Survivals in Belief Among the Celts, by George Henderson, , at sacred-texts.com
SURVIVALS may be defined as primitive rites believed and practised, rites which once were 'faith' but which from a later and higher conception simply 'remain over' or survive. A survival may remain over both as 'belief' and as 'rite'; in either case it is the equivalent of the Latin 'superstitio.' But the English 'superstition' is too bare a term for it. For a belief or ritual custom once existed as a living force ere it sank into the position of a survival. A survival is what has been left stranded while all around it there has been more or less of change, of development, due to the growth of thoughtfulness and to the action of environment and of historical forces. What has once become a survival, if it have a future, has only a future of decay: its life now is in decay, it has no development as a whole. But manifestly in a social organism there are different rates of progress. Not all parts of the life of a social system develop at the same time, at the same rate, or in the same way. Nor is there the same continuous development over the same period of time. Accordingly there are strata of belief and ritual in
any and every social system, in the most recent as in the most archaic.
It is well to examine those archaic survivals one knows best; to endeavour to reduce them in an unpretentious way to some system from the point of view of a comparative study of man. Presupposed is the unity of mankind, i.e. of man as a thinking and moral being. Consequently, while this study is, on the whole, confined to customs among the Celts, I feel at liberty to read these in the light of analogous customs where possible. I do not know that in origin they are all Celtic. Ere the Celtic migrations these islands were inhabited by other tribes whose beliefs were most probably preserved among the Celts. It is not likely that Celtic and non-Celtic tribes would have at the same period the same beliefs and practices, which might be accounted for by both having been on a different plane of development.
It would be most instructive and interesting to assign to each tribe its own special belief and rite: in part that is attempted by the folk-lorist. Here it is no mere collection of beliefs or of rites that is aimed at, but the interpretation of these in the light of the 'soul.' At first, I believe that the non-Celtic tribes preserved their own belief and ritual for the reason that they were not admitted to full legal status among the Celts. Yet the Celtic tuath or tribe and the Celtic fine or clan were incorporating organisms, and through inter-marriages new and alien customs were introduced and preserved, especially among the mothers. The Pictish matriarchal system is of special importance. In the light of 'mother-right' and all that inheres therein one may perhaps read
such traces as may be found of the couvade and of the aire chlaidh, 'kirkyard watch' or 'grave guardian,' of which anon. A psychical anthropology of the Celts is much wanted; but that of any single branch is best read in the light of the rest, indeed of comparative religion. What Edmund Spenser said of the 'wild Irish,' of whom he wrote in 1595 in his View of the State of Ireland, is equally true of the Highlands: "All the customs of the Irish, which I have often noted and compared with what I have read, would minister occasion of a most ample discourse of the original of them, and the antiquity of that people, which in truth I think to be more ancient than most that I know in this end of the world: so as if it were taken in the handling of some man of sound judgement and plentiful reading, it would be most pleasant and profitable." In this search, which is of great intricacy and excessive delicacy, as treating of belief-complexes which really reflect soul-movements, it is only by some understanding of the whole that one may interpret the part. Some curious rites, which in undertones I learned of long ago in the Highlands, came down through the native midwives, a breed that is now extinct in so far as the old rites are concerned: it was the thought of understanding these in the light of the whole that first led me to make this attempt. I make no doubt but the distinction of rites between the Celtic and non-Celtic tribes was once as firm as the distinction between tribesman and non-tribesman, which Mr. Seebohm has shown to be an important feature of Celtic law. 1
A help in the solution of the problems of Celtic psychical anthropology would be to classify all customs, beliefs and rites which have the same conceptions of life. The mythic influence of the conquered tribes ought not to be forgotten. But it needs consideration likewise that tribes now united into a nation may formerly have held customs quite different from what they do now. The common Gadhelic sayings: 'it is mother-affinity (friendship) that is nearest'; 1 'I will not say brother save to the son that my mother bore,' 2 point back to the Pictish social system, according to which descent was reckoned in the female line. This, it has been argued, is a feature which the Picts owed to non-Aryan predecessors. But may not a race in the course of its long history be led to change its customs from within? Wherever we meet with descent reckoned in the female line, are we in presence of the non-Aryan? Mr. Frazer shows how in royal families in Latium and in Greece the daughters were kept at home, and the sons went forth to marry princesses and reign among their wives’ peoples; 3 he says that "among the Saxons and their near kinsmen the Varini it appears to have been a regular custom for the new king to marry his stepmother." 4
And further: "Attic usage always allowed a man to marry his half-sister by the same father, but not his half-sister by the same mother. Such a rule seems clearly to be a relic of a tune when kingship
was counted only through women." 1 He instances also the great house of Aeacus in Greece, the grandfather of Achilles and Ajax, and the family of the Pelopidae. The relation of mother to child is of the first importance, and cults and customs ought not to be read without keeping it in view. After all, as Professor Gilbert Murray 2 has pointed out fitly, the Matriarchate is one of the great civilising influences of mankind.
What is now but a mere 'survival' was once the sole substitute for our philosophy and religion; the mere superstition of to-day is in unbroken continuity with the dateless ages of earliest faiths. Progress and change there have been throughout, but hardly such breaks as efface the possibility of our recognising the religiosity of man as part of his psychical being. Survivals,—making all allowance for diversities of customs springing from different races within different eras of time, and sometimes possibly temporarily resumed within a race which has discarded them within its own past,—are but disguises which point to the inherent unity of human thought in thinking itself out; to lift these disguises into their unconscious system is to come upon the soul at work, speaking to us half-aloud, and revealing what St. Augustine perceived long ago,—the inherent unity of all religious feeling. In his Retractions, the Bishop of Hippo declares that what is now called the Christian
[paragraph continues] Religion existed among the ancients, and in fact was with the human race from the beginning. 1 It is his way of expressing the idea of religious persistencies. These have various origins, although the composite elements are ultimately brought under one dominant thought which was latent in the rites from the beginning. Religion is the body of sacred rites or scruples embodied in observances which a man finds binding on himself with regard to the wills or Will, which to his consciousness are in connection with and have regard to his life. As given or revealed it is the Deity that covenants. Man is bound thereby to his fellows and has regard for social ties. In course of man's development in a social order, ancestral souls, the souls of the dead, enter into his life for good or ill, as also Nature-Spirits conceived as active in air, earth, water and fire, culminating at length in the One Nature-Spirit.
