"They've ta'en the bride to the bridal bed, To loose her snood nae mind they had. 'I'll loose it,' quo John."
On the morning after some of the married women of the neighbourhood met in the young wife's house and put on her the curtch or closs cap (mutch), a token of the marriage state. In my young days unmarried women went with the head uncovered; but after marriage, never were seen without a cap. On the morning after marriage the best man and maid breakfasted with the young couple, after which they spent the day in the country, or if they lived in the country, they went to town for a change. Weddings were invariably celebrated on a Friday,—the reason for this preference being, as is supposed, that Friday was the day dedicated by the Norsemen to the goddess, Friga, the bestower of joy and happiness. The wedding day being Friday, the walking-day was a Saturday; and on Sunday the young couple, with their best man and best maid, attended church in the forenoon, and took a walk in the afternoon, then spent the evening in the house of one of their parents, the meeting there being closed by family worship, and a pious advice to the young couple to practise this in their own house.
If the bride had been courted by other sweethearts than he who was now her husband, there was a fear that those discarded suitors might entertain unkindly feelings towards her, and that their evil wishes might supernaturally influence her, and affect her first-born. This evil result was sought to be averted by the bride wearing a sixpence in her left shoe till she was kirked; but should the bride have made a vow to any other, and broken it, this wearing of the sixpence did not prevent the evil consequences from falling upon her first-born. Many instances were currently quoted among the people of first-born children, under such circumstances, having been born of such unnatural shapes and natures that, with the sanction of the minister and the relations, the monster birth was put to death. Captain Burt, in his letters from the Highlands, written early in the eighteenth century, says that "soon after the wedding day the newly-married wife sets herself about spinning her winding sheet, and a husband that shall sell or pawn it is esteemed among all men one of the most profligate." And Dr. Jamieson says—"When a woman of the lower class in Scotland, however poor, or whether married or single, commences housekeeping, her first care, after what is absolutely necessary for the time, is to provide death linen for herself and those who look to her for that office, and her next to earn, save, and lay up (not put out to interest) such money as may decently serve for funeral expenses. And many keep secret these honorable deposits and salutary mementoes for two or threescore years."
This practice was continued within my recollection. The first care of the young married wife was still, in my young days, to spin and get woven sufficient linen to make for herself and her husband their dead claes. I can well remember the time when, in my father's house, these things were spread out to air before the fire. This was done periodically, and these were days when mirth was banished from the household, and everything was done in a solemn mood. The day was kept as a Sabbath. The reader will not fail to observe in some of these modern customs and beliefs modified survivals of the old Roman practices and superstitious beliefs.
It is not surprising that the solemn period of death should have been surrounded with many superstitious ideas,—with a great variety of omens and warnings, many of which, however, were only called to mind after the event. In the country, when any person was taken unwell, it was very soon known over the whole neighbourhood, and all sorts of remedies were recommended. Generally a doctor was not sent for until the patient was considered in a dangerous state, and then began the search for omens or warnings. If the patient recovered, these premonitions were forgotten, but if death ensued, then everything was remembered and rendered significant. Was a dog heard to howl and moan during the night, with his head in the direction of the house where the patient lay; was there heard in the silent watches of the night in the room occupied by the sick person, a tick, ticking as of a watch about the bed or furniture, these were sure signs of approaching death, and adult patients hearing these omens, often made sure that their end was near. Many pious people also improved the circumstance, pointing out that these omens were evidence of God's great mercy, inasmuch as He vouchsafed to give a timely warning in order that the dying persons might prepare for death, and make their peace with the great Judge. To have hinted, under such circumstances, that the ticking sounds were caused by a small wood moth tapping for its mate, would have subjected the hinter to the name of infidel or unbeliever in Scripture, as superstitious people always took shelter in Scripture.
Persons hearing a tingling sound in their ears, called the deid bells, expected news of the death of a friend or neighbour. A knock heard at the door of the patient's room, and on opening no person being found, was a sure warning of approaching death. If the same thing occurred where there was no patient, it was a sign that some relation at a distance had died. I was sitting once in the house of a newly married couple, when a loud knock was heard upon the floor under a chair, as if some one had struck the floor with a flat piece of wood. The young wife removed the chair, and seeing nothing, remarked with some alarm, "It is hasty news of a death." Next day she received word of the death of two of her brothers, soldiers in India, the deaths having occurred nearly a year before. There was no doubt in the mind of the young wife that the knock was a supernatural warning. The natural explanation probably was that the sound came from the chair, which being new, was liable to shrink at the joints for some time, and thus cause the sound heard. This cracking sound is quite common with new furniture.
If, again, some one were to catch a glimpse of a person whom they knew passing the door or window, and on looking outside were to find no such person there, this was a sign of the approaching death of the person seen. There were many instances quoted of the accuracy of this omen, instances generally of persons who, in good health at the time of their illusionary presence, died shortly after. Another form of this superstition was connected with those who were known to be seriously ill. Should the observer see what he felt convinced was the unwell person, say, walking along the street, and on looking round as the presence passed, see no person, this was a token of the death of the person whose spectre was seen. I knew of a person who, on going home from his work one evening, came suddenly upon an old man whom he knew to be bed-ridden, dressed as was formerly his wont, with knee breeches, blue coat, and red nightcap. Although he knew that the old man had for some time been confined to bed, so distinct was the illusion that he bid him "good night" in passing, but receiving no reply, looked behind and saw no one. Seized with fright, he ran home and told what he had seen. On the following morning it was known through the village that the old man was dead. And his death had taken place at the time when the young man had seen him on the previous evening. This was considered a remarkably clear instance of a person's wraith or spirit being seen at the time of death. However, the seeing of a person's wraith was not always an omen of death. There were certain rules observed in relation to wraiths, by which their meaning could be ascertained, but these rules differed in different localities. In my native village a wraith seen during morning, or before twelve noon, betokened that the person whose wraith was seen would be fortunate in life, or if unwell at the time, would recover; but when the wraith was seen in the afternoon or evening, this betokened evil or approaching death, and the time within which death would occur was considered to be within a year. This belief in wraiths goes back to a very early period of man's history. The ancient Persians and Jews believed that every person had a spirit or guardian angel attending him, and although generally invisible, it had the power of becoming visible, and separating itself for a time from the person it attended, and of appearing to other persons in the guise of the individual from whom it emanated. An excellent example of this superstitious belief is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. When Peter, who was believed to be in prison, knocked at the "door of the gate" of the house where the disciples were met, the young woman who went to open the door, on recognising Peter's voice, was overjoyed, and, instead of opening, ran into the house, and told the disciples Peter was at the door. Then they said "It is his angel" (wraith). Thus the whole company expressed their belief in attending angels. The belief in wraiths was prevalent throughout all Scotland. It is beautifully introduced in the song of "Auld Robin Gray." When the young wife narrates her meeting with her old sweetheart, she says, "I thought it was his wraith, I could not think it he," and the belief survives in some parts of the country to the present day.
If a dying person struggled hard and long, it was believed that the spirit was kept from departing by some magic spell. It was therefore customary, under these circumstances, for the attendants to open every lock in the house, that the spell might be broken, and the spirit let loose. J. Train refers to this superstition in his Mountain Muse, published 1814:—
"The chest unlocks to ward the power, Of spells in Mungo's evil hour."
After death there came a new class of superstitious fears and practices. The clock was stopped, the looking-glass was covered with a cloth, and all domestic animals were removed from the house until after the funeral. These things were done, however, by many from old custom, and without their knowing the reason why such things were done. Originally the reason for the exclusion of dogs and cats arose from the belief that, if either of these animals should chance to leap over the corpse, and be afterwards permitted to live, the devil would gain power over the dead person.
