Spring at Monzie

In all ages much attention has been given to the weather, with special
reference to its bearings on human well-being. As Mr. R. Inwards truly
observes, in his “Weather-lore,” “From the earliest times hunters,
shepherds, sailors, and tillers of the earth have from sheer necessity
been led to study the teachings of the winds, the waves, the clouds,
and a hundred other objects from which the signs of coming changes in
the state of the air might be foretold. The weather-wise amongst these
primitive people would be naturally the most prosperous, and others
would soon acquire the coveted foresight by a closer observance of the
same objects from which their successful rivals guessed the proper time
to provide against a storm, or reckoned on the prospects of the coming
crops.” Hence, naturally enough, the weather has an important place in
folklore. Various prognostications concerning it have been drawn from
sun and moon, from animals and flowers; while certain meteorological
phenomena have, in their turn, been regarded as prophetic of mundane
events. Thus, in the astrological treatise entitled “The Knowledge
of Things Unknown,” we read that “Thunder in January signifieth the
same year great winds, plentiful of corn and cattle peradventure;
in February, many rich men shall die in great sickness; in March,
great winds, plenty of corn, and debate amongst people; in April, be
fruitful and merry with the death of wicked men;” and so on through the
other months of the year. One can easily understand why thunder should
be counted peculiarly ominous. The effects produced on the mind by its
mysterious noise, and on the nerves by the electricity in the air, are
apt to lead superstitious people to expect strange events. Particular
notice was taken of the weather on certain ecclesiastical festivals,
and omens were drawn from its condition. Thus, from “The Husbandman’s
Practice,” we learn that “The wise and cunning masters in astrology
have found that man may see and mark the weather of the holy Christmas
night, how the whole year after shall be in his making and doing, and
they shall speak on this wise. When on the Christmas night and evening
it is very fair and clear weather, and is without wind and without
rain, then it is a token that this year will be plenty of wine and
fruit. But if the contrariwise, foul weather and windy, so shall it
be very scant of wine and fruit. But if the wind arise at the rising
of the sun, then it betokeneth great dearth among beasts and cattle
this year. But if the wind arise at the going down of the same, then
it signifieth death to come among kings and other great lords.” We do
not suppose that anyone nowadays attends to such Yule-tide auguries,
but there are not wanting those who have a lingering belief in the
power of Candlemas and St. Swithin’s Day to foretell the sort of
weather to be expected in the immediate future.

Witches were believed to be able to raise the wind at their
pleasure. In a confession made at Auldearn in Nairnshire, in the
year 1662, certain women, accused of sorcery, said, “When we raise
the wind we take a rag of cloth and wet it in water, and we take a
beetle and knock the rag on a stone, and we say thrice over–

‘I knock this rag upon this stane,
To raise the wind in the devil’s name.
It shall not lie until I please again!'”

When the wind was to be allayed the rag was dried. About 1670 an
attempt was made to drain some two thousand acres of land belonging
to the estate of Dun in Forfarshire. The Dronner’s, i.e., Drainer’s
Dyke–remains of which are still to be seen behind the Montrose
Infirmary–was built in connection with the scheme. But the work
was destroyed by a terrible storm, caused, it was believed, by a
certain Meggie Cowie–the last to be burned for witchcraft in the
district. About eighty years before, a notable witch-trial in the
time of James VI. had to do with the raising of a storm. A certain
woman, Agnes Sampson, residing in Haddingtonshire, confessed that she
belonged to a company of two hundred witches, and that they were all
in the habit of sailing along the coast in sieves to meet the devil
at the kirk of North Berwick. After one of these interviews the woman
took a cat and christened it, and, after fixing to it parts of a dead
man’s body, threw the creature into the sea in presence of the other
witches. The king, who was then returning from Denmark with his bride,
was delayed by contrary winds, and such a tempest arose in the Firth
of Forth that a vessel, containing valuable gifts for the queen on her
arrival, sank between Burntisland and Leith. The Rev. T. F. Thiselton
Dyer makes the suggestion in his “Folklore of Shakespeare,” that it
was probably to these contrary winds that the author of “Macbeth”
alludes when he makes the witch say–

“Though his bark cannot be lost,
Yet it shall be tempest-tost.”

Even down to the end of last century, and probably later, some
well-educated people believed that the devil had the power of raising
the wind. The phrase, the prince of the power of the air, applied
to him in Scripture, was interpreted in a literal way. “The Diary of
the Rev. John Mill,” minister in Shetland from 1740 till 1803, bears
witness to such a belief. In his introduction to the work, the editor,
Mr. Gilbert Goudie, tells us: “He (Mill) was often heard talking aloud
with his (to others) unseen foe; but those who heard him declared
that he spoke in an unknown tongue, presumably Hebrew. After one of
these encounters the worthy man was heard muttering, ‘Well, let him
do his worst; the wind aye in my face will not hurt me.’ This was in
response to a threat of the devil, that wherever he (Mill) went, he
(Satan) should be a-blowing ‘wind in his teeth,’ in consequence of
which Mill was unable ever after to get passage out of Shetland.” On
the 5th of November, 1605, a terrible storm swept over the north of
Scotland and destroyed part of the cathedral at Dornoch. As is well
known, the day in question was selected by Guy Fawkes for blowing up
the Houses of Parliament. In his “Cathedral of Caithness, at Dornoch,”
Mr. Hugh F. Campbell tells us: “When the news of the gunpowder plot
reached the north, the co-incidence of time at once impressed the
imagination of a superstitious age. The storm was invested with an
element of the marvellous.” Mr. Campbell then quotes the following
curious passage from Sir Robert Gordon, specially referring to Satan’s
connection with the tempest:–“The same verie night that this execrable
plott should have been put in execution all the inner stone pillars of
the north syd of the body of the cathedral church at Dornogh–lacking
the rooff before–were blowen from the verie roots and foundation
quyt and clein over the outer walls of the church: such as hath sein
the same. These great winds did even then prognosticate and forshew
some great treason to be at hand; and as the divell was busie then
to trouble the ayre, so wes he bussie by these hiss fyrebrands to
trouble the estate of Great Britane.”

The notion that storms, especially when accompanied by thunder
and lightning, were the work of evil spirits, came out prominently
during the middle ages in connection with bells. The ringing of bells
was believed to drive away the demons, and so allay the tempest. A
singular superstition concerning the causation of storms was brought
to light in Hungary during the autumn of 1892 in connection with
the fear of cholera. At Kidzaes a patient died of what was thought
to be that disease, and a post mortem examination was ordered by
the local authorities. Strenuous opposition, however, was offered
by the villagers on the ground that the act would cause such a
hail-storm as would destroy their crops. Feeling ran so high that
a riot was imminent, and the project had to be abandoned. Eric, the
Swedish king, could control the winds through his enchantments. By
turning his cap he was able to bring a breeze from whatever quarter
he wished. Mr. G. L. Gomme, in his “Ethnology in Folklore,” remarks,
“At Kempoch Point, in the Firth of Clyde, is a columnar rock called
the Kempoch Stane, from whence a saint was wont to dispense favourable
winds to those who paid for them, and unfavourable to those who did
not put confidence in his powers–a tradition which seems to have been
carried on by the Innerkip witches who were tried in 1662, and some
portions of which still linger among the sailors of Greenock.” The
stone in question consists of a block of grey mica schist six feet in
height and two in diameter. It is locally known as Granny Kempoch. In
former times sailors and fishermen sought to ensure good fortune on
the sea by walking seven times round the stone. While making their
rounds they carried in their hand a basket of sand, and at the same
time uttered an eerie chant. Newly-married couples used also to walk
round the stone by way of luck.

At the beginning of the present century a certain woman, Bessie Miller
by name, lived in Stromness, in Orkney, and eked out her livelihood by
selling winds to mariners. Her usual charge was sixpence. For this sum,
as Sir W. Scott tells us, “she boiled her kettle, and gave the barque
advantage of her prayers, for she disclaimed all unlawful arts. The
wind, thus petitioned for, was sure to arrive, though sometimes the
mariners had to wait some time for it.” Her house was on the brow
of the steep hill above the town, “and for exposure might have been
the abode of Eolus himself.” At the time of Sir Walter’s visit to
Stromness, Bessie Miller was nearly a hundred years old, and appeared
“withered and dried up like a mummy.” We make her acquaintance in
the “Pirate,” under the name of Norna of the Fitful Head. In his
“Rambles in the Far North,” Mr. R. M. Fergusson tells of another
wind-compelling personage, named Mammie Scott, who also belonged to
Stromness, and practised her arts there, till within a comparatively
recent date. “Many wonderful tales are told of her power and influence
over the weather. Her fame was widely spread as that of Bessie. A
captain called upon Mammie one day to solicit a fair wind. He was
bound for Stornoway, and received from the reputed witch a scarlet
thread upon which were three knots. His instructions were, that if
sufficient wind did not arrive, one of the knots was to be untied;
if that proved insufficient, another knot was to be untied; but he was
on no account to unloose the third knot, else disaster would overtake
his vessel. The mariner set out upon his voyage, and, the wind being
light, untied the first knot. This brought a stronger breeze, but
still not sufficient to satisfy him. The second knot was let down, and
away the vessel sped across the waters, round Cape Wrath. In a short
time the entrance to Stornoway harbour was reached, when it came into
the captain’s head to untie the third knot in order to see what might
occur. He was too near the end of his voyage to suffer any damage now;
and so he felt emboldened to make the experiment. No sooner was the
last knot set free than a perfect hurricane set in from a contrary
direction, which drove the vessel right back to Hoy Sound, from which
she had set out, where he had ample time to repent of his folly.”

Within the last half-century there lived in Stonehaven an old
woman, who was regarded with considerable awe by the sea-faring
population. Before a voyage it was usual to propitiate her by the
gift of a bag of coals. On one occasion, two brothers, owners of a
coasting smack, after setting sail, had to return to port through
stress of weather, the storm being due, it was believed, to the
fact that one of the brothers had omitted to secure the woman’s good
offices in the usual way. The brother who was captain of the smack
seems to have been a firm believer in wind-charms, for it is related
of him that during a more than usually high wind he was in the habit
of throwing up his cap into the air with the exclamation, “She maun
hae something.” She, in this case, was the wind, and not the witch:
and the cap was meant as a gift to propitiate the storm. Dr. Charles
Rogers, in his “Social Life in Scotland,” tells us that “the seamen
of Shetland, in tempestuous weather, throw a piece of money into the
window of a ruinous chapel dedicated to St. Ronald in the belief that
the saint will allay the vehemence of the storm.” According to the
same writer, “Shetland boatmen still purchase favourable winds from
elderly women, who pretend to rule or to modify the storms.” “There are
now in Lerwick,” Dr. Rogers continues, “several old women who in this
fashion earn a subsistence. Many of the survivors of the great storm
of the 20th of July, 1881–so fatal on northern coasts–assert that
their preservation was due to warnings which they received through
a supernatural agency.”

Human skulls have their folklore. The lifting of them from their usual
resting-places has, in popular belief, been connected with certain
mysterious occurrences. According to a story told by Mr. Wirt Sikes,
in his “British Goblins,” a man who removed a skull from a church
to prove to his companions that he was free from superstition was
overtaken by a terrible whirlwind, the result, it was thought, of his
rash act. In some Highland districts it used to be reckoned unlucky
to allow a corpse to remain unburied. If from any cause, human bones
came to the surface, care was taken to lay them below ground again,
as otherwise disastrous storms would ensue.

We have a good example of the association of wind-charms with water
in the case of a certain magical stone referred to by Martin as
existing in his day in the island of Fladda, near Skye. There was a
chapel to St. Columba on the island, and on the altar lay the stone
in question. The stone was round, of a blue colour, and was always
moist. “It is an ordinary custom,” Martin relates, “when any of
the fishermen are detained in the isle by contrary winds, to wash
the blue stone with water all round, expecting thereby to procure
a favourable wind, which, the credulous tenant, living in the isle,
says never fails, especially if a stranger wash the stone.” The power
of the Fladda stone was equalled by a certain well in Gigha, though in
the latter instance a dweller in the island, rather than a stranger,
had power over it. When a foreign boat was wind-bound on the island,
the master of the craft was in the habit of giving some money to
one of the natives, to procure a favourable breeze. This was done in
the following way. A few feet above the well was a heap of stones,
forming a cover to the spring. These were carefully removed, and the
well was cleared out with a wooden dish or clam-shell. The water was
then thrown several times towards the point, from which the needed
wind should blow. Certain words of incantation were used, each time
the water was thrown. After the ceremony, the stones were replaced,
as the district would otherwise have been swept by a hurricane. Pennant
mentions, in connection with his visit to Gigha, that the superstition
had then died out. In this he was in error, for the well continued to
be occasionally consulted to a later date. Even within recent years,
the memory of the practice lingered in the island; but there seemed
some doubt, as to the exact nature of the required ritual. Captain
T. P. White was told by a shepherd, belonging to the island, that,
if a stone was taken out of the well, a storm would arise and prevent
any person crossing over, nor would it abate till the stone was taken
back to the well.

From the evidence of an Irish example, we find that springs could
allay a storm, as well as produce a favourable breeze. The island
of Innismurray, off the coast of Sligo, has a sacred well called
Tobernacoragh. When a tempest was raging, the natives believed that
by draining the water of this well into the sea, the wrath of the
elements could be calmed. Mr. Gomme, in his “Ethnology in Folklore,”
when commenting on the instance, remarks, “In this case the connection
between well-worship and the worship of a rain-god is certain, for
it may be surmised that if the emptying of the well allayed a storm,
some complementary action was practised at one time or other in order
to produce rain, and in districts more subject to a want of rain
than this Atlantic island, that ceremony would be accentuated at the
expense of the storm-allaying ceremony at Innismurray.” The Routing
Well, at Monktown, in Inveresk parish, Mid-Lothian, was believed to
give notice of an approaching storm by uttering sounds resembling the
moaning of the wind. As a matter of fact, the noises came from certain
disused coal-workings in the immediate neighbourhood, and were due
to the high wind blowing through them. The sounds thus accompanied
and did not precede the storm.

To procure rain, recourse was had to various superstitious
practices. Martin tells of a stone, five feet high, in the form of
a cross, opposite St. Mary’s Church, in North Uist. “The natives,”
he says, “call it the ‘Water Cross,’ for the ancient inhabitants
had a custom of erecting this sort of cross to procure rain, and
when they had got enough, they laid it flat on the ground, but this
custom is now disused.” Among the mountains of British Columbia, is
a certain stone held in much honour by the Indians, for they believe
that it will produce rain when struck. Rain-making is an important
occupation among uncivilised races, and strange rites are sometimes
practised to bring about the desired result. By some savages, human
hair is burned for this end. Mr. J. G. Frazer, in “The Golden Bough,”
has some interesting remarks on rain-production. After enumerating
certain rain-charms among heathen nations, he remarks, “Another way of
constraining the rain-god is to disturb him in his haunts. This seems
the reason why rain is supposed to be the consequence of troubling
a sacred spring. The Dards believed that if a cowskin or anything
impure is placed in certain springs storms will follow. Gervasius
mentions a spring, into which, if a stone or a stick were thrown,
rain would at once issue from it and drench the thrower. There was
a fountain in Munster such that if it were touched or even looked
at by a human being it would at once flood the whole province with
rain.” Curious survivals of ancient rain-charms are to be found in
modern folk-customs. Thus, in connection with the rejoicings of the
harvest-home in England, when the last load of grain was being carried
on the gaily decorated hock-cart to the farm-yard, it was customary
to throw water on those taking part in the ceremony. This apparently
meaningless frolic was in reality a rain-charm. A Cornish custom,
at one time popular at Padstow on the first of May, can be explained
on the same principle. A hobby-horse was taken to the Traitor’s Pool,
a quarter of a mile from the town. The head was dipped in the pool,
and water was sprinkled on the bystanders.

Such charms depend for their efficacy on what is called “sympathetic
magic.” Mimic rain is produced on the earth, in the hope that the same
liquid will be constrained to descend from the heavens, to bring fresh
fertility to the fields. Professor Rhys, in his “Celtic Heathendom,”
traces the connection between modern rain-charms and the rites of
ancient paganism. He there quotes the following particulars regarding
Dulyn, in North Wales, from a description of the place published in
1805:–“There lies in Snowdon Mountain a lake called Dulyn, in a
dismal dingle surrounded by high and dangerous rocks; the lake is
exceedingly black, and its fish are loathsome, having large heads
and small bodies. No wild swan or duck or any kind of bird has ever
been seen to light on it, as is their wont on every other Snowdonian
lake. In this same lake there is a row of stepping stones extending
into it; and if any one steps on the stones and throws water so as to
wet the furthest stone of the series, which is called the Red Altar,
it is but a chance that you do not get rain before night, even when
it is hot weather.” The spot was, probably in pre-Christian times,
the scene of sacrifices to some local deity. Judging from the dismal
character of the neighbourhood, we may safely infer that fear entered
largely into the worship paid there to the genius loci. The Fountain
of Barenton, in Brittany, was specially celebrated in connection
with rain-making. During the early middle ages, the peasantry of
the neighbourhood resorted to it in days of drought. According to a
time-honoured custom, they took some water from the fountain and threw
it on a slab hard by; rain was the result. Professor Rhys reminds
us that this fountain “still retains its pluvial importance; for,
in seasons of drought, the inhabitants of the surrounding parishes,
we are told go to it in procession, headed by their five great banners
and their priests ringing bells and chanting psalms. On arriving,
the rector of the canton dips the foot of the cross in the water,
and it is sure to rain within a week’s time.” The Barenton instance is
specially interesting, for part of the ceremony recalls what happened
in connection with a certain Scottish spring, viz., Tobar Faolan at
Struan, in Athole. This spring, as the name implies, was dedicated
to Fillan. In his “Holiday Notes in Athole,” in the “Proceedings of
the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland,” volume xii. (new series),
Mr. J. Mackintosh Gow says, “It is nearly one hundred yards west
from the church, at the foot of the bank, and close to the river
Garry. It is overgrown with grass and weeds, but the water is as clear
and cool as it may have been in the days of the saint. There is no
tradition of its having been a curing or healing well, except that
in pre-Reformation days, when a drought prevailed and rain was much
wanted, an image of the saint, which was kept in the church, used to be
taken in procession to the well, and, in order that rain might come,
the feet of the image were placed in the water; and this, of course,
was generally supposed to have the desired effect.” At Botriphnie,
in Banffshire, six miles from Keith, the wooden image of St. Fumac
used to be solemnly washed in his well on the third of May. We may
conclude that the ceremony was intended as a rain-charm. It must have
been successful, on at least one occasion, for the river Isla became
flooded through the abundance of rain. Indeed, the flooding was so
great that the saint’s image was swept away by the rushing water. The
image was finally stranded at Banff, where it was burned as a relic
of superstition by order of the parish minister about the beginning
of the present century. In Glentham Church, Lincolnshire, is a tomb,
with a figure locally called “Molly Grime.” From “Old English Customs
and Charities,” we learn that, till 1832, the figure was washed every
Good Friday with water from Newell Well by seven old maids of Glentham,
who each received a shilling, “in consequence of an old bequest
connected with some property in that district.” Perhaps its testator
was not free from a belief in the efficacy of rain-charms. Otherwise,
the ceremony seems meaningless. If the keeping clean of the figure
was the only object, the seven old maids should not have limited
their duties to an annual pilgrimage from the well to the church.

Trees were at one time worshipped as well as fountains. Ygdrasil,
the world-tree of Scandinavian mythology, had three roots,
and underneath each, was a fountain of wonderful virtues. This
represents the connection between tree and well in the domain of
mythology. But the same superstition was connected with ordinary
trees and wells. Glancing back over the history of civilisation,
we reach a period, when vegetation was endowed with personality. As
plants manifested the phenomena of life and death like man and the
lower animals, they had a similar kind of existence attributed to
them. Among some savages to-day, the fragrance of a flower is thought
to be its soul. As there was thus no hard and fast line between man
and the vegetable kingdom, the one could be derived from the other;
in other words, men could have trees as their ancestors. Curious
survivals of such a belief lie both revealed and concealed in the
language of to-day. Though we are far separated from such a phase
of archaic religion, we speak of the branches of a family. At one
time such an expression represented a literal fact, and not a mere
metaphor. In like manner, we call a son, who resembles his father,
“a chip of the old block.” But how few when using the phrase are alive
to its real force! Mr. Keary, in his “Outlines of Primitive Belief,”
observes, “Even when the literal notion of the descent from a tree
had been lost sight of, the close connection between the prosperity
of the tribe and the life of its fetish was often strictly held. The
village tree of the German races was originally a tribal tree with
whose existence the life of the village was involved.”

The picturesque ceremony known as the “Wassailing of Apple-trees,”
kept up till lately in Devon and Cornwall, carries our thoughts back
to the time when tree-worship was a thriving cult in our land. It was
celebrated on the evening before Epiphany (January 6th). The farmer,
accompanied by his labourers, carried a pail of cider with roasted
apples in it into the orchard. The pail was placed on the ground,
and each one of the company took from it a cupful of the liquid. They
then stood before the trees and repeated the following lines:–

“Health to thee, good apple tree,
Well to bear pocket-fulls, hat-fulls,
Peck-fulls, bushel bag-fulls.”

Part of the contents of the cup was then drunk, and the remainder was
thrown at the tree amid shouts from the by-standers. Relics of the
same cult can be traced in the superstitious regard for such trees as
the rowan, the elder, &c., and in the decoration of the May-pole and
the Christmas Tree. According to an ancient Irish legend, a certain
spring in Erin, called Connla’s Well, had growing over it nine mystical
hazel trees. Year by year these trees produced their flowers and
fruit simultaneously. The nuts were of a brilliant crimson colour and
contained in some mysterious way the knowledge of all that was best
in poetry and art. Professor O’Curry, in his “Lectures on the Manners
and Customs of the Ancient Irish,” refers to this legend, and says,
“No sooner were the beautiful nuts produced on the trees than they
always dropped into the well, raising by their fall a succession of
shining red bubbles. Now, during this time the water was always full of
salmon, and no sooner did the bubbles appear than these salmon darted
to the surface and ate the nuts, after which they made their way to
the river. The eating of the nuts produced brilliant crimson spots on
the bellies of these salmon, and to catch and eat these salmon became
an object of more than mere gastronomic interest among those who were
anxious to become distinguished in the arts and in literature without
being at the pains and delay of long study, for the fish was supposed
to have become filled with the knowledge which was contained in the
nuts, which, it was believed, would be transferred in full to those
who had the good fortune to catch and eat them.”