It is in the rite that concrete religion is posited. The rite is the correct inherited ancestral custom, having at bottom the idea of what has been measured or numbered, and thus fixed by the convenience of the ancestral community. It foreshadows the idea of Harmony. 'Follow, thou, closely the fame of thine ancestors' (lean-sa dlùth ri cliù do shìnnsear) is a Highland maxim favourable to survivals. What served the past is good for us also. A particular religious obedience every man is free to impose upon himself. But man does not often reach his fundamental self: "the moments at which we thus grasp ourselves are rare, and that is just why we are
rarely free. The greater part of the time we live outside ourselves, hardly perceiving anything of ourselves but our own ghost, a colourless shadow which pure duration projects into homogeneous space. Hence our life unfolds itself in space rather than in time; we live for the external world rather than for ourselves; we speak rather than think; we 'are acted' rather than act ourselves." 1 As living in space man becomes involved in a system of ritual prohibitions: do not. They are solemn declarations framed for his well-being, and need to be tested in practice. The taboos of other races are present with the Gael as gessa or sacred restrictions. It is their religious quality which imparts them persistency. Religion now reveals its life in the way whereby one approaches God; there are various avenues of approach to the Power regarded as divine, and in approaching by these ways it is felt that one should have regard to approaching aright and with due care. There is no religion without its ritual. In the rite is expressed devotion to the object for which one feels a care. Outwardly worship must necessarily manifest the worshipper as one who is giving in order to get; he may give goods or self, but in either case his actions imply a Power that can give what may be gotten. Religion is ultimately a progress in Life, and this implies the exercise of reflection which ultimately eliminates idols. Acts of devotion may be manifested (a) with relation to souls and with relationship of souls to the Highest Soul or God; (6) and may be conditioned by sympathetic association with objects regarded as
having souls, or as being alive (Animism). Devotion thus embraces all phases of Manism (of which what is known as Totemism is but a moment). In Gadhelic, devotion is expressed by cràbhadh, piety (in rite); old Irish crabud, 'faith'; cognate with Cymric crefydd. In the Highlands the adjective cràbhach is applied to one who is devout and observant of pious rites. The root of the word is met with in Sanskrit vi-çrambh, 'trust.' The rites of religion 1 (cràbhadh) are the various avenues of approaching the Being in whom one has trust, expressed or implied. But heart-giving has a side which implies belief inclusive of heart-consent. In Gadhelic this is expressed by the word creideamh; Old Irish cretim; Cymric credu; all cognate with Latin 'credo,' I believe'; Sanskrit çrad-dadhâmi, 'I give heart to.' The attitude of mind thus attained to is expressed by the Old Irish iress, 'faith' (literally 'on-standing'), which only survives in the negative in the modern Gadhelic amharus, 'doubt'; Old Irish amairess, 'unbelief, infidelitas.' Religion therefore, so far as an examination of the Celtic languages leads, is seen to embrace:
2. the heart-consent (creideamh),
3. faith (in the object or end of the rite): iress.
[paragraph continues] This inclusive attitude of mind, so far as the objects of attention are concerned, may have reference to
1. The Word:
(b) the word of magic or the positive power of the Word spoken (òb, òrtha, guidhe): the positive word;
(c) the lustral rites. Ordeals.
2. The Soul or Souls, which embrace
(b) the internal soul or soul proper;
(c) the external soul or the soul in sympathy with, but imagined as outside the body (sympathetic association).
3. Nature-spirits and Ancestral Spirits (Animism).
4. Communion of Life:
(b) the Word to the God (Prayer: urnuigh, guidh);
(c) the Word to the Soul:
(b) in the portent (tuar);
(c) in the vision (fīs);
(α) in dreams (aisling);
(β) in second-sight (taibhsearachd, an dà-shealladh);
(γ) in prophetic knowledge (dailgneachd; tairrngearacht); taisbein or revelation.
(b) giving to get (do ut des);
(c) giving to appease (do ut abeas).
6. The God-land:
(b) the conquest of the Sīdh and its joys (oibinnius in t-sída);
(c) the land of promise (tír tairrngire), the shadows of the immortals; and the twilight of the gods.
The Word has freedom. It has also the danger that accompanies freedom: it may be made an idol. Words are the manufacturers of idols. As 'spell, taboo, charm' the word is geas, E. Irish geis, derived from the root in the verb guidh, 'entreat' (Old Irish guidiu, gude, guide), cognate with Gothic bidjan 'ask,' and English bidding, surviving in 'the bidding prayer.'
The potency of strong entreaty is witnessed to in the Highland saying: 'a witch will get her wish though her soul should not receive mercy.' 1 Even the dead can take fuller vengeance than the living, and the death-bed entreaty 2 binds the survivor.
The religious sentiment includes belief in the potency of the word. Hence the easy and too common delusion that religion derives from magic. To start with, religion embraces more than the magic word: hence a study of all 'survivals' reveals
more than 'magic'; it shows acts and objects of faith in which the heart either rests or works its way out of towards a more abiding content. The rhythmic formula or carmen (whence charm), older can-men, in root cognate with Gadhelic, can, 'to say,' had such occult power that, according to Virgil, it could draw the moon from the sky. 1 And so close is the connection between the prayer and the spell that the word that once signified the former may be degraded to signify the latter. One example is the following.
When a witch has bespelled a man, the modern Gadhelic phrase is: 'she has put the ōrth (spell) in him.' 2 This word, however, is but a loan from the Latin orationem; the accusative in Early Irish is orthain, 'prayer,' in which sense the word is met with on an Iona tombstone. As in everything else, there is such a thing as deterioration in religion, as the above transition of meaning manifests. One must guard against deriving religion from magic or identifying it therewith. For 'charm, incantation,' the native word is obaidh. 3 When a witch is credited with having bespelled a man the Highlander says: 'she gave him a word.' 4 Connected of old with the power of the word was that of the satirist, who could raise blotches on the face or rhyme an enemy to death.
