Turning Sunways

Nowadays people put Murray or Black, or some similar volume, into their
portmanteau, and set off by rail on what they call a pilgrimage. In
this case the term is a synonym for sight-seeing, usually accomplished
under fairly comfortable conditions. In ancient times pilgrimages were,
as a rule, serious matters with a serious aim. Shakespeare says, in
“Two Gentlemen of Verona”:–

“A true devoted pilgrim is not weary
To measure kingdoms with his feeble steps.”

The object of such journeys was to benefit either soul or body, or
both. The doing of penance, or the fulfilling of a vow, sent devotees
to certain sacred spots, sometimes in distant lands, sometimes within
our own four seas. Cuthbert’s shrine at Durham, where the saint’s body
was finally deposited in 1070, after its nearly two hundred years’
wanderings, was a noted resort of pilgrims in the middle ages, and
many cures were wrought at it. Archbishop Eyre, on the authority of
Reginald of Durham, tells of a certain man of noble birth, belonging
to the south of England, who could not find relief for his leprosy. He
was told to light three candles, and to dedicate them respectively
to St. Edmund, St. Etheldrith, and St. Cuthbert, and to visit the
shrine of the saint whose candle first burned out. The candles were
lighted, and the omen indicated the last-mentioned saint. Accordingly,
he travelled to the north country, and, after various religious
exercises, drew near the shrine of Cuthbert, and was cured. The shrine
in question was known even as far off as Norway. On one occasion,
at least, viz., in 1172, its miraculous aid was sought by an invalid
from that country. A young man of Bergen, who was blind, deaf,
and dumb, had sought relief at Scandinavian shrines for six years,
but in vain. The bishop suggested that he should try the virtue
of an English shrine, and recommended that lots should be cast,
to determine whether it was to be that of St. Edmund, St. Thomas,
or St. Cuthbert. The lot fell to St. Cuthbert. The young man passed
through Scotland to Durham, and returned home cured. The miracle,
doubtless, still further increased the sanctity of the saint’s tomb.

The Cross of Crail, in Fife, had the power of working wonderful
cures; and many were the pilgrims who flocked to it. Aberdour, in the
same county, had more than a local fame. The name of The Pilgrims’
Well there tells its own tale. This well is now filled up, but for
centuries it attracted crowds of pilgrims. In the fifteenth century
the spot was so popular that about 1475, at the suggestion of Sir John
Scott, vicar of Aberdour, the Earl of Morton granted a piece of land
for the erection of an hospital to accommodate the pilgrims. This
hospital was named after St. Martha. It is not certain to whom the
Pilgrims’ Well was dedicated; but Fillan was probably its patron,
as the Rev. Wm. Ross conjectures, in an article on the subject in
the third volume of the “Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries
of Scotland.” The church of Aberdour was dedicated to the saint in
question; and the well was near the old churchyard.

Ninian’s shrine at Whithorn was the scene of various miracles during
the middle ages. In 1425 James the First granted a safe-conduct to all
strangers, coming to Scotland to visit it; and James the Fourth made a
pilgrimage to it once a year, and sometimes oftener. “It is likely,”
remarks the Rev. Daniel Conway in an article on consecrated springs
in the south-west of Scotland, “that the spots in Wigtownshire, where
Holy Wells were, marked the route pursued by pilgrims bent on doing
homage to the relics of St. Ninian at Whithorn.” Whithorn was not
the only shrine visited by James the Fourth. He went repeatedly on
pilgrimage to St. Andrews, Dunfermline, and Tain, and left offerings
at the shrines of their respective saints. When on pilgrimage the king
was usually accompanied by a large retinue, including a company of
minstrels. He liked to have his dogs and hawks with him too, to have
a little hunting by the way.

St. Kentigern’s Well, in the so-called crypt of Glasgow Cathedral,
has already been mentioned. In the immediate neighbourhood is the
spot believed to mark the last resting place of the saint. Till the
Reformation his shrine attracted crowds of pilgrims. On special
occasions his relics were displayed, including his bones, his
hair shirt, and his scourge, and a red liquor that flowed from his
tomb. These, along with other relics belonging to the cathedral, were
taken to France by Archbishop Beaton in 1560. In the ancient parish
of Dundurcus, Elginshire, not far from the river Spey, once stood the
Chapel of Grace, and close to it was a well of the same name. The place
was a favourite resort of pilgrims. Lady Aboyne went to it once a year,
a distance of over thirty miles, and walked the last two miles of the
way on her bare feet. In 1638 an attempt was made to put a stop to
the pilgrimages, by destroying what then remained of the chapel. The
attempt, however, seems to have been fruitless, for in 1775, Shaw, the
historian of Moray, mentions that to it “multitudes from the western
isles do still resort, and nothing short of violence can restrain their
superstition.” In 1435, when Æneas Silvius (afterwards Pope Pius the
Second) was sailing from the low countries to Scotland on a political
mission, he was twice overtaken by a storm, and was in such danger
that he vowed to make a pilgrimage, should he escape drowning. At
length he reached the Haddingtonshire coast in safety, and, to fulfil
his vow, set off barefoot, over ice-covered ground, to Whitekirk,
ten miles away, where there were a chapel and well, dedicated to the
Virgin. The journey left its mark on the pilgrim, for we are told
that he had aches in his joints ever afterwards. St. Adrian’s Chapel,
in the Isle of May, in the Firth of Forth, had a great reputation
before the Reformation. The island has still its Pilgrims’ Haven,
and its Pilgrims’ Well close by.

Archæology bears witness to the popularity of pilgrimages in former
times. Between Moxley Nunnery, in Yorkshire, and St. John’s Well,
about a mile away, are the remains of a causeway, laid down for
the convenience of devotees. At Stenton, in Haddingtonshire, near
the road leading to Dunbar, is the well of the Holy Rood, covered
by a small circular building with a conical roof. The well is now
filled up. Its former importance is indicated by the fact that the
pathway between it and the old church, some two hundred yards off,
had a stone pavement, implying considerable traffic to and from the
spring. In the quiet Banffshire parish of Inveraven, is a spring,
at Chapelton of Kilmaichlie, near the site of an ancient chapel. The
spring is now almost forgotten, but its casing of stone shows that,
at one time, it was an object of interest in the neighbourhood.

The author of “Marmion,” when describing the arrival, at Lindisfarne,
of the bark containing St. Hilda’s holy maids from Whitby, has the
following picturesque lines:–

“The tide did now its flood-mark gain,
And girdled in the saint’s domain:
For, with the flow and ebb, its style
Varies from continent to isle;
Dry-shod, o’er sands, twice every day,
The pilgrims to the shrine find way;
Twice, every day, the waves efface
Of staves and sandalled feet the trace.”

Towards the end of the same poem, in connection with the Lady
Clare’s quest of water for the dying Marmion, we find the following
reference:–

“Where shall she turn?–behold her mark
A little fountain cell,
Where water, clear as diamond-spark,
In a stone basin fell!
Above, some half-worn letters say,
‘Drink . weary . pilgrim . drink . and . pray .
For . the . kind . soul . of . Sybil . Grey .
Who . built . this . cross . and . well.'”

In England, during the middle ages, there were various attempts
to regulate the custom of making pilgrimages to wells. A canon of
King Edgar, of date 963, prohibited the superstitious resorting to
fountains, and in 1102, one of the canons of St. Anselm permitted
only such wells to be visited as were approved of by the bishop. In
Scotland, vigorous efforts were made, after the Reformation, to
abolish the practice. Both Church and State combined to bring about
this result. In an Act of Parliament, of date 1581, allusion is made
to the “pervers inclination of mannis ingyne to superstitioun through
which the dregges of idolatrie yit remanis in divers pairtis of the
realme be useing of pilgrimage to sum chappellis, wellis, croces, and
sic other monumentis of idolatrie, as also be observing of the festual
dayis of the santes sumtyme namit their patronis in setting forth of
bain fyres, singing of caroles within and about kirkes at certane
seasones of the yeir.” In 1629 the practice was sternly forbidden
by an edict from the Privy Council. In connection with this edict,
Dalyell remarks, “It seems not to have been enough that congregations
were interdicted from the pulpit preceding the wonted period of resort,
or that individuals, humbled on their knees, in public acknowledgment
of their offence, were rebuked or fined for disobedience. Now, it
was declared that, for the purpose of restraining the superstitious
resort, ‘in pilgrimages to chappellis and wellis, which is so
frequent and common in this kingdome, to the great offence of God,
scandall of the kirk, and disgrace of his Majesteis government;
that commissioners cause diligent search at all such pairts and
places where this idolatrous superstitioun is used, and to take and
apprehend all suche persons of whatsomever rank and qualitie whom
they sall deprehend going in pilgrimage to chappellis and wellis,
or whome they sall know thameselffes to be guiltie of that cryme,
and to commit thame to waird, until measures should be adopted for
their trial and punishment.'” Prior to the date of the above edict the
Privy Council had not been idle, crowds of people were in the habit
of making a pilgrimage on May Day to Christ’s Well, in Menteith,
where they performed certain superstitious rites. Accordingly, in
1624, a Commission was issued to a number of gentlemen belonging
to the district instructing them to station themselves beside the
well, to apprehend the pilgrims and to remove them to the Castle of
Doune. Even such measures did not cause the practice to cease.

