Survivals in Belief Among the Celts, by George Henderson, , at sacred-texts.com
III. The Earthly Journey (part 2)
The rites that unite the human with the divine embrace all forms of partaking in thankfulness in common with the divine as it is recognised; the giving to get; the giving to appease. Here account has to be taken of commensality, or, in other words, of primitive pagan eucharists. To my mind, the earliest thought is that of partaking of food in common with the divine. A very careful person I have known would never have food served to others or partaken of without adding: "May God have as much of his own." 2 And just as it was held highly unlucky for a boy to sweep the floor after a death, some would not have the floor swept after food was cooked or partaken of. The fragments that fell on the floor belonged to the household spirit or sìthich, i.e. the 'fairy.' Close upon the thought to be inferred therefrom is that embraced by all forms of libation. Of old it was common enough to pour a milk libation on the fairy-knoll. 3 In the eighteenth century the Rev. Donald MacQueen, minister of Kilmuir, Skye, contributed some account of the Gruagach to Pennant's Tour. After some references to the classics, he adds that "the superstition or warm imagination of ignorant people introduced him
as a sportive salutary guest into several families, in which he played many entertaining tricks, and then disappeared. It is a little more than a century ago since he hath been supposed to have got an honest man's daughter with child, at Shulista, near to Duntulme, the seat of the family of Macdonald: though it is more probable that one of the great man's retinue did that business for him. But though the Gruagach offers himself to every one's fancy as a handsome man, with fair tresses, his emblems, which are in almost every village, are no other than rude unpolished stones of different figures just as they seemed cast up to the hand of the Druid who consecrated them. Carving was not introduced into the Hebrides; and though it had, such of the unformed images as were preserved would for their antiquity be reverenced, in presence of any attempts in the modern arts.
"The Gruagach Stones, as far as tradition can inform us, were only honoured with libations of milk, from the hands of the dairy maid, which were offered to Gruagach upon the Sunday, for the preservation of the cattle on the ensuing week. From this custom Apollo seems to have derived the epithet Galaxius. This was one of the sober offerings that well became a poor or frugal people, who had neither wine nor oil to bestow; by which they recommended their only stock and subsistence to their favourite Divinity, whom they had always in their eye and whose blessings they enjoyed every day. . . . The idol stones that remain with us are oblong square altars of rough stone, that lie within the Druids’ Houses, as we call them. Observe also,
that the worship of the sun seems to have continued in England until King Canute's time, by a law of his, which prohibits that, with other idolatrous practices." Martin corroborates this of the island of Valay, where "there is a flat thick stone call’d Brownie's Stone, upon which the ancient inhabitants offered a cow's milk every Sunday, but this custom is now quite abolish’d."
The old custom of libation is clearly seen in the following: "Clanranald used to have a summer shieling on one of the islets off Benbecula. He had a herd and a milkmaid there. They were both of them Catholics, and at the time of changing residence were in the habit of spilling a coggie of milk on the fairy-knoll. The dairy maid left Clanranald's service, and in her stead he engaged a Protestant. On the day of changing from the shieling the herd requested that milk might be left on the knoll. She replied: 'No! I don't heed Popish incantations.' That same night the best cow in the fold was dead, and on the morrow it was blood and not milk that the cows gave. Clanranald sent away the new dairy maid, and he took back the maid who had formerly left his service to take her place. They never heard any further mishap." This on the authority of an old shepherd, whose grandfather, he said, was the herd in question.
The sea-god Shony, according to Martin, 1 "had libations offered him in Lewis at Hallowtide: they gathered to the Church of St. Mulvay, Lewis: each family furnished a peck of malt, and this was brew’d into ale: one of their number was picked out to
wade into the sea up to the middle, and carrying a cup of ale in his hand, standing still in that posture, cry’d out with a loud voice, saying: Shony, I give you this cup of ale, hoping that you'll be so kind as to send us plenty of sea-ware, for enriching our ground the ensuing year, and so threw the cup of ale into the sea. This was performed in the night time. At his return to land they all went to church; there was a candle burning upon the altar; and then, standing silent for a little time, one of them gave a signal at which the candle was put out, and immediately all of them went to the fields, where they fell a-drinking their ale, and spent the remainder of the night in dancing and singing."
Of immemorial antiquity is another rite referred to by Martin: "They have a general cavalcade on All Saints’ Day, and then they bake St. Michael's Cake at night, and the family and strangers eat it at supper" 1 (South Uist). For Barra he says: "Every family, as soon as the solemnity (the cavalcade) is ended, is accustomed to bake St. Michael's Cake, as above described; and all strangers, together with those of the family, must eat the bread that night." 2 It is met with likewise in Ross-shire: "Perhaps one of the quaintest of old-world customs which still survives in some out-of-the-way places is the preparation of the Struan Michael, or cakes sacred to the celebration of Michaelmas Day. It is more peculiarly a Hebridean custom, and, though fast dying out, it is not unknown, and last autumn I tasted some. Michaelmas Day was always observed
in the Celtic Calendar, and Struan Michaels and Beltane Bannocks entered as much into the calculations of the Highland housewife as do Shrove-tide cakes and hot-cross-buns elsewhere. They were prepared somewhat after this fashion. The first sheaves of the harvest were taken, dried and ground into meal with the quern. Then the housewife took some eggs, butter and treacle, mixed them up, and into the mixture put the new meal, making a dough. On the stone slab forming her hearth-stone she put some red-hot peats, and when sufficiently heated, swept it clean. On this the dough was placed to cook with an inverted pot over it. During the process of cooking, it was often basted with beaten eggs, forming a custard-like covering. Finally, after the cake was cooked, a small piece was broken off and cast into the fire. Why? you will ask. Well, as an offering to the Donas, or old Hornie, or whatever may be the correct designation of that presiding genius whom we are led to believe inhabits the fiery regions. The housewife did this in order to safeguard herself and her household against the Evil One. After reserving some of the Struan for the use of the household, she went round the neighbours in triumph and gave them a bit each, there being usually a great rivalry as to who should be the first to grind the new meal and get the Struan ready. The first to do so was generally understood to have the best crops through the corning year." 1
Offerings to Michael are clearly referred to in the
[paragraph continues] Isle of Eriskay rite, that when a person is paring his nails and having his hair cut, he should say: "My hair and my nails be with Nigh’ Mhìcheil for my soul's welfare" (m’fhalt is m’iongnan aig Nigh’ Mhìcheil, air rath m’anmanna). The Rev. Allan Macdonald, priest of the island, had the phrase from the late Duncan M‘Innes, Ru Bàn, Eriskay, and distinctly noticed "that the pronunciation was not Naomh Mìcheil, 'St. Michael,' but 'nigh Mhicheil' (i.e. daughter of Michael?), whosoever she may have been." But I have little doubt but the pronunciation with the i was a variant well-known elsewhere for the high-back vowel ao.
The idea of offering clearly appears in the action of fishermen, who, when they thought they saw a mermaid, threw overboard any fish that they might have in order to propitiate her, inasmuch as her appearance was held to portend foul weather. A parallel idea comes out in the old custom once observed on entering a new house for the first time of throwing something into the house before one, saying slàn treabhaidh an so, equivalent to invoking a blessing on the abode. I well remember old people who on no account would enter a house, particularly when the family were at meal, without exclaiming: "Blessing be before me!" 1 A practice the opposite of this was the putting of a dead creature, such as a crow, on the hearth of a house to which another family was flitting. This I have seen in the Highlands, as well as the new tenant go round his fields with 'blessed' water, sprinkling alike boundaries and cattle in a manner that reminded of customs met
with in old Italian rites. 1 Offerings also were the coins thrown into wells, as also the twigs of heather cast into them or near them. This leads to the idea, of propitiation. The idea of do ut abeas, 'I give that thou mayest be gone,' is manifest in the Uist ritual of the St. Michael's Cake. 2 A bit of dough is taken from off the baking-board and placed on the embers, where it is burnt. It is called the Devil's Tithe, the Evil One's portion, and such names. The bit of dough, when burnt, is thrown over the left shoulder, the operant saying: "Here to thee, thou rascal [Devil], and stay behind me, stay from my kine!" The cake may be baked for the prosperity (air sealbhaich) of the house, of the household, or of any individual member.