In many cases it was counted unlucky to cut down trees, since the
spirits, inhabiting them, would resent the injury. In the sixteenth
century the parishioners of Clynnog, in Caernarvonshire, refrained
from destroying the trees growing in the grounds of St. Beyno. Even
though he was their patron saint, he was quite ready to harm anybody
who took liberties with his grove. Loch Siant Well, in Skye, was
noted for its power to cure headaches, stitches, and other ailments,
and was much frequented in consequence. Martin says, “There is a
small coppice near to the well, and there is none of the natives dare
venture to cut the least branch of it for fear of some signal judgment
to follow upon it.” Martin also tells us that the same reverence
was for long paid to the peat on the island of Lingay. This island,
he says, “is singular in respect of all the lands of Uist, and the
other islands that surround it, for they are all composed of sand,
and this, on the contrary, is altogether moss covered with heath,
affording five peats in depth, and is very serviceable and useful,
furnishing the island Borera, &c., with plenty of good fuel. This
island was held as consecrated for several ages, insomuch that the
natives would not then presume to cut any fuel in it.”

When trees beside wells had rags hung on them as offerings,
they would naturally be reverenced, as the living altars for the
reception of the gifts. But even when not used for this purpose,
they were sometimes thought to have a mysterious connection with
the springs they overshadowed. In the parish of Monzie, Perthshire,
is a mineral well held in much esteem till about the year 1770. At
that time two trees, till then the guardians of the spring, fell,
and with their fall its virtue departed. On the right bank of the
Clyde, about three-quarters of a mile from Carmyle village, is the
once sylvan district of Kenmuir. There, at the foot of a bank, is a
spring locally known as “The Marriage Well,” the name being derived,
it is said, from two curiously united trees beside its margin. These
trees were recently cut down. In former times, it was customary for
marriage parties, the day after their wedding, to visit the spring,
and there pledge the bride and bridegroom in draughts of its sparkling
water. On the banks of the Kelvin, close to the Glasgow Botanic
Gardens, once flowed a spring styled the Pear-Tree, Pea-Tree, or
Three-Tree Well, the last name being probably the original one. In
former times it was a recognised trysting-place for lovers. A tragic
story is told in connection with it by Mr. James Napier in his “Notes
and Reminiscences of Partick.” A maiden, named Catherine Clark,
arranged to meet her lover there by night,

“nor did she ever dream
But that he was what he did ever seem.”

She never returned to her home. “A few days after,” remarks Mr. Napier,
“her body was found buried near a large tree which stood within a
few yards of the Pea-Tree Well. This tree was afterwards known as
‘Catherine Clark’s Tree,’ and remained for many years an object
of interest to the visitors to this far-famed well, and many a
sympathising lover carved his name in rude letters on its bark. But
the tree was also an object of terror to those who had to pass it in
dark and lonely nights, and many tales were told of people who had
seen a young female form dressed in white, and stained with blood,
standing at the tree foot.” The tree was removed many years ago. The
spring too is gone, the recent extension of the Caledonian Railway
to Maryhill having forced it to quit the field.

Near the moat of Listerling, in county Kilkenny, Ireland, is a
holy well dedicated to St. Mullen, who is said to have lived for
a while in its neighbourhood. A fine hawthorn, overshadowing it,
grew–if we can believe a local legend–from the staff of the saint,
which he there stuck into the ground. This reminds one of the famous
Glastonbury Thorn, produced from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea,
who fixed it in the ground one Christmas Day. The staff took root at
once, put forth branches, and next day was covered with milk-white
blossoms. St. Servanus’s staff, too, had a miraculous ending. He threw
it across the Firth of Forth, and when it fell on the Fife coast,
it took root and became an apple-tree. A group of thorn-bushes, near
Aghaboe, in Queen’s County, Ireland, was dedicated to St. Canice. The
spring, overshadowed by them, was much resorted to for the purposes
of devotion. At Rearymore, in the same county, some hawthorns,
growing beside St. Finyan’s spring, were, and doubtless still are,
religiously preserved by the natives. In the Isle of Man is Chibber
Unjin, signifying The Well of the Ash. Beside it grew an ash tree,
formerly decorated with votive offerings.

What has been called the external soul has an important place in
folklore, and forms the theme of many folk-tales. Primitive man does
not think of the soul as spiritual, but as material–as something
that can be seen and felt. It can take different shapes. It can leave
the body during sleep, and wander about in the guise of an animal,
such as a mouse. Considerable space is devoted to this problem in
Mr. J. G. Frazer’s “Golden Bough.” Mr. Frazer there remarks, “There
may be circumstances in which, if the life or soul remains in the man,
it stands a greater chance of sustaining injury than if it were stowed
away in some safe and secret place. Accordingly, in such circumstances,
primitive man takes his soul out of his body and deposits it for
security in some safe place, intending to replace it in his body when
the danger is past; or, if he should discover some place of absolute
security, he may be content to leave his soul there permanently. The
advantage of this is, that so long as the soul remains unharmed in the
place where he has deposited it, the man himself is immortal; nothing
can kill his body, since his life is not in it.” Sometimes the soul is
believed to be stowed away in a tree, injury to the latter involving
disaster to the former. The custom of planting trees, and calling
them after certain persons may nowadays have nothing to do with this
notion; but, undoubtedly, a real connection was at one time believed
to exist between the partners in the transaction. A certain oak,
with mistletoe growing on it, was mysteriously associated with the
family of Hay. The superstition is explained in the following lines:–

“While the mistletoe bats on Errol’s oak
And that oak stands fast,
The Hays shall flourish, and their good grey hawk
Shall not flinch before the blast.

But when the root of the oak decays
And the mistletoe dwines on its withered breast,
The grass shall grow on the Earl’s hearthstone,
And the corbies craw in the falcon’s nest.”

At Finlarig Castle, near Killin, in Perthshire, are several trees,
believed to be linked with the lives of certain individuals, connected
by family ties with the ruined fortress. Aubrey gives an example
of this superstition, as it existed in England in the seventeenth
century. He says, “I cannot omit taking notice of the great misfortune
in the family of the Earl of Winchelsea, who, at Eastwell, in Kent,
felled down a most curious grove of oaks near his own noble seat, and
gave the first blow with his own hands. Shortly after, the countess
died in her bed suddenly, and his eldest son, the Lord Maidstone,
was killed at sea by a cannon bullet.” In the grounds of Dalhousie
Castle, about two miles from Dalkeith, on the edge of a fine spring
is the famous Edgewell Oak. Sir Walter Scott, in his “Journal,” under
date May 13th, 1829, writes, “Went with the girls to dine at Dalhousie
Castle, where we were very kindly received. I saw the Edgewell Tree,
too fatal, says Allan Ramsay, to the family from which he was himself
descended.” According to a belief in the district, a branch fell from
this tree, before the death of a member of the family. The original oak
fell early in last century, but a new one sprang from the old root. An
editorial note to the above entry in the “Journal” gives the following
information:–“The tree is still flourishing (1889), and the belief in
its sympathy with the family is not yet extinct, as an old forester,
on seeing a branch fall from it on a quiet still day in July, 1874,
exclaimed, ‘The laird’s deed, noo!’ and, accordingly, news came soon
after that Fox Maule, eleventh Earl of Dalhousie, had died.”

The external soul was sometimes associated with objects other than
living trees. Dr. Charles Rogers tells us that “a pear, supposed
to have been enchanted by Hugh Gifford, Lord of Yester, a notable
magician in the reign of Alexander III., is preserved in the family
of Brown of Colston, as heirs of Gifford’s estate.” The prosperity
of the family is believed to be linked with the preservation of the
pear. Even an inanimate object would serve the purpose. The glass
drinking-cup, known as the “Luck of Edenhall,” is connected with
the fortunes of the Musgrave family, and great care is taken to
preserve it from injury. Tradition says that a company of fairies
were making merry beside a spring near the mansion-house, but that,
being frightened by some intruder, they vanished, leaving the cup in
question, while one of them exclaimed:–

“If this cup should break or fall,
Farewell the luck of Edenhall.”

Some living object, however, either vegetable or animal, was the
usual repository of the external soul. A familiar folk-tale tells of a
giant whose heart was in a swan, and who could not be killed while the
swan lived. Hunting was a favourite occupation among the inhabitants
of the Western Isles; but on the mountain Finchra, in Rum, no deer
was killed by any member of the Lachlan family, as it was believed
that the life of that family was in some way linked with the life of
these animals. A curious superstition is mentioned by Camden in his
“Britannia.” In a pond near the Abbey of St. Maurice, in Burgundy,
were put as many fish as there were monks. When any monk was taken
ill, one of the fish was seen to float half-dead on the surface of
the pond. If the fish died the monk died too, the death of the former
giving warning of the fate of the latter. In this case the external
soul was thought of as stowed away in a fish. As is well known,
the Arms of the City of Glasgow are a bell, a tree, a fish with
a ring in its mouth, and a bird. The popular explanation of these
emblems connects them with certain miracles, wrought by Kentigern,
the patron saint of the burgh. May we not hold that an explanation
of their symbolism is to be sought in a principle, that formed an
article in the beliefs of men, long before Kentigern was born, as well
as during his time and since? The bell, it is true, had, doubtless, an
ecclesiastical association; but the other three symbols point, perhaps,
to some superstitious notion like the above. In various folk-tales,
as well as in Christian art, the soul is sometimes typified by a
bird. As we have just seen, it has been associated with trees and
fish. We are entitled therefore to ask whether the three symbols
may not express one and the same idea under different forms. It is,
of course, open to anyone to say that there were fish in the river,
on whose banks Kentigern took up his abode, and quite a forest with
birds singing in it around his cell, and that no further explanation
of the symbolism need be sought. All these, it is true, existed
within the saint’s environment, but may they not have been regarded
as types of the soul under the guise of objects familiar to all, and
afterwards grouped together in the burgh Arms? On this hypothesis,
the symbols have survived the belief that gave them birth, and serve
to connect the practical life of to-day, with the vague visions and
crude conjectures of the past.

We have already seen that in early times water was an object
of worship. Stones also were reverenced as the embodiments of
nature-deities. “In Western Europe during the middle ages,” remarks
Sir J. Lubbock in his “Origin of Civilisation,” “we meet with
several denunciations of stone-worship, proving its deep hold on
the people. Thus the worship of stones was condemned by Theodoric,
Archbishop of Canterbury, in the seventh century, and is among the
acts of heathenism forbidden by King Edgar in the tenth, and by Cnut
in the eleventh century.” Even as late as the seventeenth century,
the Presbytery of Dingwall sought to suppress, among other practices
of heathen origin, that of rendering reverence to stones, the stones
in question having been consulted as to future events. It is not
surprising therefore that stones had certain mysterious properties
ascribed to them. In all ages precious stones have been deservedly
admired for their beauty, but, in addition, they have frequently
been esteemed for their occult qualities. “In my youth,” Mr. James
Napier tells us, in his “Folklore in the West of Scotland,” “there
was a belief in the virtue of precious stones, which added a value to
them beyond their real value as ornaments…. Each stone had its own
symbolic meaning and its own peculiar influence for imparting good and
protecting from evil and from sickness its fortunate possessor.” By the
ancient Jews, the topaz and the amethyst were believed to guard their
wearers respectively against poison and drunkenness; while the diamond
was prized as a protection against Satanic influence. Concerning the
last-mentioned gem, Sir John Mandeville, writing about 1356, says,
“It makes a man stronger and firmer against his enemies, heals him
that is lunatic, and those whom the fiend pursues and torments.” By
certain sects of the Gnostics, precious stones were much thought of as
talismans. Among the sect founded by Basilides of Egypt, the famous
Abraxas gems were used as tokens by the initiated. The Gnostics also
placed gems inscribed with mystic mottoes in sarcophagi, to remind the
dead of certain prayers that were thought likely to aid them in the
other world. In Scandinavia, warriors were in the habit of carrying
about with them amulets called life-stones or victory-stones. These
strengthened the hand of the wearer in fight. In our own country,
the use of amulets was not uncommon. A flat oval-shaped pebble,
measuring two and a half inches in greatest diameter, was presented
in 1864 to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. It had been worn
as a charm by a Forfarshire farmer, who died in 1854 at the age
of eighty-four. When in use, it had been kept in a small bag and
suspended by a red string round the wearer’s neck.

Even when stones were not used as amulets, they were sometimes held
in superstitious regard. When in Mull, Martin was told of a yellow
stone, lying at the bottom of a certain spring in the island, its
peculiarity being that it did not get hot, though kept over the fire
for a whole day. The same writer alludes to a certain stone in Arran,
called Baul Muluy, i.e., “Molingus, his Stone Globe.” It was green
in colour, and was about the size of a goose’s egg. The stone was
used by the islanders, when great oaths had to be sworn. It was also
employed to disperse an enemy. When thrown among the front ranks, the
opposing army would retreat in confusion. In this way the Macdonalds
were said to have gained many a victory. When not in use, the Baul
Muluy was carefully kept wrapped up in cloth. Among oath-stones,
the black stones of Iona were specially famous. These were situated
to the west of St. Martin’s Cross, and were called black, not from
their colour–for they were grey–but from the effects of perjury
in the event of a false oath being sworn by them. Macdonald, Lord
of the Isles, knelt on them, and, with uplifted hands, swore that he
would never recall the rights granted by him to his vassals. Such a
hold had these oath-stones taken on the popular imagination, that
when anyone expressed himself certain about a particular thing,
he gave weight to his affirmation, by saying that he was prepared
to “swear upon the black stones.” Bishop Pocoke mentions that the
inhabitants of Iona “were in the habit of breaking off pieces from a
certain stone lying in the church,” to be used “as medicine for man
or beast in most disorders, and especially the flux.”

Charm-stones were sometimes associated with early saints. The following
particulars about St. Declan’s Stone are given by Sir Arthur Mitchell
in the tenth volume of the “Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries
of Scotland”:–“We are told in the life of St. Declan that a small
stone was sent to him from Heaven while he was saying Mass in a church
in Italy. It came through the window and rested on the altar. It was
called Duivhin Deaglain or Duivh-mhion Deaglain, i.e., ‘Declan’s Black
Relic.’ It performed many miracles during his life, being famous for
curing sore eyes, headaches, &c.; and is said to have been found in
his grave sometime, I think, during last century. Its size is two and
a-fourth by one and three-fourth inches, and on one side there is a
Latin cross, incised and looped at the top. At the bottom of the stem
of this cross there is another small Latin cross. On the other side
of the stone there is a circle, one and a-fourth inch in diameter,
and six holes or pits.” Curing stones are still used occasionally
in connection with the diseases of cattle, particularly in Highland
districts; but they have ceased to do duty in the treatment of human
ailments. Mary Queen of Scots seems to have been a firm believer in
their efficacy. In a letter to her brother-in-law, Henry the Third
of France, written on the eve of her execution, the Queen says,
“She ventures to send him two rare stones, valuable for the health,
which she hopes will be good, with a happy and long life, asking
him to receive them as the gift of his very affectionate sister-in
law, who is at the point of death, and in token of true love towards
him.” In a case of curiosities at Abbotsford, there is an amulet that
belonged to Sir Walter Scott’s mother. It somewhat resembles crocodile
skin in colour, and has a setting of silver. The amulet was believed
to prevent children from being bewitched.

It is nowadays difficult to ascertain the whereabouts of curing-stones
in the Highlands, owing to the reticence of those who still have faith
in their virtues. Till lately there was one in the neighbourhood
of Aberfeldy that had been in use, it is believed, for about three
hundred years. In shape, the charm somewhat resembled a human heart,
and consisted of a water-worn pebble fully three inches in greatest
length. When required for the cure of cattle, it was rubbed over the
affected part or was dipped in water, the water being then given to
the animal to drink. Recently the family who owned it became extinct,
and the charm passed into other hands. Martin gives some curious
information with regard to the employment of charm-stones, among
the inhabitants of the Western Isles. After describing a certain
kind of stone, called lapis ceranius, found in the island of Skye,
he remarks, “These stones are by the natives called ‘Cramp-stones,’
because (as they say) they cure the cramp in cows by washing the part
affected with water in which this stone had been steeped for some
hours.” He mentions also, that in the same island, the stone called
lapis hecticus was deemed efficacious in curing consumption and other
diseases. It was made red-hot, and then cooled in milk or water,
the liquid being drunk by the patient. On Bernera, the islanders
frequently rub their breasts with a particular stone, by way of
prevention, and say it is a good preservative for health. Martin adds,
“This is all the medicine they use: Providence is very favourable
to them in granting them a good state of health, since they have no
physician among them.” In connection with his visit to the island of
Rona, the same writer observes, “There is a chapel here dedicated to
St. Ronan, fenced with a stone wall round; and they take care to keep
it neat and clean, and sweep it every day. There is an altar in it,
on which there lies a big plank of wood, about ten feet in length;
every foot has a hole in it, and in every hole a stone, to which the
natives ascribe several virtues: one of them is singular, as they
say, for promoting speedy delivery to a woman in travail.” The blue
stone in Fladda, already referred to in connection with wind-charms,
did duty as an oath-stone, and likewise as a curing-stone, its special
function being to remove stitches in the side. The Baul Muluy in Arran,
alluded to above, also cured stitches in the side. When the patient
would not recover, the stone withdrew from the bed of its own accord.

A certain white stone, taken by Columba from the river Ness, near
what is now the town of Inverness, had the singular power of becoming
invisible, when the illness of the person requiring it would prove
fatal. The selection of this stone was made in connection with the
saint’s visit to the court of Brude, king of the Picts, about the
year 563. Adamnan, who tells the story, thus describes an interview
between Columba and Brochan (the king’s chief Druid or Magus),
concerning the liberation of a female slave belonging to the latter:
“The venerable man, from motives of humanity, besought Brochan the
Druid to liberate a certain Irish female captive, a request which
Brochan harshly and obstinately refused to grant. The saint then spoke
to him as follows:–‘Know, O Brochan, know, that if you refuse to
set this captive free, as I advise you, you shall die before I return
from this province.’ Having said this in presence of Brude the king,
he departed from the royal palace, and proceeded to the river Nesa,
from which he took a white pebble, and, showing it to his companions,
said to them:–‘Behold this white pebble, by which God will effect
the cure of many diseases.’ Having thus spoken, he added, ‘Brochan is
punished grievously at this moment, for an angel sent from heaven,
striking him severely, has broken in pieces the glass cup which he
held in his hands, and from which he was in the act of drinking,
and he himself is left half-dead.'” Messengers were sent by the
king to announce the illness of Brochan, and to ask Columba to cure
him. Adamnan continues:–“Having heard these words of the messengers,
Saint Columba sent two of his companions to the king with the pebble
which he had blessed, and said to them:–‘If Brochan shall first
promise to free his captive, immerse this little stone in water,
and let him drink from it; but if he refuse to liberate her, he will
that instant die.’ The two persons sent by the saint proceeded to
the palace, and announced the words of the holy man to the king and
to Brochan, an announcement which filled them with such fear that he
immediately liberated the captive and delivered her to the saint’s
messengers. The stone was then immersed in water, and, in a wonderful
manner and contrary to the laws of nature, it floated on the water
like a nut or an apple, nor could it be submerged. Brochan drank from
the stone as it floated on the water, and instantly recovered his
perfect health and soundness of body.” The wonderful pebble was kept
by King Brude among his treasures. On the day of the king’s death,
it remained true to itself, for, when its aid was sought, it could
nowhere be found.

According to a tradition current in Sutherland, Loch Manaar in
Strathnaver was connected with another white pebble, endowed
with miraculous properties. The tradition, as narrated by
the Rev. Dr. Gregor in the “Folklore Journal” for 1888, is as
follows:–“Once upon a time, in Strathnaver, there lived a woman who
was both poor and old. She was able to do many wonderful things by
the power of a white stone which she possessed, and which had come to
her by inheritance. One of the Gordons of Strathnaver having a thing
to do, wished to have both her white stone and the power of it. When
he saw that she would not lend it, or give it up, he determined to
seize her, and to drown her in a loch. The man and the woman struggled
there for a long time, till he took up a heavy stone with which to
kill her. She plunged into the lake, throwing her magic stone before
her and crying, ‘May it do good to all created things save a Gordon
of Strathnaver!’ He stoned her to death in the water, she crying,
‘Manaar! Manaar!’ (Shame! Shame!). And the loch is called the Loch of
Shame to this day.” The loch had a more than local fame, for invalids
resorted to it from Orkney in the north and Inverness in the south:
its water was deemed specially efficacious on the first Monday of
February, May, August, and November, (O. S.). The second and third
of these dates were the most popular. The patient was kept bound and
half-starved for about a day previous, and immediately after sunset
on the appointed day, he was taken into the middle of the loch and
there dipped. His wet clothes were then exchanged for dry ones, and
his friends took him home in the full expectation of a cure. Belief
in the loch’s powers was acknowledged till recently, and is probably
still secretly cherished in the district.

In a graveyard beside Loch Torridon, in Ross-shire, is a spring,
formerly believed to work cures. From time immemorial three stones
have been whirling in the well, and it was usual to carry one of
these in a bucket of water to the invalid who simply touched the
stone. When put back into the well, the stone began to move round and
round as before. On one occasion a woman sought to cure her sick goat
in the usual way, but the pebble evidently did not care to minister
to any creature lower than man, for when replaced in the well, it
lay motionless at the bottom ever afterwards. A certain Katherine
Craigie, who was burned as a witch in Orkney in 1643, used pebbles
in connection with the magical cures wrought by her. Her method,
as described by Dr. Rogers in his “Social Life in Scotland,” was as
follows:–“Into water wherewith she washed the patient she placed
three small stones; these, being removed from the vessel, were placed
on three corners of the patient’s house from morning till night,
when they were deposited at the principal entrance. Next morning
the stones were cast into water with which the sick person was
anointed. The process was repeated every day till a cure was effected.”

At some wells, what the water lacked in the matter of efficacy was
supplied by certain stones lying by their margins. These stones,
in virtue of a real or fancied resemblance to parts of the human
body–such as the eye or arm–were applied to the members corresponding
to them in shape, in the expectation that this would conduce to a
cure. At Killin, in Perthshire, there are several stones dedicated
to Fillan, at one time much used in the way described. These are,
however, not beside a spring, but in the mill referred to in a previous
chapter. They lie in a niche in the inner wall, and have been there
from an unknown past. Whenever a new mill was built to replace the old
one, a niche was made in the wall for their reception. They are some
seven or eight in number. The largest of them weighs eight lbs. ten
oz. Special interest attaches to at least two of them, on account of
certain markings on one side, consisting of shallow rounded hollows
somewhat resembling the cup-marks which have proved such a puzzle
to archæologists. There is reason to believe that the stones in
question were at one time used in connection with milling operations,
the hollows being merely the sockets where the spindle of the upper
millstone revolved. On the saint’s day (the ninth of January), it was
customary till not very long ago, for the villagers to assemble at the
mill, and place a layer of straw below the stones. This custom has a
particular interest, for we find a counterpart to it in Scandinavia,
both instances being clearly survivals of stone-worship. “In certain
mountain districts of Norway,” Dr. Tylor tells us in his “Primitive
Culture,” “up to the end of the last century, the peasants used to
preserve round stones, washed them every Thursday evening (which
seems to show that they represented Thor), smeared them with butter
before the fire, laid them on the seat of honour on fresh straw, and
at certain times of the year steeped them in ale, that they might bring
luck and comfort to the house.” The ritual here is more elaborate than
in the case of the Killin stones; but the instances are parallel as
regards the use of straw. Fully a couple of miles from Killin, below
Mornish, close to Loch Tay, is the lonely nettle-covered graveyard
of Cladh Davi, and on a tombstone in its enclosure lie two roundish
stones, believed to belong to the same series as those in the mill, and
marked with similar hollows. These stones were thought to cure pectoral
inflammation, the hollows being filled with water, and applied to the
breasts. The Rev. Dr. Hugh MacMillan, after describing the stones
in the volume of the “Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of
Scotland” for 1883-84, mentions that “not long since, a woman, who
was thus afflicted, came a considerable distance, from the head of
Glen Lochay, to make use of this remedy.”