In 1628 several persons were accused before the kirk-session of Falkirk
of going in pilgrimage to the well in question, and being found guilty,
were ordered to appear in church three appointed Sundays, clad in the
garb of penitents. The same year the following warning was issued by
the aforesaid kirk-session:–“It is statute and ordained that if any
person or persons be found superstitiously and idolatrously, after
this, to have passed in pilgrimage to Christ’s Well, on the Sundays of
May to seek their health, they shall repent in sacco and linen three
several Sabbaths, and pay twenty lib. (Scots) toties quoties for ilk
fault; and if they cannot pay it the baillies shall be recommended
to put them in ward, and to be fed on bread and water for aught days.”

Scottish ecclesiastical records, indeed, bear ample testimony to the
zeal displayed by the Church in putting a stop to such visits. In his
“Domestic Annals of Scotland,” Chambers gives the following picture
of what was done by the kirk-session of Perth. The example shows the
lines usually followed in connection with such prosecutions:–“At
Huntingtower there was a well, the water of which was believed to
have sanative qualities when used under certain circumstances. In May,
1618, two women of humble rank were before the kirk-session of Perth,
‘who, being asked if they were at the well in the bank of Huntingtower
the last Sabbath, if they drank thereof, and what they left at it,
answered, that they drank thereof, and that each of them left a prin
(pin) thereat, which was found to be a point of idolatrie in putting
the well in God’s room.’ They were each fined six shillings, and
compelled to make public avowal of their repentance.” In the parish
of Nigg, Kincardineshire, is St. Fittack’s or St. Fiacre’s Well,
situated close to the sea. It is within easy reach of Aberdeen across
the Dee. Many a visit was paid to it by the inhabitants of that burgh,
from motives of superstition. The Aberdeen kirk-session, however, did
its duty in the matter, and repeatedly forbade such visits. In 1630,
“Margrat Davidson, spous to Andro Adam, was adjudget in ane unlaw of
fyve poundis to be payed to the collector for directing hir nowriss
with hir bairne to Sanct Fiackres Well, and weshing the bairne tharin
for recovirie of hir health; and the said Margrat and hir nowriss
were ordainit to acknowledge thair offence before the Session for
thair fault, and for leaveing ane offering in the well.” The saint,
to whom the well was dedicated, is believed to have migrated from
Scotland to France early in the seventh century, and to have been
held in much esteem there. From Butler’s “Lives of the Saints” we
get the curious information that “the name fiacre was first given
to hackney coaches, because hired carriages were first made use
of for the convenience of pilgrims who went from Paris to visit
the shrine of this saint.” A well at Airth, in Stirlingshire, was
for long a centre of attraction. What was done there may be learned
from some entries in the local kirk-session records quoted in Hone’s
“Every-Day Book”:–“Feb. 3, 1757. Session convenit. Compeared Bessie
Thomson, who declairit schoe went to the well at Airth, and that
schoe left money thairat and after the can was fillat with water,
they keepit it from touching the ground till they cam hom.” “February
24th.–Compeired Robert Fuird, who declared he went to the well of
Airth and spoke nothing als he went, and that Margrat Walker went
with him, and schoe said ye belief about the well, and left money and
ane napkin at the well, and all was done at her injunction.” “March
21.–Compeired Robert Ffuird who declairit yat Margrat Walker went to
ye well of Airth to fetch water to Robert Cowie, and when schoe com
thair schoe laid down money in God’s name, and ane napkin in Robert
Cowie’s name.” The session ordered the delinquents to be admonished.

Years went on, and modes of thought gradually changed. Church and
State alike began to respect the liberty of the subject. Though visits
continued to be paid to holy wells, they ceased to be reckoned as
offences. People might still resort to the spots, so familiar to
their ancestors, and so much revered by them; but they no longer
found themselves shut up in prison, or made to do penance before the
whole congregation. Old customs continued to hold sway, though less
stress was laid on the superstitions, lying behind them. Thus it
came to pass, that pilgrimages to holy wells became more and more
an excuse for mirthful meetings among friends. This was specially
true of Craigie Well, in the parish of Avoch, in the Black Isle of
Cromarty. The time for visiting the spring was early in the morning
of the first Sunday in May. The well was situated near Munlochy Bay,
a few yards above high-water-mark, and gets its name from the crags
around. A correspondent of Chambers’s “Book of Days” thus describes
what he saw and heard:–“I arrived about an hour before sunrise, but
long before, crowds of lads and lasses from all quarters were fast
pouring in. Some, indeed, were there at daybreak who had journeyed
more than seven miles. Before the sun made his appearance, the whole
scene looked more like a fair than anything else. Acquaintances
shook hands in true Highland style, brother met brother, and sister
met sister, while laughter and all kinds of country news and gossip
were so freely indulged in, that a person could hardly hear what
he himself said.” Amid all the stir and bustle the spring itself
was not neglected, for everyone took care to have a drink. Some used
dishes, while others, on hands and knees, sucked up the water with the
mouth. These latter were now and again ducked over head and ears by
their acquaintances, who much enjoyed the frolic. No one went away
without leaving a thread, or patch of cloth on a large briar bush
near the spring. Besides St. Fittack’s Well, there is another in
Nigg parish called Downy Well. It used to be resorted to in May, by
persons who drank the water, and then crossed by a narrow neck of land,
called The Brig of a’e Hair, to Downy Hill–a green headland in the
sea–where they amused themselves by carving their names in the turf.

Brand, in his “Popular Antiquities,” gives the following particulars
about a custom that still prevailed in Cumberland, when he wrote
about forty years ago:–“In some parts of the North of England it
has been a custom from time immemorial for the lads and lasses of
the neighbouring villages to collect together at springs or rivers,
on some Sunday in May, to drink sugar and water, where the lasses gave
the treat: this is called “Sugar and Water Sunday.” They afterwards
adjourn to the public-house, and the lads return the compliment in
cakes, ale, punch, &c. A vast concourse of both sexes assemble for
the above purpose at the Giant’s Cave, near Eden Hall in Cumberland,
on the third Sunday in May.”

We do not know whether sacred dramas were ever performed beside
Scottish springs; but Stow informs us that the parish clerks of London
made an annual pilgrimage to Clark’s Well, near the Metropolis,
“to play some large history of Holy Scripture.” He also mentions
that a Miracle Play, lasting eight days, was performed at Skinner’s
Well in the time of Henry the Fourth. South of the Tweed, springs
were often the scenes of festivity. Thus, to take only one example,
we find that pilgrims to St. Margaret’s Well, at Wereham in Norfolk,
were in the habit, in pre-Reformation days, of regaling themselves with
cakes and ale, and indulging in music and dancing. What occurred in
Ireland down to the beginning of the present century may be gathered
from a passage in Mason’s “Statistical Account of Ireland” reprinted
in the “Folklore Journal” for 1888. After referring to religious
assemblies at Holy Wells the writer remarks:–“At these places are
always erected booths or tents as in Fairs for selling whisky, beer,
and ale, at which pipers and fiddlers do not fail to attend, and the
remainder of the day and night (after their religious performances
are over and the priest withdrawn) is spent in singing, dancing, and
drinking to excess…. Such places are frequently chosen for scenes of
pitched battles, fought with cudgels by parties not only of parishes
but of counties, set in formal array against each other to revenge
some real or supposed injury.” In Roman Catholic districts of Ireland,
what are called patrons, i.e., gatherings in honour of the patron
saints of the place, are still popular. From an article on “Connemara
Folklore,” by G. H. Kinahan, in the “Folklore Journal” for 1884, we
learn that a consecrated spring at Cashla Bay has, beside it, a large
conical mound of sea-shells. These are the remains of the shell-fish
forming the food of the pilgrims during the continuance of the patron,
and cooked by them on the top of the mound. Last century, in Ireland,
the custom of carrying the water of famous wells to distant parts, and
there selling it, was not unknown. A correspondent of the “Gentleman’s
Magazine” mentions that about 1750 this was done in connection with a
miraculous spring near Sligo; and that, some years earlier, the water
of Lough Finn was sold in the district, where he lived, at sixpence,
eightpence, and tenpence per quart, according to the different success
of sale the carriers had on the road. A thatched cottage stood close
to the site of St. Margaret’s Well at Restalrig, and was inhabited
by a man who carried the water of the spring to Leith for sale.

