Some old Highland customs—Courtship in former times—Marriage
ceremonies—Manner of inviting guests—The bridegroom and the bride—The
procession—Winning the kail—The Marriage feast—The dance — Funeral
customs — Laying out the corpse—The lyke-wake—The coronach—The fiery
cross—A Fasten’s Eve custom—Some Lowland and general customs—Penal
statutes at Galashiels— Peebles to the play—Marriage and kirking customs
again—Family spirits or demons.
SOME OLD HIGHLAND CUSTOMS.
A HIGHLANDER used
formerly never to begin anything of consequence on the day of the week
on which the 3rd of May fell. This day was styled by them La Sheachanna
na bleanagh, or the dismal day.
OLD COURTSHIP CUSTOMS.
The ancient courtship of
the Highlanders had these curious customs attending it. After having
privately obtained the consent of the fair one, the enamoured swain
demanded her of her father. The lover and his friends assembled on a
hill allotted for that purpose in every parish, and one of the latter
was dispatched to obtain permission to wait upon the daughter. If he
proved successful, he was again sent to invite the father and his
friends to ascend the hill and partake of the contents of a whisky cask,
which was never by any chance forgotten.. The lover then advanced, took
his father-in-law by the hand, and plighted his troth, whereupon the
maiden was handed over to him.
OLD MARRIAGE CEREMONIES.
When a young couple
proposed to get married, the nearest relations of both parties met to
take the case into consideration. This ceremony, which was called the
booking or contract, was generally ratified by no other ceremony than a
few bottles of whisky. If the parties came to an understanding, the
lovers were immediately declared bride and bridegroom, and some Tuesday
or Thursday in the growth of the moon was fixed upon tor the celebration
of the nuptials. Meanwhile, to sustain the dignity of the bridal pair,
from motives of policy as well as of state, they selected from their
kinsmen two trustworthy persons each, who were delegated to the
others—the male to protect the "bride from being stolen (a practice once
common), and the female to act as maid of honour.
A few days prior to the
nuptial day the. parties, with their attendants, perambulated the
country inviting the guests, on which occasion they met with marked
attention from old and young. The invitations were all delivered to the
parties in propria persona at the fireside ; and if the wedding was to
be a cheap one, a small present was sometimes offered to and received by
the bride. On the morning of the bridal day, some lady above the
ordinary rank, who had been constituted mistress of the ceremonies for
the day, arrived to deck the bride in her bridal attire, which was as
splendid as ribbons and muslin could make it. The bridegroom was also
provided with a decorator, who adorned him with marriage favours and
other ornaments suited to the occasion.
Meanwhile volleys of
musketry summoned the guests to the wedding. On their arrival they were
invited into the breakfast apartment to partake of the prepared
entertainment. Afterwards they repaired to the bail room. Here the bride
and bridegroom were seated at the upper end of the room, and received
the company. The dancing and mirth were prolonged for some hours.
At the hour appointed the
bridegroom selected a party of young men, who were despatched to summon
the bride and her party to the marriage ceremony. Their approach was
announced by volleys of musketry fired by some of the bride’s men, most
of the guests being furnished with pistols.
Then the bride and her
maidens prepared themselves for the procession. The bride was mounted
upon a steady horse, then drams went round to her health and happiness.
The company being all in readiness, she left the home of her childhood
amid the cheers of the assembled crowd. Marching to the inspiring sound
of bagpipes-and the discharge of musketry, the bride’s party proceeded
to the place appointed for the marriage. The bridegroom’s followed at
some little distance, and when both parties had arrived at the
rendezvous, the bridegroom’s party stood in the rear till the bride’s
party entered the meeting-house, she and her -attendants having the
precedence throughout the day.
During the marriage
ceremony, great care was taken that no dogs passed between the bridal
pair, and particular attention was paid to having the bridegroom’s left
shoe with--out buckle or latchet, in order to prevent witches from
casting their unlucky spells over him and his bride. As soon as the
nuptial knot was tied, the candidates for the honour of “winning the
kail,” as they styled it, drove ofi pell-mell, striving who was to he
the lucky person. Both part ies, now mingling together, proceeded with
boisterous mirth to the bridegroom’s house, the scene of the further
festivities of the night.
A volley of fire-arms
announced the approach of the couple, and soon the bride was assailed by
her well-wishers with the bridal bread and cheese. The newly-married
pair then seated themselves at the upper end of the principal banqueting
table, and the guests were arranged according to their quality round the
other and far-stretching tables. The attendants who waited upon the
guests presented each with a spoon, which he was obliged carefully to
return at the conclusion of the feast. The spoon was followed by the
hardly-contested kail, &c. The dinner being over, the shemit reel was
the next object of attention. All the company assembled on the lawn,
with flambeaux, and formed into a circle. The bridal pair and their
retainers then danced a sixsome reel, each putting a piece of silver
into the musician’s hand. Those wishing to do so, might then succeed and
dance with the bride and the two maids of honour, and were rewarded both
at the commencement and termination of each reel by the usual salutes.
The shemit reel over, the guests re-occupied their seats in the original
order, and dancing and mirth concluded the evening.
OLD FUNERAL CUSTOMS IN THE
At a funeral, a fall
sustained by one of the bearers of the body was considered ominous of
the person’s speedy death. It was also esteemed very unlucky to look at
a person’s funeral from the door of a house or from windows having a
stone lintel. On the death of a Highlander, the corpse being stretched
on a board covered with a linen wrapper, the friends laid on the breast
of the deceased a wooden platter containing a small quantity of salt and
earth, unmixed. The earth was meant as an emblem of the corruptible
body, while the salt was an emblem of the immortal soul. All fire was
extinguished where a corpse was kept, and it was accounted so ominous of
evil for a dog or cat to pass over it that the poor creature was
instantly deprived of life.