When the corpse was laid out, a plate of salt was placed upon the breast, ostensibly to prevent the body swelling. Many did so in this belief, but its original purpose was to act as a charm against the devil to prevent him from disturbing the body. In some localities the plate of salt was supplemented with another filled with earth. A symbolical meaning was given for this; that the earth represented the corporeal body, the earthly house,—the salt the heavenly state of the soul. But there was an older superstition which gave another explanation for the plate of salt on the breast. There were persons calling themselves "sin eaters" who, when a person died, were sent for to come and eat the sins of the deceased. When they came, their modus operandi was to place a plate of salt and a plate of bread on the breast of the corpse, and repeat a series of incantations, after which they ate the contents of the plates, and so relieved the dead person of such sins as would have kept him hovering around his relations, haunting them with his imperfectly purified spirit, to their great annoyance, and without satisfaction to himself. This form of superstition has evidently a close relation to such forms of ancestor-worship as we know were practised by the ancients, and to which reference has already been made.
Until the funeral, it was the practice for some of the relations or friends to sit up all night, and watch the corpse. In my young days this duty was generally undertaken by youths, male and female friends, who volunteered their services; but these watchings were not accompanied by the unseemly revelries which were common in Scotland in earlier times, or as are still practised in Ireland. The company sitting up with the corpse generally numbered from two to six, although I have myself been one of ten. They went to the house about ten in the evening, and before the relations went to bed each received a glass of spirits; about midnight there was a refreshment of tea or ale and bread, and the same in the morning, when the relations of the deceased relieved the watchers. Although during these night sittings nothing unbefitting the solemnity of the occasion was done, the circumstances of the meeting gave opportunity for love-making. The first portion of the night was generally passed in reading,—some one reading aloud for the benefit of the company, afterwards they got to story-telling, the stories being generally of a ghostly description, producing such a weird feeling, that most of the company durst hardly look behind them for terror, and would start at the slightest noise. I have seen some so affected by this fear that they would not venture to the door alone if the morning was dark. These watchings of the dead were no doubt efficacious in perpetuating superstitious ideas.
The reasons given for watching the corpse differed in different localities. The practice is still observed, I believe, in some places; but probably now it is more the result of habit—a custom followed without any basis of definite belief, and merely as a mark of respect for the dead; but in former times, and within this century, it was firmly held that if the corpse were not watched, the devil would carry off the body, and many stories were current of such an awful result having happened. One such story was told me by a person who had received the story from a person who was present at the wake where the occurrence happened. I thus got it at second hand. The story ran as follows:—The corpse was laid out in a room, and the watchers had retired to another apartment to partake of refreshments, having shut the door of the room where the corpse lay. While they were eating there was heard a great noise, as of a struggle between two persons, proceeding from the room where the corpse lay. None of the party would venture into the room, and in this emergency they sent for the minister, who came, and, with the open Bible in his hand, entered the room and shut the door. The noise then ceased, and in about ten minutes he came out, lifted the tongs from the fireplace, and again re-entered the room. When he came out again, he brought out with the tongs a glove, which was seen to be bloody, and this he put into the fire. He refused, however, to tell either what he had seen or heard; but on the watchers returning to their post, the corpse lay as formerly, and as quiet and unruffled as if nothing had taken place, whereat they were all surprised.
From the death till the funeral it was customary for neighbours to call and see the corpse, and should any one see it and not touch it, that person would be haunted for several nights with fearful dreams. I have seen young children and even infants made to touch the face of the corpse, notwithstanding their terror and screams. If a child who had seen the corpse, but had not been compelled to touch it, had shortly afterwards awakened from a sleep crying, it would have been considered that its crying was caused by its having seen the ghost of the dead person.
If, when the funeral left the house, the company should go in a scattered, straggling manner, this was an omen that before long another funeral would leave the same house. If the company walked away quickly, it was also a bad omen. It was believed that the spirit of the last person buried in any graveyard had to keep watch lest any suicide or unbaptized child should be buried in the consecrated ground, so that, when two burials took place on the same day, there was a striving to be first at the churchyard. In some parts of the Highlands this superstition led to many unseemly scenes when funerals occurred on the same day.
Those attending the funeral who were not near neighbours or relations were given a quantity of bread and cakes to take home with them, but relations and near neighbours returned to the house, where their wives were collected, and were liberally treated to both meat and drink. This was termed the dredgy or dirgy, and to be present at this was considered a mark of respect to the departed. This custom may be the remnant of an ancient practice—in some sort a superstition—which existed in Greece, where the friends of the deceased, after the funeral, held a banquet, the fragments of which were afterwards carried to the tomb. Upon the death of a wealthy person, when the funeral had left the house, sums of money were divided among the poor. In Catholic times this was done that the poor might pray for the soul of the deceased. In the Danish Niebellungen song it is stated that, at the burial of the hero Seigfried, his wife caused upwards of thirty thousand merks of gold to be distributed among the poor for the welfare and repose of his soul. This custom became in this country and century in Protestant times an occasion for the gathering of beggars and sorners from all parts. At the funeral of George Oswald of Scotstoun, three miles from Glasgow, there were gathered several hundreds, who were each supplied with a silver coin and a drink of beer, and many were the blessings wished. A similar gathering occurred at the funeral of old Mr. Bogle of Gilmourhill, near Glasgow; but when announcement was made that nothing was to be given, there rose a fearful howl of execration and cursing both of dead and living from the mendacious crowd. The village of Partick in both these cases was placed under a species of black-mail for several days by beggars, who would hardly take any denial, and in many instances appropriated what was not their own. I am not aware that this custom is retained in any part of the country now.
As the funerals fifty years ago were mostly walking funerals, the coffin being carried between two spokes, the sort of weather during the funeral had its omens, for in these days the weather was believed to be greatly under the control of the devil, or rather it was considered that he was permitted to tamper with the weather. If the day was fine, this was naturally a good omen for the soul's welfare. I remember that the funeral of the only daughter of a worthy couple happened on a wet day, but just as the funeral was leaving the house the sun broke through and the day cleared, whereupon the mother, with evident delight, as she stood at the door, thanked God that Mary was getting a good blink. Stormy weather was a bad omen, being regarded as due to Satan's influence. Burns refers to this belief in his "Tam o' Shanter." When referring to the storm, he says:—
"Even a bairn might understand The deil had business on his hand."
The following old rhyme mentions the most propitious sort of weather for the christening, marriage, and funeral:—
"West wind to the bairn when gaun for its name, Gentle rain to the corpse carried to its lang hame, A bonny blue sky to welcome the bride, As she gangs to the kirk, wi' the sun on her side."
The wake in the Highlands during last century was a very common affair. Captain Burt, in his letters from Scotland, 1723, says that when a person dies the neighbours gather in the evening in the house where the dead lies, with bagpipe, and spend the evening in dancing—the nearest relative to the corpse leading off the dance. Whisky and other refreshments are provided, and this is continued every night until the funeral.
Pennant, in his tour through the Highlands, 1772, says that, at a death, the friends of the deceased meet with bagpipe or fiddle, when the nearest of kin leads off a melancholy ball, dancing and wailing at the same time, which continue till daybreak, and is continued nightly till the interment. This custom is to frighten off or protect the corpse from the attack of wild beasts, and evil spirits from carrying it away.
Another custom of olden times, and which was continued till the beginning of this century, was that of announcing the death of any person by sending a person with a bell—known as the "deidbell"—through the town or neighbourhood. The same was done to invite to the funeral. In all probability, the custom of ringing the bell had its origin in the church custom, being a call to offer prayers for the soul of the departed. Bell-ringing was also considered a means of keeping away evil spirits. Joseph Train, writing in 1814, refers to another practice common in some parts of Scotland. Whenever the corpse is taken from the house, the bed on which the deceased lay is taken from the house, and all the straw or heather of which it was composed is taken out and burned in a place where no beast can get at it, and in the morning the ashes are carefully examined, believing that the footprint of the next person of the family who will die will be seen. This practice of burning the contents of the bed is commendable for sanitary purposes.
WITCHCRAFT, SECOND-SIGHT, AND THE BLACK ART.