Mr. William Andrews, in his “Old Time Punishments,” tells of booths
having been set up beside a Lincolnshire gibbet in 1814, to supply
provisions for the crowds who came to see a murderer hanging in
chains there. Less gruesome were the fairs at one time held in the
neighbourhood of springs, though even they had certain unpleasant
concomitants, which led in the end to their discontinuance. In
the united parish of Dunkeld and Dowally is Sancta Crux Well, at
Crueshill. Till towards the middle of the present century, it was such
a popular resort, that tents were set up and refreshments sold to
the pilgrims. Alcohol was so freely partaken of that drunken brawls
often ensued, and right-minded people felt that the gathering would
be more honoured in the breach than in the observance. St. Fillan’s
Fair, at Struan, took place on the first Friday after New Year’s
Day (O.S.). It was held on a spot close to the church, and not far
from St. Fillan’s Well. It is now discontinued, but its stance is
still known as Croft-an-taggart, i.e., The Priest’s Croft. The Well
Market, now held at Tomintoul, in Kirkmichael parish, Banffshire, but
formerly beside Fergan Well, has already been referred to. Writing
in April, 1892, a correspondent, who has resided in the parish for
nearly half-a-century, mentions the following particulars concerning
the spring:–“The healing virtue of its water is still believed in,
especially on the first Sunday of May, when parties still gather and
watch the arrival of Sunday morning with special care, many of them
remaining there the whole night and part of the Sabbath. Whoever first
washes in the water or drinks of it is cured of any disease or sore
with which they may be troubled.” Our correspondent adds:–“The annual
market of the district was held at Fergan Well, and the foundations of
the tents or booths where goods were sold are still visible: and very
probably there was a kind of mountain dew partaken of stronger than
the water that now flows from Fergan Well.” We shall have something
more to say about fairs in the next chapter.

Though modern enlightenment has not entirely abolished the practice
of resorting to consecrated springs, it has, as a rule, produced a
desire for secrecy on the part of the pilgrims. When superstitious
motives are absent, and springs are visited merely from curiosity
or love of frolic, there is no sense of shame, and hence no need for
concealment. But when the pilgrims regard the practice as a magical
rite, they usually prefer to keep the rest of the world in the dark
as to their doings. Sir Arthur Mitchell truly remarks in his “Past in
the Present”–“It is well enough understood that the business is not
a Christian one, and that the engaging in it is not a thing which it
would be easy to justify. There is a consciousness that it has not been
gone about as an empty, meaningless ceremony, but that it has involved
an acknowledgment of a supernatural power controlling human affairs
and influenced by certain rites and offerings–a power different
from that which is acknowledged by Christians. Hence it happens that
there is a difficulty in getting people to confess to these visits,
and, of course, a greater difficulty still in getting them to speak,
freely and frankly, about the feelings and beliefs which led to them.”

In his “Scottish Markets and Fairs” Sir J. D. Marwick
observes:–“Simple home needs, such as plain food and clothing,
articles of husbandry, and other indispensable appliances of life gave
rise to markets held at frequent fixed times, at suitable centres. But
as society grew and artificial needs sprung up, these could only be
met by trade; and trade on anything beyond a very limited scale was
only then practicable at fairs. Wherever large numbers of persons
were drawn together, at fixed times, for purposes of business or
religion or pleasure, an inducement was offered to the merchant or
pedlar, as well as to the craftsman, to attend, and to provide by
the diversity and quality of his wares for the requirements of the
persons there congregated.” In the last chapter allusion was made
to such gatherings in connection with springs. We shall now look at
the dates when they were held, in order to trace their connection
with nature-festivals. Fairs, as distinguished from markets, were of
comparatively rare occurrence at any given place. In the majority of
instances, they can be traced back to some gathering held in connection
with what were originally holy days, and afterwards holidays. Such
holy days commemorated a local saint, the fame of whose sanctity
was confined to more or less narrow limits, or one whom Christendom
at large delighted to honour; or, again, a leading event in sacred
or legendary history deemed worthy of a place in the ecclesiastical
year. A few dates when fairs are, or were held at various Scottish
centres may be selected from Sir J. Marwick’s list. At Abercorn
they were held on Michaelmas and St. Serf’s Day; at Aberdeen,
on Whitsunday, Holy Trinity, Michaelmas, and St. Nicholas’s Day;
at Charlestown of Aboyne, on Candlemas, Michaelmas, and Hallowmas;
at Annan, on Ascension-day and Michaelmas; at Ayr, on Mid-summer and
Michaelmas; at Biggar, on Candlemas and Mid-summer; at Clackmannan,
on St. Bartholomew’s Day; at Cromdale, on St. Luke’s Day, St. Peter’s
Day, Michaelmas, and St. George’s Day; at Culross, on St. Serf’s Day,
Martinmas, and St. Matthew’s Day; at Dalmellington, on Fastern’s
E’en and Hallow E’en; at Dalmeny, on St. John the Baptist’s Day and
St. Luke’s Day; at Doune, on Martinmas, Yule, Candlemas, Whitsunday,
Lammas, and Michaelmas; at Dumbarton, on Patrickmas, Mid-summer, and
Lammas; at Fraserburgh, on St. John the Baptist’s Day and Michaelmas;
at Fyvie, on Fastern’s Eve, St. Peter’s Day, and St. Magdalene’s Day;
at Hamilton, on St. Lawrence’s Day and Martinmas; at Inveraray, on
Michaelmas and St. Brandane’s Day; at Stranraer, on St. Barnabas’ Day
and Lammas. Among the fairs at Auchinblae were Pasch Market in April,
and one called May Day to be held on the 22nd of that month. This
series might be indefinitely enlarged; but as it stands it shows that
the leading nature-festivals, such as Yule, Easter, Whitsuntide,
Mid-summer, Michaelmas, and Hallowmas have a prominent place among
the dates selected. An examination of Sir J. Marwick’s list further
shows that the dates of fairs were often fixed, not with reference
to any particular holy day, but to some day of a particular month,
such as the second Tuesday, or the third Thursday. Many of these
occur in May. In ancient documents–in Acts of Parliaments, for
instance–dates were commonly fixed by a reference to holy days. In
Presbyterian Scotland such a method of marking time is not now in
fashion, though some relics of the practice survive. We are still
familiar with Whitsunday and Martinmas as term-days, but how few now
ever think of them as ecclesiastical festivals!

The meaning of customs associated with the various holy days
has come to be duly recognised by the student of ecclesiastical
antiquities. While the Christian year was being evolved in
the course of centuries, certain festivals were introduced,
as one might say, arbitrarily, i.e., without being linked to any
pre-Christian usages. From the point of view of Church celebrations,
they have not the same significance as those others that received,
as their heritage, certain rights in vogue before the spread of
Christianity. In other words, the leading pagan festivals had a new
meaning put into them, and, when adopted by the Church, were exalted
to a position of honour. In virtue of this, the ecclesiastical year
was correlated to the natural year, with its varying seasons and its
archaic festivals. There is no doubt that in early times the Church
sought to win nations from paganism by admitting as many of the old
customs as were deemed harmless. We have seen how this was effected in
the case of fountains, as shown by Columba’s exorcism of the demons
inhabiting springs. The same principle prevailed all round. The old
Saturnalia of the Romans, for instance, became the rejoicings of
Christmas. To the distinctively Christian aspects of the festival we
do not, of course, allude, but to the customs still in vogue at the
Yule season; and these are nothing more than a revised edition of the
old pagan rites. Among other Aryan peoples the winter solstice was
also commemorated by similar merry-makings. Church festivals, such
as Candlemas, Easter, St. John’s Day, St. Peter’s Day, Michaelmas,
Hallowmas, Christmas, &c., absorbed many distinctive features of the
old pagan fire-festivals, held in connection with the changes of the
seasons. The kindling of fires out of doors, on special occasions,
is familiar to all of us. They may be called modern folk-customs; but
their origin is ancient enough to give them special significance. Even
to the present time, twinkling spots of light may be seen along the
shores of Loch Tay on Hallow E’en, though the mid-summer fires do not
now blaze on our Scottish hills, as they continue to do in Scandinavia
and elsewhere. Among the Bavarian Highlands these mid-summer fires are
popularly known as Sonnenwendfeuer, i.e., solstice-fires. That they
are so called and not St. John’s fires (though lighted in connection
with his festival) is significant. In Brittany a belief prevailed
that if a girl danced nine times round one of the St. John’s fires
before midnight she would be married within the year.

The most important fire-festival in Scotland was that of Beltane
at the beginning of May. It was celebrated generally throughout our
land. To the south of the Forth several sites are known to have been
specially associated with Beltane fires. In Lanarkshire two such
sites were, the hills of Tinto and Dechmont. Tinto, indeed, means
the hill of fire. It was used for beacon-fires as well as for those
connected with nature-festivals, and was well adapted for the purpose,
being 2335 feet above the sea, and 1655 feet above the Clyde at its
base. Though not nearly so high, Dechmont hill commands a splendid view
over the neighbouring country. Early in the present century a quantity
of charcoal was discovered near its summit hidden beneath a stratum
of fine loam. The country people around expressed no surprise at the
discovery, as they were familiar with the tradition that the spot had
been used for the kindling of Beltane fires. In Peeblesshire, too,
the Beltane festival long held its ground. In the fifteenth century
the town of Peebles was the scene of joyous May Day gatherings. From
far and near, holiday-makers, dressed in their best, came together
to join in the Beltane amusements. Who has not heard of the poem,
“Peblis to the Play,” attributed to King James the First? The play
consisted of a round of rural festivities–archery and horse-racing
being the chief recreations. Pennant gives a minute account of Beltane
rites as practised about 1772. “On the first of May the herdsmen
of every village hold their Bel-tein, 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, oat-meal, 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 begin 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, or 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.”

