and its name is almost the only part of
the beliefs concerning it, that now survives. The writer searched far and
wide for an explanation of the name, and only once heard one that was
satisfactory. It was on this day that the fallen angels were expelled
from Paradise, and on it people should avoid doing any kind of evil. If
caught in the act, they will be similarly expelled from the regions of
forgiveness, and be visited with “judgement without mercy.” If it falls
on a Friday, it is unlucky to go on a journey.

Pennant says about it, “The fourteenth May is unlucky, and the day on
which it falls.”


This and Martinmas are the two principal term days in Scotland, at
which half-yearly servants enter on their duties, and at which removals
take place. At Whitsunday term (old style) especially, the 25th of May,
the towns of Scotland present an animated appearance from the number
of removals, or changes of residences. The streets are crowded with
household goods being removed from one house to another. Tenants at will
are removed and leases expire at this term.

In Lorn, and the districts to the south of it, along by Lochfyneside,
the term is called _Feill Breunain_. St. Brendan the Elder, from whom
the name is derived, was abbot of Clonfest in Ireland A.D. 578. His
day is May 16-28. Kilbrandon parish (in Gaelic _Sgìreachd a Chuain_,
the parish of the ocean) in the west of Argyllshire, derives its name
from him, and there is a farm in the island of Mull of the same name.
History records that the saint with 14 companions once made a voyage in
search of Paradise, and in stormy weather, when the sea is rough and the
sky inclement, and the earth is hid with driving showers [it excites a
smile], that he came north in the hope of finding it. There are days
indeed in summer in the Hebrides, when a glory covers the sea and sky
and the hills “that encircle the sea,” when he might think that he was on
the way.[70]

In Sutherlandshire, people reckon by the _Feill Chelzie_, a market held
on Tuesday of the term, deriving its name from a wool manufactory, now
discontinued, called _New Kelso_, near Loch Carron.

The names _Caingis_, Whitsuntide, and Pentecost, are modifications of
one and the same word. Pentecost became _pencas_ in Cornish, in Gaelic
(which represents _p_ of the Welsh dialects by _c_) _caingis_ (Kinkis),
as _pascha_ became W. _pâsk_, Gael. _Càisg_ (Kasg). The Gaelic _c_ or _k_
sound is represented in the Saxon tongue by _wh_. Thus we have _cuibhle_
(cuile), wheel; _cuip_, whip; _ciod_, what?; _cuilein_, whelp; _co_,
who?; _cuist_, wheesht! be quiet!; _caoin_, whine; etc. So _cencas_ has
become _Whitsun_. The feast has no name in the languages of Western
Europe, but such as are derivations of the Greek word. The English name
has been thought to be an exception, and to be, therefore, of modern
origin. From the light thrown upon it by the Celtic languages, we infer
that it is of the same origin as the rest.

_Caingis_ is reckoned to be “at the end of a fortnight of summer.”


On this day, the cuckoo was said to enter its winter house (_theid a
chuthag na tigh geamhraidh_). It is not natural for its song to be heard
after this. The bird may be seen, but it is not heard. It is, like the
landrail, stonechat, or other birds that disappear in winter, one of the
seven sleepers, who were believed to pass the winter underground.

_Seathan_, Swithin, is the old form of the name John, the common form
being _Iain_, _Eòin_, and in Islay _Eathin_. It still survives in the
name of the Clan Maclean, Mac-ill’-sheathain, also written MacGhilleòin.
A former minister of Kilmore in Mull is still remembered as _Maighsthir
Seathain_, and an exceedingly plaintive song, composed to her husband,
who had been betrayed and executed for piracy, by his widow, begins
“Swithin is to-night a dead one.”

    “Tha Seathan nochd na mharbhan,”

the names being those now denoted by John.

_Mios crochadh nan Con_, DOG-DAYS.

(Lit. month for hanging dogs.)

This is but a boyish and sportive name given to the month preceding
_Lùnasdal_, or first of August, the time of greatest scarcity with the
poor. The stores of last harvest are exhausted, and the new supplies
are not yet come in. If there is a scarcity of food for the dogs, it is
recommended as the best thing that can be done, to hang them. Besides,
the excessive heat makes it advisable to get rid of all superfluous dogs.

_Latha Martainn Builg_, TRANSLATION OF MARTIN.

(Lit. Martin of the Bag’s Day.)

July 4-16 received its title of the Translation of Martin from being
the day on which the remains of St. Martin, Bishop of Tours, 397, “the
apostle of the Gauls” (who also gives his name to the Martinmas term)
were transferred to the Cathedral of Tours. In Scotland the day is called
St. Martin of Bullions Day, and it was a proverb that if the deer rise
dry and lie down dry on it, that is if the morning and evening be dry,
it will be a dry season till harvest; and it was a general belief over
Europe that rain on this day betokened wet weather for the next twenty

The Day of St. Martin of the Bag is commonly translated St. Swithin’s
day, which is the 15th. St. Swithin was Bishop of Winchester, and no name
of an English Bishop is found in the Gaelic calendar.

_Lùnasdal_, LAMMAS, AUGUST 1-12TH.

This, being a quarter day, formed a great day with old women for saining
cattle, and performing those ceremonies by which evil was to be kept
away from them for the next three months. Tar was put on their tails and
ears, charms (_òradh_) were said at their udders, red and blue threads
were put on their tails, and various observances were gone through with
balls of hair (_rolag_), plants, fire about the earthenware pipkins
(_crogain_) in which milk or butter was to be put, etc. Curds and butter
were specially prepared for a great feast held this day, at which it was
highly important that everyone got as much as he cared for.

On Lammas day, the gad-fly “loses one of its eyes” (_Latha Lùnasdal
caillidh chreithleag an leth shùil_). The creature is not so vicious
after this date.

_Lùnasdal_ is not a word of Gaelic origin, at least no satisfactory
Gaelic etymology can be given for it. It is perhaps a contraction of the
Latin, _luna augustalis_, the August moon. The Roman month was lunar, and
was reckoned from the first appearance of the moon’s slender crescent in
the sky. The moon in the harvest months is of more consequence to the
husbandman than at any other season, and has always been taken notice of
for its splendour. The temperature of the night air has much to do with
this. The Gaelic bears its own testimony to it, in giving distinctive
names to the autumn moon.

The corresponding English name, Lammas, had very likely the same origin,
and it is a contraction of _Lunamas_. The derivation of it from Lamb-mas
is an “affectation of punning,” and that suggested by Gen. Vallancey
from La-ith-mas, “a day of eating fruit,” is extremely fanciful. The
omission of _n_ in the middle of a word, for the sake of brevity or from
inadvertence, frequently occurs. So _g_ has been elided in _Lùnasdal_.
Augustus, which was adopted as the name of the sixth month B.C. 6, became
_east_ in Cornish and _eost_ in Armoric.

_Iuchar_, THE HOT MONTH (_i.e._ AUGUST).

The _Iuchar_ consists of 14 days of summer and 14 days of autumn, and
Lammas Day, O.S., being the first of autumn, corresponds to the present
month of August. It is regarded, in point of weather, as the opposite of
_Faoilleach_, the “storm month” of February.

The name is derived from an obsolete verb _fiuchadh_ to be hot. Lhuyd
(_Archæolog. Brit._) renders _fiuchaeh_, boiling, and _fiuchadh_, a
spring, _scatebra_. In another place he gives _fiuchadh_ as an equivalent
of the Latin _æstus_. In some districts of the north, the name of the
season is still called _Fiuchar_. Linlithgow, celebrated for its wells,
is known in the Highlands as _Gleann Iuch_, and the Linlithgow measures
are called _tomhaís Ghlinn Iuch_. The dropping of _f_ initial, as in the
case of the Greek digamma, is too common to need illustration.

_Fèill Moire_, ASSUMPTION DAY.

This is the middle day of autumn (_latha meadhon an fhogharaidh_), August
15-27. It was counted a greater day than St. Mary’s Day (_Féill Moire_)
in spring, and was called “the Big St. Mary’s Day.” Harvest operations
were now vigorously pushed forward, and hence the saying, “Big St Mary’s
Feast in harvest, sheaf and binding and men with their coats off” (_an
Fhéill Mhoire mòr a’s t-fhogharadh sguab ’us ceangal ’s daoin’ as an

_Féill Ròid_, ROODMAS, SEPTEMBER 14-26.

This day is the first of the rutting season among deer, and it was held
that if the night before it (_oidhche na Féill Ròid_), be wet, or (as it
was expressed), “if the deer took his head wet into the rutting season”
(_ma bheir e cheann fliuch san dàmhair_), there will be a month after
it of dry weather, and the farmer need be under no apprehension as to
securing his crops. The belling of red deer among the hills on this night
is magnificent.

The night succeeding Roodmas was called “the night of the nut,” “the
night of the Holy Nut” (_oidhche na cnò, na cnò Naomh_), a name, the
reason of which is doubtful. Some say it arises from this night dividing
harvest in unequal halves, as the kernel is divided in the nut. Brand (i.
353) mentions a custom of going a nutting upon Rood Day, and it seems to
have been a popular belief that on this day the devil goes a nutting.
This does not explain why the nut is called the Holy Nut.

