Tag Archives: Scotland

Hallowe’en Superstitions: Ancient Times, reported in 1916



The thirty-first of October, the day preceding All Saints’ Day, is notable for the strange superstitions connected with it, and which are as old as the history of this country. In ancient Ireland All Hallows Eve was a great feast day, as it was amongst the Celts everywhere. On this day a new fire used to be kindled every year, and from this sacred flame all the fires of Ireland were re-kindled.

The ancient Celts took Samhain, or All Souls’ Day, as the first day of their year, and celebrated it much as we now celebrate New Year’s Day.

The other great feast day of the Celts was Beltane, or May Day, which ushered in summer. As a season of omens and auguries Hallowe’en seems to have far surpassed Beltane in the imagination of the Celts, and it was the custom of this genial, warm-hearted race to gather together on Hallowe’en for the purpose of ascertaining their destiny, especially their fortune in the coming year just begun. Not only among the Celts, but throughout Europe, the night which marks the transition from autumn to winter was regarded as the time when the spirits of the departed revisited their old homes and joined in the family gatherings around the fire, and partook of the good cheer provided in parlour and kitchen by their affectionate kinsfolk. But it is not only the souls of the departed who ” revisit the pale glimpses of the moon,” but witches speed by on errands of mischief, fairies make their presence manifest, and hobgoblins of all sorts roam freely about. In the Northern Tales of Scotland there is a saying, which, translated from the Gaelic, runs:

Hallowe’en will come, will come ;

Witchcraft will be set agoing ;

Fairies will be at full speed,

Running free in every pass.

Avoid the road, children, children!

On that night in Ireland all the fairy hills are thrown wide open and the fairies swarm forth, and to the man who is bold enough to approach them they will show the treasures of gold, etc., hidden in these green hills. The cavern of Cruachan in Connaught, known as the “Hell Gate of Ireland ” is then opened, and mischievous spirits come forth and roam the country-side, playing pranks on the farmers and peasantry.

The Scotch Highlanders have a special name, Samhanach (derived from Samhain), for the bogies and imps of mischief which go about then molesting all who come in their way.

In Wales, Hallowe’en was the weird night of the year, the chief of the Teir Nos Ysbrydion, or Three Spirit Nights, when the wind, “blowing over the feet of corpses,” brought omens of death in eerie sighs, to those doomed to “shuffle off this mortal coil” within the year.

It was not so long ago that the people of Wales in some districts used to congregate in churches on Hallowe’en and read their fate from the flame of the candle which each of them held; they also heard the names or saw the coffins of the parishioners who would die within the year. In the Highlands of Scotland it was believed that if any one took a three-legged stool and sat on it where three roads met whilst the clock was striking midnight, a voice from the Unseen would tell him the names of those in his neighbourhood who would die within twelve months. It used to be (and may be still) the custom in Scotland for the young people gathered together in one of the houses to resort to various games and forms of divination for the purpose of ascertaining their futures—principally as regards chances of matrimony—such as, would they marry or not, was the marriage to occur that year or never, who would marry first, and descriptions of the future spouse, and so on, when the answers to the numerous queries would furnish a vast amount of entertainment. These practices were not confined to the Highlands, but the Lowlanders of Saxon descent also believed in and followed them—having inherited them from the Celts, the original owners of the country.

Most of the forms of divination are very quaint: the following are a few of the best known instances. A girl desirous of divining her future husband takes an apple and stands with it in front of a looking glass. She slices the apple and sticks each slice on the point of a knife and holds it over her left shoulder while looking in the glass and combing her hair. The spectre of the future husband then appears in the mirror, and stretching out his hand, takes the slices of apple over her shoulder. Some say that the number of slices should be nine, and that the first eight should be eaten and the ninth thrown over the shoulder, and also that at each slice the diviner should say, ” In the name of the Father and the Son.”