That the devil gave to certain persons supernatural power, which they might exercise at their pleasure, was a belief prevalent throughout all Scotland during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. But at the same time this compacting with the devil was reprobated, nay more, was a capital offence, both in civil and ecclesiastical law, and during these two centuries thousands of persons were convicted and executed for this crime. But during the latter part of the seventeenth century the civil courts refused to convict upon the usual evidence, to the great alarm and displeasure of the ecclesiastical authorities, who considered this refusal a great national sin—a direct violation of the law of God, which said—"Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." To arrest the punishment which this direct violation of God's written law was supposed to incur, prayers were offered, and fasts were appointed.
As samples of the kind of evidence on which reputed witches were convicted and executed, I extract the following from the Records of Lanark Presbytery, 1650:—"Likewise he reported that the Commissioners and brethren did find these poynts delated against Janet M'Birnie, one of the suspected women, to wit:
"1st. That on a time the said Janet M'Birnie followed Wm. Brown, sclater, to Robert Williamson's house in Water Meetings, to crave somewhat, and fell in evil words. After which time, and within four and twenty hours, he fell off ane house and brake his neck.
"2nd. After some outcast between Bessie Achison's house and Janet M'Birnie's house, the said Janet M'Birnie prayed that there might be bloody beds and a light house, and after that the said Bessie Achison her daughter took sickness, and the lassie said there is fyre in my bed, and died. And the said Bessie Achison her gudeman dwyned.
"3rd. It was alleged that the said Janet M'Birnie was the cause of the dispute between Newton and his wife, and that she and others were the death of William Geddese. And also that they fand against Marian Laidlaw, another suspected, these particulars: that the said Marian and Jean Blacklaw differed in words for the said Marian's hay; and after that the said Jean her kye died."
They were remitted for trial. In these same Records there is in 1697 the following entry:—"Upon the recommendation of the Synod, the Presbytery appoynts a Fast to be keeped upon the 28th instant, in regard to the great prevalence of witchcraft which abounds at several places at this time within the bounds of the Synod."
At this time the laws against witchcraft had become practically a dead letter, but it was not till 1735 that they were repealed. Still, the abolition of the legal penalty did not kill the popular belief in the power and reality of witchcraft; and even now, at this present day, we find proof every now and again in newspaper reports that this belief still lingers among certain classes. Within these fifty years, in a village a little to the west of Glasgow, lived an old woman, who was not poor, but had a very irritable temper, and was unsocial in her habits. A little boy having called her names and otherwise annoyed her, she scolded him, and, in the heat of her rage, prophesied that before a twelvemonth elapsed the devil would get his own. A few months after this the boy sickened and died, and the villagers had no hesitation in ascribing the cause of death to this old woman. Again, a farmer in the neighbourhood had bought a horse, and in the evening a servant was leading it to the water to drink, when this same old woman, who was sitting near at hand, remarked upon the beauty of the horse, and asked for a few hairs from the tail, which the servant with some roughness refused. When the stable was entered next morning the horse was found dead. On the above circumstance of the old woman's request being related to the farmer, he regretted the servant's refusal of the hairs, and said that, if the same woman had asked him, he would have given every hair in the tail rather than offend her, showing thereby his undoubted belief in the woman's power. Fortunately for her, she lived in a storeyed building—in local vernacular, a land—or in all probability her house would have been set on fire in order to burn her. At the same time, while she was hated and dreaded, everybody for their own safety paid her the most marked respect. Had she lived a century earlier, such evidence would have brought her to the stake. In 1666, before the Lanark Presbytery, a woman was tried for bewitching cattle:—
"The said William Smith said that she was the death of twa meires, and Elizabeth Johnstone, his wife, reported that she saw her sitting on their black meire's tether, and that she ran over the dyke in the likeness of a hare."
This belief in the ability of witches to convert themselves into the appearance of animals at pleasure was prevalent even during this century. In 1828, or there-about, there died an old woman, who when alive had gone about with a crutch, and it was reported of her, and generally believed, that in her younger days she had the power of witchcraft, and that one morning as she was out about some of her unhallowed sports, disporting herself in the shape of a hare, that a man who was out with a gun saw, as he thought, in the moonlight, a hare, and fired at it, breaking its leg; but it took shelter behind a stone, and when he went to get the hare, he found instead a young woman sitting bandaging with a handkerchief her leg, which was bleeding. He knew her, and upon her entreaty promised never to disclose her secret, and ever after she went with a crutch. I have heard similar stories told of other women in other localities, showing the prevalence of this form of belief. As those who had dealings with the devil were believed to have renounced their baptism or their allegiance to Christ, they never went to church, and hated the Bible. Therefore, all who did not follow the custom of believers were not only considered infidels, but as having enlisted in the devil's corps, and such people in small localities were kept at an outside, and suspected, being regarded as capable of any wickedness, and untrustworthy. I remember several persons, both men and women, against intercourse with whom we were earnestly warned, and were instructed that it was not even safe to play with their children.
There were other supernatural powers thought to be possessed by certain persons, which differed from witchcraft in this, that they were not regarded as the result of a compact with the devil, but in some cases were thought to be rather a gift from God. For example, there was second-sight, a gift bestowed upon certain persons without any previous compact or solicitation. Sometimes the seer fell into a trance, in which state he saw visions; at other times the visions were seen without the trance condition. Should the seer see in a vision a certain person dressed in a shroud, this betokened that the death of that person would surely take place within a year. Should such a vision be seen in the morning, the person seen would die before that evening; should such a vision be seen in the afternoon, the person seen would die before next night; but if the vision were seen late in the evening, there was no particular time of death intimated, further than that it would take place within the year. Again, if the shroud did not cover the whole body, the fulfilment of the vision was at a great distance. If the vision were that of a man with a woman standing at his left hand, then that woman will be that man's wife, although they may both at the time of the vision be married to others. It was reported that one having second-sight saw in vision a young man with three women standing at his left side, and in course of time each became his wife in the order in which they were seen standing. These seers could often foretell coming visitors to a family months before they came, and even point out places where houses would be built years before the buildings were erected. The seer could not communicate the gift to any other person, not even to those of his own family, as he possessed it without any conscious act on his part; but if any person were near him at the time he was having a vision, and he were consciously to touch the person with his left foot, the person touched would see that particular vision. I had a conversation with a woman who when young was in company with one who had the gift of second-sight. They went out together one Sabbath evening, and while sitting on the banks of the Kelvin the seer had a vision, and touched my informant with her left foot, and she also saw it. It rose from the water like the full moon, and was transparent; and in it she saw a young man whom she did not know, and her own likeness standing at his left side. Before many weeks were passed, a new servant-man came to the farm where my informant was then serving, and whom she recognised as the person whose image she had seen in the vision, and in little more than a year after the two were married.
Deaf and dumb persons were considered to possess something like second-sight, by which they were enabled to foretell events which happen to certain persons. This is a very old belief. I extract the following from Memorials of the Rev. R. Law:—
"Anno 1676.—A daughter of the laird of Bardowie, in Badenoch parish, intending to go fra that to Hamilton to see her sister-in-law, there is at the same time a woman come into the house born deaf and dumb. She makes many signs to her not to go, and takes her down to the yaird and cutts at the root of a tree, making signs that it would fall and kill her. That not being understood by her or any of them, she takes the journey—the dumb lass holding her to stay. When the young gentlewoman is there at Hamilton, a few days after, her sister and she goes forth to walk in the park, and in their walking they both come under a tree. In that very instant they come under it, they hear it shaking and coming down. The sister-in-law flees to the right, and she herself flees to the left hand, that way that the tree fell, so it crushed her and wounded her sore, so that she dies in two or three days' sickness."