Keating 3 inserts a story which tells how St. Patrick restored Lughaidh, son of King Laoghaire, to life. Michael the Archangel, in form of a bird, put his bill into the lad's throat, and took out the morsel which choked the king's son. "When the queen heard that it was Michael the Archangel who brought back her son to life, she bound herself to give a sheep out of every flock she possessed each year, and a portion of every meal she should take during her life, to the poor of God, in honour of Michael the Archangel; and, moreover, she enjoined this as a custom throughout Ireland on all who received baptism and the faith from Patrick, whence is the custom of the Michaelmas sheep and the Michael's
portion (míre Míchil) in Ireland ever since." Gratitude is here the foundation of the sacrificial meal; the converse of this is the thought: when the deity gets what is due, the offerer expects to be granted what is right in return. Not that sacrifice is but a bargain; it is a highly complex act.
The Michaelmas Sheep of Keating's account is doubtless the Michaelmas Lamb which in the Hebrides is slain at the season when the Michael Cake is made. Dr. Carmichael's account 1 tells how, after the cake is cut into sections, the father of the family "cuts up the lamb into small pieces. He takes the board with the bread and the flesh on the centre of the table. Then the family, standing round, and holding a bit of struan (cake) in the left hand and a piece of lamb in the right, raise the 'Iolach Mìcheil,' triumphal song of Michael, in praise of Michael, who guards and guides them, and in praise of God, who gives them food and clothing, health and blessing withal. The man and his wife put struan into one beehive basket (ciosan) and lamb into another, and go out to distribute them among the poor of the neighbourhood who have no flocks nor fruits themselves."
I believe that in a district where, too, the population is not of the Roman persuasion, the Michaelmas Lamb has been killed not so long ago. The whole ceremony has its parallel in the Lithuanian Sabarios, i.e. 'the mixing or throwing together,' at the eating of the new corn. Just as the Michaelmas Cake was made from grain newly ripened in the field and fresh ground in the quern, the grain for the Sabarios was
the first thrashed and winnowed, and then baked into little loaves, one for each of the household. From a portion beer was brewed, and a jugful poured on the bung of the barrel, the Lithuanian farmer saying: "O fruitful earth, make rye and barley and all kinds of corn to flourish!" Then a black or white or speckled cock and hen were taken and killed by blows from a wooden spoon, all holding up their hands, saying: "O God, and thou, O earth, we give you this cock and hen as a free-will offering!" The Lithuanian rite, which Dr. Frazer interprets as the body of the corn-spirit, partaken of sacramentally, took place at the beginning of December. 1
Another cake was made at Beltane on May-Day. This cake had a large hole in the middle, through which each of the cows in the field was milked. In Tiree it was of a triangular form.
Parallel in respect of its pointing to an offering is the Beltane custom at Callander, described by M r. James Robertson, minister of the parish: 2 "The people of this district have two customs, which are fast wearing out, not only here, but all over the Highlands, and therefore ought to be taken notice of while they remain. Upon the first day of May, which is called Bel-tan, or Bal-tein day, all the boys in a township or hamlet meet in the moors. They cut a table in the green sod, of a round figure, by casting a trench in the ground, of such circumference as to
hold the whole company. They kindle a fire, and dress a repast of eggs and milk in the consistence of a custard. They knead a cake of oatmeal, which is toasted at the embers against a stone. After the custard is eaten up, they divide the cake into so many portions, as similar as possible to one another in size and shape, as there are persons in the company. They daub one of these portions all over with charcoal, until it be perfectly black. They put all the bits of cake in a bonnet. Every one, blindfold, draws out a portion. He who holds the bonnet is entitled to the last bit. Whoever draws the black bit is the devoted person who is to be sacrificed to Baal, whose favour they mean to implore in rendering the year productive of the sustenance of man and beast. There is little doubt of these inhuman sacrifices having been once offered in this country, as well as in the east, although they now pass from the act of sacrificing, and only compel the devoted person to leap three times through the flames; with which the ceremonies of this festival are closed. The other custom is, that on All-Saints’ Even they set up bonfires in every village. When the bonfire is consumed, the ashes are carefully collected in the form of a circle. There is a stone put in, near the circumference, for every person of the several families interested in the bonfire; and whatever stone is moved out of its place, or injured before next morning, the person represented by that stone is devoted, or fey, and is supposed not to live twelve months from that day. The people received the consecrated fire from the Druid priests next morning, the virtues of which were supposed to continue for a year."
In the parish of Kirkmichael, 1 adjoining Logierait, there was baked a consecrated cake for the first of May. The cake, with knobs, was used, we may infer, formerly for determining who was to be the victim of the flames. The cakes baked at that period at Logierait had small lumps in the form of nipples raised all over the surface.
Thomas Pennant, who travelled in Perthshire in the year 1769, tells us that "on the 1st of May the herdmen of every village hold their Beltein, a rural sacrifice. They cut a square trench on the ground, leaving the turf in the middle; on that they make a fire of wood, on which they dress a large caudle of eggs, butter, oatmeal and milk; and bring besides the ingredients of the caudle, plenty of beer and whisky; for each of the company must contribute something. The rites began with spilling some of the caudle on the ground, by way of libation: on that, every one takes a cake of oatmeal, upon which are raised nine square knobs, each dedicated to some particular being, the supposed preserver of their flocks and herds, and to some particular animal, the real destroyer of them. Each person then turns his face to the fire, breaks off a knob, and flinging it over his shoulders, says, 'This I give to thee, preserve thou my horses; this to thee, preserve thou my sheep; and so on.' After that they use the same ceremony to the noxious animals: 'This I give to thee, O fox, spare thou my lambs; this to thee, O hooded crow! this to thee, O eagle!' When the ceremony is over, they dine on the caudle; and after the feast is finished, what is left is hid by
two persons deputed for that purpose, but on the next Sunday they reassemble and finish the reliques of the first entertainment."
The idea of offerings is at times closely associated with purification. It is met with in the rites connected with the caisean-uchd, i.e. the strip of skin from the breast of a sheep killed at Christmas, New Year and other sacred festivals. "The strip is oval, and no knife must be used in removing it from the flesh. It is carried by the carollers when they visit the houses of the townland, and when lit by the head of the house it is given to each person in turn to smell, going sunwise. Should it go out, it is a bad omen for the person in whose hand it becomes extinguished. The inhaling of the fumes of the burning skin and wool is a talisman to safeguard the family from fairies, witches, demons and other uncanny creatures during the year." 1 Macleod and Dewar's Gaelic Dictionary defines it as "the breast-strip of a sheep killed at Christmas or New Year's Eve, and singed and smelled by each member of the family as a charm against fairies and spirits." The word caisean means 'anything curled,' particularly the dew-lap which hangs from the breast of animals. To judge by M‘Alpine's phrase, 'never for the sake of fairies,' the rite in Islay was in vogue as a preservative at any time and was not connected with the fairy-world. The practice is referred to in a quite recent account from South Uist, which I may translate: "Now I must conclude. The observers of New Year's Eve (Christmas Eve, old style) are approaching me with the loud shouting proper
to the season, and according to old custom they will go sunwise round the house, bringing the Callaig (the Hogmanay) gift with them. At the door the Callaig rhyme is to be said on entering: This is to bless the dwelling; may God bless this house and its inmates all! Going sunwise round the fire, the Hogmanay Breast-strip (Caisein Callaig) is to be set-on-fire or lighted, that is, the breast-skin of a wedder; each person in the house is to seize hold of it as it burns, making the sign of the cross, if he be a Catholic, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. That burning strip is to be put thrice sunwise about their heads. If the burning skin be extinguished in the process, it is a bad omen for the New Year's happiness. Then they will get their Hogmanay portion, each one according to his opportunity; with good will they then disperse with the words: The blessing of God and of the Hogmanay be with you all; if well to-night, seven times better may ye be a year to-night!"