Another curious practice is to take an egg, prick it with a pin, and let the white drop into a glass of water; take some of this in your mouth and go for a walk. The first name you hear will be that of your future husband or wife. One old woman in Perthshire stated she tried this when a girl, and she heard the name Archibald, and this proved to be the name of the man she married. In the Hebrides, a salt cake called Bonnach Salainn is eaten at Hallowe’en to induce dreams which will reveal the future. It is made of common meal with a good deal of salt. After eating it you must not drink water or utter a word, or you spoil the charm. It is equally efficacious to eat a salt herring, bones and all, in three bites, provided no water is drunk and no word spoken afterwards. Amongst the farmers and country people a favourite method of divination is to take a winnowing- basket, or wecht, as the Lowland Scotch term it, and go through the action of winnowing corn. After doing this three times the apparition of your future husband or wife will pass through the barn, coming in at one door and passing out at the other. Amongst the young people gathered at the fireside it is often the custom to burn nuts to divine marriage prospects, and much fun is obtained from the pastime. Two nuts representing a lad and a lass who are obviously “in love” are placed side by side in the fire. If they burn quietly together the pair will become man and wife, and from the length of time they bum and the brightness of the flame one may judge of the length and happiness of the married life, but if the nuts jump away from each other then there will be no marriage, and the blame rests with the person whose nut has started away.

In North Wales it was the custom for every family to make a great bonfire, called Cod Coeth, on the most conspicuous spot near the house, and when the fire had died down, for each person to throw into the embers a white stone (marked so as to be identified). They then said their prayers and retired. Early next morning they sought their stones amid the ashes, and if any were missing it was believed that the persons who threw them would die within the year.

In Scotland (as in Ireland and Wales) Hallowe’en was for centuries celebrated by great bonfires on every hill and peak, and the whole country was brilliantly illuminated, presenting a most picturesque scene, with the flames reflected in the dark Highland lochs, and penetrating the deep craggy ravines. These fires were especially numerous in the Perthshire Highlands, and the custom was continued to the first half of the nineteenth century. They were observed around Loch Tay as late as the year 1860, and for several hours both sides of the loch were illuminated as far as eye could see. In Ireland the Hallowe’en fires would seem to have died out earlier, but the divination still survives.

General Vallancey states that on Hallowe’en or the Vigil of Samain, the peasants assemble with sticks and clubs and go from house to house collecting money, bread, butter, eggs, etc., for the feast in the name of St. Colombkill. Every house abounds in the best victuals they can obtain, and apples and nuts are largely devoured. Nuts are burnt, and from the ashes strange things are foretold; hemp seed is sown by the maidens, who believe that if they look back they will see the wraith of their future spouse; they also hang a smock before the fire on the close of the feast and sit up all night concealed in a comer of the room, convinced that his apparition will come and turn the smock ; another method is to throw a ball of yam out of the window and wind it on the reel within, believing that if they repeat the Pater Noster backwards, and look at the ball of yam without, they will see his sith or wraith; they dip for apples in a tub of water and try to bring one up in the mouth; they suspend a cord with a cross-stick with apples at one point and lighted candles at the other, and endeavour to catch the apple, while in circular motion, in the mouth. These, and many other superstitions (the relicts of Druidism), will never be eradicated whilst the name of Samain exists. (Hibernian Folk Lore, Charles Vallancey.)

In County Roscommon, a cake is made in nearly every house, and a ring, a coin, a sloe, and a chip of wood put into it. The person who obtains the ring will be married first, the coin predicts riches for its finder, the sloe longevity, and the chip of wood an early death. It is considered that the fairies blight the sloes on the hedges at Hallowe’en so that the sloe in the cake will be the last of the year. The colleens take nine grains of oats in their mouths, and going out without speaking, walk about till they hear a man’s name pronounced, and that will be the name of their future husband.

In the Isle of Man, Hallowe’en used to be celebrated by the kindling of fires, and by various ceremonies for the prevention of the baneful influence of witches and the mischievous pranks of fairies and elves. Here, as in Scotland, forms of divination are practised. As an instance, the housewife fills a thimble full of salt for each member of the family and empties it out in little piles on a plate and left there during the night. Next morning the piles are examined, and if any of them have fallen down, he or she whom it represents will die before next Hallowe’en. The women also carefully sweep out the ashes from under the fireplace and flatten them down neatly on the open hearth. If, the next morning, a foot print is found turned towards the door it signifies a death, but if turned in the opposite direction a marriage is predicted. In Lancashire, also, the fires of Hallowe’en were lighted up to the middle of the nineteenth century, and similar forms of divination practised as in Scotland and Ireland; and even to-day the Lancashire maiden strews the ashes which are to take the shape of one or more letters of her future husband’s name and throws hemp seed over her shoulder and glances around fearfully to see who is following her. At one time the Lancashire witches used to assemble from all parts of the country at Malkin Tower, an ancient and ruined building in the Forest of Pendle, and there they planned evil and mischief, and woe betide those who were out on the fells at night and crossed their path. It was possible, however, to keep them at bay by carrying a light of some kind. The witches would try to extinguish the light, and if they succeeded, so much the worse for the person, but if the flame burned steadily till the clocks struck midnight they could do no harm. Some people performed the ceremony by deputy, and parties went from house to house in the evening collecting candles, one from each inmate, and offering their services to leet the witches. This custom was practised at Longridge Fell in the early part of the nineteenth century. Northumberland was the only other part of England where Hallowe’en was observed and its quaint customs adhered to to any extent, though in all parts of the Kingdom (and in France also) it has always been believed (and is still) that the Unseen World is closer to this mundane sphere on October 31 than at any other time.