Until about 30 years ago, a deaf and dumb man was in the habit of visiting my native village, who was believed to possess wonderful gifts of foresight. This dummy carried with him a slate, a pencil, and a piece of chalk, by use of which he gave his answers, and often he volunteered to give certain information concerning the future; he would often write down occurrences which he averred would happen to parties in the village, or to persons then present. He did not beg nor ask alms, but only visited certain houses as a sort of friend, and information of his presence in the village was quickly conveyed to the neighbours, so that he generally had a large gathering of women who were all friendly to him, and he was never allowed to go away without reward. When any stranger was present he would point them out, and write down the initials of their name, and sometimes their names in full, without being asked. He would also, at times, write down the names of relatives of those present who lived at a distance, and tell them when they would receive letters from them, and whether these letters would contain good or bad news. He disclosed the whereabouts of sailor lads and absent lovers, detected thefts, foretold deaths and marriages, and the names of the parties on both sides who were to be married. He wrote of a young woman, a stranger in the village, but who was present on one of his visits, and was on the eve of being married to a tradesman, that she would not be married to him, but would marry one who would keep her counting money; which came to pass. The tradesman and she fell out, and afterwards she married a haberdasher, and for a long time was in the shop as cashier. This woman still lives, and firmly believes in the prophetic gift of dummy. Another woman, a stranger also, asked him some questions relative to herself; he shook his head, and for a long time refused to answer, desiring her not to insist. This made her the more anxious, and at last he drew upon the slate the figure of a coffin. This was all the length he would go. In less than twelve months the woman was in her grave. During one of his visits the husband of one of the women who attended him was seriously ill, and the wife, a stout healthy woman, was anxious to hear from dummy the result of her husband's illness. He wrote that the husband would recover, and that she would die before him; and she did die not long after. In short, this dummy was a regular prophet, and his predictions were implicitly believed by all who attended upon him. In his case there was no pretension to visions, the form which he allowed his gift to assume was that of intuition. Some few men in the village suspected the dummy's honesty, and thought that he heard and assiduously and cunningly picked up knowledge of the parties; but such doubts were regarded as bordering upon blasphemy by the believers in dummy. I was never present at any of these gatherings, but my information is gathered from those who were present. Some months ago I was talking to an ordinarily intelligent person on this subject, and he gave it as his opinion that dumb persons had their loss of the faculties of hearing and speech recompensed to them in the gift of supernatural knowledge, and he related how a certain widow lady of his acquaintance had been informed of the death of her son. This son was abroad, and she had with her in the house a mute, who one day made signs to her that she would never see her son again, and a few weeks after she received word of his death.
There was another phase of supernatural power, different from witchcraft, and which the devil granted to certain parties: this was called the Black Airt. The possession of this power was mostly confined to Highlanders, and probably at this present day there are still those who believe in it. The effects produced by this power did not, however, differ much from those produced by witchcraft. A farmer in the north-west of Glasgow engaged a Highland lad as herd, and my informant also served with this farmer at the time. It was observed by the family that, after the lad came to them, everything went well with the farmer. During the winter, however, the kye became yell, and the family were consequently short of milk. The cows of a neighbouring farmer were at the same time giving plenty of milk. Under these circumstances, the Highland lad proposed to his mistress that he would bring milk from their neighbour's cows, which she understood to be by aid of the black airt, through the process known as milking the tether. The tether is the rope halter, and by going through the form of milking this, repeating certain incantations, the magic transference was supposed capable of being effected. This proposal to exercise the black airt becoming known among the servants, they were greatly alarmed, and showed their terror by all at once becoming very kind to the lad, and very watchful of what he did. He was known to have in his possession a pack of cards; and during family worship he displayed great restlessness, generally falling asleep before these services were concluded, and he was averse to reading the Bible. One night, for a few pence, he offered to tell the names of the sweethearts of the two servant-men, and they having agreed to the bargain, he shuffled the cards and said certain words which they did not understand, and then named two girls the lads were then courting. They refused to give him the promised reward, and he told them they would be glad to pay him before they slept. When the two men were going to their bed, which was over the stable, they were surprised to find two women draped in black closing up the stable door. As they stepped back, the women disappeared; but every time they tried to get in, the door was blocked up as before. The men then remembered what the lad had said to them, and going to where he slept, found him in bed, and gave him the promised reward. He then told them to go back, and they would not be further disturbed. Next morning, the servant-men told what had taken place, and refused to remain at the farm any longer with the lad; and the farmer had thus to part with him, but he and the servants gave him little gifts that they might part good friends. My informant believed himself above superstition, yet he related this as evidence of the truth of the black airt.
It is a very old belief that those who had made compacts with the devil could afflict those they disliked with certain diseases, and even cause their death, by making images in clay or wax of the persons they wished to injure, and then, by baptizing these images with mock ceremony, the persons represented were brought under their influence, so that whatever was then done to the image was felt by the living original. This superstition is referred to by Allan Ramsay in his Gentle Shepherd:—
"Pictures oft she makes Of folk she hates, and gaur expire Wi' slow and racking pain before the fire. Stuck fu' o' preens, the devilish picture melt, The pain by folk they represent is felt."
This belief survived in great force in this century, and probably in country places is not yet extinct. Several persons have been named to me who suffered long from diseases the doctor could not understand, nor do anything to remove, and therefore these obscure diseases could only be ascribed to the devil-aided practices of malicious persons. In some cases, cures were said to have been effected through making friends of the supposed originators of the disease. The custom not yet extinct of burning persons in effigy is doubtless a survival of this old superstition.
A newly-married woman with whom I was acquainted took a sudden fit of mental derangement, and screamed and talked violently to herself. Her friends and neighbours concluded that she was under the spell of the evil one. The late Dr. Mitchell was sent for to pray for her, but when he began to pray she set up such hideous screams that he was obliged to stop. He advised her friends to call in medical aid. But this conduct on the part of the woman made it all the more evident to her relations and neighbours that her affliction was the work of the devil, brought about through the agency of some evil-disposed person. Several such persons were suspected, and sent for to visit the afflicted woman; and, while they were in the house, a relation of the sufferer's secretly cut out a small portion of the visitor's dress and threw it into the fire, by which means it was believed that the influence of the ill e'e would be destroyed. At all events, the woman suddenly got well again, and as a consequence the superstitious belief of those who were in the secret was strengthened.
CHARMS AND COUNTER CHARMS.
During these times when such superstitious beliefs were almost universally accepted—when the sources from which evils might be expected to spring were about as numerous as the unchecked fancies of men could make them—we must naturally conceive that the people who believed such things must have lived in a continual state of fear. And in many instances this was really the case; but the common result was not so, for fortunately the bane and antidote were generally found together, and the means for preventing or exorcising these devil-imposed evils were about as numerous as the evils themselves. I have already in a former chapter mentioned incidentally some of these charms and preventives, but as this incidental treatment cannot possibly cover the field, I shall here speak of them separately.
Tennant, in his Tour through Scotland, states that farmers placed boughs of the mountain ash in their cow-houses on the second day of May to protect their cows from evil influences. The rowan tree possessed a wonderful influence against all evil machinations of witchcraft. A staff made of this tree laid above the boothy or milk-house preserved the milk from witch influence. A churn-staff made of this wood secured the butter during the process of churning. So late as 1860 I have seen the rowan tree trained in the form of an arch over the byre door, and in another case over the gate of the farmyard, as a protection to the cows. It was also believed that a rowan tree growing in a field protected the cattle against being struck by lightning.
Mr. Train describes the action of a careful farmer's wife or dairymaid thus:—
"Lest witches should obtain the power Of Hawkie's milk in evil hour, She winds a red thread round her horn, And milks thro' row'n tree night and morn; Against the blink of evil eye She knows each andidote to ply."
The same author, writing in 1814, says:—"I am acquainted myself with an Anti-Burgher clergyman who actually procured from a person who pretended to such skill in these charms two small pieces of carved wood, to be kept in his father's cow-house as a security for the health of his cows." The belief in the potency of the rowan tree to ward off evil is no doubt a survival of ancient tree worship. Of this worship, the Rev. F.W. Farrar says:—"It may be traced from the interior of Africa, not only in Egypt and Arabia, but also onwards uninterruptedly into Palestine and Syria, Assyria, Persia, India, Thibet, Siam, the Philippine Islands, China, Japan, and Siberia; also westward into Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, and other countries; and in most of the countries here named it obtains at the present day, combined, as it has been, in other parts with various forms of idolatry." Were it our object, it could also be shown that tree worship has been combined with Christianity. The rowan tree was held sacred by the Druids, and is often found among their stone monuments. There is a northern legend that the god of thunder (Thor), when wading the river Vimar, was in danger of being swept away by its current, but that, grasping a tree which grew on the bank, he got safely across. This tree was the mountain ash, which was ever after held sacred; and when these nations were converted to Christianity, they did not fall away from their belief in the sanctity of the rowan tree.