The Holy Rood is the same as the Cross.

MICHAELMAS (_Feill Mìcheil_)

is also known in the Roman Catholic districts of the Highlands, as “the
Riding Day” (_latha na marcachd_). On the level green of Borg (_machaire
Bhorg_), in Barra, a great race is held, the women bringing the horses,
and sitting behind the men on horseback. In the scamper that ensues,
it is a lucky sign if the woman tumbles off. All the expenses of the
festivity are borne by the women, each of whom takes with her to the
racecourse a large thick bannock of oatmeal, made with treacle, butter,

_Samhain_, HALLOWMAS,

is the first day of winter, and is also known as All-Saints’ Day (_Latha
nan uile Naomh_), Nov. 1-13. It was a sign of a bad winter if it fell
upon a Wednesday, according to the saying: “When Hallowmas is on
Wednesday, it is afflictive after it” (_Nuair is Di-ciadaìn an t-samhainn
is iargaineach na déigh_).

The coming of winter was hailed with more fun and merriment than any
other season of the year. The cold was now fairly set in, the fruits of
the summer, down to the very nuts, were gathered, and the young became
desirous of learning their fate with regard to that subject of anxiety
in every age, their future husbands and wives. This natural welcoming of
winter explains the ceremonies of the day, and the games of the evening.
Hardly any of them have reference to the practices or deities of the
nations of antiquity or to Scripture, and this explanation must be sought
for in Pagan times.

On the last day of autumn children gathered ferns, tar-barrels, the long
thin stalks called _gàinisg_, and everything suitable for a bonfire.
These were placed in a heap on some eminence near the house, and in the
evening set fire to. The fires were called _Samhnagan_. There was one for
each house, and it was an object of ambition who should have the biggest.
Whole districts were brilliant with bonfires, and their glare across a
Highland loch, and from many eminences, formed an exceedingly picturesque
scene. Some find in them traces of the worship of the invariable Baal,
but there is no reason to look upon them otherwise than as the natural
and defiant welcome of the season, in which fires are most required,
when the heat of the year is departed, and cold and frost and rushing
winds cover all things with gloom. Bonfires are kindled on all occasions
of public rejoicing, or excitement, and Hallowmas fires are a natural
expression of the change of season. It is possible a deity was originally
associated with the practice, but there is now no trace of him in name or
practices of this day.

As the evening wore on, the young people gathered to one house, and an
almost endless variety of games (_cleasan_) were resorted to, with the
object in every case of divining the future lot of the company. Were they
to marry or not, was it to be that year or never, who was to be married
first, what like the future husband or wife was to be, their names,
trade, colour of hair, size, property, etc.? were questions of great
importance, and their answer was a source of never-failing entertainment.
The modes of divination are of interest, from the light they throw on
the character of the people among whom they prevailed, and from an
antiquarian point of view, as remains of Pagan times.

A shoe caught by the tip and thrown over the house, fore-indicates the
future by its position on the ground on the other side. In whatever
direction the toe points, the thrower will go before long, and it is
very unlucky if the shoe be found with the sole uppermost, misfortune is
“making for” him. A thin, fine shoe, used in this manner, led the man,
fished up from the Green Island, to remark, after some years of silence:

    “A thin shoe, little valued,
    It is hard to say who will wear it.”[71]

He might well say so, for the owner of the shoe died in a few days.

The white of eggs, dropped in a glass of pure water, indicates by certain
marks how many children a person is to have. The impatience and clamour
of the children often made the housewife perform this ceremony for them
by daylight, and the kindly mother, standing with her face to the
window, dropping the white of an egg into a crystal glass of clean water,
and surrounded by a group of children, eagerly watching her proceedings,
formed a pretty picture.

When the fun of the evening had fairly commenced, the names of eligible,
or likely as possible matches, were written on the chimney place, and the
young man, who wished to essay his fortune, was blindfolded and led up to
the list. Whatever name he put his finger on would prove to be that of
his future wife.

Two nuts were put on the fire beside each other, representing two
individuals, whose names were made known to the company. As they burned
together, or flared up alone, or leaped away from each other, the future
marriage of the pair, or haughty rejection of each other, was inferred.

A dish of milk and meal (_fuarag_, Scot. crowdie), or of beat potatoes,
was made, and a ring was concealed in it. Spoons were given to the
company, and a vigorous attack was made on the dish. Whoever got the ring
would prove to be the first married. This was an excellent way of making
the taking of food part of the evening’s merriment.

Apples and a silver sixpence were put in a tub of water. The apples
floated on the top, but the coin lay close to the bottom. Whoever was
able to lift either in his mouth, and without using his teeth, was
counted very lucky, and got the prize to himself.

By taking an apple and going to a room alone, dividing it there into nine
pieces against the name of the Father and the Son, eating eight pieces
with the back to a looking glass and the face looking over the left
shoulder, and then throwing the ninth piece over the same shoulder, the
future husband or wife was seen in the glass coming and taking the piece
of apple away.

A person, going in the devil’s name to winnow in a barn alone, will see
his future partner entering the door.

An unmarried woman, taking a ball of thread and crossing a wall on her
way, went to a kiln or other out-house. Here, holding one end of the
thread, she threw the ball in the dark into the eye of the kiln (_sùil
àth_), or over one of the rafters or a partition wall, in the name of
a sweetheart whom she had before fixed on in her mind, and calling out
“who is down there at the end of my little rope?” (_co so shìos air
ceann mo ròpain?_), at the same time she gave the thread a gentle pull.
In reply, some one or something pulled the thread at the other end, and
a voice called out the name of her future husband. There is a story of
a tailor having hid himself in anticipation of this mode of divination
being resorted to, and when the ball was thrown he caught it and gave the
thread a tug. In answer to the question “who is this at the end of my
little rope?” he said, “I am the devil” (_Tha mise, ’n deamhan_), and
the woman to whom this frightful answer was given never tried divination

Young women sowed hemp seed (_fras lìn_) over nine ridges of plough land,
saying “I sow hemp seed, and he who is to be my husband, let him come
and harrow it” (_Tha mi cur fras lìn, ’s am fear bhios na fhear ’dhomh,
thigeadh e ’s cliathadh e_). On looking back they saw the figure of their
future husband. Hallowe’en being the night preceding the first day of a
lunar month was always dark, and this ceremony was rendered more awful
by a story that a woman once saw herself coming after her, and never
recovered from the effects of the vision.

By dipping his shirt sleeve in a well to the south (_tobar mu dheas_),
and then pulling off the shirt and placing it to dry before the fire, the
anxious youth, if he does not oversleep himself, will see his sweetheart
entering through the night and turning the shirt.

On putting an odd number of keys in a sieve, going to a barn alone, and
there riddling them well “with the wrong hand turn” (_car tuaitheal_),
the destined one will come and put the odd key right.

By holding a mouthful of water in the mouth, and going to listen
(_farcluais_) at a neighbour’s window, the first name overheard will
prove to be that of one’s intended.

The same knowledge was obtained by biting a piece of the last cart that
sent in the corn, and with it in the mouth going, without speaking, to
listen (_farcluais_) under a neighbour’s window.

A common practice was to go and steal kail stocks. Unless the plants
are pulled surreptitiously, without the knowledge or consent of their
owner, they are of no use for the purpose of divination. A number of
young people go together, and having cautiously and with difficulty made
their way into a kailyard, pull each one the first stock that comes to
hand after bending down. It must be the first that the hand meets. The
plant is then taken home and examined by the light, and according to its
height, straightness, colour, etc., will be the future husband or wife.
A quantity of soil adhering to it signifies money and property. When put
for the night above the lintel of the door, it affords indications by the
first person entering below it in the morning; and, put below the pillow,
it is excellent to dream over.

A straw, drawn at random from a stack, indicates by the number of grains
upon it what family a person is to have.

Three ears of corn similarly pulled and placed below the pillow for the
night, will cause dreams of the future husband reaping them.

A plate of clean water, one of dirty water, and one empty being placed
on the floor, and a napkin thrown over the eyes, the dish in which the
person blindfolded puts his forefinger, indicated a maid, or widow, or
none at all.

A piece of flesh being buried this night, if any living creature was
found in it in the morning, the person burying it would be married; but
if not, he never would.

If water, in which the feet had been washed, were kept in the house this
night,[72] (and the Fairies were apt to enter the house when that was the
case), a person putting a burning peat in it will see the colour of his
sweetheart’s hair in it.

If a mouthful of the top sod of the house wall (_fòid fàil na h-anainn_),
or a mouthful from the clod above the lintel of the door (_àrd-dorus_) be
taken into the house in one’s teeth and any hair be found in it, it is of
the same colour as that of the future wife of the person who performs the

One of the chief performances of the evening was for young women to
go to a Boundary Stream (_allt crìche_), (if between two neighbouring
proprietors so much the better,) and with closed eyes to lift from it
three stones between the middle finger and thumb, saying these words:

    “I will lift the stone
    As Mary lifted it for her Son,
    For substance, virtue, and strength;
    May this stone be in my hand
    Till I reach my journey’s end.”[73]

The stones were for putting below the head when going to sleep.