Further, the word could make the absent one visible by apparition: the spell for this purpose is
known in Uist as Fāth-Fīth. 1 Irish has fāth, 'a kind of poem,' which I suggest is cognate with Cymric gwawd, panegyric; O. English wóet; O. Norse ōðr, song, poetry, metre. Near allied are Irish fāith, prophet, Latin vates, Gothic vōds, man. With the side form fīth is to be compared the Welsh gwiddon, 'a witch,' a word used in D. ab Gwilym's poems; the plural occurs in 'Llys y Gwiddonod,' the Witches' Court, where the witches are associated with prophecy and prediction in a way that allows them being regarded as the authors. Rhŷs asks why the Gadhelic women warriors in Gloucestershire were described in Welsh as witches (gwiddonod), and adds: "It is unfortunate that the etymology of the word eludes my search." 2 I believe it is from the magic power of the word. Fīth has no connection with the term fī still met with in the asseveration: Gu’n gabh am Fī thu = may the Evil One take thee! Here Fī is cognate with Ir. fī, bad (Cormac, O’Clery); (there is also fī, 'poison,' cognate with L. vīrus, Gr. ἰός, Skr. visha). The power of the word is so great that a witch's wish when expressed in words may produce gonadh, a wounding or wasting away, which may take various forms; it is reputed by some to produce even childlessness.
[paragraph continues] Thus, on Eilean Aigais, an island on the Beauly River (Uisge Farrar in the upper reaches, but now Abhuinn na Manchuinne in the lower), it is said that a woman was hung wrongously on a tree and eaten to death by the flies; ere dying she pronounced a curse imprecating childlessness on those who should hereafter live there, a curse that was held to have been literally fulfilled. A deathbed entreaty (corrachd, 1 Ir. coruigheacht) had special force because of the revenant (tathaich) spirit which was credited with power to injure the living. I've heard a person declare to another as to coming back after death: 'when I rise up it is thou who wilt get the first slap or blow' (’nuair dh’ēireas mi’s tu gheobh a chiad sgailc).
The positive side of the magic word leads to sorcery (buitseachd, draoidheachd), the negative aspect includes the rites that are taboo (geas); the positive precepts that are to be used are spells or charms (ōrtha, ōrthachan; ubagan); the negative precepts are taboos (gessa). The positive word of magic says 'do'; the negative word of magic says 'don't.' It is assumed that all things are in sympathy, and act on one another: things which have once been in contact continue to act on each other even after the contact has been removed. Thus, a man I knew of would never start from his home before sunrise to go on any business without first
putting his left knee sunwise thrice round the horse's head. This sained the animal and prevented it from seeing supernatural spirits, for it had been in contact with a man who blessed it in name of the Trinity. Again, like things produce like things; and thus, if you wish to injure a man, injure something like him. This rests on a fallacy in elementary reasoning; but much experience has been necessary to convince mankind of errors which, however apparently simple, have issued in gross deeds. An instance of this magic is that of 'turning-the-heart in lead' (cridhe luadhainn, tionndadh cridhe), which I have seen done in the Highlands several times. A rite somewhat similar existed in the Austrian Tyrol, and in parts of Germany, and J. Grimm traced it to Greece. 1 In the Highlands, when a friend has something the matter with the heart, a wise man who knows this rite,—living at a distance makes no difference,—melts some lead which he pours through a key taken from the outer door over a basin of cold water, making mention of the heart of the person whom he names, and invoking the Trinity: if the shapes as they form in the water can be got to resemble a heart, much virtue ensues to the healing and strengthening of the friend who is far off. The friend often knows that such a rite is practised on his behalf, and that prayers of faith are offered for his recovery.
Another rite which I have often heard of is that
of the clay-body (corp criadh), the magic of which rests on the principle of similarity. It is fairly common in Celto-Latin lands. 1 A figure is made of clay, and either the whole or the parts which it is desired to injure are covered with pins and nails to the accompaniment of maledictions; the image is then buried in the ground or placed in a stream in a somewhat inaccessible locality, on the principle that the sooner the clay-body dissolves, the sooner will the body of the person thus represented be wrecked. For the Isle of Man there is a good instance given where an image was turned before a large fire, and pins stuck into it while a rhyme was being muttered, coincident with which the minister was found suffering with wracking pains. On a search having been made, the supposed effigy of the minister was found, as also an old bladder, with pins, rusty nails and skewers. This female practitioner was sentenced to be executed, "and just before she was bound to the stake, confessed the crime for which she was about to suffer." 2 In the Highlands there are instances of quite recent occurrence. I quote from a reliable writer of recent date, simply changing the spelling Creagh into Criadh, as being more correct philologically:
“A rather gruesome relic of a barbarous age which I have heard of as happening within the last few years, is that ugly one known as the Corp Criadh. As its name indicates, this is a body of clay rudely shaped into the image of the person
whose hurt is desired. After a tolerably correct representation is obtained, it is stuck all over with pins and thorns, and placed in a running stream. As the image is worn away by the action of the water, the victim also wastes away with some mortal disease. The more pins are stuck in from time to time, the more excruciating agony the unfortunate victim suffers. Should, however, any wayfarer by accident discover the Corp in the stream the spell is broken, and the victim duly recovers. A case of Corp Criadh has been known to occur in Uist within the last five years; and in a parish adjoining ours, it was whispered that the death of a certain young man was due to a spell of this nature.
"Another case that was told to me was concerning a young woman who set her affections upon a certain young man. But on this occasion Barkis was not willing, and he would have none of her. To revenge herself for his shocking want of taste, she resolved that if she was not fated to get him, then neither would any possible rival. In this dog-in-the-manger frame of mind, she made a Corp Criadh for the luckless youth. But it so happened that one day a neighbour (who is the mother of my informant) went into the girl's father's barn to look for some eggs, and hidden among some hay she found, not eggs, but the Corp. There is reason to believe that during the land agitation and strife which have of recent years occupied the Highlands, the rite was practised in connection with some of the land-leaguers who had made themselves obnoxious to their fellows." 1
The power of the 'word' is seen in magic charms to stop blood and bleeding. Moore 1 gives instances for the Isle of Man. And I know of instances where persons yet alive believe in the Blood-spell, and have a charm for stanching blood (Eolas, Casga Fola). In Sutherland, Ross and Inverness its efficacy depends on its being transmitted from male to female, and from female to male.