An examination of the dates when fire-festivals were held shows that
they had a distinct connection with the sun’s annual cycle. When
several leading Church festivals fell to be observed about the same
time of the year, they had often some features in common. Thus the
pagan mid-summer festival had as its lineal successor, not only
St. John’s Day (24th June), but St. Vitus’s Day and St. Peter’s Day,
respectively the fifteenth and the twenty-ninth of the same month. The
kindling of fires was a feature of all three. Mediæval fire-festivals
were thus the gleanings of rites derived from archaic sun-worship.

The question arises, what connection was there between the custom and
the cult? Mr. J. G. Frazer, in his “Golden Bough,” has collected a
variety of facts which go to show that the lighting of these fires
was primarily intended to ensure the shining of the sun in the
heavens. Mr. Frazer thus sums up the evidence: “The best general
explanation of these European fire-festivals seems to be the one
given by Mannhardt, namely, that they are sun-charms or magical
ceremonies intended to ensure a proper supply of sunshine for men,
animals, and plants. Savages resort to charms for making sunshine,
and we need not wonder that primitive man in Europe has done the
same. Indeed, considering the cold and cloudy climate of Europe
during a considerable part of the year, it is natural that sun-charms
should have played a much more prominent part among the superstitious
practices of European peoples than among those of savages who live
nearer the equator. This view of the festivals in question is supported
by various considerations drawn partly from the rites themselves,
partly from the influence which they are believed to exert upon the
weather and on vegetation.” After alluding to certain sun-charms,
Mr. Frazer continues, “In these the magic force is supposed to take
effect through mimicry or sympathy; by imitating the desired result
you actually produce it; by counterfeiting the sun’s progress through
the heavens you really help the luminary to pursue his celestial
journey with punctuality and despatch…. The influence which these
bonfires are supposed to exert on the weather and on vegetation goes
to show that they are sun-charms, since the effects ascribed to them
are identical with those of sunshine. Thus, in Sweden, the warmth or
cold of the coming season is inferred from the direction in which the
flames of the bonfire are blown; if they blow to the south it will
be warm, if to the north, cold. No doubt at present the direction of
the flames is regarded merely as an augury of the weather, not as a
mode of influencing it. But we may be pretty sure that this is one
of the cases in which magic has dwindled into divination.” Hence a
good supply of light and heat is not only foretold, but guaranteed.

The view that these fires were reckoned mock-suns is confirmed by
the custom, at one time common, of carrying lighted brands round
the fields to ensure their fertility. Blazing torches were thus
carried in Pennant’s time in the middle of June. Martin refers to
the carrying of fire in the Hebrides. “There was an antient custom
in the Island of Lewis to make a fiery circle about the houses, corn,
cattle, &c., belonging to each particular family. An instance of this
round was performed in the village Shadir, in Lewis, about sixteen
years ago (i.e., circa 1680), but it proved fatal to the practiser,
called MacCallum; for, after he had carefully performed this round,
that very night following he and his family were sadly surprised,
and all his houses, corn, cattle, &c., were consumed with fire. This
superstitious custom is quite abolished now, for there has not been
above this one instance of it in forty years past.” Till a later
date in Lewis, fire continued to be carried round children before
they were baptised, and round mothers before they were churched,
to prevent evil spirits from doing harm.

Burghead, in Elginshire, is still the scene of an annual fire-festival,
celebrated on the last day of the year (O.S.). It is locally known as
the burning of the clavie. On the afternoon of the day in question,
careful preparations are made for the ceremony. A tar barrel is sawn
across, and of it the clavie is made. A pole of firwood is stuck
through the barrel, and held in its place by a large nail driven in by
a stone, no hammer being used. The clavie is then filled with tar and
pieces of wood. After dark these combustibles are kindled, according to
ancient practice, by a burning peat from a neighbouring cottage. The
clavie is then lifted by one of the men and carried through the
village amid the applause of the inhabitants. Notwithstanding the
risk from the burning tar, the possession of the clavie, while on its
pilgrimage, is eagerly coveted. In former times, a stumble on the
part of the bearer was counted unlucky for himself personally, and
for the village as a whole. After being borne about for some time, the
still blazing clavie is placed on an adjacent mound called the Doorie,
where a stone column was built some years ago for its accommodation. A
hole in the top of the column receives the pole. There the clavie is
allowed to burn for about half-an-hour, when it is thrown down the
slope of the mound. The burning fragments are eagerly snatched up
and carried away by the spectators. These fragments were formerly
kept as charms to ensure good fortune to their possessors. In the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Church discountenanced the
burning of the clavie as idolatrous and sinful, and certain penalties
were threatened against all who took part in it. The antiquity of
the custom may be inferred from the fact, that two hundred years
ago it was called old. At that time lights were carried round the
boats in the harbour, and certain other ceremonies were performed,
all pointing to a pagan origin. Formerly the custom was in vogue,
not only at Burghead, but at most of the fishing villages along the
Morayshire coast. The object in every case was the same, viz., the
blessing of the boats to ensure a good fishing season.

A singular survival of sun-worship is to be found in the use of a fiery
circle as a curative agent. In the volume of the “Proceedings of the
Society of Antiquaries of Scotland” for 1889-90, the Rev. Dr. Stewart
of Nether Lochaber recounts a recent instance of its use in the
Highlands. A dwining child, a year and a half old, was pronounced by a
“wise woman” of the district to be suffering from the effects of an
“evil eye.” The rite, called in Gaelic, Beannachd-na-Cuairte, i.e.,
“Blessing of the Circle,” was accordingly resorted to. A straw rope was
wound round the greater part of an iron hoop, and, oil being applied,
the whole was set on fire. The hoop was then held vertically, and
through the blazing circle the child was passed and repassed eighteen
times to correspond to the months of its life. The blazing hoop was
then extinguished in a neighbouring burn. The result was in every
way to the satisfaction of the child’s relatives. In the same article
Dr. Stewart gives an account, sent to him by a friend, of a similar
superstition common in Wigtownshire till about half-a-century ago. In
this case, the healing influence came through the channel of the iron
tire of a new cart wheel. After fire had been applied to it to make
it fit the wheel, the tire was passed over the head of the patient,
who was thus placed in the middle of a glowing circle.

So much for the traces of sun-worship in rites connected with
fire. There are traces of it also in certain folk-customs, at one
time common, and not yet extinct. Highlanders were formerly in the
habit of taking off their bonnets to the rising sun. Akin to this is
the feeling underlying the Venetian expedition to the Lido, annually
repeated in July, when thousands cross to that island at dawn, and
utter a loud shout when the sun rises above the horizon. In cases
where sun-worship is a national cult we naturally expect it to
have a marked influence on the sacred customs and architecture of
its votaries. One example will suffice. In his “Pre-historic Man,”
Sir Daniel Wilson thus describes the great annual festival of the
Peruvians, held at the summer solstice:–“For three days previous,
a general fast prevailed; the fire on the great altar of the sun went
out, and in all the dwellings of the land no hearth was kindled. As
the dawn of the fourth day approached, the Inca, surrounded by his
nobles, who came from all parts of the country to join in the solemn
celebration, assembled in the great square of the capital to greet
the rising sun. The temple of the national deity presented its eastern
portal to the earliest rays, emblazoned with his golden image, thickly
set with precious stones, and as the first beams of the morning were
reflected back from this magnificent emblem of the god of day, songs
of triumph mingled with the jubilant shout of his worshippers. Then,
after various rites of adoration, preparations were made for rekindling
the sacred fire. The rays of the sun, collected into a focus by a
concave mirror of polished metal, were made to inflame a heap of
dried cotton; and a llama was sacrificed as a burnt offering to the
sun.” Even after sun-worship has ceased to be a national cult, we
find it continuing to regulate the position of buildings, devoted to
a totally different worship. In this way what is commonly styled the
“orientation” of Christian churches can be accounted for. Indeed,
so much had the sun to do with churches, that when one was built in
honour of a particular saint, it was made to face the point of the
horizon, where the sun rose on the festival of the saint in question.