Many other modes of divination were practised too tedious to mention,
by slices from the plough, different metals, eating a stolen raw
salt herring, sprinkling corn in front of the bed, etc., etc. These
observances can hardly be characterised as superstitions; they proceeded
from a spirit of fun more than from any belief in their efficacy. There
are in every community many weak and simple people who are easily
imposed on, and made to believe almost anything; but the divinations of
Hallowe’en left an abiding impression on few minds.

_Feill Fionnain._

St. Finan’s Eve is the longest night in the year, and hence it is said of
a very stupid person, “he is as dark as the night of St. Finan, and that
night is pretty dark” (_Tha e co dorcha ri oidhche Feill Fionnain, ’s tha
’n oidhche sin glè dhorcha_). The shortest day is called, in the Mackay
country, the extreme north of Sutherlandshire, “The Day of the Three
Suppers” (_Latha nan trì suipeirean_).

On this night it was said “the rain is wine and the stones are cheese”
(_Tha ’n t-uisge na fhìon ’s na clachan nan càise_), and it was
considered a joke to persuade boys to go out and see. “I remember,” says
one who is a shrewd intelligent man, “about fifty years ago, when I was
a little boy, sitting quite contentedly on the Eve of St. Finan’s Day
sipping with a spoon from a big tub of water, in the full hope that the
next spoonful would prove to be wine.”

The name is derived from St. Finan, confessor, Bp. of Clonard, in
Ireland, in the sixth century. This day is now fixed as the 12th
December, but in the Highlands it is the shortest in the year, whatever
day of the calendar that may fall upon. In olden times it was much
esteemed, as the rhyme shows:

    “St. Finnan’s night of festivities,
    And Christmas night of great cheer.”[74]

Besides giving a name to the days of the calendar the saints were
employed to designate local markets, St. Kessock’s Day (_Fèill mo
Cheasaig_) at Callander has been already mentioned. St. Connan’s Day
(_Feill Connain_) is the autumn market in Glenorchy; _Feill Fhaolain_
is held at Killin; _Feill Ceit_ at Kenmore; and in other places we
have _Feill Peadair_, _F. Aindreis_, etc. Old men spoke of _Feill an
Diomhanais_, the festival of St. Idleness, a holiday frequently observed
by a great many people. _Latha na Sluasaid_, Shovel Day, means the day
of one’s burial. _Bliadhna na Braoisge_, Grinning Year, and _La Luain_,
Moon-day (_i.e._ Monday come-never), mean the same thing, the Greek
Kalends. _Bliadhna nam Brisgeinean_, the Year of Silverweed roots,
was shortly after Culloden, and is remembered in Tiree as a year of
great scarcity. The land had been neglected in previous years from the
disturbed state of the country, and in spring the furrows were white with
roots (_brisgeinean_), and people made meal of them.


These play a more important part in Highland superstition than even the
seasons of the year. The names by which they are known are not Celtic;
two, Wednesday and Thursday, are of Scandinavian or Teutonic origin, and
the rest are from the Latin. The superstitions, as might be expected, can
in most cases be traced directly to incidents in Scripture history. The
division of time into weeks was introduced with the Christian religion
from Ireland, and the Irish must be held responsible for the names
adopted. Neither in the names nor in the superstitions is there any trace
of an age anterior to Christianity.

_Dĭ_, which is prefixed to each name, in the sense of _day_, is kindred
with the Latin _dies_, and occurs in slightly modified forms in all the
Celtic dialects. It is curious that in Gaelic it occurs in no other form
or combination in the sense of “day,” and a suspicion is thereby created
that it is merely an adaptation of the Latin word, an easier adaptation,
because there are words of similar sound and kindred meaning in Gaelic.

_Di-dòmhnaich_, SUNDAY (_dies Domini_).

The name _Dòmhnach_ for our Lord is not common. It is evidently derived
from the Latin _Dominus_. It occurs in the proper name _Maol-Dòmhnaich_
Ludovic, lit. the bald one (_i.e._ the shaven priest) of our Lord, a name
still to be found in Skye, and formed like _Maol-Mhoire_, Miles (lit.
the priest of St. Mary), _Maol-Ciaran_, _Maol-Ruainidh_, etc. There is
a streamlet near Strowan, in Blair Athole, called _allt Dòmhnach_, the
streamlet of our Lord; and a _Tobar an Dòmhnach_, the well of our Lord,
in Balmeanach, in the west of Tiree. In a charm for fulling cloth the
expression occurs, “if he (the wearer of the cloth) enter field or fight,
the full succour of our Lord be his” (_Slàn chomraich an Dòmhnach da_).

The day is also known as “_an Dòmhnach_” without the prefix of _di_.
Other names are those occurring in Scripture, Sabbath, etc.

The plant pulled on Sunday is, according to a proverbial expression,
without good or harm (_luibh an Dòmhnach gun mhath gun chron_).

_Di-luain_, MONDAY.

_Luain_ is said in dictionaries to be a Gaelic name for the moon,
agreeing in origin with the Latin _luna_. It is used only in the name of
this day, and in the expression _la luain_, a poetic phrase for Monday
come-never, _i.e._ “never more.” The adjective _luaineach_, restless, is
supposed to be derived from it, but is a word never applied to the moon.
It applies to whatever moves restlessly by fits and starts, from place
to place, without staying long in one place, and never to anything on
account of change of shape or form. Its derivation from _la uaine_, green
day, is absurd, and there are grounds for suspicion, that _luain_ is a
word manufactured by ancient Gaelic grammarians from the Latin.

It was deemed unlucky to commence ploughing (stretching the team, as it
was called, _sìneadh na seisrich_), or any kind of work on Monday. It
will be proceeded with too quickly or too slowly, according to the adage,

    “Work commenced on Monday,
    Will be (too) quick or will be (too) slow.”[75]

It was deemed, however, a good day for removing or “flitting” upon, just
as Saturday was the reverse.

    “Saturday removal is to the north,
    Monday removal to the south,
    Though I had but a lamb
    On Monday I would it remove.”[76]

Old men called it “the key of the week” (_iuchair na seachdain_).

_Di-màirt_, TUESDAY.

The name is obviously enough from _dies martis_, the Latin name.

This was a good day to begin ploughing upon, and it was ominous of good
luck if any of the harness broke and the ploughing was stopped for the
day. Such a belief could exist only in the easy-going olden days.

_Di-Ciadain_, WEDNESDAY.

Much ingenuity has been spent on the etymology of this word by those who
delight in recondite meanings, and believe that every word in Gaelic
must be traced to a Gaelic origin. What Lhuyd says of radicals and
primitives is equally applicable to other words. It is a very common
error in etymology to endeavour to derive all the radical words of our
Western European languages from the Latin or Greek; or indeed to _derive
the Primitives of any one language from any particular tongue_. When we
do this we seem to forget that all have been subject to alterations, and
that the greater and more polite any nation is, the more subject they are
(partly from improvement, and partly out of a luxurious wantonness) to
remodel their language. Nearly all words connected with ecclesiastical
affairs both in English and Gaelic have been imported from the Latin
and Greek, undergoing only such changes as the difference of language
requires. When or why the name of a Scandinavian deity, and not a Roman
name, was adopted by the British and Irish churches to designate this
or any other day is a different question. We must seek (and this is a
rule lamentably neglected by Gaelic etymologists), the true explanation
of words in any language that offers one that is probable and rational;
otherwise we make “a useful art ridiculous,” and the etymologist
degenerates into “a trifling conjecturer.”

The Latin name of this day is _dies mercurii_, which name was adopted in
the Welsh, Cornish, and Armoric, but the Teutonic names are derived from
the Scandinavian deity _Odin_ or _Woden_, who was supposed to correspond
to Mercury. This was the designation adopted in Gaelic, both Irish and
Scottish. Like the French the Gaelic has no _w_, and represents that
sound by _g_ or _c_. Thus, _gad_, withe; _gul_, wail; _cosd_, waste;
_clòimh_, wool; _cnuimh_, worm; _curaidh_, warrior, etc. Sometimes, as
pointed out under Whitsuntide (_caingis_), the corresponding English
sound is _wh_. So _Woden’s_-day, Wednesday, became _Di-ceden_.

The derivation _ciad aoin’_, first fast, is open to the objection that
there was no fast on Wednesday in the Celtic or any other church,
that the use of the word _aoin’_, to denote a fast, is secondary, and
derived from Friday (_di-haoine_), the true fast day, and that the final
syllable, being the essential one, would with such a derivation, be
heavily accented, instead of falling away into a mere terminal syllable.
The grave _ia_ in _Di-ciadain_ is accounted for by the _o_ in Woden being

There was a malediction used to young women, “The disease of the woman
be upon you, who put the first Wednesday comb in her head” (_Galar na
tè chuir a chiad chìr Chiadna na ceann_). The disease was that she died

Many would not begin sowing seed in spring, but on this day or Thursday.
It was also counted a lucky day to begin ploughing upon.