The Occult Review October 1916: p. 213-17

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  It is always pleasant to look at “superstition” on a Friday the Thirteenth, a day so fraught with fear.  We have previously looked at charms to prevent bad luck and have been privy to the secrets of the contrarian “Thirteen Club.” We have also encountered some of these quaint (and sometimes terrifying) old beliefs before in the story of a young woman who wanted to host a completely “authentic” Hallowe’en party called “Nut Crack Night.” 

Mrs Daffodil is amused at how the superstitions above toggle between “sex” and “death,” two of the human race’s most pressing concerns.  The earlier ‘teens had seen a revival of folk-singing, Morris dancing, May Queens, and Corn Dollies. As the world hovered on the edge of War, the old ways evoked some mythical Golden Era of Peace and Plenty.

Yet pestilence, inter-tribal warfare, witches, and midnight horrors—like the poor—are with us always.  This collection of “ancient” rites was published during the Great War, when no end to the bloodshed seemed possible. That year there must have been many sad visions of coffins and many white stones missing from the bonfires.


Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


The Ghost of Bonnie Prince Charlie: c. 1910

Prince Charles Edward Stuart, William Mosman about 1700

Prince Charles Edward Stuart, William Mosman about 1700

Lady Cromartie asked me to join a shooting party she and Major Blunt were giving, to meet Prince Arthur of Connaught.

I arrived one evening in wild winter weather. There had been a heavy snowstorm, and the sky looked as if there was considerably more to come. I found all the other guests had already arrived, and we were a very merry party. It was Prince Arthur’s first “shoot” in the far North, and his first experience of what Scotland could provide in the way of autumn weather, and he was glad to avail himself of a thick woolen sweater of mine, which I was proud to present to him. He was perfectly charming to us all, and there was, owing to his simplicity, no sense of stiffness introduced into our party. That evening, after dinner, he was strolling round the room, looking at the pictures, and he paused opposite a framed letter, written by Prince Charles Edward during the ’45 to the Lord Cromartie of that time, who was his earnest supporter.

Why!” exclaimed Prince Arthur, “that letter is written by ‘The Pretender,’ isn’t it?”

There was no answer. A thrill of horror ran through the breasts of the ardent Jacobites present. Dead silence reigned.

Then I could stand it no longer. “Please, sir,” I said, “we all call him Prince Charles Edward Stuart.”

Prince Arthur turned round laughingly. “I beg his pardon and all of yours,” he exclaimed in the most charming manner, and the hearts of all the outraged Jacobites warmed to him at once.

I was just about to creep into bed, very late that night, and very tired after my long, cold journey in a desperately sluggish train, when Lady Cromartie peeped in at my door. Her wonderful dark eyes were ablaze, and I knew at once she had something psychic to tell me. Her eyes looked like nothing else in the world but her eyes, when she is on the track of a ghost, or one of her “other side” experiences.

“I have just seen Prince Charles Edward,” she announced.

I took her firmly by the arm. Prince Charles Edward means a very great deal to me, and I don’t let anything pass me by that concerns his beloved memory.

“Tell me quick. Where did you see him?” I asked.

“I was just going to get into bed when I saw him standing looking at me, at the far end of the room. He was smiling, and as I stared back at him he slowly crossed the floor, his smiling face always turned to me, and vanished through the wall,” was Lady Cromartie’s answer.