In our own land much stress used to be laid on the necessity of
turning according to the course of the sun, i.e., from left to
right. To do so tended to bring prosperity to whatever was being
undertaken at the time. Martin often refers to such a turn under the
title of Dessil, a word of Gaelic origin, in connection with which,
it is interesting to note that in Gaelic Deas signifies both south
and to the right. Martin mentions certain stones, round which the
inhabitants of the Western Isles made what he calls “a religious
turn.” In the island of Eigg, he tells us:–“There is a heap of stones
called Martin Dessil, i.e., a place consecrated to the saint of that
name, about which the natives oblige themselves to make a tour round
sunways.” It was also customary when anyone wished well to another
to walk round him thrice sunways. The following are some of Martin’s
own experiences in the matter of the Dessil:–“Some are very careful,
when they set out to sea, that the boat be first rowed about sunways;
and if this be neglected they are afraid their voyage may prove
unfortunate. I had this ceremony paid me (when in the island of Ila)
by a poor woman after I had given her an alms. I desired her to let
alone that compliment, for I did not care for it; but she insisted to
make these three ordinary turns, and pray’d that God and MacCharmaig,
the patron saint of that island, might bless and prosper me in all my
designs and affairs. I attempted twice to go from Ila to Collonsay,
and at both times they row’d about the boat sunways, tho’ I forbid
them to do it; and by a contrary wind the boat and those in it were
forced back. I took boat again a third time from Jura to Collonsay,
and at the same time forbid them to row about their boat, which
they obey’d, and then we landed safely at Collonsay without any ill
adventure, which some of the crew did not believe possible for want of
the round.” This superstition lingered long after Martin’s time, and
probably still directs the course of many a fishing-boat when being
put to sea. In connection with events of moment–such as baptisms,
bridals, and burials–the necessity for turning sunways was felt to
be specially binding; but even in matters of no particular importance
the rule was held to apply. If movement sunways was lucky, movement
in a contrary direction was the reverse. Such a movement was, and
still is, known as Widdershins or Withershins, the Shetland form being
Witherwise. To go Widdershins was to go against the sun, and was hence
regarded as a violation of the established order of things. In his
“Darker Superstitions” Dalyell remarks:–“The moving widderschynnes,
as if withdrawing from the deified orb of day, inferred a guilty
retreat, and was associated with the premeditated evil of sorcery.”

We have thus glanced at the relations of springs to fairs, of fairs
to Church festivals, of Church festivals to nature festivals, and of
these to sun-worship. We shall now gather together the threads of the
argument, and indicate some of the chief points of connection between
well-worship and sun-worship. To do this, we must inquire when springs
were mainly visited. When a well was under the patronage of a saint,
the festival day of that saint was in some cases the day selected. It
would be natural to regard this as the rule. But, as a matter of fact,
pilgrimages were commonly made on days other than the festival of the
patron saint. As may be remembered, the Holy Pool in Strathfillan
was mainly resorted to on the first day of the quarter (O.S.);
and St. Fillan’s Spring at Comrie on 1st May and 1st August. As may
be also remembered, the waters of Loch Manaar, in Sutherland, were
thought to possess special virtue on the first Monday of February,
May, August, and November (O.S.), the second and third of these
dates being specially popular. What the practice was at Mochrum Loch,
in Wigtownshire, is clear from Symson’s account in his “Description
of Galloway.” “This loch,” he says, “is very famous in many writers,
who report that it never freezeth in the greatest frosts…. “Whether
it had any virtue of old I know not, but sure I am it hath it not
now. However, I deny not but the water thereof may be medicinal,
having received several credible informations that several persons,
both old and young, have been cured of continued diseases by washing
therein. Yet still I cannot approve of their washing three times
therein, which they say they must do, neither the frequenting there
of the first Sunday of February, May, August, and November, although
many foolish people affirm that, not only the water of this loch,
but also many other springs and wells, have more virtue on those days
than any other.” Close to the Welltrees meadow in Sanquhar parish,
once flowed a spring dedicated to St. Bridget. In his history of the
parish, Mr. James Brown tells us that, according to the testimony
of the old people, it was customary for the maidens of Sanquhar to
resort on May Day to St. Bride’s Well, where each presented nine
smooth white stones as an offering to the saint. Till about the
beginning of the present century, a well at Sigget, in Aberdeenshire,
was regularly visited on Pasch Sunday, and the usual offerings were
left by the pilgrims. There is, or was a belief at Chapel-en-le-Frith,
in Derbyshire, that on Easter Eve a mermaid appears in a certain pool;
and at Rostherne, in Cheshire, that another mermaid comes out of the
lake there on Easter Day and rings a bell. Mr. Moore mentions that in
the Isle of Man Ascension Day and the first Sunday of August were the
principal days for visiting consecrated springs. As previously stated,
part of the May Day rites at Tullie-Beltane, in Perthshire, consisted
in drinking water from a spring, and in walking nine times round
it. St. Anthony’s Well, near Edinburgh, is not yet forgotten on May
Day by people who like to keep up old customs. There is no doubt that
of all the months of the year May was the one, when Scottish springs
were most visited. The same rule held elsewhere. In his “Romances
of the West of England,” Mr. Hunt has the following:–“The practice
of bathing rickety children on the first three Wednesdays in May is
still far from uncommon in the outlying districts of Cornwall. The
parents will walk many miles for the purpose of dipping the little
sufferers in some well from which the healing virtue has not entirely
departed. Among these holy wells, Cubert is far famed. To this well the
peasantry still resort, firm in the faith that there, at this special
season, some mysterious virtue is communicated to its waters. On these
occasions, only a few years since, the crowd assembled was so large
that it assumed the character of a fair.” A spring at Glastonbury,
in Somerset, on account of a miraculous cure, believed to have been
wrought by its water, became specially popular about the middle of
last century. In 1751, as many as ten thousand persons are said to
have visited it during the month of May.

The popularity of May did not depend on the better weather following
the bleakness of winter and spring. At least, if it did so, it was
only in a subordinate degree. To find the main reason, we have to
look to the continued influence of ancient pagan rites. As we have
seen, May in Scotland was ushered in by the Beltane Festival. We have
also seen that its manifestly heathen customs survived till a late
period in the midst of a Christian civilisation. On the hypothesis
of a pagan origin alone, can certain May Day customs and beliefs be
satisfactorily explained. Some Beltane rites still survive in the
Highlands, though fires are no longer kindled. In the neighbourhood of
Kingussie, Inverness-shire, bannocks and hard-boiled eggs continue to
be rolled down the hills on the first of May (O.S.). Till quite lately,
these bannocks were used for purposes of divination. They were marked
on one side with a cross–the sign of life; and on the other with a
circle–the sign of death. Each bannock was rolled down thrice, and
its owner’s fate was decided by the sign that was on the upper surface
oftenest when the bannock rested at the foot of the hill. The time was
counted specially suited for love-charms. On May Day, in the north of
England, a gold ring was dropped into a syllabub composed of various
ingredients. Whoever got hold of the ring with a ladle would be the
first among the company to be married. The prophetic powers of May
Day are still believed in, in some parts of the north of Ireland. If
a maiden places a certain plant below her pillow overnight, she will
have a vision of her coming husband.

On May Day, the supernatural world was revealed, and witches and
other uncanny creatures were abroad. In connection with his visit
to Scotland, Pennant says:–“In some parts of the country is a rural
sacrifice, different from that before mentioned. A cross is cut on some
sticks, which is dipped in pottage, and the Thursday before Easter one
of each placed over the sheep-cot, the stable, or the cow-house. On
the first of May they are carried to the hill, where the rites are
celebrated, all decked with wild flowers, and after the feast is over,
replaced over the spots they were taken from.” The cross in this case,
was, doubtless, made from the wood of the rowan or mountain ash. In
the Isle of Man, it was customary, at one time, to gather primroses on
May Eve, and strew them before the door of every house to keep away
witches. Aubrey tells us:–“‘Tis commonly said in Germany that the
witches do meet in the night before the first day of May upon an high
mountain called the Blocksberg, where they, together with the devils,
do dance and feast, and the common people do, the night before the
said day, fetch a certain thorn and stick it at their house door,
believing the witches can then do them no harm.” In our own country,
too, hawthorn branches were formerly used on May Day as a charm against
witches. The hawthorn had likewise another mystic property attributed
to it. The dew on its branches on the first of May had the power of
giving beauty to the maiden who washed her face with it. May-dew from
the grass was equally efficacious, except when gathered from within a
fairy ring, as the fairies would in that case counteract the influence
of the charm. A curative power was also ascribed to May-dew. Till
quite lately there was a belief in some parts of England that a
weakly child would be made strong by being drawn over dewy grass on
the morning in question. To effect a complete cure, the treatment had
to be repeated on the two following mornings. Dew from the grave of
the last person buried in the parish churchyard was counted specially
remedial if applied to the affected part before sunrise on May-morning.

The May-sun also got the credit of working cures. In his “Nether
Lochaber” the Rev. Dr. Stewart tells us that “it was an article of
belief in the hygiene code of the old highlanders that the invalid
suffering under any form of internal ailment, upon whom the sun of
May once fairly shed its light, was pretty sure of a renewed lease
of life until at least the next autumnal equinox.” The old English
custom, known as “going a-Maying,” when old and young flocked into
the woods early on May-morning to gather flowers and green boughs,
was handed on from a time when the worship of trees was an article
of religious faith.

Another old custom in England, viz., the blowing of horns at an early
hour on the first of May, had probably its origin in pre-Christian
times. It still survives in Oxfordshire and Cornwall. From Hone’s
“Every-Day Book” we learn that till the third decade of the present
century, and doubtless later, the poorer classes in Edinburgh poured
forth at daybreak from street and lane to assemble on Arthur’s Seat to
see the sun rise on May-morning. Bagpipes and other musical instruments
enlivened the scene, nor were refreshments forgotten. About six o’clock
a crowd of citizens of the wealthier class made their appearance, while
the majority of the first-comers returned to the town. At nine o’clock
the hill was practically deserted. Two centuries earlier an attempt
was made by the kirk-session of Perth to put a stop to an annual
gathering on May Day at a cave in the face of Kinnoul hill adjoining
the town. This cave was called the Dragon Hole, and was the scene of
ancient rites of a superstitious nature. Other illustrations might
be selected from the Folklore of May Day, but those given above show
that the season was held in much superstitious regard. Accordingly,
we need not be surprised that well-worship took its place among the
rites of May Day, and of May Month also, since the whole of May was
deemed a charmed time.