Charm-stones were sometimes kept on the altars of ancient churches,
as in the case of St. Ronan’s Chapel, and the church in Iona already
referred to. At other times they were associated with crosses. Sir
Arthur Mitchell tells of an Irish curing-stone in shape like a
dumb-bell, preserved in Killaghtee parish, County Donegal. “There is,”
he says, “a fragment of a stone cross on the top of a small cairn. In
a cleft or hollow of this cross is kept a famous healing stone, in
whose virtues there is still a belief. It is frequently removed to
houses in which sickness exists, but it is invariably brought back,
and those living near the cross can always tell where it is to be
found, if it has been so removed.” Pennant, in connection with his
visit to Iona, speaks of certain stones lying in the pedestal of
a cross to the north-west of St. Oran’s Chapel. “Numbers who visit
this island,” he remarks, “think it incumbent on them to turn each
of these thrice round, according to the course of the sun. They
are called Clach-a-brath–for it is thought that the brath, or
‘end of the world,’ will not arrive till the stone on which they
stand is worn through.” Pennant thought that these stones were the
successors of “three noble globes of white marble,” which, according
to Sacheverel, at one time lay in three stone basins, and were turned
round in the manner described, but were afterwards thrown into the
sea by the order of the ecclesiastical authorities. MacCulloch says
that, in his day, the superstition connected with the Clach-a-brath
had died out in Iona. We do not think that this was likely. Anyhow
he mentions that “the boys of the village still supply a stone for
every visitor to turn round on its bed; and thus, in the wearing of
this typical globe, to contribute his share to the final dissolution
of all things.” MacCulloch alludes to the same superstition as then
existing on one of the Garveloch Isles. Sometimes hollows were made
on the pedestals of crosses, not for the reception of stone-balls,
but to supply occupation to persons undergoing penance. A sculptured
cross at Kilberry, in Argyllshire, has a cavity of this kind in its
pedestal. In connection with his visit to Kilberry, Captain White
was told that “one of the prescribed acts of penance in connection
with many of the ancient Irish crosses required the individual under
discipline, while kneeling before the cross, to scoop out a cavity
in the pedestal, pestle-and-mortar fashion; and that such cavities,
where now to be seen, show in this way, varying stages of the process.”

One of the wonders of Harris, when Martin visited the island, was
a lunar stone lying in a hole in a rock. Like the tides, it felt
the moon’s influence, for it advanced and retired according to the
increase or decrease of that luminary. Perforated stones were formerly
much esteemed as amulets. If a stone, with a hole in it, was tied to
the key of a stable-door, it would prevent the witches from stealing
the horses. Pre-historic relics of this kind were much used to ward
off malign influences from cattle, or to cure diseases caused by the
fairies. Ure, in his “History of Rutherglen and Kilbride,” refers to a
ring of black schistus found in a cairn in the parish of Inchinnan. It
was believed to work wonderful cures. About a hundred years ago, a
flat reddish stone, having notches and with two holes bored through it,
was presented to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. It came from
Islay, and had been used there as a charm. It belonged to the Stone
Age, and had, doubtless, served its first possessor as a personal
ornament. Ivory had magical properties attributed to it. The famous
“Barbeck’s Bone”–once the property of the Campbells of Barbeck,
in Craignish parish, Argyllshire, and now in the National Museum of
Antiquities–is a piece of ivory seven inches long, four broad, and
half an inch thick. At one time it had a great reputation in the West
Highlands for the cure of insanity. It was counted so valuable that,
when it was lent, a deposit of one hundred pounds sterling had to
be made.

The antiquarian objects, popularly called adder-beads, serpent
stones, or druidical beads, were frequently used for the cure of
cattle. The beads were dipped in water, and the liquid was then
given to the animals to drink. These relics of a long-forgotten past
have been found from time to time in ancient places of sepulture,
and as they usually occur singly, it has been conjectured that they
were placed there as amulets. “Many of them,” remarks Sir Daniel
Wilson in his “Pre-historic Annals,” “are exceedingly beautiful,
and are characterised by considerable ingenuity in the variations of
style. Among those in the Scottish Museum there is one of red glass
spotted with white; another of dark brown glass streaked with yellow;
others of pale green and blue glass, plain and ribbed; and two of
curiously figured patterns, wrought with various colours interwoven
on their surface.” A fine specimen of this species of amulet was
discovered in a grave mound at Eddertoun, in Ross-shire, during the
progress of the railway operations in 1864. The Rev. Dr. Joass, who
interested himself in the antiquarian discoveries then made, thus
describes the find:–“The glass, of which this bead was composed,
was of a dark blue colour, and but partially transparent. It was
ornamented by three volutes, which sufficed to surround it. These
were traced in a yellow pigment (or enamel) as hard as the glass
and seeming to sink slightly below the surface into the body of the
bead, as could be seen where this was flattened, as if by grinding
at the opposite ends of its orifice.” These adder-beads seem to have
been common in the seventeenth century. Edward Llwyd, who visited
Scotland in 1699, saw fifty different forms of them between Wales and
the Scottish Highlands. Crystal balls, he tells us, were frequently
put into a tub of water on May Day, the contents of the tub being
sprinkled over cattle to keep them from being bewitched.

Flint arrow-heads–the weapons of early times–became the amulets of a
later age. In folklore they are known as elf-bolts. Popular credulity
imagined that they were used by the fairies for the destruction of
cattle. When an animal was attacked by some sudden and mysterious
disease, it was believed to be “elf-shot” even though no wound could
be seen on its body. To cure the cow, the usual method was to make it
drink some water in which an elf-bolt had been dipped, on the principle
of taking a hair of the dog that bit you. Elf-arrows were at one time
thought to be serviceable to man also. The custom was not unknown of
sewing one of them in some part of the dress as a charm against the
influence of the evil eye. Occasionally one still sees them doing
duty as brooches, and in that form, if not now prized as amulets,
they are esteemed as ornaments.

Sir J. Y. Simpson, in his “Archæological Essays,” gives some
interesting particulars about two ancient charm-stones, the
property of two Highland families for many generations. Of these,
the Clach-na-Bratach, or Stone of the Standard, belongs to the head
of the Clan Donnachie. It is described as “a transparent, globular
mass of rock crystal of the size of a small apple. Its surface has
been artificially polished.” The stone was picked up by the then
chief of the clan shortly before the battle of Bannockburn. It was
found in a clod of earth adhering to the standard when drawn out of
the ground, and on account of its brilliancy the chief foretold a
victory. In later times it was used to predict the fortunes of the
clan. We are told that before the battle of Sheriffmuir, in 1715,
which proved so disastrous to the cause of the Stuarts, as well as
to that of Clan Donnachie, the Clach-na-Bratach was found to have a
flaw, not seen till then. When wanted to impart curative virtue to
water, the Clach-na-Bratach was dipped in it thrice by the hand of
the chief. The other charm-stone alluded to is the Clach Dearg, or
Stone of Ardvoirlich. It resembles the Clach-na-Bratach in appearance,
though it is somewhat smaller in size. It differs from it, moreover,
in being surrounded by four silver bands of eastern workmanship. The
charm has belonged to the family of Ardvoirlich from an unknown past,
but there is no tradition as to its early history. As a healing agent
it has had more than a local fame. When its help was sought certain
rules had to be attended to. The person coming to Ardvoirlich was
required to draw the water himself, and bring it into the house in the
vessel in which the charm was to be dipped. A bottle of this water was
then carried to the invalid’s home. If the bearer called at any house
by the way, it was requisite that the bottle should be left outside,
otherwise the water would lose its power.

In the mansion-house of Lee, some three miles north of Lanark, is kept
the Lee Penny, an amulet of even greater fame than the Clach-na-Bratach
or the Clach Dearg. This charm–the prototype of Sir Walter Scott’s
“Talisman”–is a semi-transparent gem of a dark red colour. It is set
in a silver coin, believed to be a groat of Edward the Fourth. In shape
it rudely resembles a heart. This circumstance doubtless strengthened
the original belief in its magical powers, if, indeed, it did not give
rise to it. The tradition is, that Sir Simon Lockhart, an ancestor of
the present owner of the estate, left Scotland along with Sir James
Douglas, in the year 1330, to convey the heart of Robert Bruce to the
Holy Land. Douglas was killed in Spain in a battle with the Moors, and
Sir Simon returned to Scotland, bringing the heart with him. He had
various adventures in connection with this mission. One of these was
the capture of a Saracen prince, who, however, obtained his freedom
for a large sum. While the money was being counted out the amulet
in question accidentally fell into the heap of coin, and was claimed
as part of the ransom. Previous to its appearance in Scotland it had
been much esteemed as a cure for hemorrhage and fever. After it was
brought to our shores its fame increased rather than waned. During
the reign of Charles the First it was taken to Newcastle-on-Tyne to
stay a pestilence raging there, a bond for six thousand pounds being
given as a guarantee of its safe return. The amulet did its work so
well, that to ensure its retention in the town the bond would have
been willingly forfeited. It was reckoned of use in the treatment of
almost any ailment, but specially in cases of hydrophobia. A cure
effected by it at the beginning of last century is on record. Lady
Baird of Saughton Hall, near Edinburgh, showed what were believed to
be symptoms of rabies from the bite of a dog. At her request the Lee
Penny was sent to Saughton Hall. She drank and bathed in water in which
it had been dipped, and restoration was the result. The amulet was
also used for the cure of cattle, and when every other remedy failed
recourse was had to the wonder-working gem. When it was employed
for therapeutic purposes, the following was the modus operandi:–It
was drawn once round the vessel containing the water to be rendered
medicinal, and was then plunged thrice into the liquid; but no words
of incantation were used. For this reason the Reformed Church, when
seeking to abolish certain practices of heathen origin, sanctioned
the continued use of the Lee Penny as a charm. A complaint was made
against the Laird of Lee “anent the superstitious using of ane stane
set in silver for the curing of diseased cattell.” The complaint came
before the Assembly which met in Glasgow; but the case was dismissed
on the ground that the rite was performed “wtout using onie words
such as charmers and sorcerers use in their unlawfull practices; and
considering that in nature there are mony things seen to work strange
effects, q.r. of no human wit can give a reason.” Nevertheless the
Laird of Lee was admonished “in the useing of the said stane to tak
heed that it be used hereafter w.t. the least scandal that possiblie
may be.” Belief in the efficacy of the amulet continued to hold its
ground in the neighbourhood of Lee till towards the middle of the
present century. In 1839 phials of water which had felt its magical
touch were to be seen hanging up in byres to protect the cattle from
evil influences. Some fifteen years earlier a Yorkshire farmer carried
away water from Lee to cure some of his cattle which had been bitten
by a mad dog. Attached to the amulet is a small silver chain which
facilitated its use when its services were required. The charm is
kept in a gold box, presented by the Empress Maria Theresa.

Another south-country amulet, not, however, so famous as the Lee Penny,
is the piece of silver, known as the Lockerbie Penny. It was, and still
is, we suppose, used to cure madness in cattle. In his “Folklore of
the Northern Counties,” Mr. Henderson gives the following particulars
about the charm:–“It is put in a cleft stick and a well is stirred
round with it, after which the water is bottled off and given to any
animal so affected. A few years ago, in a Northumbrian farm, a dog bit
an ass, and the ass bit a cow; the penny was sent for, and a deposit
of fifty pounds sterling actually left till it was restored. The dog
was shot, the cuddy died, but the cow was saved through the miraculous
virtue of the charm.” After the death of the farmer who borrowed the
Penny, several bottles of water were found stowed away in a cupboard
labelled “Lockerbie Water.” Mr. Henderson also mentions another Border
amulet, known as the Black Penny, for long the property of a family at
Hume-byers. It is larger than an ordinary penny, and is believed to
be a Roman coin or medal. When brought into use it should be dipped
in a well, the water of which runs towards the south. Mr. Henderson
adds:–“Popular belief still upholds the virtue of this remedy; but,
alas! it is lost to the world. A friend of mine informs me that half
a generation back the Hume-byers Penny was borrowed by some persons
residing in the neighbourhood of Morpeth and never returned.”

Continue Reading

Belief in Water

“One of the great charms of Highland landscape is the gleam of
still water that so often gives the element of repose in a scene of
broken cliff and tumbled crag, of noisy cascade and driving cloud. No
casual tourist can fail to notice what a wonderful variety of lakes
he meets with in the course of any traverse he may take across the
country. Among the higher mountains there is the little tarn nestling
in a dark sunless corry, and half-encircled with grim snow-rifted
crags. In the glen, there is the occasional broadening of the river
into a lake that narrows again to let the stream rush down a rocky
ravine. In the wider strath there is the broad still expanse of water,
with its fringe of wood and its tree-covered islets. In the gneiss
region of the North-West, there is the little lochan lying in its
basin of bare rock and surrounded with scores of others all equally
treeless and desolate.” So writes Professor Sir A. Geikie in his
“Scenery of Scotland.” His point of view is that of a scientific
observer, keenly alive to all the varied phenomena of nature. But amid
the scenes described lived men and women who looked at the outer world
through the refracting medium of superstition. They saw the landscape,
but they saw also what their own imagination supplied. In Strathspey,
is a sheet of water bearing the Gaelic name of Loch-nan-Spoiradan or
the Lake of Spirits. What shape these spirits assumed we do not know,
but there was no mistake about the form of the spirit who guarded
Lochan-nan-Deaan, close to the old military road between Corgarff
and Tomintoul. The appearance of this spirit may be gathered from the
Rev. Dr. Gregor’s remarks in an article on “Guardian Spirits of Wells
and Lochs” in “Folklore” for March, 1892. After describing the loch,
he says, “It was believed to be bottomless, and to be the abode of a
water-spirit that delighted in human sacrifice. Notwithstanding this
blood-thirsty spirit, the men of Strathdon and Corgarff resolved to
try to draw the water from the loch, in hope of finding the remains
of those that had perished in it. On a fixed day a number of them
met with spades and picks to cut a way for the outflow of the water
through the road. When all were ready to begin work, a terrific yell
came from the loch, and there arose from its waters a diminutive
creature in shape of a man with a red cap on his head. The men fled
in terror, leaving their picks and spades behind them. The spirit
seized them and threw them into the loch. Then, with a gesture of
defiance at the fleeing men, and a roar that shook the hills, he
plunged into the loch and disappeared amidst the water that boiled
and heaved as red as blood.” Near the boundary, between the shires
of Aberdeen and Banff, is a small sheet of water called Lochan-wan,
i.e., Lamb’s Loch. The district around is now a deer forest, but at
one time it was used for grazing sheep. The tenants around had the
privilege of pasturing a certain number of sheep. Dr. Gregor says,
“Each one that sent sheep to this common had to offer in sacrifice,
to the spirit of the loch, the first lamb of his flock dropped on the
common. The omission of this sacrifice brought disaster; for unless
the sacrifice was made, half of his flock would be drowned before
the end of the grazing season.” As in the case of Lochan-nan-Deaan,
an attempt was made to break the spell by draining the loch, but this
attempt, though less tragic in its result, was equally unavailing. On
three successive days a channel was made for the outflow of the water,
but each night the work was undone. A watch was set, and at midnight
of the third day hundreds of small black creatures were seen to rise
from the lake, each with a spade in his hand. They set about filling
up the trench and finished their work in a few minutes. Mr. Charles
Hardwick, in “Traditions, Superstitions, and Folklore,” published
in 1872, tells of a folk-belief, prevalent in the North of England,
particularly in Lancashire. “I remember well,” he says, “when very
young, being cautioned against approaching to the side of stagnant
pools of water partially covered with vegetation. At the time, I
firmly believed that if I disobeyed this instruction a certain water
‘boggart,’ named Jenny Greenteeth, would drag me beneath her verdant
screen and subject me to other tortures besides death by drowning.”

Poetry and superstition regard external nature from the same
standpoint, in as much as both think of it as animate. But there is
a difference. The one endows nature with human qualities, and knows
that it does so through the imagination; the other does the same,
and believes that there is no imagination in the matter. The work of
the former is well expressed by Dr. E. B. Tylor, when he observes,
“In all that water does, the poet’s fancy can discern its personality
of life. It gives fish to the fisher and crops to the husbandman, it
swells in fury and lays waste the land, it grips the bather with chill
and cramp and holds with inexorable grasp its drowning victim.” That
rivers were monsters hungering, or perhaps, one should say, thirsting,
for human victims is a fact borne witness to by poetry as well as
by superstition. An example of this occurs in the following popular
rhyme connected with the Scottish Border:–

“Tweed said to Till,
‘What gars ye rin sae still’?
Till said to Tweed,
‘Though ye rin wi’ speed,
An’ I rin slaw,
Yet whare ye droon ae man,
I droon twa.'”

Some Aberdeenshire lines have the same theme:–

“Bloodthirsty Dee
Each year needs three;
But bonny Don,
She needs none.”

According to folklore, there is no doubt that rivers are
“uncanny.” Beneath their rippling surface dwells a being who keeps
a lookout for the unwary traveller and seeks to draw him into the
dark depths. A belief in such a being is not always explicitly
avowed. But there are certain folk-practices undoubtedly implying
it. When anyone is drowned in a river, the natural way to find the
body is to drag the stream in the neighbourhood of the accident. But
superstition has recourse to another method. A loaf of bread, with or
without quicksilver in it, is placed on the surface of the water and
allowed to drift with the current. The place where the loaf becomes
stationary marks the spot where the body lies concealed. According
to another method, a boat is rowed up and down the stream, and a drum
is beat all the time. When the boat passes over the resting place of
the body the drum will cease to sound. This was done in Derbyshire
no longer ago than 1882, in order to find the corpse of a young woman
who had fallen into the Derwent. In such practices there is a virtual
recognition of a water-spirit who can, by certain rites, be compelled
to give up his prey, or at any rate to disclose the whereabouts of the
victim. A Deeside tradition supplies a good illustration of this. A
man called Farquharson-na-Cat, i.e., Farquharson of the Wand, so
named from his trade of basketmaking, had on one occasion to cross the
river just above the famous linn. It was night. He lost his footing,
was swept down into the linn, and there drowned. Search was made for
his body, but in vain. His wife, taking her husband’s plaid, knelt
down on the river’s brink, and prayed to the water-spirit to give
her back her dead. She then threw the plaid into the stream. Next
morning her husband’s corpse, with the plaid wrapped round it, was
found lying on the edge of the pool. Till quite lately, fishing
on the Tweed was believed to be influenced by the fairies of the
river. Salt was thrown into the water, and sprinkled on the nets to
insure a plentiful catch of fish. This was really the offering of a
sacrifice to the river-spirits.

Frequently the guardian of the flood appeared in distinctly human
shape. An excellent example of this is to be found in Hugh Miller’s
“My Schools and Schoolmasters,” where a picturesque description is
given of the spirit haunting the Conan. Hugh Miller was an expert
swimmer, and delighted to bathe in the pools of that Ross-shire
stream. “Its goblin or water-wraith,” he tells us, “used to appear
as a tall woman dressed in green, but distinguished chiefly by her
withered, meagre countenance, ever distorted by a malignant scowl. I
knew all the various fords, always dangerous ones, where of old she
used to start, it was said, out of the river before the terrified
traveller to point at him as in derision with her skinny finger,
or to beckon him invitingly on; and I was shown the very tree to
which a poor Highlander had clung when, in crossing the river by
night, he was seized by the goblin, and from which, despite of his
utmost exertions, though assisted by a young lad, his companion, he
was dragged into the middle of the current, where he perished. And
when in swimming at sunset over some dark pool, where the eye failed
to mark, or the foot to sound, the distant bottom, the twig of some
sunken bush or tree has struck against me as I passed, I have felt,
with sudden start, as if touched by the cold, bloodless fingers of
the goblin.” At Pierse Bridge, in Durham, the water-spirit of the Tees
went by the name of Peg Powler, and there were stories in the district,
of naughty children having been dragged by her into the river.

In the Highlands and Lowlands alike, the spirit inhabiting rivers
and lakes was commonly known as the water-kelpy. A south country
ballad says:–

“The side was steep, the bottom deep
Frae bank to bank the water pouring;
And the bonnie lass did quake for fear,
She heard the water-kelpie roaring.”

Who does not remember Burns’s lines in his “Address to the Deil”?–

“When thowes dissolve the snawy hoord,
An’ float the jinglin’ icy-boord,
Then water-kelpies haunt the foord
By your direction;
An’ ‘nighted travellers are allur’d
To their destruction.

An’ aft your moss-traversin’ spunkies
Decoy the wight that late and drunk is:
The bleezin’, curst, mischievous monkeys
Delude his eyes.
Till in some miry slough he sunk is,
Ne’er mair to rise.”