A witch, in the island of Coll, being asked by a person, who had detected
her in her unhallowed pranks, to visit a farm-house in shape of a hare,
said, that as the day was Wednesday she could do nothing. Why her power
was limited on this day does not appear.

_Di’rdaoin_, THURSDAY.

The Latin name, _dies Iovis_, has been similarly followed, with slight
alteration, by the Cymric branch of the Celts; while the Gaelic names
are taken from _Thor_, _Tor_, and in some dialects _Thordan_, the
Scandinavian deity, son of Odin.

This is a lucky day for a calf or lamb to be born upon, for beginning
the weaving of cloth, and on which the hair should be cut, as the rhymes

    (1) “Thursday the day of benign Colum-cill
        A day to take possession of sheep,
        To put cloth in warp, and settle cow on calf.”

    (2) “Cut your hair and beard on Thursday,
        And blunt the nail on Saturday.”[77]

It is unlucky if Beltane day, the first of summer, falls upon a Thursday,
according to the saying, “Many a woman will be without an infant son,
when Beltane falls on Thursday” (_Is iomadh té bhios gun mhacan baoth dar
is ann air Di’rdaoin bhios a Bhealltainn_). M’Intosh (_Gael. Prov._, 146)
has it, “Woe to the mother of a wizard’s son, when Beltane falls on a
Thursday.” A similar prejudice existed against Hallowmas (_Samhain_), the
first of winter, falling on a Wednesday.


Here the Gaelic names revert to the Latin. Venus is etymologically
connected with the Gael, _bean_, a wife, as _Friga_ is with the German
_frau_. In Armoric the name of the day is _dar guener_, and says
Lhuyd (p. 9) “’Tis observable that the initial _gu_ is common to the
Britons, with the French, Spaniards, and Italians; and that the Romans
frequently begin such words with an V consonant.” The Gaelic word would
be pronounced in the same manner, though spelled _di-Fhaoine_, which
probably is the more correct form. _Aoine_ is said in dictionaries to
mean a fast, but in that sense never came into popular use, and is not
found in song or proverb.

The number of superstitions attached to the day were very numerous, and
this origin is to be traced to Friday, being the day of the Crucifixion.
On Good Friday (_Di-haoine na Ceusa_), the anniversary of our Lord’s
Passion, the various beliefs had twofold force. So much was it a belief
that the powers of evil have more power on this day than on any other,
that it was a common saying, “Friday is against the week” (_Tha Di-haoine
an aghaidh na seachdain_).

On Friday and on Sunday it was not deemed proper to go and see a sick
person. Most took such a visit in anything but good part, and many would
as soon see death coming to the house as a sympathising friend. In their
opinion there was little difference.

The more superstitious would not allow iron to be put in the ground, and
consequently no graves were dug and no ploughing was proceeded with.
Commonly, however, ploughing was abstained from only on Good Friday.

It was not lucky (_sealbhach_) on Friday to cut one’s hair or nails,
to sharpen knives, commence work, count animals, or go near the fire.
In Argyllshire and the Highlands generally it is deemed unlucky for
marriages, but in the south it is a favourite day, and in Appin,
Perthshire, people did not care to be married on any other day. The
aversion of seafaring men to leave on this day is well known.

On Fridays the fairies visited men’s houses, and people were careful not
to say anything to give them offence. Friday was not called by its own
name, but “the day of yonder town” (_la bhaile ud thall_), and if any
one unfortunately mentioned the proper name, the evil was averted by the
bystanders adding “on the cattle of yonder town.” Old women in Tiree
averted the evil consequences of sharpening knives on Friday by saying
“on the farm of Clark,” alluding to a big strong man of that name to whom
a general dislike was entertained, and who was said to have entered a
fairy hillock and compelled the inmate to give him a cure for his sore

The aversion of the elves to iron was a prominent feature in their
character, and dislike to putting iron in the ground was perhaps aversion
to disturb (especially with what the elves disliked so much) the earth
under the surface of which that easily offended race lives. The “little
folk” are quick to take offence, and dislike hearing the name of Friday,
seeing iron sharpened, or the earth disturbed with it. When there was any
occasion to mention the creatures, all danger of evil consequences is
averted by saying, “A blessing on their journeying and travelling, this
is Friday and they will not hear us.”

In the western islands it was a bitter curse to wish that “the number of
Friday” or “the cross of the number of Friday” might come upon a person
(_crois àireamh na h-aoine dh’ amas ort_). To count three times cattle,
chickens, men, etc., on this day was followed as a certain result by none
of them being alive at the end of the year. Many in Tiree remember that
in their youth a sure method of putting an old woman in a rage was to
begin counting her chickens on a Friday. She seldom allowed them to get
beyond three or four. The superstition probably arose from a belief that
it was on Friday King David numbered the Children of Israel.

People did not like to kill a cow, a sheep, or other beast, or cut or
mark calves or lambs on Friday, and there were many who would not allow
their cattle to be shifted from one place to another. They would not
alter their fold. If, _e.g._ the day was come for removing cows to the
summer hill pastures, the more superstitious would not allow it to be
done if the day was Friday.

As work commenced on Monday proceeded too quickly or too slowly, work
began on Friday was said to be always hurriedly done, “it will be
running” (_bi i na ruith_). “A person born on Friday is always in a
hurry” (_Bi neach a rugadh Di-haoine driopail_); hence the malediction,
“The running, or hurry, of Friday be upon you” (_Ruith na h-aoine ort_).

“A threatening Friday makes a tearful Saturday” (_’Si ’n Aoine bhagarach
ni ’n Sathurna deurach_), and if it came on to rain early on Friday,
or (as the saying was) if Friday caught the rain “in its mouth” (_Nan
glacadh an t-aoine na bhial e_), it would be wet all day.

_Di-sathuirne_, SATURDAY (_Dies Saturni_).

This, as might be expected, was not deemed a lucky day to begin work
upon. It was not deemed of much consequence whether ploughing began or
not, but the manufacture of cloth should on no account be begun. “The
warp prepared on Saturday will have the delay of the seven Saturdays upon
it” (_An rud theid a dheilbh Di-Sathuirne, bi stad nan seachd Sathurn’
air_). No spinning was to be done after sunset, but other work might
proceed as usual. All work should stop at 9 p.m. It is still considered a
bad thing among the old people in Kintail to work past that hour.

There is a man in Tiree who will not allow a newly-engaged servant to
come home to enter on his service on Saturday. On one occasion, when the
term-day happened to be Saturday, he persuaded the servant man to come
on Friday, though only to stand in the house for a few minutes, that the
evil omen might be averted.

New moon on Saturday was deemed a presage of stormy weather. “Saturday
light goes seven times mad before it goes out” (_Solus Sathurna gabhaidh
e na seachd cuthaich mun d’ theid e mach_).

An evil wish is “The end of the seven Saturdays be upon you” (_Deire nan
seachd Sathurn’ ort_), Macintosh’s _Prov._, p. 78; and in Cowal it is a
vicious saying of one woman to another, “Worse than that will come upon
you, the disease of the seven Saturdays will come upon you” (_Thig na ’s
miosa na sin ort, thig galar nan seachd Sathurn’ ort_).

The objection to removing on Saturday has been already mentioned under
Monday.[78] The same objection is entertained in Ireland.

The end of the week is very grateful to the labouring man. “Alas! and
alas! is Monday, but my love is Saturday” (_och is och! Di-luain, ach ’s
e mo luaidh Di-Sathuirne_).


Expressions denoting high wind are: “the blowing of hillocks out of their
places” (_seideadh nan cnoc_), “a wind to take the tails off horses”
(_Bheireadh i na h-earbuill bhar nan each_), and “blow the barn over the
house” (_chuir an t-sabhuill thar an tighe_); heavy rain takes “pieces
out of the ground” (_mìrean as an talamh_), and gives “milk to the
whales” (_bainne do na muca mara_), it being supposed that in heavy rain
whales lie on the surface to cool themselves; heavy snow “confines the
infirm to their cots” (_chròdhadh e na giùigirean_), strong robust men
can go about their business. A dead calm is called “the calm of birds”
(_fia’ nan ian_); on days when not a hair is moved by the wind, and
the sea is unruffled, the young fry of fish come to the surface, and
sea-birds, themselves also conspicuous in such weather, can look about
them for their prey.