Then I told her of a certain feeling I had experienced earlier in the evening. At the moment when our Jacobite hearts were stung to deep, though fleeting resentment, we had formed a thought form, powerful enough to reach the spirit of Bonny Prince Charlie on “the other side.” Our spirits had called on him, and he had heard and responded. Why not? If we believe in the immortality of the soul, the soul of Prince Charles Edward surely lives. Where? On the Astral plane, where the souls of all must go to divest themselves of the lower passions of earth, and the veil between the Physical plane and the Astral plane is wearing very thin in these days.

For many of us there are rents through which we are permitted to see the old friends who are not lost but gone before, and who await us in a sphere where we in turn will await the coming of those who follow after. Indeed, the time does not now seem to be so far distant when so-called death will be pushed one stage further back, and the transference of the soul from earth to the Astral plane will no longer be treated as severance. What then will be termed the severance we now call death? It will be the passing of the cleansed soul from the Astral plane to the Heaven world, for a period of blissful rest before the life urge compels the reincarnating ego to take on once more the veil of flesh, in a transient human world.

I doubt if it is possible for an English person to comprehend what it means to be a Jacobite. One is born a Jacobite or one is not. I was born a Jacobite, and I never lose my passionate love and regret for the sufferings and sorrows of Prince Charles Edward. No female figure in the past attracts me so much as does Flora MacDonald. Had I lived during the ’45 I would have worn the white cockade, and parted with my last “shift” for the love of Bonny Prince Charlie. All very ridiculous, many may say, but there it is. That is what it means to be born a Jacobite.

My grandfather was an ardent Jacobite, and consorted largely with old Jacobite families. The Sobieski Stuarts often made their home with him. Grand looking men of striking physique and good looks. Robert Chambers used to tell a story of the ghost Piper of Fingask; the property of a fine old Jacobite, Sir Peter Murray Threipland:

“One night, whilst my grandfather was visiting Sir Peter, they were sitting at supper in the old dining hall. The two old sisters of Sir Peter, Eliza and Jessie, were present. Suddenly the faint strain of the pipes was heard in the distance, surely no uncommon sound in Scotland, where every Laird has his own piper to play round the dining-table, yet a sudden silence fell upon the little party of four. All ears were listening intently, and straining eyes were blank to all but the evidence of hearing. The noise grew louder, the piper seemed to be mounting the stone staircase, yet his brogues made no sound as he ascended.

“Sir Peter dropped his head down into his arms folded upon the table. He sought to hide the fear in his old eyes. The women sat as if chiseled out of granite, gray to the lips. The piper of Fingask had come for one of them. Which? Now the piper of death was drawing very near, the skirl of his pipes had nearly reached the door. In another moment, with a full blast of triumph that beat about their ears as it surged into the hall, he had passed, and had begun his ascent to the ramparts. The skirl was dying away into a wail. Miss Eliza spoke: ‘He’s come for you, Jessie.’ There was no response. The piper of Fingask was playing a ‘Last Lament’ now, as he swung round the ramparts.

“True enough, he had come for Miss Jessie, and very shortly after she obeyed the call.”

To this day there are men and women who never forget to offer up their passionate regret for Prince Charles before they sleep. I know of one old Scottish house where his memory is an ever-present, everliving thing. The shadowy old room is consecrated to him. On the walls hang portraits of him, and trophies of the ’15 and the ’45 stand round in glass cases. On one table lies a worn, white cockade, yellow with age, and a lock of fair hair clasped by a band of blackened pearls. In a tall slender glass there is always, in summer time, a single white rose.

Above is the portrait of the idol of the present house, who gave in the past of their all in life and treasure, for the cause they hold so sacred, so dear. I cannot look upon that gay, careless, handsome face without the tears rising to my eyes. His eyes smile into mine. Involuntarily I bend before him. What was the power in you, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, that drew from countless women and men that wild unswerving devotion? Which made light of terrible hardships, which followed you faithfully through glen and corrie? What is that power which you still exert over those to whom your name is but a memory, but who still, when they think on you or look upon your pictured face, cry silently in their hearts for the lost House of Stuart?” Oh! waes me for Prince Charlie!”

One must be Scotch to understand that the Union did nothing to unite England and Scotland. To the Scottish plowman the Englishman is still a foreigner, whom he dislikes. Scotch and English servants do not work well in the same house. To us, Mary Queen of Scots lived “only the other day.” When the House of Stuart passed from us our history ended.