Not many years ago, I was told of a miraculous make of butter which was reported to have occurred in the west of Lanarkshire a short time before. One morning, a farmer's wife in that district and her maid-servant wrought at the kirn, but, do as they would, no butter would appear. In this dilemma, they sat down to consider about the cause, and then they recollected that a neighbouring woman had come into the kitchen, where the kirn was standing the previous evening, to borrow something, but was refused. The servant was at once despatched with the article in question, and half-a-dozen eggs as a gift, to the old woman, and instructed to make an apology for not having given the loan the evening before. The woman received the gift, and gratefully expressed her wish that the farmer and his wife would be blest both in their basket and their store. The effect, said my informant, was miraculous. Before the servant returned, the butter began to flow, and in such quantity as had never before been experienced.
Apropos of this superstition with reference to milk, the following incident occurred not many years back in the West Highlands. An old woman, who kept a few cows, was in sore distress of mind because some of her ill-disposed neighbours had cast an evil eye upon them, in consequence of which their milk in a very short time blinked (turned sour), and churn as she might, she could never obtain any butter. She had tried every remedy she knew of, or that had been recommended to her, but without any good effect. At length, in her extremity, she applied to the parish minister, and laid her case before him. He patiently listened to her complaint, and expressed great sympathy for her, and then very wisely said, "I'll tell you how I think you will succeed in driving away the evil eye. It seems to me that it has not been cast on your cows, but on your dishes. Gang hame and tak' a' your dishes down to the burn, and let them lie awhile in the running stream; then rub them well and dry with a clean clout. Tak' them hame and fill each with boiling water. Pour it out and lay them aside to dry. The evil eye cannot withstand boiling water. Sca'd it out and ye'll get butter." The prescription was followed, and a few weeks after the woman called upon the minister and thanked him for the cure, remarking that she had never seen anything so wonderful.
Mr. Joseph Train, from whose notes we have already quoted, mentions a ceremony, not of a private but of a public nature, and embracing a large district of country, at the performance of which he was present. The object to be obtained was the prevention of a threatened outbreak of disease among the cattle. "In the summer of 1810," says Mr. Train, "while remaining at Balnaguard, a village of Perthshire, as I was walking along the banks of the Tay, I observed a crowd of people convened on the hill above Pitna Cree; and as I recollected having seen a multitude in the same place the preceding day, my curiosity was roused, so that I resolved to learn the reason of this meeting in such an unfrequented place. I was close beside them before any of the company had observed me ascending the hill, their attention being fixed upon two men in the centre. One was turning a small stock, which was supported by two stakes standing perpendicularly, with a cleft at the top, in which the crown piece went round in the form a carpenter holds a chisel on a grinding stone; the other was holding a small branch of fir on that which was turning. Directly below it was a quantity of tow spread on the ground. I observed that this work was taken alternately by men and women. As I was turning about in order to leave them, a man whom I had seen before, laid his hand on my shoulder, and solicited me to put my finger to the stick; but I refused, merely to see if my obstinacy would be resented; and suddenly a sigh arose from every breast, and anger kindled in every eye. I saw, therefore, that immediate compliance with the request was necessary to my safety.
"I was soon convinced that this was some mysterious rite performed either to break or ward off the power of witchcraft; but, so intent were they on the prosecution of their design, that I could obtain no satisfactory information, until I met an old schoolmaster in the neighbourhood, from whom I had obtained much insight into the manners and customs of that district. He informed me that there is a distemper occasioned by want of water, which cattle are subject to, called in the Gaelic language shag dubh, which in English signifies 'black haunch.' It is a very infectious disease, and, if not taken in time, would carry off most of the cattle in the country." The method taken by the Highlanders to prevent its destructive ravages is thus: "All fires are extinguished between the two nearest rivers, and all the people within that boundary convene in a convenient place, where they erect a machine, as above described; and, after they have commenced, they continue night and day until they have forced fire by the friction of the two sticks. Every person must perform a portion of this labour, or touch the machine in order not to break the charm.
"During the continuance of the ceremony they appear melancholy and dejected, but when the fire, which they say is brought from heaven by an angel, blazes in the tow, they resume their wonted gaiety; and while one part of the company is employed feeding the flame, the others drive all the cattle in the neighbourhood over it. When this ceremony is ended, they consider the cure complete; after which they drink whiskey, and dance to the bagpipe or fiddle round the celestial fire till the last spark is extinguished."
Here, within our own day, is evidently an act of fire-worship: a direct worship of Baal by a Christian community in the nineteenth century. There were other means of preventing disease spreading among cattle practised within this century. When murrain broke out in a herd, it was believed that, if the first one taken ill were buried alive, it would stop the spread of the disease, and that the other animals affected would then soon recover. Were a cow to cast her calf: if the calf were to be buried at the byre door, and a short prayer or a verse of Scripture said over it, it would prevent the same misfortune from happening with the rest of the herd. If a sheep dropped a dead lamb, the proper precaution to take was to place the lamb upon a rowan tree, and this would prevent the whole flock from a repetition of the mishap.
It was an old superstition that the body of a murdered person would bleed on the presence or touch of the murderer. We find this belief mentioned as far back as the eleventh century. In an old ballad of that period occurs the following passage:—
"A marvel high and strange is seen full many a time— When to the murdered body nigh the man that did the crime, Afresh the wounds will bleed. The marvel now was found— That Hagan felled the champion with treason to the ground."
Several centuries after this, we find it mentioned in another ballad, entitled "Young Huntin":—
"O white were his wounds washen, As white as a linen clout, But when Lady Maisry she cam' near, His wounds they gushed out."
The reason for this marvel was ascribed by the Rev. Mr. Wodrow, to the wonderful providence of God, who had said, "thou shalt not suffer a murderer to live," and had, in order that the command might be justly carried out, provided the means whereby murderers might be readily detected. This superstition certainly survived within this century, and I have heard many instances adduced to prove the truth of bleeding taking place on the introduction of the murderer.
Another curious form of belief was prevalent among some persons, that the body of a suicide would not decay until the time arrived when, in the ordinary course of nature, he would have died. This was founded upon another belief, that there is a day of death appointed for every man, which no one can pass; but as man is possessed of a free will, he may, by his own wicked determination, shorten the union of his soul and body, but that there his power ends: he cannot in reality kill either soul or body, for were he to possess this power, he would possess the power to alter the decrees of God, which is a power impossible for man to possess. This was a mad, not deep, sort of metaphysics; but there was sufficient method in its madness to cause it to gain the suffrages of a large number of people. It was affirmed that those who had examined into the matter had found that the bodies of suicides were mysteriously preserved from decomposition until the day arrived on which they would naturally—that is, according to God's decree—have died. About the year 1834, I was taking a walk along the banks of the canal north of Glasgow, and sat down beside a group of well-dressed men, who were conversing on general topics, and amongst other things touched on the matter of suicides—proximity to the canal probably suggested the subject. One of the group pointed out a quiet spot where he affirmed that Bob Dragon, an old Glasgow celebrity, had been buried. Bob, he said, had committed suicide; but his relations being aware that, in consequence of this act, his property, according to law, became forfeited to the Crown, had him buried secretly in this out-of-the-way spot, and obtained another corpse, which they put into the coffin in his house. But, several years after, some persons who were digging at this quiet spot on the canal bank discovered the real body of Bob—the throat being cut—and the corpse as fresh as the day on which the act was committed. Bob's relations, on hearing of this discovery, gave the finders a handsome gift to rebury the body and keep the matter secret. Within the last ten years I have heard the same affirmation made respecting persons who have drowned themselves.