The first breath of wind after a calm comes from the south, hence “When
the wind is lost look for it in the south” (_Nuair a bhios gaoth air
chall iarr a deas i_). After a heavy fall of rain the wind comes west, as
is told in the saying, “West wind after fat rain” (_Gaoth ’n iar ’n déigh
uisge reamhar_). If frost comes on, when rivers and pools are swollen,
and the ground is very wet, it does not last long; “the freezing of the
full pool does not rest long” (_reodhadh an lodain làin, cha mhair e
fada_). The heaviest rain comes from the north (or rather north-east),
and the longest drought from the south; “there is no rain but from the
north, or lasting dry weather but from the south” (_Cha-n uisge ach o’n
tuath, ’s cha turadh buan ach o’n deas_). The frequency with which the
violence of the wind moderates after a shower of rain has given rise to
the proverb “after wind comes rain” (_an déigh gaoth mhor thig uisge_),
to denote that after loud merriment and laughter come sorrow and the
cares brought by reflection. “It is north wind that dissipates mist”
(_’s i gaoth tuath sgaoileas ceò_); “the first day of south wind, and
the third day of north wind” (_chiad latha de ’n ghaoth deas ’s an treas
latha de ’n ghaoth tuath_), _i.e._ they are moderate then, and are best
for crossing ferries on. “A speckled chequered summer makes a white,
sunny harvest” (_ni samhradh breac riabhach fogharadh geal grianach_).
The south-west, being the direction from which rain commonly comes, is
known in the Hebrides as “_Cachlaidh na Buigeuisg_,” the gateway of soft


Both the sun (_a Ghrian_) and moon (_a Ghealach_) are feminine in Gaelic,
and the names are simply descriptive of their appearance. There is no
trace of a Sun-God or Moon-Goddess. The root _gr_ in _Grian_ denotes
horrent or bristling, and alludes to the sun’s rays. It is said by
some writers, that the name is connected with Apollo Grannua, but the
connection is a mere accidental similarity in the initial letters. The
root _gr_, denoting what is streaming or bristling, occurs in _gruag_,
a wig, flowing hair; _greann_, a surly look, a bristling of the hair as
on an enraged dog; _grāin_, aversion, from the turning up of nose and
stomach and bristling appearance of one much disgusted, so ab_horr_ence,
etc. _Gealach_, the moon, is from _geal_, white. The names _luan_,
_easga_, or _easgann_ are given in dictionaries, but have disappeared
from common use. With the former is supposed to be connected _luaineach_,
restless, and _luaisg_, to move. _R’_ denotes any planet.

The moment the moon begins to increase is called _gob soillse_ (lit. the
bill or beak of the light). The height of the tide, which follows his
changes, is _bolg reothairt_ (lit. the swollen womb of spring tide). The
moon’s increase is _fās_, and when waning she is _san earra-dhubh_ (lit.
in her black boundaries).[79]

At the instant the moon begins to increase, (_air gob na gealaiche_) the
horns of cows are loose on their pith (_slabhagan_), and may be pulled
off and stuck on again. It is told that a dispute having arisen on one
occasion as to the correctness of an almanac, about the moon’s change,
the old man who raised the question proved himself to be in the right by
turning round and drawing the horn from one of his cows, as a sheath is
taken from a knife, and sticking it on again. The story is told of a man
who lived in Sconser, Isle of Skye, of more than one person in Tiree, and
was doubtless told of people in various places.

It was said that there is never any north wind at _gob gealaich_.

The first time an unmarried person sees the new moon, he should stoop
down and lift whatever meets his hand. If, on taking it to the light, any
hair be found among it, its colour will prove to be that of the future
husband or wife. It is unlucky to see the new moon for the first time
when washing one’s hands, or with the hand on the face.

In olden times great regard was paid to the increase and wane of the
moon. Garden seeds, as onions, kail, etc., if sown in the increase, ran
to seed, but if sown in the wane, grew as pot-herbs. Withies or slender
twigs (_Caol_) intended for creels and baskets were cut only in the wane.
Twigs cut in the increase proved brittle. Trees cut in the increase were
believed to bud again, but not those cut in the wane. Eggs laid during
the wane were preserved for hatching, rather than those laid during the
increase. Hens came from the former; cocks from the latter. Birds hatched
in the increase were deemed difficult to rear, and it was doubtful if
any of them would ultimately survive. Hence _Eòin an fhàs_, birds of the
increase, is a name given to weakly pining children. They are worthless
for hatching.

Many would not cut (_i.e._ castrate) an animal, calf, or foal, or pig,
during the increase of the moon, and it was a belief that cows seek the
bull only in the first and third quarters of the moon, and never at neap
tides. A man in Islay pretended to tell, from the time the cow paid her
visit to the bull, whether her offspring would prove a bull-calf or a
cow-calf. If in the first quarter, the former; if in the wane, the latter.

The second moon in autumn, the harvest moon, or first after the autumnal
equinox, was variously known as _Gealach an abachaidh_, “the ripening
moon,” from a belief that crops ripen as much by it as they do during
the day; _Gealach bhuidhe nam broc_, “the badger’s yellow moon,” these
wary animals being engaged, it was said, in taking home their winter
supplies; _Gealach an t-sealgair_, “the hunter’s moon”; and the last moon
in harvest, extending for a month before Hallowmas (_Samhain_). The first
of winter was known as _Gealach a ruadhain_, “the reddening moon,” during
which vegetation grew as much by night as in the day.

It was said there was no north wind at the exact period of the appearance
of new moon (_gob gealaich_).


[1] Gheibh baoth ’guidhe ach cha-n fhaigh a h-anam tròcair.

[2] _Prov._, p. 143.

[3] Is mairg is màthair do mhacan baoth, dar is ann air Di’rdaoin bhios a

[4] In Germany it was a common belief that witches met on the night
before first May (_i.e._ Beltane night) on the mountain called the
Blockberg, to dance and feast with devils.

[5] The crook or pot-hanger seems to have been an important article of
the witch’s paraphernalia. A shepherd in Mull, coming in late from the
hill, with his feet wet, placed his stockings to dry on the pot-hanger.
An old woman present pulled the stockings down again, saying to the
shepherd, “Don’t do that; remember you are a person that travels the hill
night and day.” (Cuimhnich gur duin’ thus’ tha siubhal a mhonaidh latha
’s a dh’oidhche.) He never could ascertain what she meant.

[6] The ancient churn was broader at one end than the other, and its
narrow end, or mouth, was secured with a prepared sheepskin covering,
called _fùileach_ in Mull, _iomaideil_ in Morven and on the mainland
generally. The cross or hoop, that secured this covering in its place,
should also be of mountain ash. The churn was worked by the small end
being lifted up and let down repeatedly.


    Badan de ni ’chaorruinn
      Thig o aodunn Ealasaid,
    Cuir snaithn’ dearg ’us sreang as
      Cuir sid an ceann a chrathadair;
    ’S ged thigeadh buidseach Endor
      Gun ceannsaicheadh Ailein i.

The rhyme was composed by the bard Ailein Dall.

[8] De’n riabhach thug a’ so sibh?


    Di-luain a dh’éirich a ghaoth,
    ’S thog i orra fraoch us fearg,
    Us innis do mhathair mo chuirp,
    Gur h-e na h-uilc a rinn an t-sealg.

[10] The tale has this much truth in it, that one of the ill-fated
Spanish Armada was blown up in Tobermory Harbour, A.D. 1589. The wonder
would be, in those days when public news travelled slowly or not at all,
if the history or object of the Spanish fleet should be known in the
Highlands, or that it should be known to the Mull people that there was
any ship in the fleet but the one that came to their own coasts.

[11] A family of this name has had down to the present day a reputation
for witchcraft. The last of them was known to the writer as a poor woman
of much shrewdness and inoffensive character. She professed great skill
in healing cattle by means of charms and such-like _white_ witchcraft.

[12] _Cùl a’s aghaidh mo spòige ri Macillduinn._

[13] Tha m’iteagun’s m’atagun ag atadh ris na h-eibhleagun.


    “’Sann a nochd a thorchanaich leinn
    Mharbhadh an urchuill earchaill mhòr.”

“An do mharbhadh Maol Meanachan nan cat? Mar bhi na h-uile oidhche fhuair
mi biadh ’us bainne na d’theaglach, bhiodh do sgòrnan fada riabhach ann
am ìnein. Innis do Bhruc Riabhach gun d’eug Bladrum.”

[15] Mhami, mhami! tha mo sheanair ag éiridh.

[16] Cotta, _Short Discovery of Unobserved Dangers_, 1612. Quoted by
Beand, iii. 3.

[17] The author wrote this chapter in 1874.—ED.


    Dia bheannachadh do shūil
      Deur muin mu d’ chridhe,
    An luchaidh san tom
      ’S an otm ri theine.

[19] Al. Early on Sunday, to a level stone on the shore.


    Teine dé air do bhus,
    Rug do mhàthair chéil ubh,
    ’S thug thu fhéin mach an gur.


    Beairt ribeach
    Dubhan bradach
    Slat cham chaoruinn.


    Buainidh mise a mòthan
      An luibh a dh’òrduich Criosd
    Chaneil eagal losga—teine dhuit
      No cogadh nam ban shìth.


    Achlusan Challum Chille,
      Gun sireadh gun iarraidh,
    Cha d’thoir iad as do chadal thu,
      Is cha ghabh thu fiabhrus.
    Buainidh mis’ an donn duilleach,
    Luibh a fhuaradh an taobh bearraidh,
    Cha tugainn e do dhuine
    Gun tuilleadh air mo bheannachd.