Our old houses are full of ghosts, the atmosphere is saturated with the tragic history of the past, the very skies seem to brood in melancholy over the soil, where so many wild bloody scenes were enacted. To the Psychic, Scotland is a land not yet emerged from the dour savagery of the past.

Ghosts I Have Seen: And Other Psychic Experiences, Violet Tweedale, 1917

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  This is the day after the anniversary of the Battle of Culloden, which dashed Jacobite hopes and forced Prince Charles Edward Stuart to flee with a price on his head until Flora McDonald helped him escape to France.

There was an odd and chilling premonition of the Jacobite defeat the night before Culloden. King George, with two courtiers, was standing on the battlements of Windsor castle. They saw a cloud “resembling a thistle, upside down, with the dim, shadowy figure of a Scothman, with targe and claymore, falling backwards.”

The Folk-lore Journal, Vol. 6, 1888

Putting on a Relentlessly Informative hat, here is some biographical detail about Lady Cromartie.

This lady has several claims to distinction. She is a countess in her own right, one of the largest women landowners in the three kingdoms, and is well known in the literary world as a writer of romance, articles on Highland life, and stories of historical interest. Lady Cromartie is a daughter of the second Earl of Cromartie, and on his death, in 1893, succeeded to the vast ; estates of the Mackenzies. In 1895, the title, which had been in abeyance, was called out in her favour by the late Queen Victoria. Her ladyship, who was born in 1878, and whose only sister is that many-sided and unconventional woman. Lady Constance Stewart-Richardson, began composing poetic stories when she was still a girl, and “The End of the Song”— a volume published by her a few years ago — enjoyed much popularity among lovers of Highland lore. Like so many modern women, Lady Cromartie is deeply interested in psychic matters, and her one-act drama, “The Finding of the Sword,” which was produced at the Playhouse in 1907, has a strong psychic interest. In 1899, the Countess married Major Edward Blunt (now Blunt-Mackenzie), and has three children.

Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, Volume VII, ND

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


The Queen Celebrates Halloween at Balmoral: 1876

The Queen keeping Halloween at Balmoral

The Queen herself was the chief personage in a marked illustration of this fact [that the British sometimes ignore Celtic Halloween practices] in 1876.   Halloween was celebrated with unusual ceremony at her Balmoral Castle, in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, by the tenantry and servants of Balmoral and Invergeldie. There were torchlight processions, extraordinary bonfires and the


Nearly 200 torchbearers assembled at the castle as the shadows of evening fell. They separated into two parties, one band proceeding to Invergeldie, the other remaining at Balmoral. When the torches were lighted at six o’clock, the Queen and Princess Beatrice were driven to Invergeldie, followed by the Balmoral torchbearers. Here both parties united and returned in procession to Balmoral. A tremendous bonfire was then lighted, the Queen’s pipers playing the while. Refreshments, comprising every dish dear to Halloween memory, were served to all, when dancing to the strains of the bagpipes was begun on the greensward.

When the frolic was at its height there suddenly appeared from the rear of the castle, a grotesque figure representing a witch, with a train of ogres and elves as attendants. All these made every possible demonstration of terror at sight of the huge bonfire. Then followed an ogre of demonical aspect and shape, followed by another hideous warlock drawing a car in which was seated the effigy of a witch surrounded by other figures in the guise of ogres and demons. These unearthly intruders were marched several times around the bonfire, and finally the chief figure, the embodiment of witchdom, was taken from the car and hurled into the blazing pile amid weird shrieks and howls from the masked demons, who instantly fled into the darkness with, the cheers of the multitude mingled with the wildest strains of the bagpipes, and


An attendant present at the time told me that the scene was most impressive and picturesque. Lochnagar and other mountains in the neighborhood being covered with snow, that dancing and all manner of Halloween festivities were kept up until morning; and that the Queen precisely as any other mortal present, entered into the spirit of the extraordinary occasion—assisting in some of the preparations with her own hands—with the utmost interest and zest. 

Columbus [GA] Daily Enquirer 1 November 1891: p. 10

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: What a refreshing change to burn witches and warlocks in effigy instead of barrels of flaming tar. Mrs Daffodil wishes all of you becoming costumes, superlative candy, and a very happy Hallowe’en.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.