In former times there was another term, not now used in the Highlands, viz., Ir. bricht, 'magic, magical spell,' apparently the ceremonially conceived word on which J. Grimm lays stress as the essential requisite of the magic if it is to be effective. Osthoff would equate bricht with Icel. bragr, 'poetry, art of poetry,' and with the Sanskrit brahman, on the assumption that it means 'magic, witchcraft.' 2
The power of the word even as acting at a distance is still tacitly believed in: e.g. the phrase, Cearr nam ban is deas nam fear, is repeated when there is a sudden reddening of one of the ears: if it be the left ear, the inference is that it is women who are speaking about you; if the right ear, that it is men.
The Greek for a word as something spoken was, μῦθος, 'anything delivered by word of mouth, word, speech,' whence our 'myth.' The spoken word is essential for religion. A South Pacific myth tells that when the Creator of all things had ordered the solid land to rise from the primeval waters, he
walked abroad to survey his work. "It is good," said he aloud to himself. "Good," answered an echo from a neighbouring hill. "What!" exclaimed the Creator, "Is some one here already? Am not I first?" "I first," answered the echo. Therefore, the Mangaians assert, the earliest of all existences is the bodiless voice. It is their way of saying, "In the beginning was the Word." 1
Unless one named the day, a witch could hear one speaking of her on a Friday even if far off. Hence one said: an diu Di-h-aoine, cha chluinn iad mi air muir no tir = to-day is Friday; they will not hear me on sea or land.
A parallel to this belief in the power within the word may be found in the phrase: Tha facal aice = 'She has a word,' said of a witch who is credited with power to cause one in virtue of her word to do her bidding. One is reminded of the phrase used by the people when the demoniac was cured at Capharnahum: τίσ ἐστι οὗτος λόγος, 'What sort of word (or language) is this? for with authority and real power He gives orders to the foul spirits and they come out' (Lc. 4:36). By λόγος, or word, here the people may have meant some formula of exorcism, some cabalistic 'word' which forced the demons to obey.
If such be the power of the magic word, how much more important is the word which is or contains the name (ainm) itself! All the spells and charms for averting the evil eye that are in use end by inserting the name of the person to be cured, adding thereto the sanctifying clause: in the Name of the
[paragraph continues] Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. To counteract evils the name is even changed. 1 For the soul is regarded as in the name. It is forbidden to awaken one who is suffering from night-mare (trom-laighe) 2 unless one has first summoned him by name. The inference is that his soul is away and is to be called back by the ritual use of the person's name; the old folks therefore enjoined one: na dūisg e gun ghairm air ainm = do not waken him without calling him by name. To do otherwise is gessa, or taboo now; at an earlier day, the fear was that a man might die, for his soul was but a tenant of the body, not in any way in relation to or a result of its functions.
I find with many that it is a matter of extreme importance to call a child by the name of a deceased ancestor; death is but a minor affair so long as the name is kept up. This is known as: togail an ainm = lifting or raising the name (of the deceased relative). Perhaps it is owing to some association of belief with the old idea of the name-soul that so many saints had double names, e.g. Crimthann, 'wolf,' the first name of St. Columcille, the 'church dove.' And many heroes of the Fionn-Saga have double names. I have seen the custom of naming a child after a deceased relative explained by the intention of securing rest in his grave for the latter; the child when grown up was bound to brave the influence which caused its relative's death. But on Celtic ground I have not heard of such an explanation. The practice of "giving a new-born babe
the name of a deceased person is to be traced back in the old Icelandic sagas, where a dying person often appeals to another to name a future child after him, because he expected advantage from it." Mr. Hartland infers that he thereby expected to secure a new birth. 1 In the case of a child's death, if he has borne the name of a deceased relative, it is often held unlucky in the Highlands to give the same name to another child; but that is aside from the main desire of 'raising the name.'
The Gadhelic ainm, 'name,' is cognate with Welsh anu, enw; Gr. ὄνομα, Prussian emmens, Old Bulgarian imȩ, the root ono allied to no in L. nomen, E. name.
In Wales English names were regarded as very unlucky for fishermen (Trevelyan, 329).
Of great import of old was an asseveration by the name of the tribal god. No doubt many Celtic god-names would have been kept secret, and it is probable that often only epithets have survived. However that may be, we find the phrase tong a toing mo thuath = 'I swear what my tribe swears' (with an occasional variant, 'I swear by the god of my tribe') of frequent occurrence in Irish literature: and if tong be cognate with L. tango, 'I touch,' as it seems to be, the idea underlying is that of 'touching ' some sacred thing, be it stone or something else,—a habit continued in Christian days by taking the mionn or oath, E. Ir. mind, 'oath, diadem,' by touching the swearing relics or insignia of a saint. Cognate is O. Welsh minn, 'sertum'; MacBain compares O.H.G. menni, 'neck
ornament,' Ag. S. mene, 'neck chain,' L. monile. 1 How far the idea of the soul is expressed under the sense of touch we will consider later under the custom of 'touching the corpse.'
It is of interest to notice that a prickly sensation in the nose is known as menmain, a word which is but a variant of O. Ir. menme, g. menman, 'mind, mens,' cognate with Skr. mánman, 'mind, thought,' L. mens; also memini, 'remember,' E. mean, mind. The menmain is a sensation which prognosticates the coming of a stranger or visitor. On the other hand a secretion such as the saliva (seile) is of special virtue in ratifying bargains or in curing warts: this is because originally the spittle was conceived as possessing soul-force. At markets I have noticed that bargains are still sealed by spitting on the hand ere two parties clasp hands on coming to an agreement. I have heard also of a belief that some of the Clan Campbell, through a certain feeling in the eye-brow, foreknew of a Campbell's death. A sneeze (sreot) is also a sort of omen: a 'spirit ' is thought to take possession of one; when one sneezes involuntarily it was etiquette with some
to say, 'God be with thee' (Dia leat). The kidney (adha, ae; O. Ir. óa, ae; W. afu) is specially an organ of the soul, and there are certain prescriptions regarding it: children must not partake of it until they can pronounce the word or name for it (Inverness-shire); if you eat a whole kidney it will come out on the body (Sutherland). From its connection with the soul the skull or brain-pan (copan cinn) has curative virtues: to drink water from the skull of a dead man is believed in as a cure for epilepsy, and has been to my knowledge faithfully carried out lately (1909). A draught of the spirit of human skull was a part of the medical treatment in vogue in former times in higher circles. 1 Even the human hair as associated with the idea of soul is beloved as a keepsake, and is treasured as a remembrance in far-away lands. A stanza from a Highland poem runs:
'Thy hair, oh darling, is in my pouch of seal-skin, and will be so long as I live; and when three bear me away carrying me to the sod, thy hair, my dear one, will be with me in the narrow chest of boards.'