The kelpy corresponded in attributes with the Icelandic Nikr;
whence has come our term Old Nick, popularly applied to the devil. A
well-known picture by Sir Noel Paton has familiarised the story of
“Nickar, the soulless,” who is there represented as a creature with
frog-like feet, but with a certain human look about him, crouching
among sedge by the side of water, and playing his ghittern–an
instrument resembling a guitar. He appears, however, more melancholy
and less mischievous than the other members of his fraternity. A kelpy
that idled away his time with music and made no attempt to drown
anybody, was quite an exceptional being. In Sweden, where Nikr was
regarded with awe, ferry-men at specially dangerous parts of rivers
warned those who were crossing in their boat not even to mention his
name, lest some mishap should follow. In his “Saxons in England,”
Mr. J. M. Kemble thus refers to other manifestations of the same
creature:–“The beautiful Nix or Nixie who allures the young fisher
or hunter to seek her embraces in the wave which brings his death;
the Neck who seizes upon and drowns the maidens who sport upon his
banks; the river-spirit who still yearly, in some parts of Germany,
demands tribute of human life, are all forms of the ancient Nicor.” The
same writer continues:–“More pleasing is the Swedish Stromkarl,
who, from the jewelled bed of his river, watches with delight the
children gambol in the adjoining meadows, and singing sweetly to them
in the evening, detaches from his hoary hair the sweet blossoms of
the water-lily, which he wafts over the surface to their hands.” In
his “Folklore of East Yorkshire,” Mr. J. B. Nicholson alludes to a
haunted pool between Bewholme and Atwick, at the foot of the hill
on which Atwick Church stands. This pool is shaded by willows,
and is believed to be haunted by a spirit known in the district
as the Halliwell Boggle. In connection with Robin Round Cap Well,
in the same district, Mr. Nicholson tells a story–found also in
the south of Scotland–of a certain house-spirit or brownie, who
proved so troublesome to the farmer whom he served that his master
resolved to remove to other quarters. The furniture was accordingly
put in carts and a start was made for the new home. On the way, a
friend accosted the farmer and asked if he was flitting. Before he
could reply, a voice came from the churn–“Ay, we’re flitting!” and,
behold, there sat Robin Round Cap. The farmer, seeing that he could
not thus rid himself of the spirit, returned to his old home; but,
afterwards, he succeeded in charming the brownie into a well, where he
still remains. The same writer relates a superstition about a certain
round hole near Flamborough where a girl once committed suicide. “It
is believed,” he says, “that anyone bold enough to run nine times
round this place will see Jenny’s spirit come out, dressed in white;
but no one has yet been bold enough to venture more than eight times,
for then Jenny’s spirit called out:–

‘Ah’ll tee on my bonnet
An’ put on me shoe,
An’ if thoo’s nut off
Ah’ll seean catch thoo!’

A farmer, some years ago, galloped round it on horseback, and Jenny
did come out, to the great terror of the farmer, who put spurs to his
horse and galloped off as fast as he could, the spirit after him. Just
on entering the village, the spirit, for some reason unknown, declined
to proceed further, but bit a piece clean out of the horse’s flank,
and the old mare had a white patch there to her dying day.”

In the “Folklore Journal” for 1889, Dr. Gregor relates some kelpy
legends collected by him in Aberdeenshire. On one occasion a man had
to cross the Don by the bridge of Luib, Corgarff, to get to his wife
who was then very ill. When he reached the river, he found that the
bridge–a wooden one–had been swept away by a flood. He despaired
of reaching the other bank, when a tall man suddenly appeared and
offered to carry him across. The man was at first doubtful, but ere
long accepted the proffered help. When they reached the middle of
the river, the kelpy, who had hitherto shown himself so obliging,
sought to plunge his burden beneath the water. A struggle ensued. The
man finally found a foothold, and, disengaging himself from the
kelpy, scrambled in all haste up the bank. His would-be destroyer,
disappointed of his victim, hurled a boulder after him. This boulder
came to be known as the Kelpy’s Stane. Passers-by threw a stone
beside it till eventually a heap was formed, locally styled the
Kelpy’s Cairn. A Braemar kelpy stole a sackful of meal from a mill
to give it to a woman for whom he had taken a fancy. As the thief was
disappearing, the miller caught sight of him and threw a fairy-whorl
at his retreating figure. The whorl broke his leg, and the kelpy fell
into the mill-race and was drowned. Such was the fate of the last kelpy
seen in Braemar. Sutherland, too, abounded in water-spirits. They
used to cross the mouth of the Dornoch Firth in cockle-shells,
but, getting tired of this mode of transit, they resolved to build
a bridge. It was a magnificent structure, the piers being headed
with pure gold. A countryman, happening to pass, saw the bridge,
and invoked a blessing on the workmen and their work. Immediately,
the workmen vanished, and their work sank beneath the waves. Where it
spanned the Firth there is now a sandbar dangerous to mariners. Miss
Dempster, who recounts this legend in the “Folklore Journal” for 1888,
supplies further information about the superstition of the district. A
banshee, adorned with gold ornaments and wearing a silk dress, was
seen hurrying down a hill near the river Shin, and finally plunging
into one of its deep pools. These banshees were commonly web-footed,
and seemed addicted to finery, if we may judge from the instance just
given, and from another mentioned by Mr. Campbell in his “Tales of
the West Highlands.” He there speaks of one who frequented a stream
about four miles from Skibo Castle in Dornoch parish. The miller’s wife
saw her. “She was sitting on a stone, quiet, and beautifully dressed
in a green silk dress, the sleeves of which were curiously puffed
from the wrists to the shoulder. Her long hair was yellow like ripe
corn, but on nearer view she had no nose.” Miss Dempster narrates
the following incident connected with the water-spirit haunting
another Sutherland river:–“One, William Munro, and the grandfather
of the person from whom we have this story, were one night leading
half-a-dozen pack-horses across a ford in the Oikel, on their way to
a mill. When they neared the river bank a horrid scream from the water
struck their ears. ‘It is the Vaicgh,’ cried the lad, who was leading
the first horse, and, picking up some stones, he sent a shower of them
into the deep pool at his feet. She must have been repeatedly hit,
as she emitted a series of the most piercing shrieks. ‘I am afraid,’
said Monro, ‘that you have not done that right, and that she will play
us an ugly trick at the ford.’ ‘Never mind, we will take more stones,’
he answered, arming himself with a few. But the kelpy had had enough
of stones for one night.”

Off the Rhinns of Islay is a small island formerly used for grazing
cattle. A strong tide sweeps past the island, making the crossing
of the Sound dangerous. A story, related by Mr. Campbell, tells
that on a certain boisterous night a woman was left in charge of a
large herd of cattle on the island. She was sitting in her cabin,
when all at once she heard strange noises outside, and, looking up,
saw a pair of large eyes gazing in at her through the window. The door
opened, and a strange creature strode in. He was tall and hairy, with
a livid covering on his face instead of skin. He advanced towards the
woman and asked her name. She replied in Gaelic, “Mise mi Fhin”–“Me
myself.” He then seized her. In her terror she threw a ladleful of
boiling water on the intruder. Yelling with pain he bounded out of the
hut. These unearthly voices asked what was the matter, and who had hurt
him? “Mise mi Fhin”–“Me myself,” replied the creature. The answer was
received with a shout of laughter from his mysterious companions. The
woman rushed out of the hut, and dislodging one of the cows lay down
on the spot, at the same time making a magical circle round her on
the ground. All night she heard terrible sounds mingling with the
roaring of the wind. In the morning the supernatural manifestations
disappeared, and she felt herself safe. It had not fared, however,
so well with the cow, for, when found, it was dead.

In Chapter I. reference was made to mermen and mermaids, and little
requires to be added in the present connection. In the south of
Scotland the very names of these sea-spirits have a far-off sound
about them. No one beside the Firths of Forth and Clyde expects
nowadays to catch sight of such strange forms sitting on rocks,
or playing among the breakers; but among our Northern Isles it is
otherwise. Every now and again (at long intervals, perhaps) the
mysterious mermaid makes her appearance, and gives new life to an
old superstition. About three years since, one was seen at Deerness
in Orkney. She reappeared last year, and was then noticed by some
lobstermen who were working their creels. She had a small black head,
white body, and long arms. Somewhat later, a creature, believed to
be this mermaid, was shot not far from the shore, but the body was
not captured. In June of the present year another mermaid was seen by
the Deerness people. At Birsay, recently, a farmer’s wife was down at
the sea-shore, and observed a strange creature among the rocks. She
went back for her husband, and the two returned quite in time to
get a good view of the interesting stranger. The woman spoke of the
mermaid as “a good-looking person”; while her husband described her
as “having a covering of brown hair.” Curiosity seems to have been
uppermost in the minds of the couple, for they tried to capture the
creature. In the interests of folklore, if not of science, she managed
to escape, and was quickly lost to sight beneath the waves. Perhaps,
as the gurgling waters closed over her, she may have uttered an au
revoir, or whatever corresponds to that phrase in the language of the
sea. The following story about a mermaid, told by Mr. J. H. Dixon in
his “Gairloch,” published in 1886, is fully credited in the district
where the incident occurred:–“Roderick Mackenzie, the elderly and
much respected boat-builder at Port Henderson, when a young man, went
one day to a rocky part of the shore there. Whilst gathering bait he
suddenly spied a mermaid asleep among the rocks. Rorie ‘went for’
that mermaid, and succeeded in seizing her by the hair. The poor
creature in great embarrassment cried out that if Rorie would let go
she would grant him whatever boon he might ask. He requested a pledge
that no one should ever be drowned from any boat he might build. On
his releasing her the mermaid promised that this should be so. The
promise has been kept throughout Rorie’s long business career–his
boats still defy the stormy winds and waves.” Mr. Dixon adds, “I am
the happy possessor of an admirable example of Rorie’s craft. The
most ingenious framer of trade advertisements might well take a hint
from this veracious anecdote.”

So far we have been dealing with water-spirits more or less human in
form. Another class consists of those with the shape and attributes
of horses and bulls. The members of this class are connected specially
with Highland districts. Lonely lochs were their favourite haunts. In
treeless regions, a belief in such creatures would naturally arise. Any
ordinary animal in such an environment would appear of a larger size
than usual, and the eye of the beholder would transmit the error to his
imagination, thereby still further magnifying the creature’s bulk. In
some instances, the notion might arise even when there was no animal
on the scene. A piece of rock, or some other physical feature of the
landscape would be enough to excite superstitious fancies. Mr. Campbell
remarks, “In Sutherland and elsewhere, many believe that they have seen
these fancied animals. I have been told of English sportsmen who went
in pursuit of them, so circumstantial were the accounts of those who
believed they had seen them. The witnesses are so numerous, and their
testimony agrees so well, that there must be some old deeply-rooted
Celtic belief which clothes every object with the dreaded form of
the Each Uisge, i.e., Water-horse.” When waves appeared on a lake,
and there seemed no wind to account for them, superstitious people
readily grasped at the idea that the phenomenon was due to the action
of some mysterious water-spirit. As Dr. Tylor points out, there seems
to have been a confusion “between the ‘spiritual water-demon’ and the
‘material water-monster.'” Any creature found in or near the water
would naturally be reckoned its guardian spirit.

The Rev. Dr. Stewart gives the following particulars about water-horses
and water-bulls in his “‘Twixt Ben Nevis and Glencoe.” They are
thought of “as, upon the whole, of the same shape and form as the
more kindly quadrupeds after whom they have been named, but larger,
fiercer, and with an amount of ‘devilment’ and cunning about them,
of which the latter, fortunately, manifest no trace. They are always
fat and sleek, and so full of strength and spirit and life that the
neighing of the one and the bellowing of the other frequently awake
the mountain echoes to their inmost recesses for miles and miles
around…. Calves and foals are the result of occasional intercourse
between these animals and their more civilised domestic congeners,
such calves bearing unmistakable proofs of their mixed descent in the
unusual size and pendulousness of their ears and the wide aquatic
spread of their jet black hoofs; the foals, in their clean limbs,
large flashing eyes, red distended nostrils, and fiery spirit. The
initiated still pretend to point out cattle with more or less of this
questionable blood in them, in almost every drove of pure Highland
cows and heifers you like to bring under their notice.” The lochs
of Llundavrà and Achtriachtan, in Glencoe, were at one time famous
for their water-bulls; and Loch Treig for its water-horses, believed
to be the fiercest specimens of that breed in the world. If anyone
suggested to a Lochaber or Rannoch Highlander that the cleverest
horse-tamer could “clap a saddle on one of the demon-steeds of Loch
Treig, as he issues in the grey dawn, snorting, from his crystal-paved
sub-lacustral stalls, he would answer, with a look of mingled horror
and awe, ‘Impossible!’ The water-horse would tear him into a thousand
pieces with his teeth and trample and pound him into pulp with his
jet-black, iron-hard, though unshod hoofs!”

A noted demon-steed once inhabited Loch Ness, and was a cause of
terror to the inhabitants of the neighbourhood. Like other kelpies,
he was in the habit of browsing along the roadside, all bridled and
saddled, as if waiting for some one to mount him. When any unwary
traveller did so, the kelpy took to his heels, and presently plunged
into deep water with his victim on his back. Mr. W. G. Stewart, in
his “Highland Superstitions and Amusements,” tells a story to show
that the kelpy in question did not always have things his own way. A
Highlander of the name of MacGrigor resolved to throw himself in the
way of the water-horse in the hope of getting the better of him. The
meeting took place in the solitary pass of Slochd-Muichd, between
Strathspey and Inverness. The kelpy looked as innocent as usual, and
was considerably startled when MacGrigor, sword in hand, struck him
a blow on the nose. The weapon cut through the bridle, and the bit,
falling to the ground, was instantly picked up by MacGrigor. This was
the turning point of the encounter. The kelpy was powerless without
his bit, and requested to have it restored. Though a horse, the kelpy
had the power of human speech, and conversed, doubtless in excellent
Gaelic, with his victor, using various arguments to bring about the
restoration of his lost property. Finding that these were unavailing,
he prophesied that MacGrigor would never enter his house with the
bit in his possession, and when they arrived at the door he planted
himself in front of it to block the entrance. The Highlander, however,
outwitted the kelpy, for, going round to the back of his house, he
called his wife and flung the bit to her through a window. Returning
to the kelpy, he told him where the bit was, and assured him that he
would never get it back again. As there was a rowan cross above the
door the demon-steed could not enter the house, and presently departed
uttering certain exclamations not intended for benedictions. Those who
doubt the truthfulness of the narrative may have their doubts lessened
when they learn that this was not the only case of a water-horse’s
bit becoming the property of a human being. The Rev. Dr. Stewart
narrates an anecdote bearing on this. A drover, whose home was in
Nether Lochaber, was returning from a market at Pitlochry by way of
the Moor of Rannoch. Night came on; but, as the moon was bright, he
continued his journey without difficulty. On reaching Lochanna Cuile,
he sat down to refresh himself with bread, cheese, and milk. While
partaking of this temperate repast he caught sight of something
glittering on the ground, and, picking it up, he found it to be a
horse’s bridle. Next morning he was astonished to find that the bit
and buckles were of pure silver and the reins of soft and beautifully
speckled leather. He was still more surprised to find that the bit when
touched was unbearably hot. A wise woman from a neighbouring glen was
called in to solve the mystery. She at once recognised the article to
be a water-horse’s bridle, and accounted for the high temperature of
the bit on the ground that the silver still retained the heat that it
possessed when in a molten state below ground. The reins, she said,
were made of the skin of a certain poisonous serpent that inhabited
pools frequented by water-horses. According to her directions, the
bridle was hung on a cromag or crook of rowan wood. Its presence
brought a blessing to the house, and the drover prospered in all
his undertakings. When he died, having no children of his own, he
bequeathed the magical bridle to his grandnephew, who prospered in
his turn.

A pool in the North Esk, in Forfarshire, called the Ponage or Pontage
Pool, was at one time the home of a water-horse. This creature
was captured by means of a magical bridle, and kept in captivity
for some time. While a prisoner he was employed to carry stones to
Morphie, where a castle was then being built. One day the bridle
was incautiously removed, and the creature vanished, but not before
he exclaimed–

“Sair back an’ sair banes,
Carryin’ the Laird o’ Morphie’s stanes;
The Laird o’ Morphie canna thrive
As lang’s the kelpy is alive.”

His attempted verse-making seems to have gratified the kelpy, for
when he afterwards showed himself in the pool he was frequently heard
repeating the rhyme. The fate of the castle was disastrous. At a later
date it was entirely demolished, and its site now alone remains. Some
six miles from the Kirkton of Glenelg, in Inverness-shire, is
the small sheet of water known in the district as John MacInnes’
Loch. It was so called from a crofter of that name who was drowned
there. The circumstances are thus narrated by Mr. J. Calder Ross in
“Scottish Notes and Queries” for February, 1893: “John MacInnes found
the labour of his farm sadly burdensome. In the midst of his sighing
an unknown being appeared to him and promised a horse to him under
certain conditions. These conditions John undertook to fulfil. One day,
accordingly, he found a fine horse grazing in one of his fields. He
happened to be ploughing at the time, and at once he yoked the animal
to the plough along with another horse. The stranger worked splendidly,
and he determined to keep it, though he well knew that it was far
from canny. Every night when he stabled it he spread some earth from
a mole’s hill over it as a charm; according to another version he
merely blessed the animal. One night he forgot his usual precautions:
perhaps he was beginning to feel safe. The horse noticed the omission,
and seizing poor John in his teeth, galloped off with him. The two
disappeared in the loch.”

Water-horses were not always malignant in disposition. On one occasion
an Aberdeenshire farmer went with his own horse to a mill to fetch
home some sacks of meal. He left the horse at the door of the mill
and went in to bring out the sacks. The beast, finding itself free,
started for home. When the farmer reappeared and found the creature
gone he was much disconcerted, and uttered the wish that he might
get any kind of horse to carry his sacks even though it were a
water-kelpy. To his surprise, a water-horse immediately appeared! It
quietly allowed itself to be loaded with the meal, and accompanied
the farmer to his home. On reaching the house he tied the horse to an
old harrow till he should get the sacks taken into the house. When
he returned to stable the animal that had done him the good turn,
horse and harrow were away, and he heard the beast plunging not far
off in a deep pool in the Don. If anyone refuses to believe in the
existence of water-horses, let him go to the parish of Fearn, in
Forfarshire, and there, near the ruined castle of Vayne, he will see
on a sandstone rock the print of a kelpy’s foot. Noran Water flows
below the castle, and the mysterious creature had doubtless its home
in one of its pools. In Shetland, such kelpies were known as Nuggles,
and showed themselves under the form of Shetland ponies.

MacCulloch, the author of “A Description of the Western Islands of
Scotland,” found the belief in the water-bull a living faith among
the people, notably among the dwellers beside Loch Rannoch and Loch
Awe. He tells of a farmer who employed his sons to search a certain
stream for one of these creatures, while the farmer himself carried a
gun loaded with sixpences to be discharged when the monster appeared,
silver alone having any effect on such beasts. The same writer,
when speaking of the grandeur of the scenery about Loch Coruisk,
remarks:–“It is not surprising that Coruisk should be considered by
the natives as the haunt of the water-goblin or of spirits still more
dreadful. A seaman, and a bold one, whom, on one occasion, I had left
in charge of the boat, became so much terrified at finding himself
alone that he ran off to join his comrades, leaving it moored to the
rock, though in danger of being destroyed by the surge. I afterwards
overheard much discussion on the courage of the Southron in making
the circuit of the valley unattended. Not returning till it was
nearly dark, it was concluded that he had fallen into the fangs of
the kelpy.” MacCulloch’s “Description” consists of a series of letters
to Sir Walter Scott. Sir Walter himself has an interesting reference
to the same superstition in his “Journal,” under date November 23rd,
1827. After enumerating the company at a certain dinner party at
which he had been present, he continues: “Clanronald told us, as an
instance of Highland credulity, that a set of his kinsmen–Borradale
and others–believing that the fabulous ‘water-cow’ inhabited a small
lake near his house, resolved to drag the monster into day. With this
view they bivouacked by the side of the lake in which they placed,
by way of night-bait, two small anchors such as belong to boats,
each baited with the carcase of a dog slain for the purpose. They
expected the ‘water-cow’ would gorge on this bait, and were prepared
to drag her ashore the next morning, when, to their confusion of face,
the baits were found untouched. It is something too late in the day
for setting baits for water-cows.” If such conduct seemed wonderful
in 1827, what would the author of “Waverley” have thought had he known
that more than half-a-century later, people in the Highlands retained a
thorough-going belief in such monsters? No longer ago than 1884 rumours
were current in Ross-shire that a water-cow was seen in or near a loch
on the Greenstone Point, in Gairloch parish. Mr. J. H. Dixon, in his
“Gairloch,” states that about 1840 a water-cow was believed to inhabit
Loch-na-Beiste, in the same parish, and that a serious attempt was then
made to destroy the creature. The proprietor tried to drain the loch,
which, except at one point, is little more than a fathom in depth;
but when his efforts failed he threw a quantity of quicklime into the
water to poison the monster. It is reasonable to hold that the trout
were the only sufferers. The creature in question was described by
two men who saw it as in appearance like “a good sized boat with the
keel turned up.” Belief in the existence of water-cows prevailed in
the south as well as in the north of Scotland. In the Yarrow district
there was one inhabiting St. Mary’s Loch. Concerning this water-cow,
Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, writes: “A farmer in Bowerhope once got
a breed of her, which he kept for many years until they multiplied
exceedingly; and he never had any cattle throve so well, until once,
on some outrage or disrespect on the farmer’s part towards them,
the old dam came out of the lake one pleasant March evening and gave
such a roar that all the surrounding hills shook again, upon which her
progeny, nineteen in number, followed her all quietly into the loch,
and were never more seen.”

In the Isle of Man the water-bull was, and perhaps still is believed
in by the peasantry. It is called in Manx, tarroo-ushtey. There is
much force in Mr. Campbell’s conclusion that the old Celts reverenced
a destroying water-god, to whom the horse was sacred, or who assumed
the form of a horse. A similar notion may have originated the belief
in the water-bull.

Other creatures, besides those already mentioned, acted in the capacity
of water spirits. In Strathmartin, in Forfarshire, is a spring styled
the Nine Maidens’ Well. These maidens were the daughters of a certain
Donewalde or Donald in the eighth century, and led, along with their
father, a saintly life in the glen of Ogilvy in the same county. Their
spring at Strathmartin must have been well looked after, for it had
as its guardian, no less formidable a creature than a dragon. We do
not know whether there was any St. George in the vicinity to dispute
possession with the monster. In Kildonan parish, Sutherland, a stagnant
pool of water, some ten yards long by three broad, was regarded by
the inhabitants with superstitious dread. According to tradition,
a pot of gold lay hidden below; but no one could reach the treasure
as it was guarded by a large black dog with two heads. The Rev. Donald
Sage, when noticing this superstition in his “Memorabilia Domestica,”
remarks, “It is said that a tenant once had attempted to drain the
loch and had succeeded, so that the water was all carried off. The only
remuneration the unfortunate agriculturist received was to be aroused
from his midnight slumbers by a visit from the black dog, which set
up such a hideous howl as made the hills reverberate and the poor
man almost die with fright. Furthermore, with this diabolical music,
he was regularly serenaded at the midnight hour till he had filled up
the drain, and the loch had resumed its former dimensions.” We do not
know whether any later attempt was made to abolish the stagnant pool;
but at any rate a dread of the black dog kept it from being again
drained till well on in the present century. Sutherland, however,
cannot claim a monopoly in the matter of a guardian spirit in the
shape of a dog. Concerning Hound’s Pool in Dean Combe parish, Devon,
the tradition is that it is haunted by a hound doomed to keep guard
till the pool can be emptied by a nutshell with a hole in it. Readers
of “Peveril of the Peak” can hardly fail to remember the Moddey
Dhoo–the black demon-dog–that roamed through Peel Castle, in the
Isle of Man. St. Michael’s Well in Kirkmichael parish, Banffshire,
had for its guardian spirit a much smaller animal than any of the
above. It showed itself in the form of a fly that kept skimming over
the surface of the water. This fly was believed to be immortal. Towards
the end of last century the spring lost its reputation for its cures,
and the guardian spirit shared in its neglect. The writer of the
article on the parish, in the “Old Statistical Account of Scotland,”
mentions having met an old man who greatly deplored the degeneracy of
the times. A glowing picture is given of this old man’s desires. “If
the infirmities of years and the distance of his residence did
not prevent him, he would still pay his devotional visits to the
well of St. Michael. He would clear the bed of its ooze, opening a
passage for the streamlet, plant the borders with fragrant flowers,
and once more, as in the days of youth, enjoy the pleasure of seeing
the guardian fly skim in sportive circles over the bubbling waves,
and with its little proboscis imbibe the panacean dews.”

