The Folk-Lore of the North-East of Scotland
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Pages (PDF): 254
Publication Date: 1881
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This is an ethnographic study of the inhabitants of the North-Eastern area of Scotland in the mid-19th century, at a time when an agrarian, barter economy still prevailed. Life was hard among these remote coastal communities, and they lived in fear of maleficent witches and the 'Evil Eye'. Many of the rituals, taboos and folkways in this book are to ward off witchcraft directed against economic mainstays such as livestock and fishing. Chapters include; Birth; The Child; Baptism; The Nursery; Boy Code Of Honour; About The Human Body; Dreams, Divination, &C; Leechcraft; Evenings At The Fireside; Fairies; Waterkelpie; Ghosts; Witches, and more. Also includes a Glossary.
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ON the occasion of a birth there were present a few of the mother's female friends in the neighbourhood, besides the midwife.
But it was not every woman that was permitted to attend. A woman with child was not allowed to be in the room; and if two women with child happened to be living in the same house when the one felt the pains of labour, they took a straw, or a stalk of grass, or some such thing, and broke it, each repeating the words, "Ye tak yours, an I tak mine." Neither could a woman giving suck seat herself on the edge of the bed of the lying-in woman, from the belief that such an action stopped the flow of the milk of the lying-in woman. If a woman in this condition did do so unwittingly, and the milk ceased, the lying-in mother whose milk had departed had to get secretly the child of her who had been the cause of the disappearance of the milk, and, with the aid of a friend, to pass it under and over her apron to bring back her milk.
While the woman was in labour all locks in the house were undone. One who might enter the house during labour spoke to the woman, and wished God speed to the birth. If the labour was difficult, the first who chanced to enter gave her something, as a little water to moisten the mouth, and there were those whose giving was reputed as of great virtue in easing and hastening the birth. A doctor was called only in cases of danger.
When the child was born there was a feast called the merry meht, part of which was the indispensable cheese, or cryin kebback. In some districts a bannock made of oatmeal, milk, and sugar, and baked in a frying-pan, called the cryin bannock, was served up. Each one present carried off a piece of the cheese to be distributed among friends, and every one who came also to see the mother and baby carried away a piece for the same purpose.
The belief in fairies was universal, and their power was specially dreaded in the case of women in childbed and of unbaptised infants. These beings were believed to have a great liking for human milk, and to be constantly on the watch for opportunities to gratify their liking, which could be done only by carrying off unsained or unchurched mothers. Nor did they show less anxiety to get possession of infants. Every seven years they had to pay "the teind to hell," and this they endeavoured to do by a human being rather than by one of themselves.
On the birth of the child, the mother and offspring were sained, a ceremony which was done in the following manner:--A fir-candle was lighted and carried three times round the bed, if it was in a position to allow of this being done, and, if this could not be done, it was whirled three times round their heads; a Bible and bread and cheese, or a Bible and a biscuit, were placed under the pillow, and the words were repeated, "May the Almichty debar a’ ill fae this umman, an be aboot ir, an bliss ir an ir bairn." When the biscuit or the bread and cheese had served their purpose, they were distributed among the unmarried friends and acquaintances, to be placed under their pillows to evoke dreams.
Among some of the fishing population a fir-candle or a basket containing bread and cheese was placed on the bed to keep the fairies at a distance. A pair of trowsers hung at the foot of the bed had the same effect.
Strict watch was kept over both mother and child till the mother was churched and the child was baptised, and in the doing of both all convenient speed was used. For, besides exposure to the danger of being carried off by the fairies, the mother was under great restrictions till churched. She was not allowed to do any kind of work, at least any kind of work more than the most simple and necessary. Neither was she permitted to enter a neighbour's house, and, had she attempted to do so, some would have gone the length of offering a stout resistance, and for the reason that, if there chanced to be in the house a woman great with child, travail would prove difficult with her.
The Kirk of Scotland has no special service for the churching of women, and churching was simply attending the ordinary service. The mother put on her very best attire, and contrived if possible, however poor, to have a piece of new dress; and generally a larger contribution was given for the poor. On her journey home a neighbour by the wayside took her in, and set before her both food and drink. If the distance from the church and the state of the mother's health delayed the churching too long, she betook herself to the ruins or to the site of some old chapel that chanced to be near, and on that hallowed ground returned thanks to God for his goodness. The site of the chapel of St. Bridget, with its little churchyard and a few nameless stones, near Tomintoul, was the resort of many a mother; and under the dome of Heaven, with the hills for temple walls, and the green grass for a carpet, above the long, long forgotten dead, in a temple not made with hands,
Down in the dreadful dust that once was man,
Dust . . . that once was loving hearts,"
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