The soul-life is thus held to be associated with parts of the full-grown body. But even at birth the body has its ritual. One could say, before birth, inasmuch as it is held to be unlucky for two women who are great with child to come into the same room if either be near confinement. To
contravene this rule was gessa or taboo in the code of old Highland midwives, who held that the infant of one of the parties must die or be still-born (Inverness-shire). The after-birth had its special ritual. To my knowledge the following was the belief held not so long ago: "The old women were very careful of the after-birth; if it were burnt in the wrong manner the wife would have no more children. The midwives had great fear of this in case of taking away the lives of others. But if the wife would eat the after-birth of another woman, the children would come back. It was the custom of the late Mrs. G. (a certain midwife) to cause women who for the first time became mothers bite the placenta thrice. The mother thereafter would not suffer the pains of childbirth." 1
On no account was the after-birth to be carelessly thrown outside, lest dogs should get it; it was to be decently buried under a tree or carefully burnt. The old midwives sometimes were wont to keep a portion, and this when roasted they ordered to be drunk with water in cases of sterility. In Ireland I find that "an after-birth must be burned to preserve the child from the fairies." 2 The omphalos 3 was in
the Highlands ground to powder after it fell off on the ninth day or so, and was mixed with water and given to the child to drink. The cord was sacred, as it united the unborn infant to the life of the mother; it was held to retain life in some mysterious manner. In Greece the navel or omphalos is the symbol of the Earth-Mother; 1 for Brazil, Southey 2 says: "Immediately upon a woman's delivery the father takes to his hammock, covers himself up, and is nurst there till the navel string of the infant has dried away; the union between him and his progeny is regarded as so intimate that care must be taken of him lest the child should suffer." The omphalos was a favourite amulet among the Crees, according to Mackenzie's History of the Fur Trade (p. 86). Among American Indians it was a frequent custom to carry it to a distance and bury it; in later life it was the individual's duty to go alone to that spot and perform certain ceremonies. From other parallels, therefore, I conclude that the Celtic ritual of the navel-string was due to some connection with the life of the soul, as it was imagined. "The navel-string and the placenta are often regarded as external souls." 3 Blood drunk from the child's navel and eating the dried remains of the navel-string
are approved folk-cures for sterility elsewhere. 1
Further, among body-parts mythic thought interprets the soul as in the eye (the Evil Eye).
The singular malific influence of a glance has been felt by most persons in life; an influence that seems to paralyse intellect and speech, simply by the mere presence in the room of some one who is mystically anti-pathetic to our nature. For the soul is like a fine-toned harp that vibrates to the slightest external force or movement, and the presence and glance of some persons can radiate around us a divine joy, while others may kill the soul with a sneer or frown. We call these subtle influences mysteries, but the early races believed them to be produced by spirits good or evil, as they acted on the nerves of the intellect. 2
All races have a belief in the power of the eye which but expresses the soul. The soul is not thought of as confined to any one single organ of the body. The Romans spoke of the fascination of an evil tongue: mala fascinare lingua (Catullus, vii. 12); ne vati noceat mala lingua futuro (Virgil, Bucol. Ecl. vii. 28).
But the Romans 3 were pre-eminently familiar
with the evil eye and its cure; in Spain 1 the evil eye is known as causing illness (querelar nasula); Italy abounds with the belief; Sébillot 2 gives several instances of talismans used for preserving one from the effects of the evil eye (à la préserver du mauvais oeil). The evil eye is due to soul-magic. In Scotland it is well known; suffice it to refer to the collections on this topic by the late Rev. J. G. Campbell 3 and by Dr. R. C. Maclagan. 4 Young infants are frequently believed to be overlooked; likewise cattle; a man may lay the evil eye even on what is his own property, as when a husband must on no account see the churning operations, as his glance would prevent the butter coming. The great remedy is būrn airgid, 'water into which silver coins have been put,' as also gold and copper if you like, but silver by all means. The water has to be raised with a wooden ladle from a stream over which pass the living and the dead, in the name of the Trinity; the sign of the cross is made over the contents of the ladle, and a rhyme is repeated wherein the opening word of the Lord's Prayer, Pater, in G. Paidir, is repeated seven times, but alternately in name of the Virgin and of the King (or Lord). Then the ritual says: "In the door of the city (of heaven, i.e.) Christ gave three calls full just: seven 'paters' in name of the Virgin will avert the evil eye, whether it be on human creature
or on brute: whoso hath laid on thee the eye, may it return on themselves or on their children, and, if children fail, on their substance: [the person's name here], may’st thou be in thy full health, in name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." 1 The water is then partly given as a drink to the child, partly sprinkled over it, and the rest is poured out over a large stone or boulder that is never moved by human hands. When rents make their appearance in such stones, these are ascribed to the penetrating and disintegrating force of envy, and the saying goes: 'Envy breaks up the stone' (brisidh farmad a chlach). From the kind of coins that may adhere to the wooden ladle on being emptied, and from their position, some of the wise ones would divine whether the evil eye in the special case was that of a male or female. Such is the ritual of averting the evil eye in Strathglass neighbourhood. I now give an example or two from S. Uist, which I owe the late Rev. Allan MacDonald.
"If a person came and saw a cow or other creature belonging to you, and he began to praise it, e.g. if he were to say, tha ùth mór aig a’ bhoin, 'the cow has a big udder,' or anything similar
of a complimentary nature, this act of praising was called aibhseachadh; and as it might lead accidentally to gonadh, or evil eye, or wounding of the cattle, as a preventative it was customary to say to the person making the complimentary remarks: Fliuch do shūil = 'wet your eye.' This wetting of the eye was generally performed by moistening the tip of the finger with saliva, and moistening the eye with it thereafter.