The Sundays of May–particularly the first–were very frequently
chosen for visits to consecrated springs. The Chapel Wells in
Kirkmaiden parish have already been referred to in connection with
Co’ Sunday. The White Loch of Merton, and St. Anthony’s Spring at
Maybole, and others that might be named were principally resorted
to on the first Sunday of May. Indeed, wells occasionally got
their name from the fact of their being visited on Sundays. Thus
Tobordmony, near Cushendall, in County Antrim, signifies in Irish
the Sunday Well. There is a farm in Athole called Pit-alt-donich or
Balandonich. The name is derived by Mr. J. Mackintosh Gow from the
Gaelic Pit-alt-didon-ich, and is interpreted by him as meaning “the
hamlet of the Sunday burn.” There is a spring on the farm, formerly
much frequented on the first Sunday of May (O.S.). In the Isle of
Man is a spring called Chibber Lansh, consisting of three pools. In
former times it had a considerable reputation for the cure of sore
eyes; but it was thought to exert its power on Sundays alone. Pilgrims
frequently spent Saturday night beside springs in order to begin the
required ritual on the following morning. The question why Sunday was
specially selected is one of interest. Its choice may have been due
in part to the fact, mentioned by Dalyell, that, in ruder society,
the precise course of time requires some specific mark, and in part,
to the notion underlying the popular saying, “the better the day,
the better the deed.” But there was undoubtedly another factor in the
selection of the day. We have seen that the chief Church festivals
borrowed certain rites from other festivals earlier in the field. In
like manner, Sunday was the heir of usages quite unconnected with it
in origin; or, to change the metaphor, it was a magnet attracting to
itself various stray particles of paganism that remained after the
break up of the old Nature-worship. Students of English history in
the seventeenth century cannot fail to remember, how strenuously the
Puritans sought to put down Sunday amusements, and how even the edicts
of James the First and Charles the First permitted only certain games
to be played on Sunday, certain others being declared inconsistent
with the aim of that Christian festival.

Bourne, in his “Popular Antiquities,” published in 1725, remarks:–“In
the southern parts of this nation the most of country villages are
wont to observe some Sunday in a more particular manner than the
other common Sundays of the year, viz., the Sunday after the Day of
Dedication, i.e., the Sunday after the Day of the Saint to whom their
church was dedicated. Then the inhabitants deck themselves in their
gaudiest clothes, and have open doors and splendid entertainments for
the reception and treating of their relations and friends who visit
them on that occasion from each neighbouring town. The morning is
spent for the most part at church, the remaining part of the day in
eating and drinking, and so is also a day or two afterwards, together
with all sorts of rural pastimes and exercises, such as dancing on the
green, wrestling, cudgelling, &c. Agreeable to this, we are told that
formerly, on the Sunday after the Encoenia, or Feast of the Dedication
of the Church, it was usual for a great number of the inhabitants of
the village, both grown and young, to meet together at break of day,
and to cry, ‘Holy Wakes, Holy Wakes,’ and after Matens go to feasting
and sporting, which they continued for two or three days.”

Quoting from the “Presbyterie Buik of Aberdein, 19th June, 1607,
in M.S.” Dalyell observes:–“In the North of Scotland, young men
conducted themselves ‘pro phanelie on the Sabboathes in drinking,
playing at futteball, dancing, and passing fra paroche to paroche–and
sum passes to St. Phitallis Well to the offence of God and ewill of
mony.'” In connection with this, a remark from Dr. J. A. Hessey’s
Bampton Lecture on Sunday may be quoted. When comparing it with the
Holy days instituted in mediæval times, he says, the former perhaps
“was even worse observed than the other days, for in spite of the
Church, men had a vague impression that it was one of specially
allowed intermission of ordinary employments. This they interpreted
to mean of more special permission of dissipation than the other
days noted in the kalendar.” After describing the island of Valay,
near North Uist, where there were Chapels to St. Ulton and St. Mary,
Martin says, “Below the Chapel there is a flat thin stone call’d
Brownie’s Stone upon which the antient inhabitants offer’d a cow’s milk
every Sunday.” That this offering of milk, though made on Sundays,
was a pagan and not a Christian rite, can hardly be disputed. At
some places, e.g., at Glasgow, Crail, and Seton, Sunday was at
one time the weekly market day, but by an Act of James the Sixth,
in 1579, the holding of markets on Sunday was prohibited throughout
the realm. The Sundays in May were certainly the most popular for
visits to springs, but these occurring about the time of the other
leading nature-festivals were also in fashion. Sun-worship, as we have
seen, was the back-ground of all such festivals. We need not wonder,
therefore, that consecrated springs were frequented on a day whose
very name suggested a reminiscence of a solar pagan cult.

We have discussed Beltane, let us now look at one other leading
nature-festival, viz., Lammas, on the first day of August, to discover
what light it throws on our subject. The Church dedicated the opening
day of August to St. Peter ad Vincula. A curious mediæval legend
arose to connect this dedication with another name for the festival,
viz., the Gule of August. At the heart of this legend was the Latin
word Gula, signifying the throat. The daughter of Quirinus, a Roman
tribune, had some disease of the throat which was miraculously cured
through kissing St. Peter’s chains, and so the day of the chains was
designated the Gule of August. As a matter of fact, the word is derived
from the Cymric Gwyl, a feast or holiday, and we have confirmation
of the etymology in the circumstance, that in Celtic lands the time
was devoted to games, and other recreations. In Ireland a celebrated
fair, called Lugnasadh, was held at Tailtin (now Teltown), in Meath,
for several days before and after the first of August, and there
was another at Cruachan, now Rath Croghan, in Roscommon. A third was
held at Carman, now Wexford. Its celebration was deemed so important
that, as Professor Rhys tells us, in his “Celtic Heathendom,” “among
the blessings promised to the men of Leinster from holding it were,
plenty of corn, fruit, and milk, abundance of fish in their lakes and
rivers, domestic prosperity, and immunity from the yoke of any other
province. On the other hand, the evils to follow from the neglect of
this institution were to be failure and early greyness on them and
their kings.” In legendary accounts of Carman, the place has certain
funereal associations. “If we go into the story of the fair of Carman,”
Professor Rhys observes, “we are left in no doubt as to the character
of the mythic beings whose power had been brought to an end at the
time dedicated to that fair; they may be said to have represented
the blighting chills and fogs that assert their baneful influence
on the farmer’s crops. To overcome these and other hurtful forces of
the same kind, the prolonged presence of the sun-god was essential,
in order to bring the corn to maturity.”

That the Gule of August was a Nature-festival may be further inferred
from the fact that among many Anglo-Saxon peoples it was called
Hlâf-mæsse, i.e., Loaf-mass, eventually shortened into Lammas. Our
English ancestors offered on that day bread made from the early grain,
as the first-fruits of the harvest. In Scotland, the Lammas rites
were handed down from an unknown past and survived till the middle
of last century. They were closely connected with country life, and
were taken part in, mainly by those who had to do with the tending of
cattle. The herds of Mid-Lothian held Lammas in special favour. For
some weeks prior to that date they busied themselves in building what
were called Lammas towers, composed of stones and sods. These towers
were about seven or eight feet high, sometimes more. On the day of
the festival they were surmounted by a flag formed of a table-napkin
decked with ribbons. During the building of the towers attempts were
sometimes made by rival parties to throw them down, and accordingly
they had to be kept constantly watched. On Lenie hill and Clermiston
hill two such towers used to be built, about two miles apart, but
within sight of each other. These were the respective trysting-places
of herds belonging to different portions of Cramond and Corstorphine
parishes. On Lammas morning the herds met at their respective towers,
and, after a breakfast of bread and cheese, marched to meet each other,
blowing horns, and having a piper at their head. Colours were carried
aloft by each party, and the demand to lower them was the signal for
a contest, which sometimes ended in rather a curious manner. Games
for small prizes closed the day’s proceedings.

