The Highland and Islands are rich in ancient superstitions. Many originated in Celtic myth and folklore.
A child born early in the morning had a better chance of survival. The saying was 'the later the hour, the shorter the life'. Traditionally a newborn baby should swallow fresh butter to protect against fairies. A child presented with a newly-laid egg, a piece of bread and a pinch of salt would always have the essentials of life.
The best time to marry was considered to be in the autumn. January and May were traditionally unlucky months in which to wed. It was considered unlucky to start a wedding procession to the left. A dog should not pass between bride and groom. Two crows flying over a house foretold a wedding.
A grave dug on a Sunday would lead to another being dug for a family member before the week was out. It was also believed that, at the moment of death, a person's soul could be seen leaving in the shape of a small creature such as a bee. Opening the locks in the house was said to allow the dead an 'easy passing'.
Witches had special powers to produce cures, foretell the future, fly, change into animals (cat, crow and hare), cast spells and inflict harm on people or animals. The last Scottish witch to be killed was at Dornoch in 1727, accused of turning her daughter into a pony. Rowan traditionally protected against witches.
'Second sight' was the ability to foretell events or see ghostly apparitions. The Seer generally foretold death or disasters and their 'second sight' was considered more of a curse than a blessing. The most famous, the Brahan Seer, was executed on a charge of witchcraft.
Displayed in Dunvegan Castle is the 'Fairy Flag', given to the Clan MacLeod by fairies to protect them three times from danger. Parents had to guard against the 'changeling', a fairy baby swapped for a human infant. The Gruagachs of Tiree and Skye appeared happy if good news was coming, but wept if bad. The dreaded wail of the Banshee foretold death. A horseshoe hung above the door protected against fairies.
The Kelpie or water horse could appear as a horse or a handsome boy, to lure tired travellers or young girls to their death in icy pools. In Orkney the seal was believed to be able to assume human shape, a Selkie, to come ashore to dance.
If a book listed in the bibliography below is available from the Highland Libraries it will be indicated by a book icon -
Cat Country: The Quest for the British Big Cat
The Reign of James VI and I
1973, Larner,Christian 'James VI and Witchcraft'
Witchcraft: A History
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