"If a person were much afflicted by the toradh, or 'milk produce,' being taken from him, he was advised to adopt the following remedy: Whenever one of his cows calves, to take away the calf immediately before he draws milk from his dam, then to take a bottle and draw milk from the four teats into the bottle, the person so doing being on one knee, and saying:
[paragraph continues] The bottle is then tightly corked and hidden in a safe place. Here is a magic way of retaining the whole by keeping the part. If the cork were to be put in loosely, it is feared that the toradh would be at the mercy of any one who had the faculty of filching it. Another Uist informant, Duncan M‘Innes, said that he heard the effective way of recovering the toradh was to snatch a bundle of thatch from the threshold of a suspected person and to burn it beneath a churn (Tubhadh an
fhardoruis a thoirt leat s a losgadh fo thōin a chrannachain); and John Mackinnon, Dalibrog, said: Na’n cailleadh to ’n dul air ceann na buaraich chailleadh to ’n toradh = 'If you were to lose the loop on the end of the cow-tie, you would lose the milk-produce."'
A further stage of the concept of the Body-Soul is that of Blood Magic or the Soul in the Blood. The connection of the soul-life with the blood would naturally have been perceived from of old. Once the body was drained of the blood death ensued. The Irish collection of Church Canons quotes Lactantius 1 as to the nature of the soul, where he states that some held the soul to be fire, others said it was spirit, others that it was blood: fire, for it vivifies the body; spirit, for it breathes through the members; blood, for with the blood the soul passes away. Such speculations might have become known among some of the people, but their appeal to the folk-mind, in so far as blood is concerned, would have been easy. For, as Faust, who covenants in blood with Mephistopheles, says: "Blood is a juice of very special kind,"—so much so that in Vedic ritual sprinkling by blood is practised to lay evil spirits, while in the Highlands the blood of a black cock is spilled at the spot where the demon of epilepsy first made its presence manifest. A blood-mark connected with a foul deed was held in the Highlands to be impossible to be wiped out. To drink blood was an earnest token of true love. A
lady who entertained Prince Charlie in Harris became full of sorrow on hearing of her lover having been drowned on his way to marry her, and she sang in lines which I may render thus:
[paragraph continues] Again, in literature there is the case of Gregor MacGregor of Glenstrae, put to death at Kenmore by Sir Colin Campbell, who became laird of Glenorchy in 1550 and proved himself a bitter foe to Clan Gregor. Sir Colin caused his daughter's husband, Gregor of Glenstrae, with whom she eloped, and whom she married against her father's will, to be executed at Kenmore in 1570. A brother of hers also took the father's side. To escape vengeance Gregor and herself and child had to wander about, but were at last captured, and she was forced to witness her husband's execution at Taymouth Castle. In her cry for vengeance on the head of the perpetrator, she says:
No apples have I to-day, to-day,
though apples for others there be;
My apple so sweet, my apple, my meat,
lying in cold earth is he.
[paragraph continues] To her bairn, fearing lest he may not attain manhood
to execute vengeance for the deed, she croons sadly:
On high-born kith and kindred
my curse for my sorrow's plight;
By stealth my love was taken
and unawares by might.
Were twelve there of his kindred
with Gregor at their head,
Mine eyes were not a-shedding tears
my bairnie friendless made.
On a block of oak they set his head,
they shed his blood with a will;
On the ground they spilt it, and had I a cup
I would of it have quaffed my fill. 1
Martin, in his Western Isles, says of the islanders: "Their ancient leagues of friendship were ratified by drinking a drop of each other's blood, which was commonly drawn out of the little finger. This bond was religiously observed as a sacred bond; and if any person after such an alliance happened to violate the same, he was from that time reputed unworthy of all honest men's conversation." 2
The cro-codaig or blood-covenant was known among the Gael of old. Thus Branduff, king of Leinster, in 598 A.D., as he was preparing to fight the king of Ireland, met a party of Ulidians, whom he induced to abandon the king of Ireland and fight under Branduff's own standard in the battle of Dunbolg. The king of Ulidia replied: "A blood-covenant (cro-codaig) and an agreement shall be made between us." "They seated themselves on the mountain and made a cotach or bond of fellowship that should never be broken." The name of the mountain, formerly Sliabh Nechtain, was afterwards changed to Sliabh Codaig, 'the mountain-slope of the covenant'—the present Slieve Gadae (the old name slightly corrupted) on the road from Hollywood to Donard, Wicklow.
The Ulaid, hereditary enemies to the race of Conn-of-the-Hundred-Battles, were glad to desert, and Conchobar, their king, is said to have had a vision regarding this blood-covenant, as is told in the story of the Boromean tribute:
Conchobar beheld the Leinster men and the Ulaid around the vat, drinking its contents. "And I know," said the king of the Ulaid, "that this is the
covenant that was foretold therein. For this is the blood that was seen in the vat,—the blood of the two provinces in meeting. This is the new milk—the canon of the Lord, which the clerics of the two provinces recite. This is the wine, Christ's Body and His Blood, which the clerics offer up." And he was explaining it in that wise, and he uttered a lay:
The poet Spenser relates that during his stay in Ireland he saw a woman at Limerick drink the blood of her foster-son on his having been executed. He saw her "take up his head whilst he was being quartered, and suck up the blood that ran from it, saying that the earth was not worthy to drink it, and steep her face and breast with it, at the same time tearing her hair, and crying out and shrieking most terribly." And we have Highland evidence. In a song composed to a Macdonald warrior after the battle of Cairinish in 1601, his foster-mother sings:
[paragraph continues] Another singer says:
[paragraph continues] And in a well-known Hebridean song to Ailean Donn there is a direct mention of blood-drinking:
[paragraph continues] "I could drink, though to the aversion of others, not of the red wine of Spain, but of the blood of thy body after being drowned." 1
Irish references pointing to the idea of the soul in the blood may be met with, as we read of bursts of blood from the tips and nostrils of the man who knew that King Eochaid had the ears of a horse; 2 of a swelling which grew from the head of the lad who knew the secret of King Labraid's ears; 3 of washing in the blood of a king for leprosy. 4 And the late Dr. Wilde, in his account of Irish folk-remedies, mentions the blood of the Welshes as well as that of the Keoghs and Cahills as a cure. 5 In Lewis blood taken from above the patient's ankles was given as recently as in 1909 with a view to curing epilepsy,—an instance I formerly only tentatively included in the Appendix to my treatment of the Norse Influence on Celtic Scotland, but I am aware that it need not be due to any outside influence although blood-brotherhood is likewise met with in Scandinavia. Du Chaillu, in his Viking Age (ii. 64), quotes from Egil and Asmund's Saga (ch. 6), and says: "They took oaths that whoever lived the longest should have a mound thrown up over the other, and place therein as much property as seemed to him
fitting, and the survivor had to sit with the dead one for three nights, and then depart if he liked. Then both drew their blood and let it flow together; this was then regarded as an oath." Blood-brotherhood in the Highlands was not extinct at least until after Iain Lom's time; for tradition has it that by origin he was not of Lochaber lineage, but that owing to a peculiar circumstance his father fled to Lochaber from Argyll and made blood-brotherhood (fuil-bhrāithreachais) with the Campbells’ deadly enemies, the Macdonalds. Iain Lom Macdonald was Gadhelic poet laureate to Charles II. I am now only concerned with the tradition that blood-brotherhood was practised in his age, even if the story in detail may, at least at a first consideration, be at variance with the poet's received pedigree.