J. G. Campbell, in his Witchcraft and Second Sight (p. 233), gives a full form of the rhyme with the following lines:
Mr. Campbell specifies as to the procession that the hide of the mart cow, killed for winter use, was wrapped round the head of one of the men, and he
made off, followed by the rest, belabouring the hide, which made a noise like a drum, with switches. One of the participators, that is, had to be clothed in hide. 1 I am reminded of the Roman Luperci who, on 15th February, girt themselves with the skins of slaughtered goats and struck all the women who came near them with strips of skin from the hides of the goat-victims, such strips being among the objects called by the priests februa. The purposes of such rites were purification and fructification; the victim was sacro-sanct, and an effort was thus made towards symbolising by participation the physical unity of all life. The old custom of throwing bones or burnt pieces of animals into the flames is testified to by the name 'bonefire.' Dr. Fowler has noted that the Highland 'man in cowhide' is singularly like the Roman rite as Lydus describes it; the skin-clad man, the old Mars, was beaten with long rods and driven out of Rome on the day preceding the full moon of the old Roman year, which began on March 1. The month of March was dedicated to him as the deity of the sprouting vegetation. Though now we have the Highland rite but in a shadow, we may infer that the intent was to communicate new life by the burnt strip of skin, and that originally there was slaughter of an animal: the man girt with the hide of the sacro-sanct victim became one with the victim; he entered into the nature of the life-giving blood shed. Just as
washing the hands in pig's blood is held to be a cure for warts in the Highlands still, of old the virtue of blood was greater. May we not presumably infer that blood purified? Elsewhere the murderer's hands were purified by smearing them with the blood of a young pig (Apollonius Rhodius, 4, 478).
Blood makes the transition to animal sacrifice. Here, making allowance for cross-division in so complex a subject, we arrive at:
(b) The rites that avert.
I give an instance from Ross-shire: "Here is another curious practice in connection with epilepsy which I saw carried out many years ago, and which is, I suppose, a survival of old pagan sacrificial rites. A child, belonging to a family whom I know well, was suddenly seized with convulsions, and its relatives would have it that the child had epilepsy. Accordingly, emissaries were sent through the parish to procure a black cock, without a single white feather, and without blemish of any kind. This latter is important; the finer the animal, the more readily does the spell work. Well, then, a cock was found which suited the requirements; the stone floor in the room where the child was first seized was opened up at the exact spot where the seizure took place. The unfortunate animal was sealed down and buried alive, after which an incantation was muttered over it by a 'wise woman.'" 1 The child was afterwards bathed.
A correspondent from Lewis is quoted. He writes: "The cure for epileptic fits is more barbarous, and to my knowledge was used not three months ago in Barvas (4½ miles from here). A black cock (the barn-door variety), without a light-coloured feather, is buried alive on the spot where the patient experienced his or her first fit; that is all and the cure is effected by [inducing] the evil spirit causing epilepsy to leave the patient and enter into the body of the cock." 1
A special form of sacrifice is connected with the cat. The ulterior purpose is to invoke the Evil One, according to modern folk-belief, and while the rite is named 'invocation' (taghairm) 2 the means used partake of something of the nature of sacrifice mingled with compelling magic. The account I give is from an authentic source in the London Literary Gazelle, March, 1824. 3 “The last time the Taughairm (sic) was performed in the Highlands was in the island of Mull, in the beginning of the seventeenth century, and the place is still well known to the inhabitants. Allan Maclean, commonly styled
[paragraph continues] Allan mac Echain (son of Hector) was the projector of these horrid rites; and he was joined by Lachlan Maclean, otherwise denominated Lachunn Odhar (Lachlann the Dun). They were of resolute and determined character, and both young and unmarried.
"The institution was no doubt of pagan origin, and was a sacrifice offered to the Evil Spirit, in return for which the votaries were entitled to demand two boons. The idea entertained of it at the time must have been dreadful, and it is still often quoted for the purpose of terrifying the young and credulous. The sacrifice consisted of living cats roasted on a spit while life remained, and when the animal expired another was put on in its place. This operation was continued for four days and nights without tasting food. The Taughairm commenced at midnight between Friday and Saturday, and had not long proceeded when infernal spirits began to enter the house or barn in which it was performing, in the form of black cats. The first cat that entered, after darting a furious look at the operator, said: 'Lachunn Odhar, thou son of Neil, that is bad usage of a cat.' Allan, who superintended as master of the rites, cautioned Lachunn that whatever he should hear or see, he must continue to turn the spit; and this was done accordingly. The cats continued to enter, and the yells of the cat on the spit, joined by the rest, were tremendous. A cat of enormous size at last appeared and told Lachunn Odhar that if he did not desist before his great-eared brother arrived, he never would behold the face of God. Lachunn answered that if all the devils in hell came he would not flinch until his task was concluded. By the end
of the fourth day there was a black cat at the root of every rafter on the roof of the barn, and their yells were distinctly heard beyond the Sound of Mull in Morvern." Another account is given by the late Rev. Dr. Clerk of Kilmaille, 1 who states that Allan nan Creach, one of the Lochiels of the fifteenth century, had recourse "to the oracle of the Tigh Ghairm or House of Invocation (sic)." While incorrect in his spelling of the name, which has nothing to do with tigh 'house,' most of the other details agree with the preceding account. The king of the cats is named therein Cluasa Leabhra from his ears of portentous magnitude. The command given to the operant was: 'Hear you this or see you that, Round the spit and turn the cat.' 2 If the presumptuous mortal quailed he would become the prey of the Evil One; if bold enough the cats would answer any question in return for the release of the tortured beast. This Lochiel succeeded in attaining: he asked, it was said, 'What must I do to be saved?' and the answer of the oracle was a command to build seven churches, one for each of his great forays, and thus to expiate his sins. Another account 3 tells how the MacArthurs at Glassary made a taghairm. It is explained that "it seems if you make a Taghairm the Mac Molach (recte, Mag Molach, i.e. Hairy Hand or Paw) will come and tell you anything you ask him." MacArthur offered to fight all that was dead or alive within the sea, and from the evil consequences he was only saved
by the virtues of the Need-Fire. But more important animals were sacrificed. Just as a white steer was sacrificed to the sky-god on the Capitol at Rome, 1 we hear of white bulls which the Gaulish druids sacrificed under the holy oak before they cut the mistletoe. 2
It is recorded by Sir James Simpson, the discoverer of chloroform, that in the latter end of the eighteenth century his own father "was in early life personally engaged in the offering up and burying of a poor live cow as a sacrifice to the spirit of Murrain." 3 This was done within twenty miles of Edinburgh, and by a shrewd farrier who yet laid aside a corner of a field—'the gude-man's croft,'—as an offering to the Evil One. I well recollect how in the Highlands, when any loss occurred among cattle in spring (earchall) the hooves and sometimes the head or parts of it were taken away to the wood and buried secretly in the soil under great trees where nobody could possibly molest them. It was still better to bury them on an adjoining estate, and across a river. This was to put away the earchall and to prevent the loss of more animals. It was a giving of part for the whole. In some of the Isles there is still a memory of a cure for a species of cattle-plague 4 which was especially
destructive of heifers. The old people said if the heifer's head were struck off at a single blow with a clean or stainless sword that the plague would cease, and that no further death would occur. 1 This was done in the eighteenth century. One who lived until 1820 remembered seeing his father bring home the decapitated heifer. The man's father explained the reason; he was wont to say likewise that they lost no more cattle by the plague.