Consecrated fish have been reverenced, from of old, in East and
West alike. In Syria, at the present day, such fish are preserved
in fountains; and anciently certain pools in the stream, flowing
past Ascalon, were the abodes of fish sacred to Derketo, the
Phoenician Venus, who had a temple there. In our own land the same
cult prevailed. A curious Cornish legend tells how St. Neot had his
well stocked with fish by an angel. These fish were always two in
number. Day by day, the saint had one for dinner, and its place was
miraculously supplied to keep up the proper number. One day he fell
sick, and his servant, contrary to all ascetic precedent, cooked both
and set them before his master. The saint was horrified, and had both
the fish–cooked though they were–put back into the spring. He sought
forgiveness for the rash act, and lo! the fish became alive once more;
and as a further sign that the sacrilege was condoned, St. Neot, on
eating his usual daily portion, was at once restored to health. In
Scotland there were various springs containing consecrated fish. Loch
Siant, in the Isle of Skye, described by MacCulloch as “the haunt
of the gentler spirits of air and water,” abounded in trout; but,
as Martin informs us, neither the natives nor strangers ever dared
to kill any of them on account of the esteem in which the water was
held. This superstition seems to have been specially cherished in the
island, for Martin further says, “I saw a little well in Kilbride,
in the south of Skie, with one Trout only in it; the natives are very
tender of it, and though they often chance to catch it in their wooden
pales, they are very careful to preserve it from being destroyed; it
has been there for many years.” In a well near the church of Kilmore,
in Lorne, were two fishes held in much respect in the seventeenth
century, and called by the people of the district, Easg Seant, i.e.,
holie fishes. From Dalyell’s “Darker Superstitions of Scotland” we
learn that, like those belonging to St. Neot, they were always two
in number: they never varied in size: in colour they were black,
and according to the testimony of the most aged persons their hue
never altered. In Tober Kieran, near Kells, County Meath, Ireland,
were two miraculous trout which never changed their appearance. A
Strathdon legend, narrated by the Rev. Dr. Gregor, thus accounts
for the appearance of fish in Tobar Vachar, i.e., St. Machar’s Well,
at Corgarff, a spring formerly held in high honour on account of its
cures:–“Once there was a famine in the district, and not a few were
dying of hunger. The priest’s house stood not far from the well. One
day, during the famine, his housekeeper came to him and told him that
their stock of food was exhausted, and that there was no more to be
got in the district. The priest left the house, went to the well,
and cried to St. Machar for help. On his return he told the servant
to go to the well the next morning at sunrise, walk three times round
it, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, without looking
into it, and draw from it a draught of water for him. She carried out
the request. On stooping down to draw the water, she saw three fine
salmon swimming in the well. They were caught, and served the two
as food, till supply came to the famine-stricken district from other
quarters.” According to a Herefordshire tradition, a fish with a golden
chain round it was caught in the river Dore, and was afterwards kept in
the spring whence the river flows. At Peterchurch, in that county, is a
sculptured stone bearing a rude representation of the fish in question.

Sometimes the guardian spirit of a loch or well was thought of in
the vaguest possible way. In that case the genius loci had neither
name nor shape of any kind, the leaving of an offering being the
only recognition of his existence. Occasionally the presiding
spirit was pictured in the popular imagination in the guise of a
demon, commonly with a hazy personality. Callow Pit, in Norfolk,
was believed to contain a treasure-chest guarded by such a being. On
one occasion an attempt to raise the chest was made, and was on the
verge of being successful, when one of the treasure-hunters defied
the devil to get his own again. Suddenly the chest was snatched down
into the pit, and the ring, attached to the lid, alone remained
to tell its tale. This ring was afterwards fixed to the door of
Southwood Church. At Wavertree, in Lancashire, once stood a monastery
and beside it was a well. When pilgrims arrived, the occupants of
the monastery received their alms. If nothing was given, a demon,
chained to the bottom of the well, was said to laugh. This notion
was either originated or perpetuated by a fifteenth century Latin
inscription to this effect, “Qui non dat quad habet. Daemon infra
ridet.” When wells were dedicated to Christian saints, the latter
were usually considered the guardians of the sacred water. This was
natural enough. If, for instance, St. Michael was supposed to watch
over a spring, why should not his aid have been sought in connection
with any wished-for cure? It is interesting, however, to note that
this was not so in every instance. In many cases the favourite,
because favourable time for visiting a sacred spring, was not the
festival of the saint to whom it was dedicated, but, as we shall see
hereafter, a day quite distinct from such festival. Petitions, too,
were frequently addressed not to the saint of the well, but to some
being with a character possessing fewer Christian attributes. All this
points to the fact that the origin of well-worship is to be sought,
not in the legends of mediæval Christianity, but in the crude fancies
of an earlier paganism.

Offerings at lochs and springs have been incidentally mentioned more
than once, but the subject is one deserving separate treatment. Wells
were not merely so much water, with stones and turf round them, and
lochs, sheets of water, encompassed by moorland or forest. They were,
as we have seen, the haunts of spirits, propitious if remembered, but
resentful if neglected. Hence no one thought it proper to come to them
empty-handed. The principle was, no gift, no cure. Classical literature
contains allusions to such votive offerings. Numa sacrificed a sheep
to a fountain, and Horace promised to offer to his sweet Bandusian
spring a kid not without flowers. Near Toulouse, in France, was a
sacred lake, into whose water the neighbouring tribes anciently threw
offerings of gold and silver. In our own country, the gifts were, as
a rule, of small intrinsic value. When speaking of Toubir-nim-buadh,
in St. Kilda, Macaulay says:–“Near the fountain stood an altar
on which the distressed votaries laid down their oblations. Before
they could touch the sacred water with any prospect of success, it
was their constant practice to address the genius of the place with
supplication and prayer. No one approached him with empty hands. But
the devotees were abundantly frugal. The offerings, presented by them,
were the poorest acknowledgments that could be made to a superior
being, from whom they had either hopes or fears. Shells and pebbles,
rags of linen, or stuffs worn out, pins, needles, or rusty nails,
were generally all the tribute that was paid; and sometimes, though
rarely enough, copper coins of the smallest value.” The appearance
of this well is thus described by the author of “Ecclesiological
Notes”:–“A low square-shaped massy stone building with a stone roof,
covers the spring, which, after forming a pool in the floor of the
cell, runs down the russet slope like a thread of silver to join the
stream in the valley.”

The offerings, made by the St. Kildians, were indeed much the same as
those commonly made in other parts of the country. We get a glimpse
of what was done in the south of Scotland from Symson, who, in his
quaint “Description of Galloway,” remarks:–“In this parish of Bootle,
about a mile from the kirk, towards the north, is a well called the
Rumbling Well, frequented by a multitude of sick people for all sorts
of diseases the first Sunday of May; lying there the Saturday night,
and then drinking of it early in the morning. There is also another
well, about a quarter of a mile distant from the former, towards the
east. This well is made use of by the country people when their cattle
are troubled with a disease called by them the Connoch. This water they
carry in vessels to many parts and wash their beasts with it, and give
it them to drink. It is, too, remembered that at both the wells they
leave behind them something by way of a thank-offering. At the first,
they leave either money or clothes; at the second, they leave the bands
and shackles wherewith beasts are usually bound.” The objects, commonly
left on the cairns beside the Holy Pool in Strathfillan, have already
been enumerated. In addition, bunches of heath, tied with worsted,
were occasionally left. The Cheese Well, on Minchmoor, in Peeblesshire,
was so called from the pieces of cheese thrown into it by passers-by
as offerings to the fairies. Around a certain spring near Newcastle, in
Northumberland, the bushes were so covered with shreds of clothing that
the spring went by the name of the Rag Well. At St. Oswald’s Well, near
the foot of Roseberry Topping, in Yorkshire, the pieces of cloth were
so numerous that, as a spectator once remarked, they “might have made
a fair ream in a paper-mill.” A contributor to “Notes and Queries,”
in 1876, observes:–“The custom of hanging shreds of rags on trees as
votive offerings still obtains in Ireland. I remember as a child to
have been surreptitiously taken by an Irish nurse to St. John’s Well,
Aghada, County Cork, on the vigil of the saint’s day, to be cured
of whooping-cough by drinking three times of the water of the holy
well. I shall never forget the strange spectacle of men and women,
creeping on their knees in voluntary devotion, or in obedience to
enjoined penance, so many times round the well, which was protected by
a grey stone hood, and had a few white thorn trees growing near it,
on the spines of which fluttered innumerable shreds of frieze and
vary-coloured rags, the votive offerings of devotees and patients.”

In the Isle of Man, also, the custom of hanging up rags was at
one time much in vogue. In Malew parish there is Chibber-Undin,
signifying the Foundation Well, so called from the foundations
of a now almost obliterated chapel hard by. The ritual practised
at the well is thus described by Mr. A. W. Moore in his “Surnames
and Place-names of the Isle of Man”:–“The patients who came to it,
took a mouthful of water, retaining it in their mouths till they had
twice walked round the well. They then took a piece of cloth from a
garment which they had worn, wetted it from the water from the well,
and hung it on the hawthorn tree which grew there. When the cloth
had rotted away the cure was supposed to be effected.” Evidence from
Wales to the same effect is furnished by Professor Rhys in “Folklore”
for September, 1892. He there gives the following information, lately
sent to him by a friend, about a Glamorganshire holy well situated
between Coychurch and Bredgled:–“It is the custom,” he writes,
“for people suffering from any malady to dip a rag in the water,
and bathe the affected part. The rag is then placed on a tree close
to the well. When I passed it, about three years ago, there were
hundreds of these shreds covering the tree, and some had evidently
been placed there very recently.” Professor Rhys also refers to other
Glamorganshire springs where rags are to be seen hanging on trees.

Scottish examples of the same superstition are numerous. At
Montblairie, in Banffshire, pieces of linen and woollen stuffs
were hung on the boughs beside a consecrated well, and farthings and
bodles were thrown into the spring itself. The bushes around a well at
Houston, in Renfrewshire, were at one time the recipients of many a
rag. Hugh Miller, who took so keen an interest in all such relics of
superstition, has not failed to notice the custom as practised near
his native town of Cromarty. In his “Scenes and Legends of the North
of Scotland,” he says:–“It is not yet twenty years since a thorn
bush, which formed a little canopy over the spring of St. Bennet,
used to be covered anew every season with little pieces of rag, left
on it as offerings to the saint by sick people who came to drink
of the water.” St. Wallach’s Bath, in Strathdeveron, was a popular
health-resort till the beginning of the present century. Non-thriving
children were brought to it annually in large numbers. No longer
ago than 1874 an invalid from the seaside sought its aid. The bath–a
cavity in the rock fully a yard in depth–is close to the river, and is
supplied with water from a scanty spring, several yards higher up the
slope. The supply trickles over the edge of the bath into the river,
some four feet below. A bib or other part of the child’s clothing was
hung on a neighbouring tree or thrown into the bath. Sometimes when the
Deveron was in flood, it submerged the bath, and swept these offerings
down to the sea. As previously mentioned, St. Wallach’s Well, hard by,
was much resorted to for the cure of sore eyes. Pins were the usual
offerings. They were left in a hole in a stone beside the well. May
was the favourite season for visiting the spring, and by the end of
the month the hole was often full of pins. This was the case down to
a comparatively recent date.

Offerings, such as pins, were often thrown into the well itself instead
of being left beside its margin. Near Wooler, in Northumberland,
on the southern slopes of the Cheviots, is a spring locally
styled the Pin Well. A fairy was believed to make it her home, and
maidens, as they passed, dropped in a crooked pin to gain her good
graces. Crooked pins were rather popular, anything so bent–e.g.,
a crooked sixpence–being deemed lucky. In the case of more than
one English spring the notion prevailed that, when a pin was thrown
in, the votary would see the pins already there rise to meet the
newcomer. But faith was essential. Otherwise the mysterious vision
would be withheld. We do not know that a corresponding belief prevailed
north of the Tweed. Between the glens of Corgarff and Glengairn in
Aberdeenshire, is the spring known as Tobar-na-Glas-a-Coille or The
Well in the Grey Wood. A pin or other piece of metal had to be dropped
into it by anyone taking a draught of its water. Whoever neglected this
duty, and at any time afterwards again drew water from the spring,
was doomed to die of thirst. Some of these votive pins were found at
the bottom of the well, no longer ago than the autumn of 1891.

Probably very few travellers by the Callander and Oban railway are
aware of the existence of an interesting, but now neglected holy
well, only a few yards distant from the line. It is situated at the
entrance of rugged Glen Ogle, and from the spot a fine view can be had
of Ben Lawers, Ben More, and Ben Loy. The well is on Wester Lix farm,
and is locally known as the Lix Well. The spring rises in one of the
many hillocks in the neighbourhood. The top of the hillock had been
levelled. Round the spring is built a wall of stone and turf, about
two feet in height, and shaped like a horse-shoe, the opening being
to the east. The distance across the enclosed space is about fourteen
feet. In the centre is the well, in the form of a parallelogram, two
feet by one and a half, with a long drain leading from it through
the opening of the horse-shoe. This drain was at one time covered
with flagstones. Four shapely lintels of micaceous schist enclose
the well. The spot used to be frequented at the beginning of May,
the wall already referred to forming a convenient resting-place
for visitors. Quartz pebbles were the favourite offerings on these
occasions. Immediately behind the well, quite a small cairn of them can
still be seen. Pebbles were among the cheapest possible offerings, the
only cost being the trouble of picking them up. Coins were rather more
expensive; but, as they were commonly of small value, the outlay was
trifling even in their case. The more fervent the zeal of the votary,
the greater would doubtless be the length he or she would go in the
matter of expense. In the parish of Culsalmond, in Aberdeenshire,
a gold coin of James I. of Scotland was found associated with an
ancient healing-well. Such liberality, however, was rare. After
describing St. Maelrubha’s Well on Innis Maree in the “Proceedings
of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland,” volume iv., Sir Arthur
Mitchell observes, “Near it stands an oak tree, which is studded with
nails. To each of these was originally attached a piece of the clothing
of some patient who had visited the spot. There are hundreds of nails,
and one has still fastened to it a faded ribbon. Two bone buttons and
two buckles we also found nailed to the tree. Countless pennies and
halfpennies are driven edge-ways into the wood–over many the bark
is closing, over many it has already closed.” Within recent years,
another visitor from the south examined one of the coins stuck into
the tree. It was ostensibly silver, but proved on examination to
be counterfeit. The pilgrim, who left it as an offering, evidently
thought that the saint could be easily imposed upon.

As in the case of the pins, the coins, given as offerings were, as
a rule, thrown into the spring itself. As an example, we may cite
the case of St. Jergon’s or St. Querdon’s Well in Troqueer parish,
Kirkcudbrightshire. In an article in the “Transactions of the Dumfries
and Galloway Natural History Society” for 1870, Mr. Patrick Dudgeon
remarks, “Taking advantage of the very dry summer of last year when
the spring was unusually low, I had the well thoroughly cleaned out
and put in order, it having been almost obliterated by cattle being
allowed to use it as a watering-place. Several hundreds of coins were
found at the bottom–almost all being of the smallest description
of copper coin, dating from the time of Elizabeth to that of George
III…. None were of any particular interest or value; the greatest
number are Scottish, and belong to the time of James VI., Charles
I., and Charles II. The circumstance that no coins were found of
an older date than the reign of Elizabeth is not at all conclusive
that offerings of a similar nature had not been made at much earlier
periods. It will be observed that the oldest coins are the thinnest,
and that, although many are as thin as a sheet of writing paper, the
legend on them is perfectly distinct and legible; this, of course,
would not have been the case had the thinning process been owing to
wear and tear. When first taken out, they were perfectly bright–as
new copper–and had all the appearance of having been subjected
to the action of an acid. Something in the water has acted very
slowly as a solvent on the metal, and, acting quite equally over
the whole surface, has reduced the coins to their present state:
it is, therefore, reasonable to conclude that, owing to the solvent
properties of the water, any coins thrown into the well anterior to the
date of those found may have been completely dissolved.” Mr. Dudgeon
mentions having been told by old people in the neighbourhood, that they
remembered the time, when rags and ribbons were hung on the bushes
around the well. It is a remarkable circumstance that even since the
cleaning out of the spring above referred to, coins have been thrown
into it. A recent examination of the spot brought these to light,
and showed the persistence of this curious phase of well-worship.

What would be styled “a collection in silver” in modern ecclesiastical
language was sometimes regarded with special favour. The name
of the Silver Wells in different parts of the country can thus
be accounted for. There is a Siller Well in Walston parish,
Lanarkshire. Arbroath, in Forfarshire; Alvah, in Banffshire; and
Fraserburgh, in Aberdeenshire, have each their Silver Well. At Turriff,
in the last-mentioned county, there is a farm on the estate of Gask
called Silver Wells after a local spring. At Trelevean, in Cornwall,
is a spring known as the Brass Well. Its name, however, is derived not
from the nature of the offerings left there, but from the colour of the
scum on its surface. Close to the ruins of Avoch Castle, in the Black
Isle, is a well hollowed out of the conglomerate rock. Tradition says,
that the treasures of the castle were thrown into it about the middle
of the seventeenth century. This was done, not by way of offering a
gift to the presiding spirit of the water, but to prevent the valuables
from falling into the hands of Cromwell’s troops. A diamond ring was
dropped, not very long ago, into St. Molio’s Well, on Holy Island,
near Lamlash. It fell into the water by accident, and, after remaining
in it for some time, was found and restored to its owner.

The present ample water-supply of Glasgow from Loch Katrine was
introduced in 1859. For about fifty years before that date, the city
looked mainly to the Clyde for the supply of its daily needs. Still
earlier, it depended entirely on its wells. In 1736 these are believed
to have numbered about thirty in all. Among the best known were the
Deanside or Meadow Well, Bogle’s Well, Barrasyett Well near the foot
of Saltmarket, the Priest’s or Minister’s Well and Lady Well beside
the Molendinar, the Arns Well in the Green–so-called from the alders
on its brink, and St. Thenew’s Well, near what is now St. Enoch’s
Square. Not far from the well was a chapel dedicated to St. Thenew,
with a graveyard round it. Some remains of the chapel were to be
seen in 1736, when M’Ure wrote his history of the city. Dr. Andrew
MacGeorge, in his “Old Glasgow,” when describing St. Thenew’s Well,
remarks, “It was shaded by an old tree which drooped over the well,
and which remained till the end of the last century. On this tree,
the devotees, who frequented the well, were accustomed to nail, as
thank-offerings, small bits of tin-iron–probably manufactured for that
purpose by a craftsman in the neighbourhood–representing the parts
of the body supposed to have been cured by the virtues of the sacred
spring, such as eyes, hands, feet, ears, and others.” Dr. MacGeorge
further mentions that the well was cleaned out about a hundred years
ago. On that occasion there were “picked out from among the debris at
the bottom several of these old votive offerings which had dropped into
it from the tree, the stump of which was at that time still standing.”

Horace tells of a shipwrecked sailor, hanging up his garments, as
a thank-offering in the temple of the divinity who delivered him
from the angry sea. In like manner, Pennant describes what he saw
at St. Winifred’s Well, in North Wales. “All infirmities,” he says,
“incident to the human body, met with relief; the votive crutches,
the barrows and other proofs of cures, to this moment remain as
evidence pendent over the well.” In his “Spring of Kinghorn Craig,”
published in Edinburgh in 1618, Dr. Patrick Anderson has some curious
remarks on the subject of votive offerings. He speaks of wells as
being “all tapestried about with old rags, as certaine signes and
sacraments wherewith they arle the well with ane arls-pennie of
their health.” He continues, “So suttle is that false knave making
them believe that it is only the virtue of the water, and no thing
else. Such people cannot say with David, ‘The Lord is my helper,’
but the Devill.” What can still be seen on the other side of the
English Channel is thus described by the Rev. C. N. Barham, in an
article on Ragged Relics, in “The Antiquary” for January, 1893:–“At
Wierre Effroy, in France, where the water of St. Godeleine’s Well is
esteemed efficacious for ague, rheumatism, gout, and all affections
of the limbs, a heterogeneous collection of crutches, bandages,
coils of rags, and other rejected adjuncts of medical treatment, is
to be seen hanging upon the surrounding shrubs. They are intended
as thank-offerings and testimonies of restoration. Other springs,
famous for curing ophthalmia, abound in the same district, and here
too, bandages, shades, guards, and rags innumerable are exhibited.”

The leaving of offerings at wells finds a parallel in the practice,
at one time common, of depositing gifts in consecrated buildings. The
chapel of St. Tears, in the parish of Wick, Caithness, used to be
visited on Childermas (December 28th) by devotees, who left in it
pieces of bread and cheese as offerings to the souls of the Holy
Innocents slain by Herod. This was done till about the beginning of
the present century. Till even a later date it was customary for
the inhabitants of Mirelandorn to go to the Kirk of Moss, in the
same parish, on Christmas before sunrise. They took bread and cheese
as offerings, and placed them along with a silver coin on a certain
stone. The Kirk of Moss was dedicated to Duthac, patron saint of Tain;
and the gifts were doubtless destined for him. On Eilean Mòr is a
chapel said to have been built by Charmaig, the tutelar saint of the
island. In a recess in this building is a stone coffin, anciently used
for the interment of priests. The following statement occurs in the
“Old Statistical Account of Scotland”:–“The coffin, also, for ages
back, has served the saint as a treasury; and this, perhaps, might be
the purpose for which it was originally intended. Till of late, not
a stranger set foot on the island who did not conciliate his favour
by dropping a small coin into a chink between its cover and side.”