It is said that the poet had no hair at his birth, nor afterwards, and that accordingly he was given the epithet lom, or 'bare, without hair.' Such cases are rare, but I know personally of one. Briefly, the story is that Iain Lom's mother was a MacCalmain from Muckairn, who married one Campbell, who resided near to or in Kilmartin, Argyll. This Campbell in a quarrel stabbed another Campbell who, on his round as deachadoir or tithe-collector, insulted Mrs. MacCalmain Campbell. The upshot was that she and her husband fled and took refuge with the Campbells’ enemies, and specially under the banner of Macdonell of Keppoch, who initiated them into his own clan by the rite of blood-brotherhood (rinn iad fuil-bhrāithreachais riutha). The child born to them soon thereafter was the future Iain Lom Macdonald the poet, and
named after the Macdonalds. Said Keppoch to his father: "The more Campbells you kill the better." The poet became more Macdonald than the Macdonalds themselves.
This tradition I heard recited by Dr. Alex. Carmichael at a meeting of Lorne men in Glasgow, when the lecturer was Mr. Malcolm Campbell Macphail, the Glenorchy Bard, and a native of Muckairn. It was accepted. And I take the tradition as pointing to the belief in the soul-in-the-blood, which is the basis of the solemn covenant blood-rites of many peoples. Stanley tells how he often had to take part in the rite of blood-brotherhood in Africa, and Trumbull's Blood Covenant gives many instances. Its force among the Irish of old is apparent from The Wooing of Emer: when Cūchulainn wounded his love, Dervorgil, in the form of a sea-bird, with a stone from his sling, he contracted blood-brotherhood by sucking from the wound the stone with a clot of blood round it. "I cannot wed thee now," he said, "for I have drunk thy blood. But I will give thee to my companion here, Lug-aid of the Red Stripes." 1
The artificial tie of blood-brotherhood being reckoned a barrier to marriage pertains to a matriarchal stage of society, wherein descent is reckoned on the mother's side, and where the father is not reckoned as belonging to the kin of his children. 2 The father is not akin to his child. It is the ethic of this stage that is reflected in such a tale as Conlaoch killing his own father Cūchulainn: the
son avenges his mother's kin upon his own father. It is a stage which has its own strata of explanations of such things as conception, generation and the origin of the soul. The custom of foster-brotherhood conceivably may have had its origin herein: the child is put out to be fostered among its mother's kin, and out of the father's house. Until capable of bearing arms it is taboo for the child to appear in his father's presence: it is prohibited for the warrior to have any sympathetic association with the weakness of youth. Even the marriage-ring might be held to be a remnant of some old custom of binding the blood-covenant upon the hand.
3:1 Tribal System in Wales, pp. 54-60.
4:1 Is e cáirdeas na mathar as dilse.
4:2 Cha chan mi brathair ach ris a’ mhac a rug mo mhathair.
4:3 Frazer, Early History of the Kingship, p. 238.
4:4 Ib. p. 244.
5:1 Ib. p. 245. For the Picts v. Zimmer in my Leabhar Nan Gleann.
5:2 The Rise of the Greek Epic (Heinemann), p. 76. Miss Harrison refers to a clue to matriarchal theology in Pythagoras (Prolegomena, 262) and points to indications of Mother-Right in St. Augustine (ib. 261n) "Matriarchy gave women a magical prestige," says Miss Harrison (ib. 285, cf. 272).
6:1 Res ipsa, quae nunc religio Christiana nuncupatur, erat apud antiquos nec defuit ab initio generis humani. . . .
7:1 Bergson's Time and Free Will, p. 231.
8:1 The L. religio implies carefulness and diligence in things pertaining to rites of devotion; it is the very opposite of negligence. The recent attempt to connect it with religare in the sense of 'binding the god' is erroneous to my thinking.
10:1 Gheobh baobh a guidhe ged nach fhaigheadh a h -anam tròcair.
11:1 Carmina vel caelo possunt deducere lunam.
11:2 Chuir i an òrth’ ann.
11:3 Also ubaidh; ubag; ob (rarely)—all from the root ba, 'to speak,' utter.
11:4 Thug i facal da (common speech).
12:1 v. Carmina Gadelica. Joyce has suggested that here we have the origin of the words which head St. Patrick's hymn Faeth Fiada (with the d aspirated?), long rendered as the guardsman's cry, the deer's cry, but really a 'spell' for rendering invisible. The story of the deer may have arisen from a folk-etymon. When Patrick, with his eight companions, went before King Loigaire, the king saw but eight deer and a fawn making for the wilds. The monarch returned to Tara in the morning twilight, disheartened and ashamed. For Transformation into Animal Form, v. ch. ii.
12:2 Anthropological Essays presented to E. B. Tylor, Oxford, p. 293.
13:1 For Ness, Lewis, I noted the word with a long ō: tha mi ’ga chur cōrachd ort, i.e. I place on thee a stipulation not to be broken; while for Lorne I got the phrase: chuir e cōrachd air a theangaidh, 'he spoke as if he disguised or hid his speech,' which must be a secondary meaning; in any case it is not mine, which is invariably 'a death-bed entreaty.'