    Buainidh mis’ an t-achlasan,
    ’S e luibh nam ban fionn e,
    ’S e chuirm eireachdail e
    ’S a chuirt shòghail.
    Luibh fhirionn e, luibh bhoirionn e,
    Luibh bh’aig eòin an allt e,
    Luibh bh’aig Ni Math na eiginn
    ’S aig Chrisd air aineol,
    ’S b’fhearr a dhuais do’n laimh dheas,
    Am bitheadh e.


    Buainidh mis’ an t-iubhar àigh
    Roimh chòig aisneam croma Chriosd
    An ainm an athar, a Mhic, ’s an Spioraid Naoimh
    Air bhàthadh, air ghàbhadh, ’s air ghriobhadh.


    Buainidh mis’ a chathair làir
    Mar bhuain Moire le da làimh,
    Buainidh mi le m’ neart i,
    ’S buainidh mi le m’ ghlaic i, etc.


    “_A’v a chuis a choinneal_
    _Thuair mi an’am laimh ga cumail_
    _Um sheasamh a’ s an deathaich_
    _’S cha be sin m’ abhaist_
    _Un tigh mo mhathar ’s m’ athar._”

    “A’r a shocair a bhuinneag
    ’S math a b’aithne dhomhsa chuideachd
    Aona mhart air thri sinnean
    ’S naoinear do mhuinntir.”

    “Cha be sin an gnathas
    Bha ’n tigh m’ athur no momhathar
    Cha robh aona mhart air thré sinnean
    Na naoinear ’a mhuinntir
    Ach naoi slabhrinnean òir
    An crocha ’n tigh Righ Sionnach.”

[28] Others say his servant man saw her first, a tradition which finds a
ready explanation for the whole account, in an attempt to discourage Hugh
by means of a prevailing superstition.

[29] After his victory Dowart made prisoner of his brother, Lochbuy, and
sent him to Kerneburg, a stronghold of which the Dowarts became heritable
keepers, on one of the Treshinish Islands, near Staffa, west of Mull. He
sent “Black Sarah Macphie” (_Mòr dhu nic a Phì_), from _Suidhe_, in the
Ross of Mull, the most ungainly woman he could get, so ugly that she was
nicknamed “The Pack-saddle” (_an t-srathair_), to take care of him. Black
Sarah, however, became the mother of _Murcha Gearr_, who ultimately made
himself master of his paternal acres.

[30] Campbell of Islay’s _West Highland Tales_, ii. 83.

[31] An old man in Aharacle, in the north of Argyleshire, was shaved, his
face was washed, his hair combed, and his personal appearance attended
to in anticipation of his speedy dissolution. When an attempt was made
to cut his nails, he told his friends to let them alone: “They are, he
exclaimed, but slight weapons for myself, seeing I don’t know where I am
going to.” (_’S beag an t-armachd dhomh fhìn iad, ’s gun fhios ’am cean’
tha mi dol._)

[32] MacGlumag na mias, o liath tarrang shìoda, burrach mòr.


    ’S gum b’ainm do’n fhuath nach robh tiòm
    A mhuireartach maol, ruadh, muing-fhionn;
    Bha-aodunn du-ghlas, air dhreach guail;
    Bha-deud a carbaid claon-ruadh;
    Bha aon sùil ghlogach na ceann,
    ’S gum bu luaith i na rionnach maghair;
    Bha greann glas-dhu air a ceann
    Mar choille chrionaich roi chrith-reothadh.

    M. S.

[34] North Morar is known as _Mòrair mhic shimidh_ and South Morar as
_Mòrair mhic Dhùghaill_.


    Dar chaidh Fionn don Bheinn
    Thachair ris Colann gun cheann.


    Colann gun cheann,
    Thig a nall ’s thoir leat mi.

[37] Fhaic thu ’n t-sean bho liath, ’s i gun bhiadh, a thàillear.

[38] Sgòrnan fada riabhach, ’se gun bhiadh, a thàillear.

[39] Chì-sa, mhic, chì-sa, mhic, chì-sa sid ’s fuaigheam so an dràsda.

[40] Gairdean fada riabhach ’s e gun fheòil gun bhiadh, a thàillear.

[41] Spòg mhòr liath gun fhuil, gun fheòil, gun fhéithean, ’s i gun
bhiadh, a tháillear.

[42] Spòg mhòr liath, ’s i gun bhiadh, a thàillear.

[43] In connection perhaps with this is the saying, “Ask everything of a
Cameron, but ask no butter from a Cameron” (_Iarr gach ni air Camsrhron
ach, ach na iarr ìm air Camsrhronach_). The clan are also called “The
soft Camerons of the butter” (_Camsrhronaich bhog an ime_).

[44] This is the origin, at least an illustration, of the saying, “Take
a wife from hell, and she will take you to her own house” (_Thoir bean a
ifrinn, ’s bheir i gu tigh fhein thu_).

[45] It was in the house of this man, tradition says, that Allan Breac,
the true murderer of Colin Campbell of Glenure, when making his escape,
stayed the night after the murder. James Stewart of Ardsheal was hung in
chains for the murder in 1752.

[46] The excessive use of wine by the West Highland chiefs is borne
witness to by the distich:

    “Neil, son of Rory, fast travelling,
    Who gave wine to his horses,
    That they might avoid the meadow waters.”

    [Nial Mac Ruaraidh ’n astair
    Bheireadh fiòn da chuid eachaibh
    Air son bùrn an lòn a sheachnadh.]


    Bha mi’n Dun-Eideann an raoir,
      Tha mi’m thalla féin a nochd;
    ’S fiach an, dadum ud ’sa ghréin
      Chaneil annam féin do neart.


    Mar bhi na gathannan caol giuthais
    Bhiodh so gu d’phuthar-sa, Dhò’uill Ghuirm Oig.


    Bhean, thug mo thriubhas dhiom
    ’S mo bhrògan grinne dubha bhuam,
    ’S an léine thug mo phiuthar dhomh,—
    Thuige, thuige, chasan fuara,
    ’S ioma cuan a shiubhail sibh.


    Thàinig ceathrar a nall,
    Gun bhàta, gun long,
    Fear buidhe, fionn,
    Fear slatagach, donn,
    Fear a bhualadh na sùisde,
    ’S fear a rùsgadh nan crann.


[51] Highland Society’s Dictionary, _sub voce_.

[52] _Am fear nach dean a Nollaig sunndach ni e chàisg gu tursach

[53] _Chaneil Nollaig gun fheòil._


    A challuinn a bhuilg bhuidhe bhoicinn
    Buail an craicionn (air an tota)
    Cailleach sa chill,
    Cailleach sa chùil,
    Cailleach eile ’n cùl an teine
    Bior na da shùil
    Bior na goile
    A challuinn so,
    Leig astigh mi.


    Gaoth deas, teas is toradh
    Gaoth tuath, fuachd is gaillionn,
    Gaoth ’n iar, iasg is bainne,
    Gaoth ’n ear, meas air chrannaibh.


    B’ fhearr leam a chreach thigh’nn do’n tìr
    Na mhaduinn chiùin ’san Fhaoilleach fhuar.


    Faoilleach Faoilleach, cruth an crios
    Faoilte mhòr bu chòir bhi ris;
    Crodh us caoraich ruith air theas,
    Gul us caoidh bu chòir bhi ris.


    “Nead air Brithid, ubh air Inid,
      ’S eun air Càisg,
    ’S mar bi sin aig an fhitheach
      Bithidh am bàs.”


    “Feadag, Feadag, màthair Faoilleach fuar,
    Marbhaidh i caoraich us uain,
    Marbhaidh i ’n cro mòr mu seach,
    ’S an t-each ris an aon uair.”


    “Thuirt an Gearran ris an Fhaoilleach,
    C’àit an d’ fhàg thu ’n gamhuinn bochd!
    Dh’ fhàg mi e aig an Fhear rinn na dùilean,
    ’S dhà shùil air an t-sop.
    Ma bheireas mis’, thuirt a mios Màigh,
    Air an anail am barraibh a chluas,
    Cuiridh mi ruideis air an tràigh e,
    ’S fheaman air a ghualainn.”


    “Sin thuirt an Gearran gearr,
    Ni mi farran ort nach fhearr,
    Cuiridh mi bhò mhòr sa pholl,
    Gus an d’ thig an tonn far a ceann.”


    “Buailidh i thall, buailidh i bhos,
    Buailidh i eadar a da chois;
    Thilg i e fo ’n chraoibh chruaidh chuilinn,
    Air nach do chinn gas feur no fionnadh riamh.”


    An linge làn air chionn a Mhàrt,
    ’S tugha nan tighean an claisean nan iomairean.


    Leig seachad a chiad Mhàrt
    S an dàrna Mhàrt màs fheudar e,
    Ach olc air mhath gan d’thig an t-sìd,
    Cuir do shìol san fhior Mhàrt.

[65] Campbell’s _Superstitions of the Scottish Highlands_, p. 296.