"In Wales," says the Rev. John Evans in 1812, "when a violent disease breaks out amongst the horned cattle, the farmers of the district where it rages join to give up a bullock for a victim, which is carried to the top of a precipice from whence it is thrown down." He says this is known as "casting a captive to the devil." 2 In Cornwall, about 1800, a calf was burnt to death, the object of the sacrifice being to arrest the murrain! In Devon a ram was slain. 3 At Gaulish communal sacrifices Diodorus (v. 284) tells that close to the worshippers on certain
religious occasions were "hearths laden with fire, and having upon them cauldrons and spits full of the carcases of whole animals." Animals were even bought for sacrifices, according to Arrian. 1
I would not wish to press what Keating denies, but in the light of other survivals among the Celts the statement of Giraldus Cambrensis 2 can hardly be the offspring of his own imagination, but a survival in old belief, though not in the custom of his day. When the king of the Cineal Conaill used to be inaugurated, says Giraldus, an assembly was made of the people of his country on a high hill in his territory; a white mare being slain, and put to boil in a large pot in the centre of the field; on being boiled he was to drink up her broth like a hound or beagle with his mouth, and to eat the flesh out of his hands without having a knife or any instrument for cutting it. He would have to divide the rest of the flesh among the assembly, and then bathe himself in the broth. If this be a case of tribal totemistic communion-sacrifice part of the ritual is to be compared with that of the tarbh-feiss, or bull-feast, mentioned in The Sick-Bed of Cuchulainn as a means of divination, and with references to the horse as sacred elsewhere. We know the strong aversion we entertain against eating horse-flesh. It seems to be very old among the Celts. When Vercingetorix had sent away all his cavalry by night from Alesia, having barely corn for thirty days, Critognatus later on proposed to support life by the corpses of those
who appeared useless for war on account of their age, as alluded to by Caesar for "singular and detestable cruelty." 1 A modern general would have utilised his horses for food. We seem to be in the presence of a taboo from a time when horses were sacred, as they were among the Icelanders, who up to the time of their adoption of Christianity ate horseflesh on certain occasions,—a liberty allowed them even after baptism, but soon discarded.
A Highland example is the sacrifice of bulls at Loch Maree. It is attested by the Records of the Presbytery of Dingwall, 2 from which I give the relevant extracts, omitting the parties’ names for brevity's sake:
"At Appilcross, 3 5th Sept. 1656.
. . . the presbyterie of Dingwall . . . findeing amongst uther abhominable and heathenishe practices that the people in that place (Applecross) were accustomed to sacrifice bulls at a certaine tyme uppon the 25 of August, which day is dedicate, as they conceive to Sn Mourie as they call him; and that there were frequent approaches to some ruinous chappels and circulateing of them; and that future events in reference especiallie to lyfe and death, in takeing of Journeyis, was exspect to be manifested by a holl of a round stone quherein they tryed the entering of their heade, which (if they) could doe, to witt be able to put in thair heade, they exspect thair returning to that place, and failing they considered it ominous; and withall their adoring of wells, and uther superstitious monuments and stones, tedious to rehearse Have appoynted as follows—That quhosoever sall be found to commit such abhominationes, especiallie Sacrifices of any kynd,
or at any tyme, sall publickly appear and be rebuked . . . six several Lord's dayis in six several churches, viz., Lochcarron, Appilcross, Contane, Fottertie, Dingwall, and last in Garloch paroch church. . .
"At Kenlochewe, 9 Septr 1656.
"Inter alia, Ordaines Mr Allex M‘Kenzie, minister at Lochcarron, to cause summond Murdo M‘conill varchue vic conill vic Allister in Torriton, and Donald Smyth in Appilcross, for sacrificing at Appilcross—to compeire at Dingwall the third Wednesday of October, with the men of Auchnaseallach.
"The brethren taking to their consideratione the abhominationes within the parochin of Garloch in sacrificing of beasts upon the 25 August, as also in pouring of milk upon hills as oblationes quhose names ar not particularly signified as yit—referres to the diligence of the minister to mak search of thease persones and summond them as said is in the former ordinance and act at Appilcross 5 Sept: 1656, and withall that by his private diligence he have searchers and tryers in everie corner of the countrey, especiallie about the Lochmourie, of the most faithful honest men he can find; and that such as ar his elders he particularly poseit, concerning former practices in quhat they knowe of these poore ones quho are called Mourie his derilans 1 and ownes thease titles, quho receaves the sacrifices and offerings upon the accompt of Mourie his poore ones; and that at laist some of thease be summoned to compeire before the pbrie the forsaid day, until the rest be discovered; and such as heve boats about the loch to transport themselves or uthers to the Ile of Mourie quherein ar monuments of Idolatrie. . . . The brethren heiring be report that Miurie hes his monuments and remembrances in severall paroches within the province, but more particularly in the paroches of Lochcarron, Lochalse, Kintaile, Contan, and Fottertie, and Lochbroome It is appoynted that the brethren . . . heve a Correspondence, in trying and curbing all such. . . .
"At Dingwall, 6 August 1678.
"Inter alia, That day Mr Roderick Mackenzie minister at Gerloch by his letter to the prebrie, declared that he had
summoned by his officer to this prebrie day Hector Mackenzie in Mellan in the parish of Gerloch, as also Johne Murdoch and Duncan Mackenzies, sons to the said Hector—as also Kenneth M‘Kenzie his grandson, for sacrificing a bull in ane heathenish manner in the iland of St Ruffus commonly called Ellan Moury in Lochew, for the recovering of the health of Cirstane Mackenzie, spouse to the said Hector Mackenzie, who was formerlie sicke and valetudinaire:—Who being all cited, and not compearing, are to be all summoned again pro 2°."
St. Maolrubha, whose death is recorded for the year 722, and whose historical double is Ruffus, was not the only saint on the way of being deified. Reginald of Durham has a notice of a bull being offered to St. Cuthbert, at his church on the Solway, on the festival kept on the day of the dedication of the church in the year 1164. 1 St. Maolrubha's well was desecrated through a mad dog having been brought to drink of its waters. Animal cures, moreover, were sometimes attempted by offering them the life of another animal. An instance is recorded by Hugh Miller in his Schools and Schoolmasters. He had paid a visit to his aunt's house at Gruids, Lairg, and saw "his cousin, George, administer to an ailing cow a little live trout, simply because the traditions of the district assured him that a trout swallowed alive by the creature was the only specific in the case." Again, the animal life offered may be simply buried alive as a sacrificial rite, as when a live cock or a live toad is buried in the hope of curing some bodily ailments. The idea here is that of putting the disease away—do ut abeas, 'I give that thou mayst be gone.' With the burial act one may compare the rite of burying a murdered man's boots
to prevent his spirit from returning to earth again. 1 A certain disease among cattle, Na Geumraich, or 'cattle lowing,' was held to be curable only by human blood. The Rev. C. Robertson 2 gives an independent account which corroborates the one I now quote by a clergyman lately deceased and long familiar with the district.
"The most horrible of sacrificial remedies was that in vogue at one time for the cure of cattle-madness. It is reported that a farmer in Kinlochewe had his cattle infected with that disease, and was unable to heal them by ordinary means. He was told that if he could get the heart of a man who did not know his parents, and dip it in a tub of water, that he would have his remedy. By sprinkling the water on the cattle the trouble would be washed away. He could not expect to get that, but the idea got hold of him, and kept him on the alert for the charm. A travelling pack merchant or pedlar happened to come to his house one evening, and he was hospitably entertained. In course of conversation the man gave as much of his history as he remembered at the time. Among other things, he said that he knew nothing of his people, that he did not know even the names of his parents. He got up next morning and set out on his journey towards Torridon. When about half-way through the glen he was overtaken by his host of the previous evening who demanded his life. The poor man said that he might have all his goods without a struggle on
his part if that was what he was after. But the murderer told him plainly that he wanted no less than his life, that he followed him for his heart to cure his cattle. He took out his heart there and then and prepared the remedy. It is said that the cattle had been cured, but that the disease was transferred to his family. Some of his descendants, who inherited the transferred madness, were spotted up to the middle of last century as families who were under a more terrible ban than that of Gehazi." 1
In Breadalbane "there is a tradition that, once upon a time, when a pestilence raged among the herds on the south side of Lochtay, a ghastly tragedy was enacted. Actuated by a heathenish desire to propitiate some evil spirit or other, the people seized a poor 'gangrel body,' bound him hand and foot, and placed him in the ford of Ardtalnaig burn . . . a little further up the stream than the present bridge. All the cattle in that district were then driven over his body, and the poor creature's life was crushed out." 2
A manuscript of Cormac's Glossary gives an alternative, though unscientific, derivation for the name Emain: "No em ab ema [αἱμα] id est sanguine quia ema sanguis est. Uin i.e. unus quia sanguis unius hominis [effusus est] in tempore conditionis ejus." In other words, the wrong etymology there given is a suggestion that the word 'Emain, Emain' signifies 'the blood of one,' because the blood of one man was poured forth at the founding of Emain.