14:1 "Apparently of Greek origin is the widely-received custom of pouring out lead; even Ihre mentions it: cf. molybdomantia ex plumbi lique facti diversis motibus (Potter's Arch. i. 339), i.e. lead-divination from the divers motions of liquid lead."—Grimm's Germ. Myth. 1118.
15:1 Sébillot, Le Paganisme Contemporain chez les Peuples Celto-Latins, pp. 152-157, re envoûtement.
15:2 Moore, Folk Lore of the Isle of Man, p. 90, quoting Train.
16:1 Sheila MacDonald in Folk Lore for 1903, 373-374.
17:1 Folk Lore of the Isle of Man pp. 96-99. Cf. for Ireland O’Foharta's Siamsa an Gheimhridh, and An Lóchrann (Tralee, Kerry, 1910).
17:2 Bezz. Beit. xxiv., Göttingen, 1899, p. 113. Allerhand Zauber etymologisch beleuchtet.
18:1 Gill's Myths and Songs of the South Pacific, pp. 86-87.
19:1 J. G. Campbell's Superstitions, p. 245.
19:2 What trom may be here is uncertain: cf. trom-dhée, 'household gods,' in E. Irish; trom usually is 'heavy, oppressive.'
20:1 Primitive Paternity, i. 225 (Folk-Lore Soc. issue).
21:1 The power of the word as seen in the curse is evidenced by the Manx phrase Mollaght Mynney, which Moore (Folk-Lore of the Isle of Man, 11n) says, "is the bitterest curse in our language, that leaves neither root nor branch, like the Skeabthoan, the besom of destruction." It seems to originate from the old custom of swearing by the relics of a saint, for the word is different from Manx Monney, 'a sign, an omen, a portent,' G. manadh, 'omen.' Noticeable also is the reference in this Manx oath to sun and moon (ry ghrian as eayst), met with also in present-day Ireland: dar brígh na gréine ’s na gealaighe, 'by the virtue or essence of the sun and of the moon' (Lúb na Caillighe, p. 20; ed. S. Laoide, Connradh na Gaedhilge, i mBaile Atha Cliath).
22:1 Cf. The Last Days of Charles II., by R. Crawfurd, M.D. (Oxford: Clarendon Press).
23:1 Bha iad glē thoigheach mu’n teārnadh: nan rachadh an teārnadh a losgadh ann san rathad chlī cha bhiodh tuille cloinne aig a bhean (sic). Bha eagal mór air na mnathan glūine roimh so mus biodh iad a gabhail beatha fheadhainn eile. Ach nan itheadh a bhean teārnadh bean (sic) eile thigeadh a’ chloinn (sic) air ais. B’ābhaist do bhean I. G. nach maireann a thoir air bean air a chiad chloinn trī caoban thoir as a’ chochull bha m’an cuairt do’n leanabh. Chan fhuilingeadh am mathair piantan cloinne an deighidh sin.
23:2 Kinahan's Notes on Irish Folklore; v. Folklore Record, iv. p. 104.
23:3 G. imleag, ilmeag, E. Ir. imbliu, cognate with L. umbilicus, Gr. ὀμφαλός, E. navel, Skr. nā́bhi, nâbhîla.
24:1 Harrison's Prolegomena, 321. As to Earth-Mother, I noted a children's game in Eriskay called Mathair Mhór, 'Big Mother,' where the mother was feigned to be a pig! It is possibly a relic of early ritual.
24:2 Hist. of Brazil, i. 238.
24:3 Crawley: Tree of Life, p. 226. Mr. Crawley points out that the soul is often placed on a tree for safe keeping. Cf. Hazlitt's Dict. of Faiths and Folklore, sub Heam = after burthen, secundine. The afterbearth of cows was put on a hawthorn bush with faith that they shall have a cow next year (ib.).
25:1 Hartland, Prim. Patern. I. 70; ii. 276.
25:2 Lady Wilde's Ancient Legends of Ireland, vol. i. p. 37.
25:3 E.g. Non istic obliquo oculo mea commoda quisquam limat,—Horace, Epist. I. xiv. 37; Nescio quis teneros oculus mihi fascinat agnos,—Virgil, Bucol. Ecl. iii. 103; conspiciturque sinus,—Juvenal, Sat. vii. 112; Ter cana, ter dictis despue carminibus,—Tibullus, Eleg. I. ii. 56; veniam a deis petimus spuendo in sinum,—Pliny, xxviii. 4, 7. The shepherd in Theocritus (Idy. vi. 39), following the injunctions of a 'wise' woman, spits thrice into his own lap in order to save himself from the consequences of self-admiration.
26:1 Cf. G. Borrow, The Zincal, pt. I. c. viii.
26:2 P. 205.
26:3 Superstitions and Witchcraft.
26:4 The Evil Eye in the West Highlands. There is a German work by S. Seligmann, Der böse blick u. Vermandtes: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Abenglaubens aller Zeiten u. Völker, 2 vols.
28:1 I.e. cuidh-lainn, 'cattle-folds': may God bless these cattle-folds! This I am asking in the name of God, nor am I asking but for mine own.
29:1 Lactantius ait: Alii animam ignem esse dixerunt, alii spiritum, alii sanguinem. Ignem dicunt, quia vivificat corpus, spiritum quia spirat per membra, sanguinem, quia cum sanguine migrat. Wasserschleben, Die Irische Canonensammlung, 2nd ed. 1885, p. 233.
31:1 The original of the last stanza I quote from memory:
[paragraph continues] A version of the original is accessible in Rev. Maclean Sinclair's Gaelic Bards.
31:2 Western Isles, p. 109 of ed. of 1716.
32:1 Rev. Celtique, 13, p. 75.
33:1 Ib. 13, 75.
34:1 The original words are:
34:2 Otia Mersiana, iii. 48.
34:3 Rev. Celt. ii. 197.
34:4 Keating's Hist. of Ireland (Irish Texts Soc.), i. 323.; cf. what Keating says of the Druids, ib. 349.
34:5 Wilde, Irish Popular Superstitions, pp. 92-93.
36:1 Eleanor Hull, The Cuchullin Saga, p. 82.
36:2 S. Hartland, Primitive Paternity, vol. i. p. 261 (Folk-Lore Society).