When we examine the motives prompting to the practice under review,
we can discover the working of a principle, vaguely grasped perhaps,
but sufficiently understood to serve as a guide to action. This crude
philosophy was two-fold. On the one hand, the gift left at a loch
or spring was what has been facetiously styled a “retaining fee.” It
secured the goodwill of the genius loci, and thereby guaranteed to a
certain extent the fulfilment of the suppliant’s desire. This desire,
as we have seen, was commonly the removal of a definite disease. On
the other hand, the disease to be removed was in some mysterious way
identified with the offering. The latter was the symbol, or rather
the embodiment of the former, and, accordingly, to leave the gift was
to leave the ailment–the patient being thus freed from both. The
corollary to this was, that whoever removed the offering took away
also the disease represented by it. According to a well-established
law of medical science, infection is transferred from one person
to another by clothing, or indeed by whatever comes into contact
with the morbid particles from the patient’s body. But infection
in folklore is something different from this. Disease of any kind,
whether usually reckoned infectious or not, passed via the offering to
the person lifting it. Hence such gifts had a charmed existence, and
were as safe as if under the sweep of the “Ancient Monuments Protection
Act.” The Rev. Dr. Gregor thus expresses the feeling on this point,
as it prevailed till lately in the north-east of Scotland:–“No one
would have been foolhardy enough to have even touched what had been
left, far less to have carried it off. A child, or one who did not
know, was most carefully instructed why such things were left in and
around the well, and strict charge was laid not to touch or carry
any of them off. Whoever carried off one of such relics contracted
the disease of the one who left it.”

The notion that disease can be transferred lies at the root of various
folk-cures. Dalyell, in his “Darker Superstitions,” remarks, “It is
said that, in the Highlands, a cat is washed in the water which has
served for the ablution of an invalid, as if the disease absorbed from
one living creature could be received by another, instead of being let
free.” In some parts of the Highlands, a common cure for an ailing cow
was to make the animal swallow a live trout, so that the disease might
pass from the one creature to the other. This was done not long ago,
at a farm near Golspie, in Sutherland. In Norfolk, as a remedy for
whooping-cough, a spider was caught, tied up in a piece of muslin,
and pinned over the mantelpiece. The cough disappeared when the spider
died. In Gloucestershire, ague was cured in the following way:–A
living snail was worn in a bag round the neck for nine days. The
snail was then thrown upon the fire when it was believed to shake as
if with ague, and the patient recovered. Many more illustrations of
this principle might be given, but the above are sufficient to show
how it was applied.

Symson records an instance in Galloway of swift vengeance following
the theft of certain votive offerings. He says, “Hereabout, i.e.,
near Larg, in Minnigaff parish, is a well called the Gout Well of
Larg, of which they tell this story–how that a piper stole away
the offering left at this well, but when he was drinking of ale,
which he intended to pay with the money he had taken away, the gout,
as they say, seized on him, of which he could not be cured, but at
that well, having first restored to it the money he had formerly taken
away.” Accident, rather than disease, sometimes resulted from such
sacrilegious acts. The offerings were the property of the guardian
spirit who was quick to resent their removal and to punish the doer of
the deed. In the district of Ardnamurchan is a cave, associated with
Columba, who there baptised some freebooters. The water used for the
purpose lay in a hollow of the rock, and, in after times, votive gifts
were left beside it. On one occasion, a young man stole some of these,
but he did not remain long unpunished, for before reaching home he fell
and broke his leg. Tobar-fuar-Mòrie, i.e., The big cold Well, situated
at the foot of a steep hill in the parish of Corgarff, Aberdeenshire,
consists of three springs about a yard distant from each other. Each
spring formerly cured a separate disease–one, blindness; the other,
deafness; and the third, lameness. The guardian spirit of the springs
lived under a large stone called the kettle stone, because below it
was a kettle where she stored her votive offerings. She was somewhat
exacting in her demands, for no cure could be expected unless gold
was presented. These particulars were obtained in the district by
the Rev. Dr. Gregor, who records them in “Folklore” for March, 1892,
and adds, “If one tried to rob the spirit, death by some terrible
accident soon followed. My informant, more than fifty years ago,
when a lad, resolved to remove the kettle stone from its position,
and so become possessor of the spirit’s gold. He accordingly set out
with a few companions all provided with picks and spades, to displace
the stone. After a good deal of hard labour the stone was moved from
its site, but no kettle full of gold was found. An old woman met the
lads on their way to their homes, and when she learnt what they had
been doing, she assured them they would all die within a few weeks,
and that a terrible death would befall the ring-leader.”

That the guardians of springs look well after their possessions in the
new world, as well as in the old, is proved by the following quotation
from Sir J. Lubbock’s “Origin of Civilisation”:–“In North Mexico,”
he says, “Lieutenant Whipple found a sacred spring which, from time
immemorial ‘had been held sacred to the rain-god.’ No animal may drink
of its waters. It must be annually cleansed with ancient vases, which,
having been transmitted from generation to generation by the caciques,
are then placed upon the walls, never to be removed. The frog, the
tortoise, and the rattlesnake represented upon them, are sacred to
Montezuma, the patron of the place, who would consume by lightning
any sacrilegious hand that should dare to take the relics away.” With
the growth of enlightenment men’s minds rose above such delusions. Had
it not been so, the Holy Wells in our land would still have presented
the appearance of rag fairs, or served as museums for old coins. Holy
Loch, in Dunnet, Caithness, used to be much resorted to as a place of
healing. The invalids walked or were carried round the lake and threw
a penny into the water. Some of these pennies have been picked up from
time to time by persons who have outgrown the old superstition. The
hollow in the Clach-nan-Sul at Balquhidder, already referred to,
contained small coins placed there by those who sought a cure for
their sore eyes. Mr. J. Mackintosh Gow was told by some one in the
district, that “people, when going to church, having forgotten their
small change, used in passing to put their hands in the well and find
a coin.” Mr. Gow’s informant mentioned that he had done so himself.

In the ceremony known as “well-dressing” or “well-flowering,”
the offerings took the form of blossoms and green boughs. For
different reasons Scotland has not been abreast of England in floral
matters. Only in the latter country did the practice take root, and
even there only within a somewhat limited area. We must seek for its
home in Derbyshire and the adjacent counties. At some places it has
died out, while at others it still survives, and forms the excuse for a
pleasant holiday. At Bonchurch, Isle of Wight, indeed, St. Boniface’s
Well was decorated with wreaths of flowers on the saint’s day; but
this was an exceptional instance so far south. Within comparatively
recent years well-flowering has, at one or two places, been either
instituted, as at Belper, in Derbyshire, in 1838, or revived, as
at St. Alkmund’s Well in Derby, in 1870. The clergy and choir of
St. Alkmund’s Church celebrate the day by meeting at the church and
walking in procession to the well. Writing in the seventeenth century,
Aubrey says, “In Cheshire, when they went in perambulation, they did
bless the springs, i.e., they did read the Gospel at them, and did
believe the water was the better.” At Droitwich, in Worcestershire,
a salt spring, dedicated to St. Richard, used to be annually adorned
with flowers.

A correspondent of the “Gentleman’s Magazine” of 1794 remarks, “In
the village of Tissington, in the county of Derby, a place remarkable
for fine springs of water, it has been a custom, time immemorial,
on every Holy Thursday, to decorate the wells with boughs of trees,
garlands of tulips, and other flowers, placed in various fancied
devices, and, after prayers for the day at the church, for the
parson and singers to pray and sing psalms at the wells.” In Hone’s
“Every Day Book,” under date 1826, are the following remarks by a
correspondent:–“Tissington ‘well-dressing’ is a festivity which not
only claims a high antiquity, but is one of the few country fêtes which
are kept up with anything like the ancient spirit. It is one which is
heartily loved and earnestly anticipated; one which draws the hearts
of those who were brought up there, but whom fortune has cast into
distant places, homewards with an irresistible charm. I have not had
the pleasure of witnessing it, but I have had that of seeing the joy
which sparkled in the eyes of the Tissingtonians as they talked of
its approach and of their projected attendance.” The festival is still
held in honour at Tissington, and elaborate preparations continue to
be made for its celebration. Flowers are arranged in patterns to form
mottoes and texts of Scripture, and also devices, such as crosses,
crowns, and triangles, while green boughs are added to complete the
picture. A correspondent of “Notes and Queries” thus describes the
decorations on Ascension Day in 1887: “The name of ‘well-dressing’
scarcely gives a proper idea of these beautiful structures. They are
rather fountains or cascades, the water descending from above, and
not rising as in a well. Their height varies from ten to twelve feet,
and the original stone frontage is on this day hidden by a wooden
erection in the form of an arch or some other elegant design. Over
these planks a layer of plaster of Paris is spread, and whilst it is
wet, flowers without leaves are stuck in it, forming a most beautiful
mosaic pattern. On one the large yellow field ranunculus was arranged
in letters, and so a verse of Scripture or of a hymn was recalled to
the spectator’s mind. On another a white dove was sculptured in the
plaster and set in a ground-work of the humble violet. The daisy,
which our poet Chaucer would gaze upon for hours together, formed a
diaper-work of red and white; the pale yellow primrose was set off by
the rich red of the ‘ribes.’ Nor were the coral berries of the holly,
mountain ash, and yew forgotten; they are carefully gathered and
stored in the winter to be ready for the May Day fête. It is scarcely
possible to describe the vivid colouring and beautiful effect of these
favourites of nature arranged in wreaths and garlands and devices
of every hue. And then the pure sparkling water, which pours down
from the midst of them on to the rustic moss-grown stones beneath,
completes the enchantment, and makes this feast of the ‘well-flowering’
one of the most beautiful of all the old customs that are left in
Merrie England.” Well-flowering also prevails at Buxton, and is a
source of interest to the many visitors to that airy health resort.

Such floral devices do not now rank as votive gifts. They are merely
decorations. The custom may have originated in the Roman Fontinalia. At
any rate it had at one time a corresponding object. The Fontinalia
formed an annual flower-festival in honour of the nymphs inhabiting
springs. Joyous bands visited the fountains, crowned them with boughs,
and threw nosegays into their sparkling water. The parallelism
between the Roman and the English Fontinalia is too well marked
to be overlooked. In Derbyshire and Staffordshire the ceremony of
well-dressing is usually observed on Ascension Day. In more than one
instance the festival has attracted to itself various old English
sports commonly associated with May Day. Among these may be mentioned
May-pole and Morris-dancing and crowning the May-queen.

At Endon, in Staffordshire, the festival is celebrated on Royal Oak
Day (May 29th), or on the following day if the 29th is a Sunday. The
following account–somewhat abbreviated–is from the “Staffordshire
Evening Post” of 31st May, 1892, and gives some interesting particulars
about the festival: “The secluded village of Endon yesterday celebrated
the well-dressing feast. This institution, dear to the heart of every
loyal inhabitant, holds foremost rank in the local calends, for it is
not a holiday of ordinary frivolous significance, but a thanksgiving
festival. The proceeds, which generally amount to some hundreds of
pounds, are divided between the poor of the parish and the parochial
schools. There are two wells at Endon. One is very old and almost dry,
and has long since fallen into disuse. The other alone supplies the
village with water. From a very early hour in the morning the whole
village was astir, and those people who were gifted with taste and
a delicate touch busied themselves in bedecking the wells for the
coming ceremony. As the day advanced, crowds of visitors poured in
from all parts of the potteries; and towards evening the village green
probably held no fewer than two thousand people. The proceedings,
which were under the personal guidance of the vicar, commenced a
little before two o’clock. A procession of about a hundred and twenty
Sunday-school children was formed at the new well, with the Brownedge
village brass band at its head. The children carried little flags,
which they vigorously waved in excess of glee. The band struck up
bravely, and the procession marched in good order up the hill to
the old parish church, where a solemn service was conducted. The
villagers attended in overwhelming numbers, and completely thronged the
building. There was a fully surpliced choir, whose singing, coupled
with the music of the organ, greatly added to the impressiveness of
the service. Hymns and psalms, selected by the vicar as applicable to
a thanksgiving service for water, were sung by the congregation in
spirited style. At the conclusion of the service the procession was
reformed, the band leading the way back to the new well. Upon arrival,
the clergy and choir, who had retained their surplices, walked slowly
round the well, singing ‘Rock of Ages’ and ‘A living stream as crystal
clear.’ Both wells were very beautifully decorated; but the new well
was a masterpiece of elaborated art. A large wooden framework had been
erected in front of the well, and upon this a smooth surface of soft
clay had been laid. The clay was thickly studded with many thousands
of flower heads in great variety of kind and hue, and in pictorial as
well as geometrical arrangement. There were two very pretty figures of
peacocks in daisies, bluebells, and dahlias, and a resplendent motto,
‘O, ye wells! bless ye the Lord!’ (from the Benedicite) garnished the
summit. The old well was almost deserted, although its decorations
were well worthy of inspection. Its motto, ‘Give me this water’
(from the fourth chapter of St. John) was very finely traced, and
its centre figures–two white doves and a crown–were sufficiently
striking. May-pole dances, including the crowning of the May-queen,
occupied the greater part of the afternoon. In the evening the
band played for dancing, and there was a repetition of the May-pole
dances. After dusk there was a display of fireworks.”

Though, as already stated, well-dressing was unknown north of the
Tweed, any account of votive offerings would be incomplete without
a reference to the picturesque ceremony.

Continue Reading

Springs from Graves

Some people apply to different doctors in succession, in the hope that
new professional advice may bring the coveted boon of health. For the
same reason visits were paid to different consecrated wells. On the
principle that “far fowls have fair feathers,” a more or less remote
spring was resorted to, in the hope that distance might lend special
enchantment to its water. Certain springs had the reputation of healing
every ailment. A spring of this kind is what Martin calls “a catholicon
for all diseases.” He so styles various springs in the Western Isles,
and one in the Larger Cumbrae in the Firth of Clyde. Fivepennies Well,
in Eigg, had some curious properties. “The natives told me,” he says,
“that it never fails to cure any person of their first disease, only
by drinking a quantity of it for the space of two or three days;
and that if a stranger lie at this well in the night-time, it will
procure a deformity in some part of his body, but has no such effect
on a native; and this, they say, hath been frequently experimented.” A
noted fountain in the Orkney group was the well of Kildinguie in the
Island of Stronsay. It is situated not far from the beach. To reach
it one has to walk over a long stretch of sand. Its fame at one time
spread over the Scandinavian world, and even Denmark sent candidates
for its help. Besides drinking the water, health-seekers frequently
ate some of the dulse to be found on the shore. A local saying thus
testified to the advantages of the combined treatment: “The well of
Kildinguie and the dulse of Guiyidn can cure all maladies except black
death.” In the Island of Skye is a spring called Tobar Tellibreck. The
natives, at one time, held that its water, along with a diet of dulse,
would serve for a considerable time instead of ordinary food.

Other springs were resorted to for particular complaints. Toothache is
distressingly common, and commonly distressing; but, strange to say,
very few wells are specially identified with the ailment. Indeed, we
know of only three toothache wells in Scotland. One is in Strathspey,
and is known as Fuaran Fiountag, signifying the cool refreshing
spring. The second is in the parish of Kenmore, at the foot of Loch
Tay. The third is in Glentruim, in Inverness-shire. Another well at
Kenmore was resorted to for the cure of sore eyes. In the parish of
Glass, close to the river Deveron, is an ancient church dedicated to
St. Wallach. Some thirty yards below its burying-ground is a well,
now dry, except in very rainy weather. Its water had the power of
healing sore eyes. The water of St. John’s Well, at Balmanno, in
the parish of Marykirk, Kincardineshire, was a sovereign remedy for
the same complaint. Beside the road close to the farmhouse of Wester
Auchleskine, at Balquhidder, in Perthshire, once stood a large boulder
containing a natural cavity. The water in this hollow was also noted
for the cure of sore eyes–the boulder being called in consequence
Clach-nan-Sul, i.e., the stone of the eyes. In 1878, by order of the
road trustees, the boulder was blasted, on the ground that it was a
source of danger to vehicles in the dark, and its fragments were used
as road metal. The Dow Well, at Innerleithen, was formerly much visited
for the restoration of weak sight. A well in Cornwall, dedicated to
St. Ludvan, miraculously quickened the sense of sight. In Ireland,
a spring at Gougou Barra, between Glengariff and Cork, is believed
by the peasantry to cure blindness. In 1849, Miss Bessie Gilbert,
a daughter of the late Bishop Gilbert of Chichester, who had lost
her sight when a child, visited the spring along with some of her
relatives. Curiosity, however, was her only motive. Her biographer
relates that “the guide besought Bessie in the most earnest and
pathetic manner to try the water, saying that he was sure it would
restore her sight, and entreating her brothers and sisters to urge
her to make use of it.”

Headaches and nervous disorders were cured by water from
Tobar-nim-buadh or the Well of Virtues in St. Kilda. Deafness was
also cured by it. At the entrance to Munlochy Bay, in the Black Isle
of Cromarty, is a cave known in the neighbourhood as Craig-a-Chow,
i.e., the Rock of Echo. Tradition says that in this cave a giant
once lived. If not the retreat of a giant, it was, at any rate,
of smugglers. What specially concerns us is that it contains a
dripping well, formerly much in request. Its water is particularly
cold. Like the St. Kilda spring, it was believed to remove deafness. Of
Whooping-cough Wells, a noted one was at Straid, in Muthill parish,
Perthshire. Invalids came to it from considerable distances. Early
in the present century a family travelled from Edinburgh to seek its
aid. The water was drunk immediately after sunset or before sunrise,
and a horn from a live ox had to convey it to the patient’s lips. This
was not an uncommon practice. Perhaps it may have been due to some
vague notion, that life from the animal, whence the horn came, would
be handed on, via the spoon and the water, to the invalid. The Straid
horn was kept by a woman in the immediate neighbourhood, who acted
as a sort of priestess of the well. A well at the Burn of Oxhill, in
the parish of Rathven, Banffshire, had a local celebrity for the cure
of the same complaint. Sufferers from gout tried the efficacy of a
spring in Eckford parish, Roxburghshire, styled Holy Well or Priest’s
Well. A spring in the churchyard of Logiepert parish, Forfarshire,
removed sores, and another in Martin’s Den, in the same parish,
was reckoned anti-scorbutic. Another noted Forfarshire spring was in
Kirkden parish, with the reputation of curing swellings of the feet
and legs. Lochinbreck Loch, in Balmaghie parish, Kirkcudbrightshire,
was visited from time immemorial for the cure of ague. Indeed, there
was hardly a bodily ailment that could not be relieved by the water
of some consecrated spring.

Springs were sometimes believed to cure female barrenness. Wives,
anxious to become mothers, formerly visited such wells as those of
St. Fillan at Comrie, and of St. Mary at Whitekirk, and in the Isle
of May. In this connection, Mr. J. R. Walker, in his article in the
“Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland,” volume v. (new
series), observes, “Many of the wells dedicated to ‘Our Lady,’ i.e.,
St. Mary (Virgin Mary) and to St. Brigid, the Mary of Ireland, were
famous for the cure of female sterility, which, in the days when a
man’s power and influence in the land depended on the number of his
clan or tribe, was looked upon as a token of the divine displeasure,
and was viewed by the unfortunate spouses with anxious apprehension,
dread, doubt, jealousy, and pain. Prayer and supplication were
obviously the methods pursued by the devout for obtaining the coveted
gift of fertility, looked upon, by females especially, as the most
valuable of heavenly dispensations; and making pilgrimages to wells
under the patronage of the Mother of our Lord would naturally be one
of the most common expedients.”

Epilepsy, with its convulsions and cries, seldom fails to arrest
attention and call forth sympathy. In times less enlightened than
our own, the disease was regarded with awe as of supernatural origin;
and remedies, always curious and sometimes revolting, were tried in
order to bring relief. We may assume that the water of consecrated
springs was used for this purpose; but, as far as we know, no Scottish
fountain was systematically visited by epileptic patients. After
enumerating a variety of folk-cures for the disease in question, Sir
Arthur Mitchell, in an article on Highland Superstitions bearing on
Lunacy in the “Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland,”
volume iv., remarks, “For the cure of the same disease, there is
still practised in the North of Scotland a formal sacrifice–not
an oblique but a literal and downright sacrifice–to a nameless but
secretly acknowledged power, whose propitiation is desired. On the
spot where the epileptic first falls a black cock is buried alive,
along with a lock of the patient’s hair and some parings of his
nails. I have seen at least three epileptic idiots for whom this is
said to have been done.” The same writer adds, “Dr. G—-, of N—-,
informs me that some time ago he was called on to visit a poor man
belonging to the fishing population who had suddenly died, and who had
been subject to epileptic seizures. His friends told the doctor that
at least they had the comfort of knowing that everything had been
done for him which could have been done. On asking what remedies
they had tried, he was told that, among other things, a cock had
been buried alive below his bed, and the spot was pointed out.” This
sacrifice of a cock in Scotland is of special significance, for it
formed a distinctive feature of the ritual once in vogue in Wales
at the village of Llandegla, Denbighshire. St. Tegla’s Well there,
was believed to possess peculiar virtue in curing epilepsy. Pennant
gives a minute account of the ceremony as practised in his days. The
following is a summary:–“About two hundred yards from the church
rises a small spring. The patient washes his limbs in the well,
makes an offering into it of fourpence, walks round it three times,
and thrice repeats the ‘Lord’s Prayer.’ These ceremonies are never
begun till after sunset. If the afflicted be of the male sex, he makes
an offering of a cock; if of the fair sex, a hen. The fowl is carried
in a basket, first round the well, after that into the churchyard,
when the same orisons and the same circumambulations are performed
round the church. The votary then enters the church, gets under the
communion table, lies down with the Bible under his or her head,
is covered with the carpet or cloth, and rests there till break of
day, departing after offering sixpence, and leaving the fowl in the
church. If the bird dies, the cure is supposed to have been effected,
and the disease transferred to the devoted victim.” As regards the
cock or hen, the ceremony in this case was quite as much a sacrifice
as in the Scottish example. St. Tegla merely took the place of the
pagan divinity who had been first in the field, and to whom offerings
had been made. In former times, sacrificing a living animal was
also resorted to occasionally to cure disease in cattle. An ox was
buried alive in a pit, and the pit having been filled with earth,
the other members of the herd were made to walk over the spot. In
1629, Isabel Young, spouse to George Smith, portioner of East Barnes,
Haddingtonshire, was tried for witchcraft. From her indictment we learn
that she was accused, inter alia, of having buried a “quick ox, with
a cat and a quantity of salt,” in a pit as a sacrifice to the devil,
the truth being that a live ox had been so treated by her husband
as a charm to cure his cattle, which were diseased. A remarkable
circumstance bearing on this point is alluded to by Mr. A. W. Moore in
his “Surnames and Place-names of the Isle of Man,” under the heading
of Cabbal-yn-Oural-Losht, i.e., Chapel of the Burnt Sacrifice. “This
name,” he tells us, “records a circumstance which took place in the
nineteenth century, but which, it is to be hoped, was never customary
in the Isle of Man. A farmer, who had lost a number of his sheep and
cattle by murrain, burnt a calf as a propitiatory offering to the
Deity on this spot, where a chapel was afterwards built. Such facts
point to the same notion as that already indicated in connection with
St. Tegla’s Well, viz., that disease is due to some malignant being,
whose favour is to be sought by the offering up of a living creature.