The need of immolating a human being to ensure the stability of a building Dr. Stokes notes in his edition of Cormac as a superstition still current in India. Grimm tells us that in 1843, during the building of the new bridge at Halle, it was a popular superstition that one required to bury a child in the foundation, and he cites similar beliefs among the Danes, Greeks, and Servians. We find a parallel belief in Britain, as is recorded by Nennius. When Guorthigern wishes to build Dinas Emris his druids say "Nisi infantem sine patre invenies et occidetur ille, et arx a sanguine suo aspergatur, nunquam aedificatur in aeternum." A child without a father has to be found and slain, and the fortress is to be built in such an one's blood if the building is to stand. The Irish-Gaelic Nennius expressly says that Guorthigern, with his hosts and with his druids, traversed all the south of the island of Britain until they arrived at Guined, and they searched all the mountains of Herer and there found a Dinn (Dùn or fort) over the sea, and a very strong locality fit to build on; and his druids said to him: "Build here thy fortress," said they, "for nothing shall ever prevail against it." Builders were then brought thither, and they collected materials for the fortress, both stone and wood, but all these materials were carried away in one night; and materials were thus gathered thrice and thrice carried away. And he asked of his druids: "Whence is this evil?" said he. And the druids said: "Seek a son whose father is unknown, kill him, and let his blood be sprinkled upon the Dùn, for by this means only it can be built." Messengers were sent by him throughout
the island of Britain to seek for a son without a father; and they searched as far as Magh Eillite, in the territory of Glevisic, where they found boys a-hurling; and there happened a dispute between two of the boys, so that one said to the other: "O man without a father, thou hast no good at all." The messengers asked: "Whose son is the lad to whom this is said?" Those on the hurling green said: "We know not," said they; "his mother is here." They asked of his mother whose son the lad was. The mother answered: "I know not that he bath a father, and I know not how he happened to be conceived in my womb at all." So the messengers took the boy with them to Guorthigern, and told him how they found him. On the next day the army was assembled that the boy might be killed. And the boy was brought before the king, and he said to the king: "Wherefore have they brought me to thee?" said he. And the king said: "To slay thee and to butcher thee, and to consecrate this fortress with thy blood [dod marbudsa, ar sé, ocus dod coscrad ocus do cosergud in duin sea dod fhuil]." The boy said: "Who instructed thee in this?" "My Druids," said the king. "Let them be called hither," said the boy. And the druids came. The boy said to them: "Who told you that this fortress could not be built until it was first consecrated with my blood?" And they answered not. 1
Dr. Todd seems of opinion that the practice of auspicating the foundation of cities, temples, or other solemn structures was not of remote antiquity, and
throws some doubt upon parallel instances from a ninth century compilator, Johannes Malala, who records that at the foundation of Antioch, Selecus Nicator erected a pedestal and statue of the virgin Aemathe sacrificed as the Fortune of the city, as he likewise is said to have done at the foundation of Laodicea in Syria, where the walls were dug in the track of the blood of a wild boar, and a virgin named Agave is said to have been sacrificed and a brazen statue erected to her as the fortune of the city. But Dr. Todd emphasises the point that the narrative in Nennius has this distinction, that repeated failures had shown the necessity of some piacular rite wherein it more nearly agrees with the legend of St. Odran (Oran) of Iona. It is quite true that the story of St. Odran's self-sacrifice is unnoticed in Adamnan's Life of Columcille, a story which Bishop Reeves calls "curious and not very creditable." Historic fact, however, has an interest entirely apart from quality of action, the belief has to be accounted for quite apart from what actually happened to St. Odran. It is not possible that any such thing happened in Columcille's following, but the legend points to the popular folk-belief in what was expected to occur.
But the Gaelic 'Life of Columcille' in the Book of Lismore, dating from a late age when legend was more active with Columcille's memory than even the embellishments of Adamnan's age could tolerate, we read how the saint reached Iona on the night of Pentecost. Two bishops who dwelt in the land came to expel him from it. But God revealed to Colomb Cille that they were not bishops in truth.
[paragraph continues] Wherefore they left the island when he told them of their own conclusion and their account. Said Colomb Cille to his household: 1 "It is well for us that our roots should go under the ground here." And he said: "It is permitted to you, that some one of you should go under the earth here or under the mould of the island to consecrate it." Odrán rose up readily and this he said: "If I should be taken," saith he, "I am ready for that." "O Odrán!" saith Colomb Cille, "thou shalt have the reward thereof. No prayer shall be granted to anyone at my grave, unless it is first asked of thee." Then Odrán went to heaven. Colomb founded a church by him afterwards.
This narrative cannot be historical, inasmuch as Odrán is not included in the oldest list of Columcille's companions, and the Annals of the Four Masters record his death in 548 i.e. fifteen years before Columcille came to Hy. Yet the narrative undoubtedly is a piece of folk-belief. It is hard for men to realise that the gods as spoken of in legends really never had actual outward existence, great as is the part they played in the history of man and of mind. The Divine Life was ever perfect and One. And a narrative like this, while not historically true to fact, is historically true as a record of belief, and
points to a possible time when there was an actual basis of fact. I do not know when certain legends arose which detail the story of a beggar woman, who while passing the way at the time was buried alive under the foundation-stone of a Highland manse I know well, along with a live cock. It was believed, and yet the building did not exist at the date specified, although the legend may have been transferred from another building more than a mile away, which latter could have come by this association from a pre-Christian sacred place. In like spirit it is still related that Odrán had offered himself in sacrifice, for the walls of Columcille's first edifice in Iona fell down as soon as built owing to evil agencies. Oran was duly interred alive, and spoke as follows to Colomb Cille who on the third day went to the grave to see how his friend fared, when he was told by St. Oran
[paragraph continues] Shocked by such a speech Colomb Cille called out: ùir, ùir sùil Odhrain! mun labhair e tuille còmhraidh i.e. Earth, Earth, on Oran's eye! lest he talk more. St. Oran was credited with laxer views than Columcille, if we follow the version of his answer which Sheriff Nicolson got from Tiree:
These theologians of Tiree may never have heard of Aristophanes, but their irony reminds one of the passage in The Frogs where, pointing out the difference between the old style of officials and the new, he says that nowadays State offices are filled with the pharmakos or human scape-goat, from which we infer the existence of such similar practices among the Greeks:
To expel a pharmakos or human scape-goat was among the Greeks a symbolic act of purification. If a calamity, a Greek historian tells us, overtook a city, whether it were famine or pestilence, or any other mischief, they led forth, as though to a sacrifice, the most unsightly of them all as a purification and a remedy to the suffering city. They set the sacrifice in the appointed place, and gave him cheese with their hands and a barley cake and figs, and seven times they smote him with leeks and wild figs and other wild plants. Finally they burnt him with fire with the wood of wild trees, and scattered the ashes to the sea and to the winds, for a purification. 1
Later on I shall speak of the Sin-Eater under Funeral-Rites. Here suffice it to say I am reminded of the Gaelic phrase: cuir am mach am Bàs, referring to the expulsion of death in a symbolic act, as is often the case in primitive ritual. Death is symbolised as an old woman or cailleach, who undergoes the process of expulsion by representation. The survival of the ceremony, although the Gaelic phrase is not given, is described in Stewart's Highland Superstitions and Amusements: 1 "Some wiseacre by some lucky chance discovered that at this festive season (Xmas), when the asperity of its character is probably much softened, even relentless death himself can be compromised with on very advantageous terms. By the sacrifice of an old woman, or any other body whom he wished in a better world, and whom, by the following process, he chose to send to it, death was debarred from any farther claim to himself, or his friends, until the return of the next anniversary. He went to the wood this night, fetched home the stump of some withered tree, which he regularly constituted the representative of some person of the description . . . mentioned, and whose doom was inevitably fixed by the process, without resort or appeal. Such a simple mode of obtaining security from a foe whom everybody fears, could not be supposed to fall into desuetude; and the custom is therefore retained, whatever faith may exist as to its utility, in some parts of the country even to this day."