Persons whose yea is unvaryingly yea, and whose nay is unvaryingly nay, generally resort to no form of oath or imprecation to gain credence to their statements, for their truthfulness is seldom called in question—at least, where they are well known. But with those who are lax in their statements—who tell the truth or tell lies just as for the moment the one or the other appears to suit them best—the case is different. When they speak something strange or important, they find their veracity questioned, and require to place themselves in circumstances where it may be thought they are under compulsion, for their own welfare, to speak the truth. Commonly, they ask Providence to injure them in some way if in the present instance they have said the thing which is not true. Well, it was believed in the days of which I write, and within my own day, that Providence did interfere in this way, and many stories were current in confirmation of this belief. One such will suffice as an illustration. A married woman, enciente for the first time, having had words with her husband about something she denied having either said or done, wished that, if her statement were untrue, she might never give birth to the child. She was taken at her word, for she lived many years in delicate health, but the child was never born. The villagers who remembered her said that at times she swelled as if she was about to be confined, and at other times was as jimp as a young girl.
Akin to belief in the potency of such wishes as were uttered as tests of truthfulness was doubtless the generally accredited, though of course seldom witnessed, form of compact with the devil. When a person agreed to serve the devil, his Satanic Majesty caused the mortals who sought his service and favour to place one hand under their thigh and the other over their head, and wish that the devil would take all that lay between their hands if they were unfaithful to their vow. The form of oath by expression of a wish was common to both Jews and Gentiles.
There was another kind of wish which was believed to obtain fulfilment during life, that was the expressed wish of the innocent against those who had wronged them. The belief in the fulfilment of such wishes was grounded on the theological supposition that God in his justice would in time punish the wrong-doer. I remember a rather pertinent example of this: a proof they would have said in former days—a coincidence we would say in these days. A simple-minded—half-witted—young woman was taken advantage of by a young man resident in the neighbourhood, to the public scandal of the village. He denied the paternity of the baby, and made oath to that effect before the kirk-session. As he did so, the girl, looking at him, wished that the hand he held up might lose its cunning, as evidence of God's judgment upon the false swearer. In less than a year from that time a disease came into his right hand, and he was never afterwards able to use it. Not many years ago, I saw the same man going through the village selling tea, and, as he passed along the street, many of the older inhabitants remarked how wonderfully Poor Meg's wish had been fulfilled.
Employment of certain charms to influence for good or evil prevailed in this century to a great extent. Some of these it is difficult to trace to their origin. About forty years ago, a certain married couple lived unhappily together. The wife did all she could to make her husband comfortable, but still he abused her without cause. At length, after suffering much, she applied to a woman who professed to have power over the affections, and for this purpose prepared love philters. The woman gave her a charm, which was to be sewn between the lining and cloth of her husband's vest without his knowledge. She carried these instructions out, and with extraordinarily successful results, for, while the husband wore this vest, he never gave her so much as an angry word.
One Walter Donaldson was in the habit of beating his wife, and making her life bitter. She made application to Isabell Straguhan, who possesses magic influences, who took pieces of paper and sewed them thick with thread of divers colours, and put them in the barn among the corn. From that time forth the said Walter never lifted hand against his wife, nor did once find fault with her whatsoever she did, and was entirely subdued to her love.
The following was related to me as a fact, by a person who said that he tried it:—There is a certain crooked bone in a frog, which, when cleaned and dried over a fire on St. John's eve, and then ground fine and given in food to any person, will win the affections of the receiver to the giver, and in young persons will produce a desire for each other's society, culminating eventually in marriage; also, when a married couple do not agree well together, it will reconcile them, and bring about a mutual affection.
At the commencement of this century, belief in the influence of the mandrake plant over the affections still existed in this country. Belief in this plant is as old as history. Leah, the neglected wife of Jacob, doubtless intended to influence her husband by the use of it, whilst Rachel procured the plant for a different purpose, but for both purposes it was considered efficatious, and in both cases, the narrative shows, successful. By both eastern and western nations this plant was credited with wonderful powers, even to the extent of working miracles. In this country it was believed to be watched by Satan, but if the plant were pulled during certain holy seasons, or by holy persons, Satan could not only be robbed with impunity, but he would become the servant of the person who pulled the plant, and do for him whatever he desired; but woe to the unholy person who attempted to pull the plant, especially at a non-sacred time; he drops down dead, and Satan possesses his soul.
It was a prevalent belief that the seventh son in a family had the gift of curing diseases, and that he was by nature a doctor who could effect cures by the touch of his hand. It was reported that such a man resided in Iona, who had effected cures by rubbing the diseased part with his hand on two Thursdays and two Sundays successively, doing so in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. It was requisite to the cure that no fee should be taken by such endowed persons. In the West of Scotland the formula of cure was different in different localities; in some parts a mere touch was all that was necessary, in others, and this was the more general method, some medicine was given to assist the cure.
Written charms were also believed in as capable of effecting cures, or, at least, of preventing people from taking diseases. I have known people who wore written charms, sewed into the necks of their coats, if men, and into the headbands of petticoats if women. These talismans, in many cases, I have little doubt, did real good in this way, that they supplied their wearers with a courage which sufficed to brace up their nervous system—which drove out fear, in fact,—a very important condition for health, as physicians well know. These talismans were so generally and thoroughly believed in, and so numerous and apparently well-attested were the evidences of their beneficial effects, that in years not long past, medical men believed in their efficacy, and promulgated various theories to account for it.
It was also an accepted belief that diseases could be transferred to animals, and even to vegetables. Cures held to be so effected were, according to one medical theory, cures by "sympathy." A few instances, culled from a work published during the latter half of the seventeenth century (1663), entitled The Usefulness of Experimental Philosophy, will illustrate this theory:—A medical man had been very ill of an obstinate marasmar (?) which so consumed him that he became quite a skeleton, notwithstanding every remedy which he had tried. At length he tried a sympathetic remedy: he took an egg, and having boiled it hard in his own urine, he then with a bodkin perforated the shell in different parts, and then buried it in an ant-hill. As the ants wasted the egg he found his strength increase, and he soon was completely cured. A daughter of a French officer was so tormented by a paronychia (?) for four days together, that the pain kept her from sleeping; by the order of a medical man she put her finger into a cat's ear, and within two hours was delivered from her pain. And a councillor's wife was cured of a panaritium (?) which had vexed her for four days by the same means. In both cases the cat had received the pain in its ear and required to be held. The gout is cured by sympathy: by the patient sleeping with puppies, they take the disease, and the person recovers. A boy ill with the king's evil could not be cured, his father's dog took to licking the sores, the dog took the sores, and the boy was completely cured. A gentleman having a severe pain in the arm was cured by beating red coral with oak leaves, and applying it to the part affected till suppuration: a hole was then made in the root of an oak towards the east, and the mixture put into it and the hole plugged up with a peg of the same tree, and from that time the pain did altogether cease; and when afterwards the mixture was removed from the tree, immediately the torments returned worse than before. Sir Francis Bacon records a cure of warts: he took a piece of lard with the skin on it, and after rubbing the warts with it the lard was exposed out of a southern window to putrify, and the warts wore away as it putrified. Harvey tried to remove tumours and excrescences by putting the hand of a dead person that had died of a lingering disease upon them till the part felt cold. In general the application was effective.
This idea of cure by sympathy retained its hold on the people till this century, and is not yet entirely gone.
There was another theory, which we may call the magnetic theory. The philosophy of this theory contended that "The body when diseased resembled a gun; when loaded, it contains powder and ball, which, by the mere touch of a little spring, sets the whole machinery of the gun in motion, whereby the ball is expelled. So also the mere touch or outward contact of certain bodies or substances has power, like a magnet, to set in action the machinery of nature by which the disease is dispelled—sometimes slowly, but often suddenly like the bullet from the gun. Helmont had a little stone, which, by plunging in oil of almonds, imbued the oil with such sanative power that it cured almost any disease. It was sometimes applied inwardly, sometimes outwardly. A gentleman who had an unwieldy groom procured for him a small fragment of this stone, and, by licking it with the tip of his tongue every morning, in three weeks he was reduced in bulk round the waist by a span without affecting his general health. A gentleman in France who procured a small fragment of this stone cured several persons of inveterate diseases by letting them lick it. The stone Lapis Nephriticus bound upon the pulse of the wrist of the left hand prevents stone, hysterics, and stops the flux of blood in any part. A compound metal called electrum, which is a mixture of all metals made under certain constellations and shaped into rings and worn, prevents cramps and palsy, apoplexy, epilepsy, and severe pains; and in the case of a person in a fit of the falling sickness, a ring of this metal put on the ring finger is an immediate cure. A little yarrow and mistletoe put into a bag and worn upon the stomach, prevents ague and chilblains. A powder made of the common mistletoe, given in doses of three grains at the full of the moon to persons troubled with epilepsy, prevents fits; and if given during a fit it will effect an immediate and permanent cure. A woman with rupture of the bladder was reported to have been cured by wearing a little bag hung about her neck containing the powder made from a toad burnt alive in a new pot. The same prescription was also said to have cured a man of stone in the bladder."