At one time temporary structures formed of sods and sticks, and
known as Lammas houses, were built in South Wales in connection
with the festival. Inside these a fire was kindled for the
roasting of apples. Anyone, by paying a penny, could enter and
have an apple. Professor Rhys speaks of other Lammas rites in the
Principality. “Gwyl Awst,” he observes, “is now a day for fairs
in certain parts of Wales, and it is remembered, in central and
southern Cardiganshire, as one on which the shepherds used, till
comparatively lately, to have a sort of pic-nic on the hills. One
farmer’s wife would lend a big kettle for making in it a plentiful
supply of good soup or broth, while, according to another account,
everybody present had to put his share of fuel on the fire with his
own hands. But, in Brecknockshire, the first of August seems to have
given way sometime before Catholicism had lost its sway in Wales,
to the first holiday or feast in August; that is to say, the first
Sunday in that month. For then crowds of people, early in the morning,
make their way up the mountains called the Beacons, both from the
side of Caermarthenshire and Glamorgan; their destination used to be
the neighbourhood of the Little Van Lake, out of whose waters they
expected, in the course of the day, to see the Lady of the Lake make
her momentary appearance.” Professor Rhys bears further witness to
the connection of Lammas rites with our present subject when he says,
“A similar shifting from the first of August to the first Sunday
in that month, has, I imagine, taken place in the Isle of Man. For,
though the solstice used to be, in consequence probably of Scandinavian
influence, the day of institutional significance in the Manx summer,
inquiries I have made in different parts of the island, go to show
that middle-aged people, now living, remember that, when they were
children, their parents used to ascend the mountains very early on
the first Sunday in August (O.S.), and that in some districts at
least they were wont to bring home bottles full of water from wells
noted for their healing virtues.” Another proof that the ceremonies
of Lammas-tide had some link with those of archaic Water-worship
is to be found in the circumstance mentioned by Dalyell, that,
“in Ireland the inhabitants held it an inviolable custom to drive
their cattle into some pool or river on the first Sunday of August
as essential to the life of the animals during the year.” This was
regularly done till towards the end of the seventeenth century. It
may be remembered that in Scotland, during the same century, horses
were washed in the sea at Lammas, doubtless with the same end in view.

We shall now glance at some traces of Sun-worship in the rites of
Well-worship. In countries where the worship of the sun had an
acknowledged place in the popular religion, the temples to that
luminary were found associated with fountains. In his “Holy Land and
the Bible,” the Rev. J. Cunningham Geikie remarks, “The old name
of Bethshemish, which means the house of the sun, is now changed
to Ain Thenis–the fountain of the sun–living water being found
in the valley below. Both point to the Philistine Sun-worship,
and both names are fitting, for every sun-house or temple needed,
like all other ancient sanctuaries, a fountain near it to supply
water for ablutions and libations.” When evidence of this kind fails
us, we have another kind within reach, viz., that derived from the
employment of fire to symbolise the sun on the principle already
explained. At St. Bede’s Well, near Jarrow, in Durham, it used to
be customary to kindle a bonfire on Mid-summer Eve. In connection
with the same festival a bonfire was lighted at Toddel-Well, near
Kirkhampton in Cumberland, and the lads and lasses, who were present,
were in the habit of leaping through the flames. In a cave at Wemyss,
in Fife, is a well, to which young people at one time carried blazing
torches on the first Monday of January (O.S.). The time of day when
consecrated springs were made use of has a bearing on the point under
review. The water was thought to have a peculiar efficacy either just
after sunset or just before sunrise. The moment when the sun was first
seen above the horizon was also reckoned particularly favourable. To
the same class of superstitions belongs the Scandinavian belief,
referred to by Mr. Lloyd in his “Peasant Life in Sweden,” that the
water of certain sacred springs, known as Fonts of the Cross, was
turned into wine at sunrise.

The survival of rites of archaic Sun-worship in the practice of making
a turn sun-ways has been already referred to.

In conclusion, we shall glance at the bearings of the practice on
the question of Well-worship. To make a visit to a spring effectual,
when a cure was wanted, the invalid had to pace round it from left
to right, in recognition of the fact that the sun moved in the same
direction. The sun, being the source of vitality, why should not an
imitation of its daily motion tend to produce the same result? When
speaking of Loch Siant Well, in Skye, Martin says:–“Several of the
common people oblige themselves by a vow to come to this well, and make
the ordinary tour about it call’d Dessil. They move thrice round the
well, proceeding sunways from east to west, and so on. This is done
after drinking of the water. Sometimes it was done elsewhere before
drinking of the water.” The importance of this motion comes clearly
into view in the case of St. Andrew’s Well, at Shadar, in Lewis,
referred to in a previous chapter. When the wooden dish, floating
on the surface of the water, turned round sun-ways, the omen was a
sign that the patient concerned would recover, but a turning in the
opposite direction foreboded ill.” In reference to Chapel Uny Well,
in Cornwall, Mr. Hunt says:–“On the first three Wednesdays in May,
children suffering from mesenteric diseases are dipped three times in
this well, against the sun, and dragged three times around the well on
the grass in the same direction.” Mr. Lloyd tells us that, in Sweden,
a remedy for whooping-cough is to drink water, “that drops from a
mill-wheel, which revolves ansols, that is, in a contrary direction to
the course of the sun.” These two examples, however, are exceptions
to the rule. They may, perhaps, be explained on the principle that
what is in itself evil, because contrary to nature, brings good when
converted into a charm. To walk round a well widdershins was to commit
an act of sorcery. Mr. J. G. Barbour, in his “Unique Traditions of the
West and South of Scotland,” recounts the trial and fate of a lonely
old woman, who lived in the Kirkcudbrightshire parish of Irongray,
early in the seventeenth century. She was accused of witchcraft,
and, when convicted of the crime, met her death by being rolled down
hill inside a blazing tar barrel. Various were the charges brought
against her, one of them being that, at certain hours she walked
round the spring near her cottage wuddershins. Mr. Barbour adds,
“The well, from which she drew the water for her domestic use, and
where the young rustic belles washed their faces, still retains the
name of the Witch’s Well.” Faith in the benefit of turning sun-ways
and faith in the efficacy of south-running water belong to the same
class of superstitions. Both have a direct reference to the sun’s
course. The water of a stream flowing to meet the sun, when its
mid-day beams are casting their sweet influences upon the earth,
must absorb and retain a power to bless and heal. So, at least,
men thought, nor were they slow to take advantage of the virtue that
mingled with the water. Bodily ailments were cured by washing in it,
and it was used as one of the many remedies to remove the evil effects
of witchcraft. In this, as in the other rites previously alluded to,
we see the influence of a cult that did not pass away, when the sun
ceased to be worshipped as a divinity. In other words, Well-worship
cannot be adequately understood if we leave out of account archaic
Sun-worship, and its modern survivals.

To bring about the accomplishment of a cherished desire by means of
certain rites has been a favourite mode of divination. By this method
it was thought that destiny could be coerced, and the wish made the
father of its own fulfilment. The means were various; but, underlying
them all, was the notion that the doing of something, in the present,
guaranteed the happening of something in the future. A mere wish was
not sufficient. A particular spot, hallowed by old associations, had
to be visited, and a time-honoured ceremony observed. But the ritual
might be of the simplest. It was perchance to some rustic gate that
the village maiden stole in the gathering gloaming, and there, with
beating heart, breathed the wish that was to bring a new happiness
into her life. Love charms, indeed, form an important group of wishing
superstitions. To this class belong Hallow E’en rites, such as eating
an apple before a mirror, and sowing hemp seed. These rites gave the
maiden a vision of her destined husband. In the one case, she saw his
face in the glass, and in the other, she saw him in the attitude of
pulling hemp. The dumb-cake divination, on the Eves of St. Mark and
St. John, also belongs to the same class of charms. Not more than
three must take part in the mystical ceremony. Concerning the cake,
an English rule says:–

“Two make it,
Two bake it,
Two break it,

and the third must put it under each of their pillows, but not a
word must be spoken all the time.” Fasting on St. Agnes’s Eve was
requisite on the part of any maiden, who sought on that festival to
have a vision of her bridegroom to be. According to an old Galloway
custom, a maiden pulled a handful of grass when she first saw the
new moon. While she pulled she repeated the rhyme–

“New moon, new moon, tell me if you can,
Gif I have a hair like the hair o’ my gudeman.”

The grass was then taken into the house, and carefully examined. If a
hair was found amongst the grass, it would correspond in colour with
the hair of the coming husband. In connection with all such charms,
it is certainly true what an old song says that “love hath eyes.”