Death as expelled through symbol in the Highlands may be paralleled by the old Greek rite of the
[paragraph continues] 'expulsion of hunger,' which Plutarch speaks of as an ancestral sacrifice. This riddance or expulsion did not amount to a purification ceremony, but was magical. A household slave was beaten with rods of agnus castus—a plant of cathartic quality—and driven outside, with the words, "Out with hunger, in with health and wealth." The nearest thing to this in the Highlands is when, on the occasion of death visiting a house, one who condoles is given the answer at times: Is math nach e’n t-acras thainig, '’tis well it is not Hunger that has visited us.'
Where human life is required for the prevention of an evil we come upon the principle of vicarious sacrifice. Among literary references I note that St. Finnian of Clonard "died on behalf of the people of the Gaels that they might not all die of the Buidhe Chonaill." 1 In the tale of the Expulsion of the Déisi the druid of one of the opposing armies sacrifices himself to secure victory to his own side. 2 Eimíne Bán and forty-nine of his monks vicariously sacrificed themselves by voluntary death in order to save Bran úa Faeláin, King of Leinster, and forty-nine Leinster chiefs from the pestilence which was then desolating Leinster. 3
Of the idea that one must die to secure the
recovery of another a striking instance is given in Leslie Forbes's Early Races of Scotland. When Hector Monro, XVIIth Baron of Fowlis, was ill in 1588, a witch whose amulet-water had proved in vain informed him that he could not recover unless in the words of the indictment, "the principal man of his bluid should die for him." Another authentic instance, that of Hugh Mackay of Halmadary, I have quoted elsewhere. 1 Insane imagination and religious frenzy had transformed a black cock into a satanic spirit. The decision to offer Hugh Mackay's son as a sacrificial victim was prevented by the humanity of a girl who had reason enough left to protect the child: when the roof was taken off the house at the instance of outsiders the spell of madness was broken. Afterwards the Good-Man of Halmadary and his associates showed sincere repentance and shame, as well they might! But the principle on which they went was parallel to the belief which Caesar attributes to the Gauls that unless the life of a man be offered for the life of a man the mind of the immortal gods cannot be propitiated. In Gadhelic verse the Dinnshenchas of Mag Slecht tells of the great idol Cromm Cruaich: "to him they used to offer the firstlings of every issue and the chief scions of every clan." Around him were four times three stone idols (trí hídail chloch fo chethair).
Tradition still faintly whispers of sacrifices at the altar stone of Callernish Temple in Lewis: and there are folk-surmises to say the least as regards some other 'Druid' circles on the mainland. Analogy would point to similar rites as those in honour of Cromm. The poem quoted states that to the coming of Patrick "there was worshipping of stones." 2 Such incidents as have been referred to seem to show that sacrifice is a complex act of offering which embraces commensality and purification with their train of joyous thoughts and acts; giving with a joyous expectation of being given unto; propitiation with the fearsome hope of averting ills; culminating in the case of humanity in the thought of substitution, or life for life. Doubtless
there was much variation over the Celtic areas, while for Gaul Caesar's account 1 holds. "The nation of the Gauls is extremely devoted to superstitious rites; and on that account they who are troubled with unusually severe diseases, and they who are engaged in battles and dangers, either sacrifice men as victims, or vow that they will sacrifice them, and employ the Druids as the performers of those sacrifices, because they think that unless the life of a man be offered for the life of a man the mind of the immortal gods cannot be rendered propitious, and they have sacrifices of that kind ordained for national purposes. Others have figures of vast size; the limbs of which, formed of osiers, they fill with living men, which being set on fire the men perish enveloped in the flames. They consider that the oblation of such as have been taken in theft or in robbery, or any other offence, is more acceptable to the immortal gods; but when a supply of that class is wanting, they have recourse to the oblation of even the innocent."
In a previous chapter Caesar tells that to be interdicted from the sacrifices was among the Gauls a most heavy punishment: "Those who have been thus interdicted are esteemed in the number of the impious and the criminal: all shun them and avoid their society and conversation, lest they receive some evil from their contact; nor is justice administered to them when seeking it, nor is any dignity bestowed on them." 2 Sacrifice was thus a most vital bond. Procopius, 3 in referring to the inhabitants of Thule, relates that they regarded their
first prisoner of war as the best: the victim was hanged from a tree, cast among thorns, or otherwise horribly done to death. Plutarch 1 particularly emphasises that with the Gauls human sacrifices was the most perfect form of sacrifice. This is confirmed by a rite among the Gauls of Massilia (Marseilles) of which we learn from Servius's Commentary on Vergil. 2 As often as there was a pestilence one of the poor offered himself to be hospitably entertained at the public expense and on the choicest of foods for a full year. Thereafter, having been decorated with boughs and raiment such as were used at sacrifices, he was led through the whole city amid execrations that he might take upon himself the sins (mala) of the whole community, and was thus thrown down from a height as a propitiatory sacrifice.
All these observances in Celtic lands hang more or less together in the matter of fundamental ideas. The gods must not be treated with neglect; the right social observances constitute religion, which is a stated carefulness of rites that is the opposite to neglect. The individual must not come empty-handed for the primitive god is often a magnified human chief in his ways; 3 he must know how to appease the angry deity; he may even feel he has to slay the god's human representative, while his vigour has not suffered decay. Whether it be
through the communal-sacrificial meal, or through identification of himself with the nature of the animal offered, or by imitation of such identity as in the case of the man clad in cow-skin, 1 or by human sacrifice, it is only thus that he attains to magic contact with what is taken for divine. The divine touch puts all fear to rest. The essence of sacrifice is contact in the sense that ceremonial contact with sacred objects brings strength. A word may bring one into such contact; to partake of particles of the sacred object begets contact; to place a stone on the cairn where the funeral procession rests brings one into ceremonial contact with the spirit of the deceased, who of old was thought to live on in the body and rest where it rested. Or one may even get into contact with the spirit of the living, as when one makes a vow after missing any article of value that should it be recovered one will give a gift or its equivalent to the saint of the place. This is the West Sutherland rite of putting a shilling (or whatever it be) on a good man. With the element of contact which brings strength there goes the possibility of compulsion or magical control, and hence arises a code of things to be avoided as well as done.
The things proper to be done are positive enactments full of wonder-working power; most of the religious ritual is of this sort, for there is a binding of the object of one's faith, which in Old Irish is iress, 'on-standing,' surviving in modern amharus, i.e. an + iress, 'non-faith or doubt,' and this attitude throughout a series of ceremonial acts is summed up
in the attitude of a supreme act of trust, crābhadh; Old Irish crabud, 'faith,' Cymric crefydd, Sanscrit vi-çrambh, 'trust.' The magic or wonder-working element at the basis of even the most rudimentary cult abides throughout and survives in the highest religion on its ceremonial side where the transition is made to awe. How else can we account for the Gaelic ōrtha, from the Latin orationem, 'prayer,' being now the current word for 'spell': e.g. in speaking of a witch one says: chuir i an ōrth’ ann, i.e. 'she put a magic spell on him.' There is also the native Gadhelic ubaidh, ubag, 'a charm,' Old Irish upta, 'fascination,' Manx obbee, 'sorcery,' all ultimately from a root ba, 'to speak.' Yet prayer in its essence precedes magic. The rudiments of a voice of conscience speak or whisper in the manadh or 'warning,' and of old it was felt that natural signs follow to corroborate a just verdict. Thus we read in Keating, 1 for example: "When Fachtna delivered an unjust judgement, if it was in the autumn he delivered it, the fruit fell to the ground that night in the country in which he was. But when he delivered a just judgement, the fruit remained in full on the trees; or if in the spring he delivered an unjust judgement, the cattle forsook their young in that country. Morann, son of Maon, gave no judgement without having the Morann collar round his neck, and when he gave an unjust judgement the collar grew tight round his neck, and when he gave a just judgement the collar stretched out over his shoulders. . . . And so it was with several
[paragraph continues] Pagan authors, they were subject to geasa (prohibitions, tabus), preventing them from partiality in history or judgement."