THE LYKE- WAKE.
This was a custom
formerly celebrated at funerals. The evening after the death of any
person, the relations and friends of the deceased met at the house,
attended by bagpipes and fiddles. The nearest of kin, be it wife, son,
or daughter, opened a melancholy ball, dancing and crying violently at
the same time. This custom was derived from their northern ancestors. It
continued till daybreak, and wan attended with very unseemly gambols and
frolics amongst the younger portion of the company. If the corpse
remained unburied for two nights, the same rites were continued. In
imitation of the Scythians, the Highlanders rejoiced at their friends’
delivery from the misery of this world.
The Coronach, or singing
at funerals, is still kept up, to some extent, in some parts of the
Highlands. The songs are generally in praise of the deceased, or a
recital of the valiant deeds of his ancestors.
THE FIERY CROSS.
When a chieftain wished
to summon his clan on any sudden or important emergency, he killed a
goat, and, making a cross of light wood, burned its extremities in the
tire, and then extinguished the flames in the animals blood. This was
called the Fiery Cross, also Crectu Toigh, or the Cross of Shame,
because disobedience to what the symbol implied inferred infamy. This
cross was transferred from hand to hand, and sped through the chiefs
territories with incredible velocity. At sight of the Fiery Cross, every
man from 16 to 60 was obliged to repair at once to-the appointed place
of meeting. He who-neglected the summons exposed himself to-the
penalties of fire and sword, which were emblematically denoted by the
bloody and burned marks, upon the fiery herald of woe.
A FASTEN’S EVE CUSTOM.
Fasten’s Eve corresponded
' with Shrove Tuesday. The entertainment peculiar to this night was the
matrimonial brose. This wholesome dish was generally made of the soup of
a jigget of beef or mutton made into brose. Ere ever the soup was put
into the plate, a ring was placed in the meal, which it was the aim of
each partaker to get. Should any of the candidates for matrimony iind
the ring more than once, he might rest assured of his marrying before
the next anniversary. The brose being despatched, the Bannich fun it, or
Sauty Bannocks, were next produced.
PENAL STATUTES AT
Under the somewhat
strange name of penal statutes, there existed in Galashiels the
following kind and friendly old custom. The tenants of the
barony—namely* the farmers — -had, it seems, to pay a penny of line at
the bailie's court every time they “loupit” the laird’s dykes. At
Candlemas, when the tenantry dined at the tavern with the laird, the
pence were regularly paid with the rents, and went towards the defraying
of the reckoning.
PEEBLES TO TEE PLAY.
The ancient and
oft-referred-to town of Peebles is celebrated as being the scene of the
quaint old poem, Christ’s Kirk, ascribed to the royal poet, James I.,
and said to have been composed by him with a view to promote a love of
archery among his subjects.
“At Beltane quhen alle
To Peebles to the play
To hear the singin and the soundis
The solace suth to say.
Be firth and forrest
furth they sound,
They gray that them full gay,
God wot that wold they do that stound,
For it was their first day,
Of Peebles to the play,”
In his poem the author
represents a great annual festival of music, diversions, and feasting
"Was never in Scotland
heard nor sene
Sic dancing and deray,
Nowhir at Falkland on the green
Nor Peebles at the play,”
This festival, which was
attended by all the inhabitants of the south of Scotland, arrayed in
their best apparel, took place In May. The Beltane fires at Peebles must
be considered as the representative of” the ancient play Till about the
middle of last century the annual fair was distinguished by a horse race
and other festivities approaching nearer to the character of the Play
than the mere tryst to 'which it afterwards-degenerated.
OTHER MARRIAGE AND KIRKING
To refer to marriage and
kirking customs again. It was formerly the custom in many parts of
Scotland for the bride, immediately after the wedding, to walk round the
church unattended by the bridegroom. And matrimony was avoided in the
mouths of January and May—
"If you are fond of
proverbs always say,
No lass proves thrifty who is wed in May"
After baptism the first
meat that the company tasted was crowdie, a mixture of meal and water,
or meal and ale. Of this every person took three spoonfuls. The
mother-never set about any work till she had been kirked. In the Church
of Scotland there is-no ceremony observed on such occasions, but in this
Instance the woman, attended by some of her neighbours, entered the
church, sometimes in service time, hut often when it
was empty, went out
again, walked round it, and then returned home. It has happened that
after baptism, the father placed a basket filled with bread and cheese
on the pot-hook that hung suspended over the fire, in the middle of the
room, in which the company were, and the child was handed across the
fire, with the design to frustrate all attempts of evil spirits, or evil
eyes. This custom seems to have been designed as a purification, and was
of idolatrous origin, as the Israelites made their children to pass
through the fire to Moloch.
Almost every Highland and
Lowland family possessing any claims to distinction had in former times
its spirit or demon with its own peculiar attributes. Thus the family of
Rothiomurchus had the Bodach-an-dun or ghost of the hill; Kincardine's,
the spectre of the bloody hand; Gartinberg House was haunted by Bodaoh
Garten; Tulloch Gorm by Mang Mulloch, or the girl with the hairy left
hand. The little spectres called Tarans, or the souls of unbaptised
infants, were, it is said, often seen flitting among woods and secluded
dells, lamenting in soft voices their hard fate. The Macleans of Lochbuv
had their headless horseman, who has been heard in the silence of the
night careering on horseback round the castle ringing his bridle-rein ;
the Ogilvies of Airlie, fairy music; Kincardine Castle had its lady in
green, who-sat weeping beneath a particular tree when the dark shadow of
death hovered near the family of Graham; the house of Forbes of Balmano,
their Lady Green Sleeves, and so on.