In no department of medical science have methods of treatment changed
more within recent years than in that of insanity. Enlightened views on
the subject now prevail among the educated classes of society; and the
old notion that a maniac can be restored to mental health by treating
him like a criminal, or by administering a few shocks to his already
excited nerves, is fortunately a thing of the past. At least it no
longer holds sway in our lunatic asylums. In the minds of the ignorant
and credulous, however, the old leaven still works. Lady Wilde, in her
“Ancient Cures, Charms, and Usages of Ireland,” alludes to a method
of treatment in fashion till lately among the peasantry there. When
anyone showed signs of insanity ‘a witch-doctor’ was called in. This
potent individual sprinkled holy water about the room and over the
patient; and after uttering certain incantations–understood by the
by-standers to be ‘Latin prayers’–proceeded to beat him with a stout
cudgel. In the end the ravings of the lunatic ceased, or as it was put,
“the devil was driven out of him.” In Cornwall, at St. Nun’s Well,
the expulsive power of a new terror used to be tried. According to
Carew, the modus operandi was as follows:–“The water running from
St. Nun’s Well fell into a square and enclosed walled plat, which might
be filled at what depth they listed. Upon this wall was the frantic
person put to stand, his back towards the pool, and from thence,
with a sudden blow in the breast, tumbled headlong into the pond;
where a strong fellow, provided for the nonce, took him and tossed
him up and down, alongst and athwart the water, till the patient,
by foregoing his strength, had somewhat forgot his fury. Then was
he conveyed to the church, and certain masses said over him, upon
which handling, if his right wits returned, St. Nun had the thanks;
but if there appeared small amendment, he was bowsened again and again,
while there remained in him any hope of life or recovery.” North of the
Tweed the treatment was hardly less soothing. When a lunatic was being
rowed over to Innis Maree to drink the water of St. Maelrubha’s Well
there, he was jerked out of the boat by the friends who accompanied
him. A rope had previously been tied round his waist, and by this he
was pulled back into the boat; but before he could gather together
his all-too-scattered wits, he was in the water again. As a rule this
was done, not once or twice, but repeatedly, and in the case of both
sexes. Such was the method up to a comparatively recent date. Pennant
thus describes what was done in 1772:–“The patient is brought into
the sacred island; is made to kneel before the altar, viz., the stump
of a tree–where his attendants leave an offering in money; he is
then brought to the well and sips some of the holy water; a second
offering is made; that done, he is thrice dipped in the lake; and
the same operation is repeated every day for some weeks.” This towing
after a boat to cure insanity was not an isolated instance. Early in
the present century, the wife of a man living at Stromness in Orkney,
went mad through the incantations of another female believed to be
a witch. The man bethought him of the cure in question, and, out of
love for his afflicted wife, dragged her several times up and down
the harbour behind his boat. Mr. R. M. Fergusson, who mentions this
case in his “Rambles in the Far North,” says that the woman “bobbed
about behind the boat like a cork, and remained as mad as ever.”

The well at Struthill, in Muthill parish, Perthshire, once had a
considerable reputation for the cure of insanity. It was customary to
tie patients at night to a stone near the spring, and recovery would
follow if they were found loose in the morning. An adjoining chapel was
ordered to be demolished in 1650 by the Presbytery of Auchterarder,
on the ground of its being the scene of certain superstitious rites,
but the spring continued to be visited till a much later date. At
Teampull-mòr in Lewis, in addition to walking round the ruins, and
being sprinkled with water from St. Ronan’s Well, the insane person was
bound and left all night in the chapel on the site of the altar. If he
slept, he would recover; but if he remained awake, there was no hope of
a cure. In the Struthill and Teampull-mòr instances, as well as that
of Strathfillan mentioned below, the binding of the patient was an
essential part of the treatment; and in two at least of the cases the
loosening of the bonds was reckoned an omen of good. The mysterious
loosening of bonds used to be an article of common belief. Dalyell,
in his “Darker Superstitions of Scotland,” remarks, “Animals were
sometimes liberated supernaturally. In the Isle of Enhallow, a horse
tied up at sunset would wander about through the night; and while the
kirk session took cognisance of a suspected witch who had exercised
her faculties on a cow, the animal, though firmly secured, was found
to be free, and in their vicinity when the investigation closed.”

The Holy Pool of St. Fillan was famous for the cure of various
diseases, but specially of insanity. It is referred to in “Marmion” as

“St. Fillan’s blessed well
Whose springs can frenzied dreams dispel
And the craz’d brain restore.”

It is not, however, a well, but a pool, in the river Fillan, about
two miles lower down than Tyndrum. To correctly estimate the reverence
paid to this sacred pool, we must glance at the influence, exerted by
Fillan on the district during his life-time, and afterwards by means
of his relics. The saint flourished in the early eighth century. He
was born in Ireland. His father was Ferodach, and his mother was
Kentigerna, daughter of a prince of Leinster. She afterwards came to
Scotland and led the life of a recluse, on Inch Cailleach, an island
in Loch Lomond. According to the Aberdeen Breviary, Fillan was born
with a stone in his mouth, and was at once thrown into a lake where
he was ministered to by angels for a year. He was then taken out and
baptised by Bishop Ybarus, and at a later date received the monastic
habit from Muna, otherwise called Mundus. Devoting himself to solitary
meditation he built a cell close to Muna’s monastery. On one occasion,
a servant went to call him to supper, and looking through a chink in
the wall, saw the saint busy writing, his uplifted left hand throwing
light over the book in lieu of a candle. Whatever may be thought of
the incident, few will deny its picturesqueness. In competent hands
it might be made the subject of a striking picture. Fillan afterwards
went to Lochalsh, where he dedicated a church to his uncle Congan,
the founder of the monastery of Turriff, in Aberdeenshire. We next
find Fillan in the principal scene of his missionary work, viz., in
Glendochart, in that portion of the glen anciently called Siracht,
and now Strathfillan. This area formed a separate parish till 1617,
but was then united to the parish of Killin. Fillan arrived with seven
serving clerics, and tradition says that he built his church at a spot
miraculously pointed out to him. The neighbourhood was, and is full of
interest. “Glendochart,” writes Mr. Charles Stewart in “An Gaidheal,”
“is not celebrated for terrific mountain scenery like Glencoe or the
Coolins, but has a grandeur of a different character. Lofty mountains,
clothed, here in heather, there in green; cloudy shadows frequently
flitting across their sides, and serried ridges of multiplied lines
and forms of varied beauty, and along their sides strangely shaped
stones and boulders of rocks deposited by the ancient glaciers. Along
the strath there are stretches of water, its course broken occasionally
by lochs; sometimes wending its way slowly and solemnly through green
meadows, and anon rushing along as at the celebrated bridge of Dochart,
at Killin, with fire and fury.”

The same writer mentions that three spots, where Fillan was wont
to teach the natives of the Strath, are still pointed out, viz.,
at the upper end of Glendochart, where the priory was afterwards
built, halfway down the glen at Dun-ribin, and at the lower end at
Cnoc-a-bheannachd, i.e., Hill of the Blessing, near Killin. Fillan
instructed the people in agriculture, and built mills for grinding
corn. Out of compliment to him, the mill at Killin was idle on
his festival, (Jan. 9th), as late as the middle of the present
century. Indeed there was a superstition in the district that it
would not be lucky to have it working on that day. Fillan also
instituted fairs for the sale and barter of local produce. His fair
is still held at Killin in January. The miraculous element in his
history did not end with his life. He seems to have died somewhere
about Lochearn, and his body was brought back to Glendochart, by way
of Glen Ogle. When the bearers reached the point where Glendochart
opens upwards and downwards, a dispute arose as to the destination of
their burden. Some wished the saint’s body to be buried at Killin and
others at Strathfillan. Behold a marvel! When they could not agree,
they found that instead of one coffin there were two, and so each
party was satisfied.

Robert Bruce’s fight with the followers of Macdougall of Lorne took
place near St. Fillan’s Church, at a spot, afterwards named Dalrigh or
the King’s Field. On that occasion, an earnest prayer was addressed
to the saint of the district, and through his intercession victory
came to Bruce. So at least runs the legend. After his success at
Bannockburn, the King in gratitude founded St. Fillan’s Priory,
in Strathfillan, and endowed it with the neighbouring lands of
Auchtertyre, and with the sheep-grazing of Bein-mhannach or the
Monk’s Mountain, in Glenlyon. Indeed, if tradition speaks truth,
Bruce had a double reason to be grateful to Fillan, for the victory
at Bannockburn, was attributed to the presence in the Scottish camp,
of a relic of the saint, said to be an arm-bone set in silver. The
relic, however, as Dr. John Stuart shows, in the twelfth volume of the
“Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland,” was probably
his Coig-gerach or pastoral staff, popularly, but erroneously called
his Quigrich. It is said to have been kept at Auchlyne, in a chapel
called Caipal-na-Faraichd, and when the chapel was burnt to have been
rescued by a person, either then, or afterwards, called Doire or Dewar,
whose descendants became its custodiers. The subsequent history of
the relic is curious. In 1782 it was at Killin in the keeping of
Malice Doire. In 1818 it was taken to Canada, where it remained for
some sixty years. Through the patriotic zeal of Sir Daniel Wilson it
was then sent back to Scotland, and now forms one of the treasures
in the National Museum of Antiquities, at Edinburgh.

The sanctity of Fillan thus distilled like a fertilising dew over
the district of Glendochart. We need not, therefore, be surprised
that, in days darker than our own, a thriving crop of superstitions
was the result. It is certainly a striking testimony to the enduring
influence of the saint, that the pool, believed to have been blessed
by him, retained its fame till within the memory of persons still
living. Possibly the pool was reverenced even before his time. Towards
the end of last century, as many as two hundred persons were brought
annually to the spot. The time selected was usually the first day of
the quarter, (O.S.), and the immersion took place after sunset. The
patients, with a rope tied round their waist, were thrown from the
bank into the river. This was usually done thrice. According to
previous instructions, they picked up nine stones from the bottom
of the stream. After their dip they walked three times round three
cairns in the immediate neighbourhood, and at each turn added a stone
to the cairn. An English antiquary, who visited the spot in 1798,
writes, “If it is for any bodily pain, fractured limb or sore, that
they are bathing, they throw upon one of these cairns that part of
their clothing which covered the part affected; also, if they have at
home any beast that is diseased, they have only to bring some of the
meal which it feeds upon and make it into paste with these waters,
and afterwards give it to him to eat, which will prove an infallible
cure; but they must likewise throw upon the cairn the rope or halter
with which he was led. Consequently the cairns are covered with old
halters, gloves, shoes, bonnets, nightcaps, rags of all sorts, kilts,
petticoats, garters, and smocks. Sometimes they go as far as to throw
away their halfpence.”

After the ceremony at the cairns the patient was led to the ruins
of St. Fillan’s Chapel, about half a mile away, and there tied to
a stone with a hollow in it, large enough to receive the body, the
unfortunate person being fastened down to a wooden framework. The
patient was then covered with hay, and left in this condition all
night. As at Struthill, if the bonds were found loose in the morning,
he or she would recover; but if not, the case was counted hopeless,
or at least doubtful. As the writer of the article on the parish,
in the “New Statistical Account of Scotland,” shrewdly observes,
“The prospect of the ceremony, especially in a cold winter evening,
might be a good test for persons pretending insanity.” At the time
when he wrote, viz., in 1843, the natives of the parish had ceased to
believe in the efficacy of the holy pool, but it was still visited by
invalids from a distance. It was usual, after the fastening process
already described, to place St. Fillan’s bell on the head of the
patient by way of helping on the cure. This bell is quadrangular
in shape. Its size and appearance are thus described by Dr. Joseph
Anderson in his “Scotland in Early Christian Times”: “It is an elegant
casting of bronze, stands twelve inches high and measures nine by
six inches wide at the mouth. The ends are flat, the sides bulging,
the top rounded. In the middle of the top is the loop-like handle,
terminating where it joins the bell in two dragonesque heads with open
mouths.” The bell weighs eight pounds fourteen ounces. In the fifteenth
century the relic seems to have been held in special honour, for it
graced the coronation of James IV. in 1488. After the Reformation, it
was locked up for some time, to prevent its use for the superstitious
purpose alluded to above. But, as a rule, it lay on a tombstone in the
Priory graveyard, protected only by the reverence paid to it in the
district. There was a belief that, if carried off, it would return of
its own accord, ringing all the way. In 1798 this belief was put to a
severe test, for in that year the English antiquary, already quoted,
removed the relic. “In order,” he says, “to ascertain the truth or
falsehood of the ridiculous story of St. Fillan’s bell, I carried it
off with me, and mean to convey it, if possible, to England. An old
woman, who observed what I was about, asked me what I wanted with
the bell, and I told her that I had an unfortunate relation at home
out of his mind, and that I wanted to have him cured. ‘Oh, but,’
says she, ‘you must bring him here to be cured, or it will be of no
use.’ Upon which I told her he was too ill to be moved, and off I
galloped with the bell back to Tyndrum Inn.” The bell was taken to
England. About seventy years later, its whereabouts was discovered,
and it was sent back to Scotland. Like the crozier of the same saint,
it is now in the Antiquarian Museum at Edinburgh.

If we may believe a local tradition, the Holy Pool lost its
miraculous virtue in the following manner, though, after what the
English antiquary mentioned about its water being mixed with meal,
and given to diseased cattle, we see no reason why it should have
been so particular. A farmer who had a mad bull thought that, if the
sacred water could heal human ills, it would be efficacious also in
the case of the lower animals. So he plunged his infuriated beast into
the stream. What was the effect on the bull we do not know: but since
then the virtue has departed from the water. Except for a pleasure
dip on a hot summer’s day, no one need now apply at the Holy Pool.

The unbroken reputation of such health resorts, for centuries,
is certainly remarkable. Strathfillan kept up its fame for over a
thousand years. At Gheel, in Belgium, for fully twelve hundred years,
successive generations of lunatics sought relief at St. Dympna’s
Well. We must not be too hard on the ages before our own; for,
though in some respects dark, in other respects they had a good deal
of light. Nevertheless, severe things might be said about them. From
a present-day point of view, it might be argued that those, who took
their insane friends to get cured in the manner described, required,
like the patients themselves, a little rearrangement of their wits.

The epithet wonderful may fitly be applied to whatever springs
are endowed by popular credulity with mysterious properties. Those
already considered have been mainly associated with the removal or
prevention of disease. It is now proposed to glance at certain other

Some springs are wonderful as to their origin. Who does not know the
legend connected with Tre Fontane, in the vicinity of Rome, where water
bubbled up at the three places touched by St. Paul’s severed head? We
do not recollect any Scottish instance of a well coming into being in
this way; but in England we have St. Osyth’s Well in Essex, where that
saint was beheaded by the Danes, and in Wales, St. Winifred’s Well in
Flintshire. Concerning the latter, Chambers, in his “Book of Days,”
thus writes:–“Winifred was a noble British maiden of the seventh
century; a certain Prince Cradocus fell in love with her, and, finding
his rough advances repulsed, cut off the lady’s head. Immediately
after doing this, the prince was struck dead, and the earth, opening,
swallowed up his body. Meanwhile, Winifred’s head rolled down the
hill; where it stopped, a spring gushed forth–the blood from the head
colouring the pebbles over which it flowed, and rendering fragrant
the moss growing around.” Sweden has its St. Eric’s Spring at Upsala,
marking the place where Eric, the king, was beheaded about the middle
of the twelfth century. St. Oswald’s Well at Winwick, in Lancashire,
is said to indicate the spot where that famous Northumbrian king
received his death-wound when fighting against Penda, the pagan ruler
of Mercia. On a hill in Hertfordshire, a fountain arose to quench
the thirst of Alban, England’s proto-martyr, who suffered there
about 300 A.D. According to a Kincardineshire tradition, a spring in
Dunnottar Castle miraculously appeared for behoof of the Covenanters,
who were confined there in 1685. In Holywood parish, Dumfriesshire,
(so called from its oak forest, sacred even in pre-Christian times),
a fountain sprang up at the intercession of Vynning, the patron of
a well at Kilwinning, in Ayrshire. In Scottish hagiology, fountains
usually gush forth to supply water for baptism. In English legends
they spring up as a tribute to spots where the corpses of saintly
persons have rested. Thus, water issued from the graves of Ethelbert at
Marden, in Herefordshire, and of Withburga at East Dereham, in Norfolk,
and also from that of Frideswide at Oxford. St. Frideswide’s Fair at
the last-mentioned place was a noted holiday in the middle ages. It
lasted a week, and, during its continuance, the keys of the city were
in the keeping of the prior, having been handed over by the mayor, who
ceased for the time to be responsible for the peace of the burgh. At
Trondhjem, in Norway, a spring arose to mark the spot where King Olaf
was buried, about the middle of the eleventh century.

Cuthbert was greatly honoured by the gushing forth of springs, both
during his lifetime and after his death. While at Lindisfarne, he was
seized with a desire for still greater retirement, and accordingly
withdrew to Farne Island, one of the Fern group, two miles distant
from Bamborough, and six from Lindisfarne. This island was then
haunted by evil spirits; but these he drove away, as Guthlac did
from the marshes of Crowland, in Lincolnshire. Cuthbert set about
building a cell in Farne Island, and, with the help of angels, the
work was satisfactorily completed. Unfortunately, there was no fresh
water to be had; but the want was soon supplied. In response to the
saint’s prayers, a spring arose in the floor of his cell. Bede says,
“This water, by a most remarkable quality, never overflowed its first
limits, so as to flood the floor, nor yet ever failed, however much
of it might be taken out; so that it never exceeded or fell short
of the daily wants of him who used it for his sustenance.” The
miracle did not end here. When Eistan of Norway was ravaging the
coast of Northumberland in the twelfth century, he landed on Farne
Island and destroyed the property of the hermits, whose retreat it
then was. The spring, unwilling to give help to the robber bands,
dried up. Thirst, accordingly, compelled them to quit the island. No
sooner had they left than the spring reappeared and gladdened the spot
once more. After Cuthbert’s death, his body was carried from place to
place for safety. In his “History of St. Cuthbert,” Archbishop Eyre
remarks, “There is a legendary tradition, that when the bearers of
St. Cuthbert’s body journeyed northwards from Yorkshire and came to
Butterby, near Croxdale, they set down the coffin on the right bank
before crossing the river, and immediately a saline spring burst out
upon the spot. After fording the river they again rested the coffin,
and a spring of chalybeate water rose up where they had laid down the
body. A third time the weary travellers, struggling up the rugged pass,
were compelled to lay their precious burden on the ground, and a sweet
stream of water gushed out of the rock to refresh them.” Prior to this,
Cuthbert’s relics had rested a while at Melrose. Tradition says that,
on resuming their wanderings, they floated down the Tweed in a stone
coffin as far as Tillmouth, on the English Border. The fragments of
a sarcophagus, said to be the coffin in question, are still to be
seen there beside the ruins of St. Cuthbert’s Chapel. This incident
is thus referred to in “Marmion”:–

“Seven years Saint Cuthbert’s corpse they bore.
They rested them in fair Melrose:
But though, alive, he loved it well,
Not there his reliques might repose;
For, wondrous tale to tell!
In his stone coffin forth he rides
(A ponderous bark for river tides),
Yet light as gossamer it glides,
Downward to Tillmouth cell.”

A Shropshire legend narrates that, on one occasion, Milburga, who is
still remembered in the name of Stoke St. Milborough, was riding in
all haste to escape from certain enemies. She fell at length exhausted
from her horse; but, at her command, the animal struck a stone with
his hoof, and water gushed out for her refreshment. In a neighbouring
field some men were sowing grain, and the saint prophesied that in
the evening they would gather the ripe corn. She instructed them to
tell her enemies, on their arrival, that she had passed when the crop
was being sown. The miracle duly happened, and Milburga’s foes were
disconcerted in consequence. Shropshire and Yorkshire have strange
traditions about the sudden appearance of lakes, sometimes overwhelming
human dwellings. In the latter case, the tops of houses are said to be
visible through the water. Additional picturesqueness is occasionally
given, by the introduction into the story of vanished bells, sending
forth from the depths their soft cadences. At Tunstall, in Norfolk,
a boggy piece of ground, locally known as Hell-Hole, is marked by
frequently rising bubbles. The devil once carried off the bells of
the church, and, when pursued, plunged into the marsh. The bubbles are
due to the bells sinking lower and lower into the abyss. Such beliefs
about lakes form an interesting supplement to Scottish superstitions.

When Henry VI. was in hiding in Bolton Hall, in Yorkshire, he wished
to have a bath in the hot summer weather. His host, anxious to supply
what was lacking to the comfort of the royal fugitive, used a hazel
twig in his garden, in the hope of discovering water. The indications
being favourable, a well was dug, and the king was enabled to cool
himself to his heart’s content. The spring still bears the king’s
name. Michael Scott, who was born in Fife in the thirteenth century,
and was regarded by his contemporaries as a dabbler in the black art,
had a pupil in the north of England who undertook a marvellous feat,
viz., to bring the sea up the Wansbeck river to Morpeth. Certain
incantations were gone through, and the magician started from the
coast, followed by the tide. All went well till within about five
miles from the town, when he became alarmed by the roaring of the
water, and looked back. So the spell was broken, and Morpeth remained
inland. This recalls the story accounting for the introduction of
a good water-supply into Plymouth. When there was a scarcity in
the sixteenth century, Sir Francis Drake, the naval hero, rode up
to Dartmoor, and uttered some magical words over a spring there. He
immediately turned his horse and galloped back to the town, followed
by a copious stream.

Certain wells could put in a good claim to the title of wonderful
on the ground of the effects they were able to produce. If a spring
could act as a sign-post to guide the wayfarer, who had strayed
from his path, it might surely be classed among marvels! This is
what a certain well on Dartmoor, in Devonshire, could do, at least
in the sixteenth century. A man of the name of Fitz and his wife,
when crossing the moor in the year 1568, lost their way. They lighted
on the well in question, drank its water, and found the lost track
without the least difficulty. In gratitude, Fitz afterwards raised
a memorial of stone over the well “for the benefit of all pixy-led
travellers.” In Germany, before a meal, the ceremony of wishing
one’s friend a good appetite is still kept up. Such a salutation must
have been unnecessary in the Island of Harris, at least in Martin’s
time, for he tells us of a spring, then lately discovered, that
could produce an appetite whenever wanted. “The natives,” he says,
“find by experience that it is very effectual for restoring lost
appetite; all that drink of it become very soon hungry though they
have eat plentifully but an hour before.” A small quantity of its
water might with advantage be added to the contents of the “loving
cup” at the Lord Mayor’s banquets, and on other festive occasions
both in, and out of the Metropolis. Martin speaks of another marvel
in Harris. “A large cave in the face of a hill hath,” he says, “two
wells in it, one of which is excluded from dogs, for they say that
if a dog do but taste of the water, the well presently dryeth up;
and for this reason, all such as have occasion to lodge there take
care to tie their dogs that they may not have access to the water. The
other well is called the Dogs’ Well, and is only drunk by them.” The
student of folklore cannot fail to find Martin a congenial companion,
as he records a variety of quaint Hebridean customs that might have
been passed over in silence by a more matter-of-fact writer. When
in the Island of Lewis, he was told of a fountain at Loch Carloway
“that never whitened linen,” though the experiment had been often
tried. In connection with his visit to Barray, he says, “The natives
told me there is a well in the village Tangstill, the water of which,
being boiled, grows thick like puddle. There is another well, not far
from Tangstill, which, the inhabitants say, in a fertile year, throws
up many grains of barley in July and August. And they say that the
well of Kilbar throws up embryos of cockles, but I could not discern
any in the rivulet, the air being at that time foggy.” This reminds
one of the Well in the Wall in Checkly parish, Staffordshire, said
to throw out small bones like those of chickens and sparrows all the
year round except in the months of July and August. Toubir-ni-Lechkin,
in Jura, rising on a hill near Tarbert, was a noted fountain. Martin
mentions that its water was counted “lighter by one half” than any
other water in the island, and that a great quantity of it might be
drunk at one time without causing inconvenience. He further says,
“The river Nissa receives all the water that issues from this well,
and this is the reason they give why salmons here are in goodness
and taste far above those of any other river whatever.”