Surrounded by so many dangers, it was unavoidable that even in rudimentary religion there should arise a code of what was 'crossed' or forbidden (air a chrosadh), or tabu, not to be lightly approached,—hence a series of negative precepts or prohibitions.
It is forbidden (tha e air a chrosadh) for a young lad or a young woman to sweep out the room in which a corpse has been. This should be done by a woman who is past child-bearing. The idea is that the influence of Death is about and may endanger the potency of the developing life; one is reminded of the practice in the Congo region, where they abstain for a whole year from sweeping out the house where a man has died, lest the dust should offend the ghost; 1 as also of the Albanian custom of refraining on the day of the funeral from sweeping the place where the corpse lay. 2 In the Highlands it is forbidden for a male child to sweep the floor and the hearthstone in a room where a death has just been; 3 the sweepings seem as if in such intimate consecration to the powers of death that there is a danger of injuring the development of virility. Take not the ashes from off the hearth, the old folks used to say; nothing else is so 'blasting' as to wipe the hearth clean. I would
prefer the fire to be alive thereon than not. Others would cast a shower of ashes before them ere entering. That's what the old folks would say: I don't know if they were right, but there were witches since the beginning of the world, and there will be unto the end, so long as the world is a world, 1 according to my authority.
Here is a series of things Taboo which the Rev. A. Macdonald tabulated for the Isle of Eriskay and its neighbourhood: It is not right to throw a comb to a person; do not throw a comb but at thine enemy; 2 it is not right to bury a person on a Friday, nor to kill a sheep on a Friday, nor to cut hair nor pare nails on Friday or Sunday. It is not right to plough on Good Friday, though it is allowable to plant potatoes with a wooden dibble (pleadhag) and to rake the ground with the three-toothed wooden hammer called a rake. It is not right to change residence going from north to south except on Monday, and when going from south to north one should go on Saturday. 3 It is not right to sew clothes on Sunday: no man who has had his clothes stitched on the Lord's Day will walk straight. 4 If a
woman tells you that the new moon is visible, it is not right to go and look at it; when making the frìth, if a woman be seen she is the omen of some untoward event.
It is not right to count the number of teeth in a comb. It means that you are numbering the days of your life.
It is not right to be touching the chain (slabhruidh) over the fire. It is said to be cursed. The devil is called Am fear th’air an t-slabhruidh, 'the man on the chain.' I remember once when there was a talk of a public official leaving the island of Uist that I remarked that he might be replaced by a worse. The reply was: cha’n urrainn gun tig mur a tig an t-slabhruidh a nall buileach = 'such a one could not come unless the chain break entirely.'
There was a man who noticed that his cows ceased suddenly giving milk. He had a strong suspicion that a woman in the neighbourhood was at the bottom of the mischief. He went into her house one day in her absence. He found nobody in but a little innocent child,—the daughter of the woman in question. He asked her if her mother gave her any milk to drink. The child said Yes. Where does your mother get the milk? was the next query. Bhiodh i ga bhleoghainn as an t-slabhruidh = 'she would be drawing it from the chain,' said the child. Siuthad, a ghradhag, dian thusa mar a bhitheas i ’dianamh = 'Come, darling, do you as she is in the habit of doing.' The child did go and the milk came from the chain. The man tore down the chain and took it with him, and the lost toradh, 'milk produce,' returned to him (Anne M‘Intyre). There was a
plant, the torannan or toradan, that was used as being held able to prevent the milk being spirited away.
To recover the toradh filched away. One plan is to go to the house of the party suspected of taking it, and to pull off the roof of his house as much thatch and divot as he can with his two hands, and to proceed home with this. Then a pot is put on the fire and this thatch is thrown gradually on the fire beneath the pot. In the pot is put the little milk that has been left, and the thatch is kept burning under it until it dries up. This brings the toradh back. 1 A male is preferable for the ceremony of the thatch-snatching.
To a person who makes a very brief call and is in a hurry to get away they say: An ann a dhiarraidh teine thàinig thu, i.e. 'is it to seek fire you have come? '
It is not right to mend or stitch clothes while the clothes are on the person. It interferes with the rights of the dead, to whom alone belongs the privilege of having their death linens sewed upon the body (Mary Ann Campbell, 1895).
It is not right (ceart) for a man to cut his own hair or even part of it. Whatever it means the meaning has reference 'to raising the scissors above one's own breath' (togail an t-siosar os cionn analach). Perhaps it refers to cutting the breath of life which is the thread of life (do. do.).
It is not right to return to the meal-chest the leavings of meal that may be on the table when baking (cha’n eil e ceart an fhalaid a thilleadh dha’n chistidh).
It is not right to be humming a song while baking (cha’n eil e ceart a bhi ri gnōdhan orain an am a bhi fuine).
It is not right to leave the band on the spinning-wheel when you are setting it past for the night. The sign of the cross should be made over it.
It is not right to card or spin or work in wool on Saturday night. It is said that a woman who was twisting threads with a spinning jenny on Saturday night had her forefinger and middle finger joined together ever after, these being the fingers that would be used.
It is not right to spin if there be a corpse in the same township.
It is not right to take fire out of a house where there is a child who has not got teeth yet. It is said that the child will never get teeth if the fire be taken away.
It is not right for a woman to comb her hair at night. Every hair that she loses will get entangled about the feet of a relative who is sailing in a ship (cha’n eil gas a dh’fhalbhas asaibh nach bidh dol mu ’chasan duine bhuineas duibh ann san t-saghach 1).
It is not right to lose the buarach or the spancel tie that goes about the cows’ feet at milking time. It is considered by the older people as something holy and venerable. The best are made of horse hair. Some, after milking the cattle, take the ties in
their hands while walking after the cattle and have a fixed spot for hanging them up on their return from driving the cattle out. The reason was that a person finding the tie (buarach) might get the toradh, or produce, of your cattle.
It is not right at milking time if a person passes who is suspected of having the evil eye to answer him even though he addresses you. Your silence, or the animosity signified thereby, has an influence in checking any harm that might come from him.
252:2 Uibhir aig Dia de a chuid.
254:1 A Description of the Western Isles of Scotland, ed. 1716, p. 28.
255:1 Description of the Western Isles, 2nd ed. 1716, p. 89.
255:2 Ib. p. 100.
256:1 Sheila MacDonald in Folk-Lore, 1903, pp. 381-382, 'Old-World Survivals in Ross-shire'; cf. vol. xiii. p. 44.
257:1 Beannachd romham.
258:1 Cf. the ritual of the Terminalia (Ovid's Fasti, 2, 643; 2, 655; also 4, 743-746).
258:2 Srùbhan Mìcheil, also written Strùan.
258:3 Ed. Dinneen, bk. ii. pp. 41-43.
259:1 Carm. Gadelica, i. 204.
260:1 Golden Bough, i. 319-320.
260:2 Sinclair's Statistical Account, xi. 620. The word Beltane, however, has no connection with the Phoenician Baal, but involves the idea of whiteness or brightness from the fires then lit in honour of the sun-god; cf. Lithuanian baltas, 'white,' and the root in Baltic. v. MacBain's Dictionary.
262:1 Sinclair's Statistical Account, xv. 517 n.
263:1 Carm. Gadel. ii. 239.
265:1 As to the man clad in cow-skin, see Ramsay's Scotland and Scotsmen in the Eighteenth Century, ed. 1888, vol. ii. 438; cf. Elton's Origins of English History, 1890, p. 411. The individual essays to assimilate himself with the substance of the victim offered.
266:1 Folk-Lore for 1903, pp. 370-1. For cock-sacrifice in France, v. Sébillot, Le Paganisme Contemprain, p. 202. In the Highland p. 267 asseveration, Ged shlugadh an talamh mi = 'though the earth should swallow me' there is testimony to the sacredness of the earth. A vestige of a similar belief exists in the Breton imprecation rendered: 'Que la terre s’ouvre pour m’engloutir' (ib. 308). The Celtic oath was by the elements, and by the essence of the sun and moon as in Irish, tar brígh gréine is gealaighe.
267:1 Cf. Folk-Lore, xi. p. 446 (text and note 2).
267:2 O. Ir. to-gairm 'invocatio'; Ir. toghairm 'summoning, request, prayer, petition.'