Such theories left ample room for the creation of all sorts of cure charms, and when such ideas prevailed among the educated in the medical profession, we need not be surprised that they still survive among many uneducated persons, although two centuries have gone since. In 1714 one of the most eminent physicians in Europe, Boerhaave, wrote of chemistry and medicine:—"Nor even in this affair don't medicine receive some advantage; witness the cups made of regulus of antimony, tempered with other metals which communicate a medicinal quality to wine put in them, and it is ten thousand pities the famous Van Helmont should have been so unkind to his poor fellow creatures in distress as to conceal from us the art of making a particular metal which he tells us, made into rings, and worn only while one might say the Lord's Prayer, would remove the most exquisite haemorrhoidal pains, both internal and external, quiet the most violent hysteric disorders, and give ease in the severest spasms of the muscles. 'Tis right, therefore, to prosecute enquiries of this nature, for there is very frequently some hidden virtues in these compositions, and we may make a vast number of experiments of this kind without any danger or inconvenience."
As it illustrates the theories just mentioned, we notice here the influence attributed to the wonderful Lee Penny. This famous charm is a stone set in gold. It is said to have been brought home by Lochart of Lee, who accompanied the Earl of Douglas in carrying Robert the Bruce's heart to the Holy Land. It is called Lee Penny, and was credited with the virtue of imparting to water into which it was dipped curative properties, specially influential to the curing of cattle when diseased, or preventing them taking disease. Many people from various parts of Scotland whose cattle were affected have made application within these few years for water in which this stone has been dipped. It is believed that this stone cannot be lost. It is still in the possession of the family of Lochart.
Ague, it was believed, could be cured by putting a spider into a goose quill, sealing it up, and hanging it about the neck, so that it would be near the stomach. This disease might also be cured by swallowing pills made of a spider's web. One pill a morning for three successive mornings before breakfast.
There were numerous cures for hooping-cough of a superstitious character, practised extensively during the earlier years of this century, and some are still recommended. The following are a few of these. Pass the patient three times under the belly, and three times over the back of a donkey. Split a sapling or a branch of the ash tree, and hold the split open while the patient is passed three times through the opening. Find a man riding on a piebald horse, and ask him what should be given as a medicine, and whatever he prescribes will prove a certain cure. "I recollect," says Jamieson, "a friend of mine that rode a piebald horse, that he used to be pursued by people running after him bawling,—
"Man wi' the piety horse, What's gude for the kink host?"
He said he always told them to give the bairn plenty of sugar candy. Put a piece of red flannel round the neck of a child, and it will ward off the hooping cough. The virtue lay not in the flannel, but in the red colour. Red was a colour symbolical of triumph and victory over all enemies. Find a hairy caterpillar, put it into a bag, and hang it round the neck of the child. This will prove a cure. Take some of the child's hair and put it between slices of bread and butter, and give it to a dog; if in eating it, the dog cough, the child will be cured, and the hooping cough transferred to the dog. A very common practice at the present day is to take the patient into a place where there is a tainted atmosphere, such as a byre or a stable, a gas work, or chemical work. I have seen the gas blown on the child's face, so that it might breath some of it, and be set a coughing. If during the process the child take a kink, it is a good sign. This idea must, I think, be of modern origin.
It was believed that if a present were given, especially if it were given to a sweetheart, and then asked back again, the giver would have a stye on the eye. Again, a stye on the eye was removable by rubbing it with a wedding ring. I suspect these two superstitions are portions of an ancient allegory, which, in time loosing their figurative meanings, came to be treated as literal facts.
Warts, especially when they are upon exposed parts of the body, are sometimes a source of annoyance to their possessors, and various and curious methods were taken for their removal. From their position on the body they also were regarded as prognostications of good or bad luck. To have warts on the right hand foreboded riches; a wart on the face indicated troubles of various kinds.
We have already noticed the cure recommended by the learned Sir Francis Bacon. The following are a few of the cures which were believed in within this century. Rub the wart with a piece of stolen bacon. Rub the wart with a black snail, and lay the snail upon a hedge or dyke. As the animal decays so will the wart. Wash the wart with sow's blood for three days in succession.
Upon the first sight of the new moon stand still and take a small portion of earth from under the right foot, make it into a paste, put it on the wart and wrap it round with a cloth, and thus let it remain till that moon is out. The moon's influence and the fasting spittle are very old superstitions.
The moon or Ashtoreth, the consort of Baal, was the great female deity of the ancients, and so an appeal to the moon for the purpose of removing interferences with beauty, such as skin excrescences, was quite appropriate. Moon worship was practised in this country in prehistoric times. Bailey, in his Etymological Dictionary, under article "Moon," says, "The moon was an ancient idol of England, and worshipped by the Britons in the form of a beautiful maid, having her head covered, with two ears standing out. The common people in some counties of England are accustomed at the prime of the moon to say 'It is a fine moon. God bless her.'"
From a custom in Scotland (particularly in the Highlands) where the young women make courtesy to the new moon by getting upon a gate or style and sitting astride, they say—
"All hail to the moon, all hail to thee, I prithee good moon declare to me This very night who my husband shall be."
Every one knows the popular adage about having money in the pocket when the new moon is first seen, and that if the coins be turned over at the time, money will not fail you during that moon. To see the new moon through glass, however, breaks the charm. It was a prevalent belief that if a person on catching the first glimpse of new moon, were to instantly stand still, kiss their hand three times to the moon, and bow to it, that they would find something of value before that moon was out. Such practices are evidently survivals of moon worship. How closely does this last practice agree with what Job says (chap. xxxi, 26),—"If I beheld the sun when it shined, or the moon walking in brightness, and my heart hath been secretly enticed, or my mouth hath kissed my hand: this also were an iniquity to be punished by the Judge: for I should have denied the God that is above."
The good influence of the fasting spittle in destroying the influence of an evil eye has been already referred to in the previous pages, but it was also esteemed a potent remedy in curing certain diseases. To moisten a wart for several days in succession with the fasting spittle removes it. I have often seen a nurse bathe the eyes of a baby in the morning with her fasting spittle, to cure or prevent sore eyes. I have heard the same cure recommended for roughness of the skin and other skin diseases. Maimonides states that the Jews were expressly forbidden by their traditions to put fasting-spittle upon the eyes on the Sabbath day, because to do so was to perform work, the great Sabbath crime in the eyes of the Pharisees which Christ committed when he moistened the clay with his spittle and anointed the eyes of the blind man therewith on the Sabbath day. To both Greeks and Romans the fasting spittle was a charm against fascination. Persius Flaccus says:—"A grandmother or a superstitious aunt has taken baby from his cradle, and is charming his forehead and his slavering lips against mischief by the joint action of her middle finger and her purifying spittle." Here we find that it is not the spittle alone, but the joint action of the spittle and the middle finger which works the influence. The middle finger was commonly, in the early years of this century, believed to possess a favourable influence on sores; or, rather, it might be more correct to say that it possessed no damaging influence, while all the other fingers, in coming into contact with a sore, were held to have a tendency to defile, to poison, or canker the wound. I have heard it asserted that doctors know this, and never touch a sore but with the mid-finger.