    Thuirt an Inid ris a Chàisg,
      C’àit am faigh mi àite cluich?
    Thoir thusa dhomhsa pàilliun geamhraidh
      ’S togaidh mi tigh samhraidh dhuit.

[67] This derivation has been derived from, and others have been
confirmed by Lhuyd (_Archæologia Britannica_, publ. at Oxford, 1707). The
work is folio size, and contains many curious and sensible philological
observations. Its principal defect is, that what is valuable is buried in
pages of uninteresting glossaries.


    Reothairt na Feill Moire
    ’S boilich na Feill Pàruig.


    Mas a bailc Bhealltainn bhlàth,
    Mas a turadh an treas là,
    ’S mas a gaoth an ear a rithis,
    ’S cinnteach gum bi meas air chrannaibh.

[70] In the Hebrides, the name St. Brendan’s Eve for the Whitsunday term
is entirely unknown. It is told of a Tiree man of the last generation,
that he was promised a croft, or piece of land, by the then chamberlain
of the island, who was a native of the mainland, and said, “Your name
will be put on the rent-roll on St. Brendan’s Day.” The Tiree man went
home and consulted his godfather (_goistidh_) as to what day the factor
meant. “I really don’t know,” said his godfather, “unless it be the day
of judgment.”


    Bròg thana, ’s i gun mheas,
      Gun fhios co chaitheas i.

[72] Campbell’s _Superstitions of the Scottish Highlands_, p. 260.


    Togaidh mise chlach,
    Mar a thog Moire da Mac,
    Air bhrìgh, air bhuaidh, ’s air neart;
    Gun robh a chlachsa am dhòrn,
    Gus an ruig mi mo cheann uidhe.


    Feill Fionnain nam fleadh
    S’ oidhche Nollaig na mòr bhladh.


    Tinnste (tionnsgnadh?) nitear Di-luain,
    Bithidh e luath no bi e mall.


    Imrich an t-sathurna mu thuath,
    Imrich an Luain mu dheas,
    Ged nach biodh agam ach an t-uan
    ’S ann Di-luain a dh ’fhalbhainn leis.


    (1) Di’rdaoin, latha Challum-chille chaoin
        Latha chuir chaorach air seilbh,
        A dheilbh, ’s a chuir bo air laogh.

    (2) T’ fhalt ’s t’ fhionna Di’rdaoin,
        ’S t’ ionga mhaol Di-sathuirne.

[78] _V._ page 293.

[79] When hid in her vacant interlunar cave, _i.e._ when she is waning
and late of rising, the dark period of the night is called _rath dorcha_
(dark circle). “Son of the moon’s dark circle” (_mhic an rath dorcha_) is
an expression of mild objurgation.


    All Fool’s day, 266

    All Saints’ day, 281, 297, 307

    Allan of the Faggots, 45

    Allophylian, 92

    Apparitions of the Dead, 127, 137

    Ardvoirlich Stone, 94

    Arrow-head, 92

    Assumption day, 279

    Autumn, 227, 306

    Avoiding day, 273

    Baal, 224

    “Beard Gateway, the,” tale, 189

    Beast of Odal Pass, tale, 207

    Beckoning Old Man, 187

    Beltane, 267, 270, 272
      Beltane day, 12, 156, 297
      Beltane night, 7

    Bereavement of a taïsher, tale, 139

    Big Allan of Woodend, 83

    Black Duncan of the Cowl, 110

    Black Walker of the Ford, 201

    Black witchcraft, 1

    Black shore, 184

    Blind Allan, the Glengarry Bard, 82

    Boat of Gortendonald, tale, 161

    Boat of Iona, 162

    Bocain, 220

    Bonfires, 282

    Breadalbane’s Warning, 110

    Bridewell, 248

    Brimstone Betty, 154

    Burt’s Story, 36

    Calluinn, 230

    Cameron of Glenevis, 35
      tale, 38

    Cameron of Locheil, 198, 200

    Campbell and the Battle of Gaura, 206

    Candle Day, 244

    Cattle cured of sickness, 56,
      of murrain, 94
      elf-struck, 91
      Hairy Donald’s power to hurt or cure, 10
      Saining cattle, 257, 272, 277
      watched by their dead possessors, 210

    Cats, 34
      Boy eaten alive by cats, 39
      coming to life again, 40
      protection against drowning, 35
      revenge of a, 38
      used in the cure of the evil eye, 61
      witches as, 18, 34
      woman torn by cats, tale, 39

    Celtic Year, the, 224

    Charms, 6, 55
      against danger, tale, 73
      against drowning and dangers in war, 74
      counter-charms, 10
      Eòlas or, 57
      for bruises, 67
      for cattle, 71
      for conferring graces, 80
      for consumption and affections of the chest, 68
      for fulling new cloth, 77
      for general use, 79
      for new-born babes, 77
      for preventing a newly-purchased animal going astray, 71
      for rheumatic pains, 67
      for a sheep, 74
      for sprains, 66
      for toothache, 69
      for young women’s faces, 81
      in a lawsuit, 83
      love charm, 82
      smith’s immunity from bullets, 76
      The Gospel of Christ, 79
      use of, 55
      veteran’s safety, 74

    Christmas or Nollaig, 229
      Black cuttings of, 244
      cheese, 232
      Day of Little Christmas, 238
      Rhymes, 233
      the twelve days of, 243

    Cock fighting, 249, 257

    Coffin, 151

    Contest of a gull and a cormorant, 23

    Cormorants, 43

      bewitched, 14
      bringing back a cow’s milk, 71
      milked to death, 9
      old wife’s charm, 73

    Cure of
      axillary swelling, 99
      consumption and leprosy, 100
      epilepsy, 97
      hiccup, 96
      lumbago, 100
      miscellaneous cures, 94
      stiff neck and toothache, 96
      stye and tetter, 95
      treatments of madness, 97
      warts, 94
      whooping-cough, 96

    Danger of strong wishes, 140, 143

    Daughter of the King of Enchantments, tale, 107

    Day of the big porridge, 261

    Day of three suppers, 289

    Days of the week, 291 to 302

    Death, 150
      apparitions of the dead, 127, 137
      death lights, 169
      funeral processions, 155
      howling of dogs, 164
      legend of the death lights, 171
      Spirits seen before a, 172
      taïsher seeing his own, 159
      warnings, 109
      wraiths seen before, 158

    Devil’s wiles, tale, 186

    Dog Days, 276

    Dogs, 163
      as spectre-seers, 163
      howling, sign of death, 164

    Doideag, 26

    Donald of the Ear, 48

    Donald the Fair-Haired, 140

    Doubles, 122, 125, 128, 130, 145, 163

    Dowart, 112, 117

    Dreag or Driug, 111

    Dreams, 27, 209
      Spirits appearing in dreams, 179

    Drowning, charm against, 74
      foreseen by seers, 160
      ill-fated boats, 161
      sailors’ drowning foretold by screams, 168

      druid’s glass, 87
      relique of, 84
      remains of Druid magic, 121

    _Dublin University Magazine_, 39

    Duncan Ban MacIntyre, 82

    Easter, 263

    _Easter eggs_, 265

    Egyptians, 87, 254

    Eddy winds of the Storm month, 251

    Elisha, 59

    _Ellis’s Brand’s Antiquities_, 239, 243, 244, 248, 271, 280

    “Enticing plant, the,” 106

    Envy splits the rocks, 63

    _Etymological Dictionary of Scottish Language_, 254

    Events happening at a distance, 149

    Evil Eye, 59
      Cure for, tale, 60
      dangers of the, 61
      danger for a horse, 62
      how to detect the victim, 60
      incantations to counteract, 63
      precautions against, 59
      stone for the cure of the, 93

    Ewen M’Corkindale or Ewen of the Dirk, tale, 190

    Ewen and the Carlin Wife, tale, 198

    Ewen and the Skull, tale, 200

    Fairies, 1

    February, 245

    Festival of Fools in Paris, 243

    “Fetch,” or coffins, 119

    Fin MacCoul, 188

    Fish procured by witchcraft, 17

    Flounders, 18

    Friday, 297
      Good Friday, 262, 298

    Frog Stone, 89

    Fulfilment of visions, 157, 158, 159, 160

    Funeral processions, 128, 155, 156

    Gaelic customs on festivals, 229
      etymologies, 224
      divisions of time, 225

    Gaelic months and seasons, 224 to 307

    Games to divine the future, 282

    Gaura, battle of, 205
      Hero of battle, 206

    Gelding season, 251

      Donald Gorm’s Ghost, tale, 211
      Drowned man’s Ghost, tale, 214 and 215
      “Gospel,” 94
      Hidden ploughshare, tale, 213
      Laying a, 222,
        in name of Duke of Argyle, 223
      of the living, 124
      Shadows, 221
      Song of a, 179
      Silent horseman, 221