267:3 Other accounts in J. G. Campbell's Superstitions, 304, where he designates it as 'giving his supper to the devil'; Norrie's Loyal Lochaber, p. 247; Armstrong's Gaelic Dictionary; Martin, Western Isles, speaks of another method of Taghairm by wrapping a person in a cow-hide, all but his head. His "invisible friends" would answer his queries.
269:1 Memoir of Colonel John Cameron of Fassifearn, 2nd ed. 1858.
269:2 Ciod air bith a chì no chual’ thu cuir mu’n cuairt an cat.
269:3 J. F. Campbell, MSS. (Adv. Lib.), vol. xiii. p. 368.
270:1 Arnobius, Adv. Nations, ii. 68; Livy, xxii. to. 7; Ovid, Ex Ponta, iv. 4. 31; Servius on Virgil, Georg. ii. 146; Horace, Carm. Seculare, 49.
270:2 Pliny, Nat. Hist. xvi. 250.
270:3 E. Simpson, Folk Lore in Lowland Scotland, p. 27; for burning a living calf to preserve the rest, see Dalyell, Darker Superstitions of Scotland, p. 184; cattle were buried alive and others driven over the spot to arrest mortality (ib. 185-186).
270:4 An Crithreamh Gorm.
271:1 Thuirt seann daoine nam biodh an ceann air a chur far fear dhiubh le aon bhuille claidheamh glan gun stadadh a phlàigh agus nach bàsaicheadh a h-aon tuilleadh dhiubh (from a MÓD Competition Paper of 1907, entitled An Crithreamh Gorm.) The writer adds: Tha fhios againn gun dean luchd-ionnsachaidh an là ’n diu gàire fanoid ris a so, ach tha e nis nas fasa gu mór gaire dheanamh ris na tha e mhíneachadh ciod bu chiall da; co dhiubh cha ghabh e àicheadh nach robh an nì ann oir bha e air ìnnseadh am measg nan coimhearsnach ann san eilean uile, eadhon gus a nis agus bha mac lain Mhic Thearlaich a bha beò gus a bhliadhna 1820 ’ga innseadh do m’athair-sa agus gum fac e an t-agh ’ga thabhairt dhachaigh aig athair air slaod agus an ceann dheth agus gun do ghabh e féin ioghnadh mór do’n chùis ciod a b’aobhar dha gus an d’innis athair dha mar a thachair e. Bha e ag radh mar an ceudna nach d’fhalbh aon do’n chrodh aca tuilleadh.
271:2 For references v. Forbes-Leslie, Early Races of Scotland, p. 85.
271:3 Hastings, Encyclop. of Religion and Ethics, iii. 297.
272:1 Cyneg. xxxiv. 1.
272:2 Top. Hibernica, dist. iii. c. 25. For refutation see Keating's History, Irish Texts Soc. ed. vol. i. p. 23.
273:1 De Bello Gall. vii. 77, vii. 71.
273:2 These are published by the Scottish Texts Society and edited by William Mackay. I quote from the Appendix to Mr. Dixon's book on Gairloch, as being at hand.
273:3 Abercrossan is the old historical form and means the estuary of the River Crossan. The change from r to l is dialectal.
274:1 Afflicted ones or lunatics; founded on Gaelic deireoil 'afflicted,' used in Kirke's Bible (William Mackay).
275:1 The Libellus on St. Cuthbert's virtues, Surtees Society, p. 185.
276:1 Recorded in a lecture by Mr. Alex. Munro, F.S.A., some years ago for Sutherland.
276:2 Trans. Gael. Soc. Inverness, vol. xxvi.
277:1 Rev. K. Macdonald of Applecross, Social and Religious Life in the Highlands, p. 31 (Edinburgh, 1902).
277:2 Trans. Gael. Soc. Inverness, vol. xxv. p. 129.
279:1 Todd's ed. of Nennius, p. 95.
281:1 Is maith dhun ar fremha do dul fon talmain sunn ocus doraidh: As cead duib nech eicin uaibh do dul fon talmain sunn, no fo huir na hinnsi-sea, dia coisecrad. Adracht suas Odrán erlathad ocus is ed adubairt: 'Diamgabthasa' ol se. As erlam leam sin, a Odhrain ar Colomb Cille. Rat-fia a logh. Ni tibirter idge do neoch icom lighise minab fortsa iarfaigter ar tos.' Luid iarom Odran do chum nime. Fothaigis Colum eclais aice iarsin (Stokes' Lives of Saints from Bk. of Lismore, p. 30).
283:1 Tzetzes, quoted in J. Harrison's Prol. to Study of Greek Religion, p. 98.
284:1 Ed. 1851, p. 166.
285:1 Lives of Saints from the Book of Lismore, ed. Stokes, p. 82.
285:2 Cf. Anecdota from Irish MSS. vol. i. p. 23, where we read: Loiscther an dlai-sea, or si, 7 tabarthar bó mael derg duind 7 ní frith an bó. Maith, or an drai dona Deissib. Ragadsa a richt na bó do ma guin ar sairi dom chlaind co brath.
The point is that when the red hornless cow was not forthcoming a Druid of the Déisi says: "Good! I will go in the shape (i.e. instead) of the cow to suffer (lit. to my wounding) in behalf of the liberty of my clan for ever."
285:3 Eriu, iv. 39.
286:1 Norse Influence on Celtic Scotland, p. 70, where one should read N. Hjálmar + G. airigh.
287:1 Trans. by Kuno Meyer, Voyage of Bran, ii. 304.
287:2 Adra for clacha = adhradh air clachaibh; cf. current Highland phrase well known to me: ga innseadh dha na clachan, "telling it to the stones." That arrested the evil spoken of from coming on the person to whom it was mentioned.
288:1 De Bello Gallico, vi. 16; trans. in Bohn's Library.
288:2 Caesar, De Bello Gallico, vi. 13.
288:3 De Bello Gothico, ii. 13.
289:1 De Superstit. 13, p. 171 B.
289:2 Aen. iii. 57, Auri Sacra fames.
289:3 The late Mrs. Mackellar (née Cameron) used to quote the phrase of an old clanswoman who, as she was dying, heard of the return of Locheil, whom she described as: our own great god of the Camerons! Cf. 'the god Mourie,' really St. Maolrubha.
290:1 Ramsay, Scotland and Scotsmen in Eighteenth Century, ii. 438.
291:1 Irish Texts Society ed. vol. iii. p. 35; cf. Bruiden maic Dareo in New Ireland Review, Oct. 1906, p. 101, § 29.
292:1 Bastian, Mensch, ii. p. 323.
292:2 Hahn, Albanesische Studien, i. p. 152.
292:3 Tha e air a chrosadh do leanabh gille an tigh a sguabadh an deigh a bhàis.
293:1 Na toir an luath dhe’n chagailt. Cha’n eil rud eile as gointe an ’chagailt a ghlanadh. Bu doch’ leam-s’ an teine bhi beò ann na’n teine bhi as. Chuireadh feadhainn eile fras luathainn ann mus tigeadh iad a steach. Sin theireadh an t-seann mhuinntir. Chan eil fhios agam-s (prond: chan ’l’ös a’m’s) bheil e ceart. Bha buitsichean ann bho (prond: fo) thoisich (sic) an t-saoghail, ’s bidh gu ’dheireadh fhad’s bhios an saoghal ’na shaoghal.
293:2 Na tilg a chìr ach orra (= air do) nàmhaid. Cf. the comb-symbol on old monuments.
293:3 Imrig Sathurna mu thuath, imrig Luain mu dheas, ’s ged nach biodh agam ach an t-uan ’s ann Di-luain a dh’fhalbhainn leis.
293:4 Cha dian duine ceum comhnard is greim an Dòmhnaich ’na, aodach.
295:1 Other means used were (a) putting milk into an egg-shell: if carried to the house of an evil-doer the milk would curdle; (b) milking three drops from the ewes of the suspected evil-doer; then the useless milk would get all right; (c) boiling the cattle's urine. Trans. Gael. Soc. Inverness, Vol. 26, pp. 50 and 49.
296:1 Localism for soitheach.