There were other practices and notions appertaining to the spittle and spitting, some of which continue to this day. To spit for luck upon the first coin earned or gained by trading, before putting it into the pocket or purse, is a common practice. To spit in your hand before grasping the hand of a person with whom you are dealing, and whose offer you accept, is held to clinch the bargain, and make it binding on both sides. This is a very old custom. Captain Burt, in his letters, says that when in a bargain between two Highlanders, each of them wets the ball of his thumb with his mouth, and then they press their wet thumb balls together, it is esteemed a very binding bargain. Children in their games, which are often imitations of the practices of men, make use of the spittle. When playing at games of chance, such as odds or evens, something or nothing, etc., before the player ventures his guess he consults an augury, of a sort, by spitting on the back of his hand, and striking the spittle with his mid-finger, watching the direction in which the superfluous spittle flies, from him or to him, to right or left, and therefrom, by a rule of his own, he determines what shall be his guess. Again, boys often bind one another to a bargain or promise by a sort of oath, which is completed by spitting. It runs thus:
"Chaps ye, chaps ye, Double, double daps ye, Fire aboon, fire below, Fire on every side o' ye."
After saying this, the boy spits over his head three times, and without this the oath is not considered binding; but when properly done, and the promise not fulfilled, the defaulter is regarded as a liar, and is kept for a time at an outside by his companions.
When two boys made an arrangement (I am speaking of what was the custom fifty years back), either to meet together at a stated time or to do some certain thing, the arrangement was confirmed by each spitting on the ground.
When a number of boys or girls were trying to find out a puzzle or guess put to them, and which they failed to unravel or answer, and when they were searching for something which had been hidden from them, and which they could not discover, the usual method of acknowledging that they were outwitted was by spitting on the ground; in the language of the day, they would be requested to "spit and gie't o'er," that is, own that they were beaten. The propounder of the puzzle, or the party who had hidden the object, was then bound to disclose the matter.
When two boys quarrelled, and one wet the other boy's buttons with his spittle, this was a challenge to fight or be dubbed a coward.
Mahomet held that bad dreams were from the devil, and advised the dreamers to seek protection by addressing a short prayer to God, and then spitting three times over their left shoulder. He further counselled them to tell the dream to no one, and by following these instructions no harm, such as the dreams had foreshadowed, would befall them.
In the case of a person bitten by a dog, a few hairs taken from the dog's tail, and placed upon the wound either upon or under a poultice, was regarded as a protection from evil consequences, such as hydrophobia. I know of an instance in which this remedy was applied so lately as 1876. This practice is unmistakeably the origin of the toper's proverb when suffering from headache in the morning,
"Take a hair of the dog that bit you."
I will not enter into the subject of faith in the influence of relics. Such beliefs existed in Scotland in my young days, and it is almost unnecessary to say that belief in such things is older than history. In my youth there was also a belief in the virtue of precious stones, which added a value to them beyond their real value as ornaments. An investigation into this matter would tend to throw much light upon many ancient practices and beliefs, as each stone had its own symbolic meaning, and its own peculiar influence for imparting good and protecting from evil and from sickness, its fortunate possessor. Probably John's description of heaven with its windows of agate, its doors of pearls or carbuncles, its foundations of amethyst, with sapphires blue, and sardines clear and red, had relation to the popular beliefs of the time. I have seen at Mill More, Killin, stones which are reported to have been used by St. Fillan for curing all sorts of diseases; and there are not a few persons at the present day who wear certain polished stones about their persons as a protective influence against certain diseases.
The ancient Jews had a superstitious idea respecting precious stones, which gave that strong desire for their possession, which is still characteristic of the race.
The Diamond was an antidote to Satanic temptation.
Ruby made the possessor brave.
Topaz preserved the bearer against being poisoned.
Amethyst preserved from drunkenness.
Emerald promoted piety.
Sardonyx dispelled unholy thoughts.
There is a legend that God gave to Abraham a precious stone which had the power of preserving him from all kinds of sickness.
When any person was troubled with a morbid hunger accompanied with pain in the stomach, it was believed that that affliction was caused by the sufferer having swallowed some animal, which continued to live in the stomach, and that when this was empty it knawed the stomach and produced the pain felt. Several strange instances illustrative of the truth of this theory were current in my native village. Let one case suffice. An old soldier having on some long march been induced through extreme thirst to drink from a ditch, had swallowed some animal. Years after he was taken ill, and came home. His hunger for food was so great that he could scarcely be satisfied, and notwithstanding the great quantities of food which he consumed, he became thinner and thinner, and his hunger was accompanied with great pain. Doctors could do him no good. At length he met with a skilly old man, who told him that there was an animal in his stomach, and advised him to procure a salt herring and eat it raw, and on no account to take any drink, but go at once to the side of a pool or burn and lie down there with his mouth open, and watch the result. He had not lain long when he felt something moving within him, and by and bye an ugly toad came out of his mouth, and made for the water. Having drank its fill, it was returning to its old quarters, when the old soldier rose and killed it. Many in the village had seen the dead toad. After this the man recovered rapidly. Many other stories of people swallowing asks (newts), and other water animals which lived in their stomachs, and produced serious diseases, were current in my young days. This gave boys a great fear of stretching down and drinking from a pool, or even a running stream.
There is another class of superstitions which have prevailed from ages the most remote to the present day, although now they are dying out—at least, they are not now employed to determine such important matters as they once were. I refer to the practice of divining, or casting lots. In early times such practices were regarded as a direct appeal to God. From the Old and New Testaments we learn that these practices were resorted to by the Jews; but in modern times, and among Western nations, the lot was regarded as an appeal to the devil as much as to God. I have known people object to the lot as a sinful practice; but, at the same time, they were in the constant habit of directing their own course by such an appeal, as, for instance, when they were about to travel on some important business, they would fix that, if certain events happened, they would regard such as a good omen from God, and would accordingly undertake their journey; but if not, they would regard the non-occurrence as an unfavourable omen, and defer their journey, in submission, as they supposed, to the will of God. In modern times, the practice of casting lots to determine legal or other important questions has been abandoned by civilized nations; but the practice still exists in less civilized communities, and is employed to determine such serious matters as involve questions of life or death, and it still survives among us in trivial matters, as games.
In my young days, a process of divining, allied to casting lots, was resorted to by young women in order to discover a thief, or to ascertain whether a young man who was courting one of them was in earnest, and would in the future become that girl's husband. The process was called the Bible and key trial, and the formula was as follows:—A key and Bible were procured, the key being so much longer than the Bible that, when placed between the leaves, the head and handle would project. If the enquiry was about the good faith of a sweetheart, the key was placed in Ruth i. 16, on the words, "Entreat me not to leave thee: where thou goest I will go," etc. The Bible was then closed, and tied round with tape. Two neutral persons, sitting opposite each other, held out the forefingers of their right hands, and the person who was consulting the oracle suspended the Bible between their two hands, resting the projecting parts of the key on the outstretched forefingers. No one spoke except the enquirer, and she, as she placed the key and Bible in position, repeated slowly the whole passage, "Entreat me not to leave thee," John or James, or whatever the name of the youth was, "for where thou goest I will go," etc. If the key and Bible turned and fell off the fingers, the answer was favourable; and generally by the time the whole passage was repeated this was the result, provided the parties holding up the key and Bible were firm and steady. For the detection of a thief, the formula was the same, with only this difference, that the key was put into the Bible at the fiftieth Psalm, and the enquirer named the suspected thief, and then repeated the eighteenth verse of that Psalm, "When thou sawest a thief then thou consentest with him," etc. If the Bible turned round and fell, it was held to be proof that the person named was the thief. This method of divining was not frequently practised, not through want of faith in its efficacy, but through superstitious terror, for the movement of the key was regarded as evidence that some unseen dread power was present, and so overpowering occasionally was the impression produced that the young woman who was chief actor in the scene fainted. The parties holding the key and Bible were generally old women, whose faith in the ordeal was perfect, and who, removed by their age from the intenser sympathies of youth, could therefore hold their hands with steadier nerve. It is only when firm hands hold it that the turning takes place, for this phenomenon depends upon the regular and steady pulsations in the fingers, and when held steadily the ordeal never fails.