    Glen Erochty, 203

    Goblins, 220

    Good Friday, 262, 298

    _Gregory’s Western Highlands_, 211

    Grey Paw, the, tale, 194

    Gulls, 23, 42

    Hallowe’en night, 144
      Hallowmas, 284, 297, 307

    Handsel Monday, 245

    Hares, 8, 33

    Haunted houses, 217
      seer, 137, 148, 161

    _Highland Society’s Dictionary_, 226, 244

    Henderson’s Gloves, tale, 135

    Hobgoblins, 181
      Baucan, 181, 182
      Bodach, 187, 190
      dogs and horses, tales, 185, 215
      Etiquette when meeting a, 184
      Fuath, 188
      Haunts of, 183
      precursor of Death, 182
      refuge from, 184
      safety in a circle against, 185

    Hogg’s _Witch of Fife_, 36

    Holly whipping, 232

      as spectre-seers, 163
      fright of a horse, tale, 165
      horse as an omen of Death, 117
      men changed into, 49
      phantom horse, 111
      safe from witches, 13 and 185
      saved by incantations, 63

    Horse-shoe protection against witchcraft, 12

    Hot month, 279

    Hugh of the Little Head, tale, 111

    Hugh M’Lachlan of Aberdeen, 250

    Hugh, son of Donald the Red, tale, 147

    Hump-backed Blue-eye or Gormla, 23, 26, 50

    Ian Garve, tale, 25

    Ignes Fatui, 171

    Ile, tale, 177

    Juniper, 11,
      incantations, 105, 242

    Kate MacIntyre, 51

    King Frog, 89

    Lachlan Mor, 139

    Lachlan the Wily, 112

    Lady day, 261

    Laird of Coll, tale, 8, 139, 146, 180

    Lent, 258

    _Lhuyd’s Archæologia Britannica_, 230, 258, 264, 269, 294

    Linlithgow, 279

    Little Spring of Whelks, 247

    Lochan Doimeig, 208

    Lochbuy, 112, 118

    Lochlin’s daughter, 100

    Loch Ma Nàr, 101

    Macaulay, Lord, 198

    MacCannel, 173

    Macdonald, Lord, 23, 48, 173

    Macdonall or MacCuïl and the Headless Body, tale, 191

    Macdougall of Lorn, 113

    Macfadyens, 113, 194

    MacGilvray, freed from witchcraft, tale, 47

    MacGregor, 35, 110

    MacIain Ghiarr, 47

    _MacIntosh’s Gaelic Proverbs_, 297, 301

    Maclachlan Clan, 110, 170

    Maclaine, 113

    MacLean, 118

    Maclean, Hector, tale, 30

    M’Lean of Coll, 102, 139

    MacLean of Dowart, 27, 76, 117, 139
      Bewitched clay figure of, 47
      his bargain with a shade, 178
      clan, 276
      Nose of the, 136
      Song of the, 115

    _M’Leod and Dewar’s Dictionary_, 250

    MacNeills, 21

    “Macpherson of power,” legend, 20

    Macpherson, 206

    MacRanald, 21

    Magic staff, 6

    Malicious spectres, 133, 135

    Manaman MacLeth, 83

    _Martin’s “Western Highlands”_, 248

    Martin of the Bag’s day, 277

    Martinmas, 274

    Maundy-Thursday, 261

    May, 272, 273

    May Day, 267

    Mountain ash, 11, 242

    Meyer, 88

    Michaelmas, 281

    Midsummer’s Eve, 276

    Milk carried in a seaweed, 9

    Monday, 292

    Moon, 304

    Nails, 176

    New Year’s Day customs, 238, 241
      fire, 237
      night, 236
      rhyme, 234

    Nightly assignations with spectres, 130,
      tale, 132
      with spirits, tale, 175, 201, tale, 203

      depression of a seer caused by, 151
      forerunners of funerals, 154
      heard by people not taïshers, 152
      wailing, sign of death, 166

    Old Wife, 253

    Omens, 145

    Oswy, King of Northumbria, 263

    Otter, 89

    Paschal Lamb, 254

    _Peacock’s Guide to the Isle of Man_, 70

    Pearlwort, 15, 71
      its uses, 103
      to prevent the return of the dead, 172

    Pennant, 89, 243, 271, 274

    Pet Ram, the, tale, 217

    Phœnicians, 87, 268

    Pins, used to free cows from witchcraft, 14

    Quartodecimans, 263

    “Rag,” the, or the Lakelet of Black Trout, tale, 208

    Rats, 42

    _Red Book of Appin_, 13

    Red-Headed Donald, 216

    Red Hector of the Battles, 76

    Return of the Dead, 172, 210, 215

    Rhymes, 56
      New Year, 234
      of the wind, 237

    Riddle of the Four Seasons, 225

    Roman Calendar, 263

    Ronag, or ball of hair, 11

    Roodmas, 280

    St. Brendan’s Eve, 275

    St. Brendan the Elder, 274

    St. Bride’s Day, tale, 247

    St. Bride’s Rhyme, 249

    St. Fillan, legend of, 98

    St. Finan’s Eve, 289

    St. John’s Eve, 276

    St. John’s wort, incantation, 104

    St. Kessock’s Day, 259, 290

    St. Patrick’s Day, 250, 259

    St. Swithin’s Day, 277

    Scott, Sir Walter, 87, 193
      Michael, 200, 256

    Second Sight, 120
      hereditary, 126, 131
      marriage foreseen by, 147
      to get rid of, 180

    Seed time, 255

    Seers, 122,
      tale, 138
      haunted by a drowned man, 161
      the four wives of a, tale, 148

    Sharp-billed one, 251

    Sheep, 10, 30

    Shepherd’s adventure, 35

    Shinty, 230, 238, 239

    Shore Thursday, 261

    Shrovetide, 256

    Sinclair, Alexander, and the dairymaid, tale, 135

    Spanish Armada, 28

    Spectral funerals, 128, 155,
      horses, 153

    Spectres, 160
      of the living, 132

    Spirits of the dead, 172
      reverence paid to the dead, 176
      Secrets revealed by, 173
      unholy compacts, tale, 174 f.

    Spring, 225, 250, 260

    Strong wishes, tales, 141

      Burial stones, 177
      Cruban stone to cure diseases of joints, 92
      Fairy-arrow or elf-bolt, 91
      frog stone, 89
      serpents’ bead, 85, 87
      serpents’ egg, 84
      snail bead, 88
      storm stone, 93
      Virtues of the Fairy Spade, 92

    Storm of the Borrowing Days, 25

    Summer, 226

    Sun, 304

    Sunday, 292

    Swarths, 124

    Sweeper, 251

    Tailor and the skulls, 176
      detected among witches, 50
      drowning witches, 15
      Grey Paw and the, tale, 194
      tailor’s hole, 197
      torn by cats, 37
      unlucky experiment in witchcraft, 16

    Taïsher, 123, 126
      moral character of a, 131
      tale, 137, tale, 159

    Tàradh, or the omens of living men, 124, 125, 144, 146

    Tàsg, 166

    Threads used in witchcraft, 6, 10, 61

    Three hog dogs, 254

    Thursday, 296

    Translation of Martin, 277

    Tuesday, 294

    Ulysses of the Highlands, 198

    Unbeliever convinced, tale, 169

    Unearthly whistle, tale, 204

    Waldron, 121

    Wallace, Sir William, and the headless body, 193

    Weather wisdom, 302

    Wednesday, 294

    Weight of the dead, 140

      Fian Flag-Stone Well, healing power of, 101
      of Stones, 102
      of the Heads, 114
      of the Nine Living, 102
      Sanna Cave, 101
      to cure toothache and jaundice, 102

    Western Sea poem, 188

    Whales, 44

    Whistle, 250

    Whistling week, 273

    White witchcraft, 54

    Whitsuntide, 274

    Wicken tree, 103

    _Wilson’s Prehistoric Annals_, 90

    Wine, 211, 212

    Winter, 227, 281
      games, 283

    Witchcraft, Black, 1
      White, 54

      as cats, tales, 18, 34
      as cormorants, tale, 43
      as gulls, tale, 23, tale, 42
      as hares, tales, 33
      as rats, 42
      as sheep, 10, 30
      as whales, tale, 44
      bribes to, 2
      celebrated, 50
      definition, 2
      delaying birth of child, 45
      destruction of Captain Forrest’s ship, 27
      disguised as a hare, 8
      doings of, 5
      etymology, 4
      going to sea, 15
      how to detect, 53
      knots to raise the winds, 19
      little witch, the, tale, 22
      on Beltane eve, 270
      plants and trees as protection against, 103
      Portree witches sinking a boat, 22
      powerless on Wednesdays, 296
      raising storms and destroying people, 19
      sinking a vessel by means of a dish of milk, 21
      their own belief in witchcraft, 3, 58
      transformations of, 6
      use of tar, 13
      using clay corpses, 46
      witches and milk, 7
      wounded by silver, 30, 49

    Wizard rising after death, 52
      head-stone, 53

    Year, Celtic, 224
      of the Silverweed roots, 290

    “Yellow Claws,” 23, 26, 51

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Witchcraft & Second Sight in the Highlands & Islands of Scotland - Tales and Traditions Collected Entirely from Oral Sources" ***

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