Her Majesty the Queen visited Innis Maree in September, 1877. When
describing her visit, Mr. Dixon, in his “Gairloch,” says:–“She fixed
her offering in the wishing tree, a pleasantry which most visitors to
the island repeat, it being common report that a wish silently formed,
when any metal article is attached to the tree, will certainly be
realised. It is said that if anyone removes any offering that has
been fixed on the tree, some misfortune, probably the taking fire
of the house of the desecrator, is sure to follow.” On a hill near
Abbotsbury, in Dorset, stands St. Catherine’s Chapel. In its south
doorway are wishing holes. The knee is placed in one of the holes, and
the hands in the two above; and in this posture the visitor performs
the wishing ceremony. Half-way down the cliff near Stackpole Head,
in Pembrokeshire, is an ancient structure of rude masonry styled
St. Govan’s Chapel, at one time the retreat of some recluse. Professor
Cosmo Innes, in the third volume of the “Proceedings of the Society
of Antiquaries of Scotland,” gives an account of a visit to the spot,
and adds:–“The curious part of St. Govan’s abode is his bed, or rather
his coffin, for it is a vertical interstice between two immense slabs
of rock, into which a body of common size can be forced with some
difficulty, the prisoner remaining upright. The rock is polished
by the number of visitors fitting themselves into the saint’s bed
of penance, and the natives make you feel in the inner surface the
indentures caused by the ribs of the saint!” The polishing is mainly
due to the fact that the space has for long been used for wishing
purposes. Those who desire to test the efficacy of the spell must turn
themselves round within the hollow and think of nothing else during
the process, except what they are wishing for–a rather difficult test
under the circumstances! Close to the chapel is St. Govan’s Well, under
a covering of stone-work. The spring had formerly a great reputation
as a health resort. Beside the remains of the once splendid monastic
buildings at Walsingham, in Norfolk, are wishing wells consisting of
two small circular basins of stone. In pre-Reformation times they were
much resorted to for the cure of disease. Being close to St. Mary’s
Chapel, they were appropriately dedicated to the Virgin, to whom the
gift of healing was ascribed. Since then they have been popular as
wishing wells. The necessary ritual is thus described by Brand in
his “Popular Antiquities”:–“The votary, with a due qualification
of faith and pious awe, must apply the right knee, bare, to a stone
placed for that purpose between the wells. He must then plunge to
the wrist each hand, bare also, into the water of the wells which are
near enough to admit of this immersion. A wish must then be formed,
but not uttered with the lips, either at the time or afterwards, even
in confidential communication to the dearest friend. The hands are
then to be withdrawn, and as much of the water as can be contained
in the hollow of each is to be swallowed. Formerly the object of
desire was most probably expressed in a prayer to the Virgin. It is
now only a silent wish, which will certainly be accomplished within
twelve months, if the efficacy of the solemn rite be not frustrated
by the incredulity or some other fault of the votary.”

Pennant tells of a cistern connected with St. John’s Well, near
Moxley Nunnery, at one time much used for bathing. Near these, and
below the surface of the water, was a piece of rock called the Wishing
Stone. Anyone who kissed this stone with firm belief in the efficacy
of the charm would have his desire granted. In this case the power of
securing the fulfilment of wishes went hand in hand with the power
of curing diseases. Generally speaking, however, as in the case of
Walsingham just mentioned, the former power supersedes the latter. In
other words, healing wells are transformed into wishing wells. When
such is the case, they are, as far as folklore is concerned, in
the last stage of their history. In the wood, clothing the steep
hill of Weem, in Perthshire, is St. David’s Well, said to be named
after a former laird who turned hermit. The spring has a considerable
local fame, and many have been the wishes silently breathed over its
water. Part of an ancient stone cross lies at its margin, and on it
the visitor kneels while framing his or her wish. Visitors to wishing
wells commonly drop into the water a coin, pin, or pebble, thus keeping
up, usually without being aware of the fact, the custom of offering
a gift to the genius loci. The Rev. Dr. Gregor thus describes what
was dropped into the Bride’s Well, in the neighbourhood of Corgarff,
Aberdeenshire:–“This well was at one time the favourite resort of
all brides for miles around. On the evening before the marriage,
the bride, accompanied by her maidens, went ‘atween the sun an’ the
sky’ to it. The maidens bathed her feet and the upper part of her
body with water drawn from it. This bathing ensured a family. The
bride put into the well a few crumbs of bread and cheese, to keep
her children from ever being in want.”

Desires of any kind may be cherished at wishing-wells, but there
is no doubt that matters matrimonial usually give direction to the
thoughts. According to a Yorkshire belief, whoever drops five white
pebbles into the Ouse, near the county town, when the minster clock
strikes one on May morning, will see on the surface of the water
whatever he or she wishes. Near Dale Abbey, in Derbyshire, is a certain
holy well. To get full advantage of its help, one has to go between
the hours of twelve and three on Good Friday, drink the water thrice,
and wish. There is no doubt about the meaning of the following lines
from the Bard of Dimbovitza, a collection of Roumanian Folk-Songs:–

“There, where on Sundays I go alone,
To the old, old well with the milk-white stone,
Where by the fence, in a nook forgot,
Rises a Spring in the daisied grass,
That makes whoso drinks of it love–alas!
My heart’s best belovèd, he drinks it not.”

In Sir Walter Scott’s “Pirate” one of the characters expresses the
wish that providence would soon send a wreck to gladden the hearts
of the Shetlanders. At the other extremity of Britain, viz., in the
Scilly Isles, the same hope was at one time cherished. St. Warna,
who had to do with wrecks, was the patron saint of St. Agnes, one
of the islands of the group. She had her holy well, and there the
natives anciently dropped in a crooked pin and invoked the saint to
send them a rich wreck.

It would be useless to attempt to give a list of Scottish
wishing-wells; but the following may be mentioned. There is one in
West Kilbride parish, Ayrshire, close to a cave at Hunterston. There
is another at Ardmore, in Dumbartonshire. At Rait, in Perthshire,
is St. Peter’s Wishing-well. In the united parishes of Kilcalmonell
and Kilberry, in Argyllshire, is the ancient ecclesiastical site of
Kilanaish. “Near the burial-ground,” Captain White tells us, “is its
holy well, where it is proper to wish the usual three wishes, which,
on my last visit to the place, our party, including one lady, devoutly
did.” The same writer gives the following particulars about another
Argyllshire spring:–“Near the Abbey of Saddell, Kintyre, is a fine
spring of the class known throughout Scotland as Wishing-wells, which
has always borne the name of Holy-well. It had the usual virtues and
wishing powers ascribed to it. A pretty little pillar with cross cut
upon it which has been mistaken for one of ancient date is scooped out
into a small basin to catch the drip of the water. It was erected by a
Bishop Brown, when residing at Saddell, in the beginning of the present
century, to replace another one that had formerly stood there. Beside
it, flows a stream called Alt-nam-Manach (the Monk’s Burn), and this,
with the spring, no doubt formed the water supply of the monastery.”

St. Anthony’s Well, beside St. Anthony’s ruined Chapel, near Edinburgh,
is probably the best known of Scottish wishing-wells. Its sanative
virtues have already been alluded to, but it is nowadays more noted
for its power of securing the fulfilment of wishes than the recovery
of health. A pleasant picture of the romantic spot is given by Sir
Daniel Wilson in his “Memorials of Edinburgh in the Olden Time”:–“The
ancient Hermitage and Chapel of St. Anthony, underneath the overhanging
crags of Arthur’s Seat, are believed to have formed a dependency of
the preceptory at Leith, and to have been placed there, to catch the
seaman’s eye as he entered the Firth, or departed on some long and
perilous voyage; when his vows and offerings would be most freely made
to the patron saint, and the hermit who ministered at his altar. No
record, however, now remains to add to the tradition of its dedication
to St. Anthony; but the silver stream, celebrated in the plaintive
old song, ‘O waly, waly up yon bank,’ still wells clearly forth
at the foot of the rock, filling the little basin of St. Anthony’s
Well, and rippling pleasantly through the long grass into the lower
valley.” The song in question gives expression to the grief of Lady
Barbara Erskine, wife of James, Marquis of Douglas, in the time of
Charles II., in connection with her desertion by her husband–

1. “O waly, waly up the bank
And waly, waly down the brae,
And waly, waly yon burnside,
Where I and my love wont to gae!
I lean’d my back unto an aik,
I thoucht it was a trusty tree;
But first it bow’d, and syne it brak:
Sae my true love did lichtly me.

2. O waly, waly, but love be bonnie
A little time while it is new;
But when it’s auld, it waxes cauld,
And fades away like morning dew.
O wherefore should I busk my heid,
Or wherefore should I kame my hair?
For my true love has me forsook,
And says he’ll never love me mair.

3. Now Arthur’s Seat shall be my bed,
The sheets shall ne’er be pressed by me.
St. Anton’s Well shall be my drink
Since my true love has forsaken me.
Martinmas wind, when wilt thou blaw,
And shake the green leaves aff the tree?
O gentle death! when wilt thou come?
For of my life I am wearie!

4. ‘Tis not the frost that freezes fell
Nor blawing snaw’s inclemencie;
‘Tis not sic cauld that makes me cry,
But my love’s heart’s grown cauld to me.
When we came in by Glasgow toun
We were a comely sicht to see;
My love was clad in the black velvet,
And I mysel in cramasie.

5. But had I wist, before I kissed,
That love had been sae ill to win,
I’d lock’d my heart in a case of gold,
And pinn’d it wi’ a siller pin.
O! oh! if my young babe were born,
And set upon the nurse’s knee.
And I mysel were dead and gane,
And the green grass growing over me!”

Fortunately, the associations of St. Anthony’s Well have not all been
so sad as the above. Many a hopeful moment has been passed beside its
margin. A little girl from Aberdeenshire, when on a visit to friends
in Edinburgh, made trial of the sacred spring. She was cautioned not to
tell anyone what her wish was, else the charm would have no effect. On
her return home, however, her eagerness to know whether the wish had,
in the meantime, been fulfilled, quite overcame her ability to keep the
secret. Her first words were, “Has the pony come?” St. Anthony must
have been in good humour with the child, for he provided the pony,
thus evidently condoning the breach of silence in deference to her
youth. Surely there must be something in wishing-wells, after all,
besides water.

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