The power of some wells over the lower animals was remarkable. A
spring at Harpham, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, dedicated to
St. John of Beverley, was believed to subdue the fiercest animal. A
raging bull, when brought to it, became as gentle as a lamb. A spring
of this kind would indeed be a great boon in the country to timid,
town-bred tourists when crossing fields where there are cattle. To the
margin of such a spring they could retreat and there feel safe. Black
Mere, at Morridge, near Leek, in Staffordshire, was credited with the
power of frightening away animals. Cattle would not drink its water,
and birds would not fly over it. A mermaid was believed to dwell
in its depths. A reminiscence of this belief is to be found in the
name of “The Mermaid,” a wayside inn in the neighbourhood frequented
by sportsmen. Some wells keep a sharp look-out on the use made of
their water. A certain spring at Gilsland, in Cumberland, wished
to dispense its favours freely, i.e., without making the public pay
for them. The proprietor of the ground, however, resolved to turn,
what he counted, an honest penny, and built a house over the spring
for the sale of the water. The fountain, much aggrieved at this,
forthwith dried up. The house, not being required, was taken down,
and the benevolent water once more made its appearance.

Intermittent springs have been observed from an early date, and strange
notions have been formed about them. They are usually associated
in their ebbing and flowing with some particular river. In some
instances such a connection can be only imaginary, notably in the
case of the Keldgate Springs at Cottingham, in Yorkshire, thought
to be influenced by the river Derwent twenty miles away. An ebbing
and flowing well at the foot of Giggleswick Scar, near Settle, in
the same county, was represented by Michael Drayton under the poetic
guise of a nymph flying from the pursuit of an unwelcome lover. Gough,
in his edition of Camden’s “Britannia,” of date 1806, has the following
about a spring near Paisley:–“Bishop Gibson says that in the lands of
Newyards, near Paisley, is a spring which ebbs and flows with the tide
though far above any ground to which the tide comes. Mr. Crawford,
in his ‘History of the Shire of Renfrew,’ applies this to a spring
in the lands of Woodside, which is three miles from the Clyde, and
half-a-mile from Paisley bridge, and the ground much higher than the
river.” The name of Dozmare Lake, in Cornwall, signifies in Cornish a
drop of the sea, the lake having been so called from a belief that it
was tidal. The absurdity of the belief is proved by the fact that the
sheet of water is eight hundred and ninety feet above the sea. The
lake is said to be unfathomable, and has for a haunting spirit a
giant who is doomed to empty it by means of a limpet shell.

A singular superstition is, or was till quite lately, cherished in
Peeblesshire, that Powbate Well, close to Eddlestone, completely fills
with its water the high hill on whose top it is situated. Chambers,
in his “Popular Rhymes of Scotland,” gives the following particulars
about the spring:–“The mouth, called Powbate E’e, is covered over
by a grate to prevent the sheep from falling into it; and it is
supposed that, if a willow wand is thrown in, it will be found some
time after, peeled at the water-laugh, a small lake at the base of
the hill supposed to communicate with Powbate. Of course the hill
is expected to break some day like a bottle and do a great deal of
mischief. A prophecy, said to be by Thomas the Rhymer, and bearing
evident marks of his style, is cited to support the supposition:

‘Powbate, an ye break,
Tak’ the Moorfoot in yere gate;
Moorfoot and Mauldslie,
Huntlycote, a’ three,
Five kirks and an Abbacie!'”

In explanation of this prophecy Chambers remarks: “Moorfoot, Mauldslie,
and Huntlycote are farm-towns in the immediate neighbourhood of
the hill. The kirks are understood to have been those of Temple,
Carrington, Borthwick, Cockpen, and Dalkeith; and the abbacy was that
of Newbottle, the destruction of which, however, has been anticipated
by another enemy.”

The Scottish imagination, in attributing wonderful properties to
springs, has not gone the length of ascribing to any the power
possessed by St. Ludvan’s Well in Cornwall. This fountain has been
already referred to as the giver of increased sight. But it had the
still more marvellous power of preventing any one baptised with its
water from being hanged by a hempen rope. Nor have we heard of any
spring north of the Tweed that could be a match for another Cornish
well, viz., that of St. Keyne, familiar to readers of Southey. Whoever,
after marriage, first drank of its water would be the ruler of the
house. On one occasion a bridegroom hurried to make sure of this
right, but was chagrined to find that he had been anticipated: his
bride had taken a bottleful of the water with her to church.

“Am I likely to recover?” is a question on many a patient’s lips. “Ask
your doctor;” and if the case looks serious, “Have a consultation”
is the answer nowadays. Formerly, the answer was “Go to a consecrated
well,” or “Get some one else to go in your stead, and you will get
a reply.” There is no reason to believe that every sacred spring was
credited with this power; but many undoubtedly were. Hydromancy has
been a favourite mode of divination. “The conscious water” could
predict the future, and questions connected with health were laid
before it for its decision. The Greeks dipped a mirror into a well,
and foretold health or sickness from the appearance of the watery
lines on its surface. A pool in Laconia, sacred to Juno, revealed
approaching good or evil fortune respectively, by the sinking or
floating of wheaten cakes thrown into it, and auguries were also
drawn from the movements of stones when dropt into it. Springs,
therefore, deserved the respect shown to them by the confiding
public. Indeed they not only told of recovery; they supplied the
medicine required to ensure it, and were thus doctors and druggists
combined. Sometimes the omen was unpropitious. In many cases the
prophecy would work out its own fulfilment. There was a well in the
Island of Lewis that caused either instant death or recovery to the
patient who tested its virtues: but a speedy fulfilment like this was
exceptional. St. Andrew’s Well at Shadar, in Lewis, was much esteemed
for its power of augury. A tub, containing some of its water, was
taken to the house of the patient, and a small wooden dish was placed
on the surface of the water. If this dish turned sunways, it showed
that the patient would recover; but if in an opposite direction,
that he would die. In reference to this instance, Mr. Gomme, in his
“Ethnology in Folklore,” observes, “I am inclined to connect this with
the vessel or cauldron so frequently occurring in Celtic tradition,
and which Mr. Nutt has marked as ‘a part of the gear of the oldest
Celtic divinities’ perhaps of divinities older than the Celts.” On
one occasion two parishioners of Fodderty, in Ross-shire, consulted
Tobar-na-domhnuich in that parish in behalf of a sick friend. When
they placed their pitcher on the surface of the water, the vessel
moved round from south to west, as in the last instance, and they
hastened back to their friend with the good news. This was in the
year 1832. About the same time, a woman brought her sick child to
be bathed in the well, but was surprised and not a little terrified
to see a strange creature, with glaring eyes, leap into it as she
approached. Love for her child made her brave. Overcoming her fear,
she dislodged the creature, and bathed the little invalid. In the end,
however, she must have regarded the appearance of the creature as a
bad omen, for the child did not recover. The usual way of consulting
the spring in question was to draw water from it before sunrise,
and to convey the water to the invalid’s house. The patient was then
immersed in it, and if it remained clear the circumstance pointed to
recovery; but if it assumed a brownish colour, the illness would end
in death. In former times a shirt was thrown into St. Oswald’s Well,
in Yorkshire, by way of augury. The floating of the shirt foretold
returning health. The sinking foretold death. When a portion of an
invalid’s clothing was flung into the Dow Loch, in Dumfriesshire, the
same rule held good. As may be noticed, the augury in these two cases
was the reverse of that in the case of Juno’s pool above alluded to.

There were other ways in which wells acted the prophet. If a certain
worm in a spring on the top of a particular hill in Strathdon was
found alive, the patient would recover. A well at Ardnacloich in Appin
contained a dead worm, if the patient’s illness would prove fatal;
but a living one, if otherwise. The Virgin’s Well, near the ancient
church of Kilmorie on the shores of Loch Ryan in Wigtownshire, had
an ingenious way of predicting the future. If the patient, on whose
account the water was sought, would recover, the fountain flowed
freely; but if the malady would end in death, the water refused to
gush forth. Montluck Well, in the grounds of Logan in the same county,
got the credit of acting on a similar principle. When speaking of this
spring, Symson says, “it is in the midst of a little bog to which
several persons have recourse to fetch water for such as are sick,
asserting (whether it be truth or falsehood I shall not determine)
that if the sick person shall recover, the water shall so bubble and
mount up when the messenger dips in his vessel, that he will hardly get
out dry shod by reason of the overflowing of the well; but if the sick
person be not to recover, there shall not be any such overflowing in
the least.” We find a belief in the south-west of England corresponding
to this in the south-west of Scotland. Gulval Well, in Fosses Moor
there, was resorted to by persons anxious to know the fate of absent
friends. If the person inquired about was dead, the water remained
perfectly still; if sick, it bubbled, though in a muddy fashion; but
if well, it sent out a sparkling gush. Mr. Hunt mentions the case of
a woman, who, with her babe in her arm, consulted the spring about
her absent husband, under the guidance of an aged female who acted
as the guardian of the well. “Obeying the old woman’s directions,
she knelt on the mat of bright green grass which grew around, and,
leaning over the well so as to see her face in the water, she repeated
after her instructor:

‘Water, water, tell me truly,
Is the man I love truly
On the earth, or under the sod,
Sick or well,–in the name of God?’

Some minutes passed in perfect silence, and anxiety was rapidly
turning cheeks and lips pale, when the colour rapidly returned. There
was a gush of clear water from below, bubble rapidly followed bubble
sparkling brightly in the morning sunshine. Full of joy, the young
mother rose from her knees, kissed her child, and exclaimed, ‘I am
happy now!'” At Barenton in Brittany is a spring still believed in by
the peasantry. A pin is dropt into the well, and if good fortune is
in store, the water sends up bubbles; but if not, it remains quite
still. The quantity of water in St. Maelrubha’s Well on Innis-Maree
varied from time to time. When a patient was brought for treatment
and there was a scanty supply, the omen was considered unfavourable;
but when the water was abundant, the saint was deemed propitious,
and the hope of recovery was consequently great.

The fly at St. Michael’s Well in Banffshire was looked upon as a
prophet. In the “Old Statistical Account of Scotland” we read, that,
“if the sober matron wished to know the issue of her husband’s ailment,
or the love-sick nymph that of her languishing swain, they visited
the Well of St. Michael. Every movement of the sympathetic fly was
regarded in silent awe; and as he appeared cheerful or dejected, the
anxious votaries drew their presages.” At Little Conan in Cornwall is
a spring, sacred to Our Lady of Nants. It was at one time resorted to
on Palm Sunday by persons anxious to know whether they would outlive
the year. A cross, made of palm, was thrown into the water. If it
floated, the thrower would survive the twelvemonth; but if it sank,
he would die within that time. Maidens used to visit Madron Well
in the same county on May morning to forecast their matrimonial
fate. They took two pieces of straw, about an inch in length, and
placing them crosswise fastened them together with a pin. The cross
was then thrown into the spring. The rising bubbles were carefully
counted, for they corresponded in number with the years that would
elapse before the arrival of the wedding-day.

Portents of death were sometimes furnished by lochs and springs. At
Harpham in Yorkshire there is a tradition that a drummer lad in the
fourteenth century was accidentally drowned in a certain spring by a
St. Quintin–Lord of the Manor. Ever afterwards the sound of a drum
was heard in the well on the evening before the death of one of the
St. Quintin family. Camden, in his “Britannia,” tells of a sheet of
water in Cheshire called Blackmere Lake, lying in the district where
the Brereton family had lands, and records the local belief that,
just before any heir of that house died, trunks of trees were seen
floating on its surface. Water occasionally gave warning by turning
red like blood. A certain fountain, near the Elbe, in Germany,
was at one time believed to do this, in view of an approaching
war. St. Tredwell’s Loch, in Papa-Westray, Orkney, has already been
referred to, in connection with its habit of turning red, whenever
anything remarkable was about to happen to a member of the Royal
Family. When the Earl of Derwentwater was beheaded, in 1716, the
news spread that the stream flowing past his estate of Dilston Hall
in Northumberland ran with blood. The same was said of the river at
Bothel, in the parish of Topenhow, in Cumberland, on the occasion of
the execution of Charles I., in 1649. There was at one time a well in
Canterbury Cathedral. After the assassination of Thomas à Becket the
sweepings of his blood and brains from the floor were thrown into it,
and more than once afterwards the water turned red and effected various
miraculous cures. Lady Wilde, in her “Ancient Legends of Ireland,”
narrates how one of the holy wells of Erin lost its efficacy for
curing purposes through having been touched by a murderer. The priest
of the district took some of its water and breathed on it thrice in
the name of the Trinity, when, lo! a mysterious change came over it,
and it appeared red like blood! The murderer was captured and handed
over to justice, and the well once more began to work cures.

Some springs seemed anxious to be behind the scenes (though before
the event) in connection with various incidents in British annals. A
spring at Warlingham, in Surrey, rises before any great event in our
country’s history. At any rate it did so before three great events in
the seventeenth century, viz., the Restoration, the Plague, and the
Revolution. The famous Drumming Well at Oundle, in Northamptonshire,
was also specially active in the seventeenth century. By making
a sound like the beating of a drum, it announced the approach of a
Scottish army, and gave warning of the death of Charles II. In the same
century a pool in North Tawton parish, Devonshire, even though dry in
summer, became full of water at the driest season before the death
of a prince, and remained so till the event happened. Two centuries
earlier a certain well at Langley Park, in Kent, had a singular way
of foretelling the future. In view of a battle it became dry, though
rain fell heavily. If there was to be no fighting, it appeared full
of water, even during the greatest drought. A spring at Kilbarry, in
the island of Barra, Outer Hebrides, served the same purpose, but its
mode of augury was different. In this case, as Dalyell records in his
“Darker Superstitions,” drops of blood appeared in prospect of war; but
little bits of peat, if peace was to remain unbroken. Walcott mentions,
in his “Scoti-Monasticon,” that there was at Kilwinning, in Ayrshire,
“a sacred fountain which flowed in 1184, and at other times, before
a war or trouble, with blood instead of water for eight successive
days and nights.” When Marvel-sike Spring, near Brampton Bridge, in
Northamptonshire, overflowed its customary limits, people used to
interpret its conduct as signifying approaching dearth, the death
of some great person, or some national disturbance. In these days,
when so keen an interest is taken in the proceedings of Parliament,
it is a pity that there is no spring in our land capable of announcing
the probable date of a dissolution. Such a spring would relieve the
public mind from much uncertainty, and would benefit the trade and
commerce of the country.

Heritable jurisdictions were abolished in Scotland soon after the
Stuart rising of 1745. This privilege, enjoyed till then by many
landowners north of the Tweed, was popularly known as the “right of
pit and gallows,” the pit being for the drowning of women and the
gallows for the hanging of men. In 1679, a certain woman, Janet
Grant by name, was convicted of theft in the baronial court of
Sir Robert Gordon of Gordonstone, held at Drainie, in Elginshire,
and was sentenced to be drowned in Spynie Loch. In this and other
similar cases water was used as a means of execution. In the case of
witchcraft it was called in as a witness in the trial. The criminal
proceedings for the detection and punishment of so-called witches form
a painfully dark chapter in Scottish history. As Mr. W. H. Davenport
Adams pointedly puts it, in his “Witch, Warlock, and Magician,” “The
common people for a time might have been divided into two classes,
‘witches and witchfinders.'” The same writer observes, “Among the
people of Scotland, a more serious-minded and imaginative race
than the English, the superstition of witchcraft was deeply rooted
at an early period. Its development was encouraged not only by the
idiosyncracies of the national character, but also by the nature of
the country and the climate in which they lived. The lofty mountains,
with their misty summits and shadowy ravines, their deep obscure glens,
were the fitting homes of the wildest fancies, the eeriest legends,
and the storm–crashing through the forests, and the surf beating on
the rocky shore, suggested to the ear of the peasant or fisherman the
voices of unseen creatures–of the dread spirits of the waters and
the air.” A favourite method of discovering whether an accused person
was guilty or not, was that technically known as pricking. It was
confidently believed that every witch had the “devil’s mark” somewhere
on her person. The existence of this mark could be determined: for if a
pin was thrust into the flesh with the result that neither blood came,
nor pain was felt, the spot so punctured was the mark in question. This
showed, without doubt, that the accused was guilty of the heinous
crime laid to her charge. Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe, in his “History
of Witchcraft in Scotland,” gives instances of the finding of the
“devil’s mark.” He mentions the case of Janet Barker, a servant in
Edinburgh, who acknowledged that she possessed this particular mark
between her shoulders. A pin was stuck into the spot and remained
there for an hour without her being aware of its presence. Such, at
least, was the way of stating the case in 1643. With this simple test
at command it is not easy to understand why water should have been
required to give evidence. But so it was. Among various nations the
water-ordeal has been in fashion. It was specially popular in Scotland
a couple of centuries ago. Part of the bay at St. Andrews is still
styled the Witches’ Lake, recalling by its name the crude notions and
cruel practices of our ancestors. A pool in the Carron, near Dunnottar
Church in Kincardineshire, at one time served a similar purpose.

As we have seen, the sinking or the floating of an object thrown into
water in cases of sickness told of death or recovery. In like manner
innocence or guilt could be determined in the case of persons accused
of sorcery. If the person sank, she was innocent; but guilty, if she
floated. King James VI.–a great authority on the subject–explains
why this was so. In his “Daemonologie,” he says, “As in a secret
murther, if the dead carcase be at any time thereafter handled by the
murtherer, it will gush out of blood, as if the blood were raging to
the Heaven for revenge of the murtherer (God having appointed that
secret supernatural sign for trial of that secret unnatural crime),
so that it appears that God hath appointed (for a supernatural sign
of the monstrous impiety of witches) that the water shall refuse to
receive them in her bosom that have shaken off them the sacred water
of baptism and wilfully refused the benefit thereof.” The Abbey of
Scone, in Perthshire, founded by Alexander I., in 1114, received from
him a charter confirming the right of using the water-ordeal for the
detection of witchcraft. The place of trial was a small island in the
Tay, half-way between the abbey and the bridge of Perth. According
to the practices, common at such trials, the accused was thrown into
the water, wrapped up in a sheet, and having the thumbs and the great
toes fastened together. The chances of life were certainly not great
under the circumstances, for, if the poor creature floated, she had
soon to exchange water for fire. The stake was her goal. If she sank,
the likelihood was that she would be drowned. Bundled up in the manner
described, she was scarcely in a position to rescue herself; and the
bystanders were in no humour to give a helping hand. Close to the town
of Elgin was once a witch-pool, known as the Order Pot, so called from
its having been the place of ordeal. Through time it was filled up,
mainly with rubbish from the ruins of the cathedral, in fulfilment,
it was believed, of the prophecy of Thomas the Rhymer that

“The Order Pot and Lossie grey
Shall sweep the Chanonry kirk away.”

In the seventeenth century a woman who was accused of having brought
disease on a certain man through her sorceries was thrown into the
pool. She sank, and the crowd, who had collected to witness the trial,
exclaimed, “To Satan’s kingdom she hath gone.” The incident is of
interest since the view of her case, then taken, was contrary to the
one usually held, as explained above. Perhaps the people standing by
thought that the devil was so eager to get his own, that he would
not lose the chance of securing his victim at once. Elginshire has
another memorial of the black art in the form of The Witch’s Stone at
Forres. It consists of a boulder about a yard in diameter and probably
marks the spot where unhappy females convicted of witchcraft were
executed. About the year 1790 some one wished to turn the stone to
good account for building purposes and broke it into three pieces. The
breaker, however, was compelled to put it together again, and the iron
then used to clasp it is still in position. Legend accounts for the
breakage in a less prosaic way. When the boulder was being carried
by a witch through the air in her apron, the apron-string broke,
and, as a result, the stone was broken too. The spot was formerly
reckoned ill-omened. It would be too much to say that belief in the
black art has vanished from the Highlands; though, fortunately for
the good sense of our age, as well as for those who live in it,
witch pools are not now in requisition. Pennant bears witness to
the fact that belief in witchcraft ceased in Perthshire soon after
the repeal, in 1736, of the penal statutes against witches. In more
northern districts it continued a vital part of the popular creed
till much later. The Rev. Donald Sage mentions, in his “Memorabilia
Domestica,” that the Rev. Mr. Fraser, minister of Killearnan in
Ross-shire, about 1750, was much troubled with somnolency even in
the pulpit. He was in consequence thought to be bewitched–a notion
that he himself shared. Two women were fixed on, as the cause of his
unnatural slumbers. It was believed that they had made a clay image
representing the minister and had stuck pins into it. Certain pains
felt by him were ascribed to this cause. Had it not been for the Act
of 1736, it would doubtless have fared ill with the supposed witches.

Witches, however, were not alone in their power of floating. According
to a popular belief in the north-west Highlands, insane people
cannot sink in water. Sir Arthur Mitchell, in the “Proceedings of the
Society of Antiquaries of Scotland,” volume iv., refers to the case
of a certain madman–Wild Murdoch by name–concerning whom strange
stories were told. He was born on the small island of Melista, near
the coast of Lewis, used only for occasional habitation in connection
with the pasturing of cattle. Anyone born in the island is believed to
become insane. The superstition about not sinking was certainly put
to a severe test in Wild Murdoch’s case. “It is said,” remarks Sir
Arthur, “that his friends used to tie a rope round his body, make it
fast to the stern of the boat, and then pull out to sea, taking the
wretched man in tow. The story goes that he was so buoyant that he
could not sink; ‘that they tried to press him down into the water;’
that he could swim with a stone fastened to him; that when carried to
the rocky holms of Melista or Greinan, round which the open Atlantic
surges, and left there alone, he took to the water and swam ashore.”

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