The various customs and superstitions will he considered in the order of the Calendar:--
January 1, New Year's Day, formerly called Laa Nolick beg, "Little Christmas Day," was the occasion for various superstitions. Among: these was that about the "first foot." The "first foot," called the qualtagh in Manx, is defined as follows by Kelly in his Dictionary: "The first person or creature one meets going from home. This person is of great consequence to the superstitious, particularly to women the first time they go out after lying-in." The qualtagh (he or she) may also be
the first person who enters a house on New Year's morning. In this case it is usual to place before him or her the best fare the family can afford. It was considered fortunate if the qualtagh were a person (a man being preferred to a woman), of dark complexion, as meeting a person of light complexion at this time, especially if his or her hair is red, would be thought very unlucky. It is curious that the superstition in Scotland is the exact reverse of this--i.e., to meet a light complexioned person was fortunate. If the qualtagh were spaagagh, or splay-footed, it would be considered very unfortunate. It was important, too, that the qualtagh on New Year's Day should bring some gift, as if he or she came empty-handed, misfortunes would be sure to ensue. To meet a cat first on this day was considered unlucky. It was supposed to be necessary to exercise great care to sweep the floor of the house on New Year's morning from the door towards the hearth, so that the dust should go towards the hearth, for, if this were not done, the good fortune of the family would be considered to be swept from the house for that year.
It was formerly the custom for a number of young men to go from house to house on New Year's Day singing the following rhyme:
"A merry Christmas, and a very good year to you;
Luck and health to the whole household,
Life, pleasantness and sprightliness to you together,
Peace and love between men and women;
Goods and riches, stock and store.
Plenty of potatoes and herring enough;
Bread and cheese, butter and beef. 1
Sleeping safely when you are in bed,
Undisturbed by 2 the flea's tooth, sleeping well."
Nothing should he lent on this day, as anyone who does so will be lending all the year. In old times, when tinder and flint were used, no one would lend them on this day.
January 6, or Twelfth-day, was the thirteenth or last day of Yule in the Northern Calendar. It was one of the days on which no one might borrow fire, but had to purchase it. After the introduction of Christianity, it became a Church festival in commemoration of the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. Bishop Phillips, in the Manx Prayer Book 1 written by him early in the seventeenth century, calls it Shen lail chibbert ushtey, 'old feast-day of the water-well,' the meaning of which is not clear. It was formerly a day of much festivity in the Isle of Man, being called Laa giense 'dance or revel day.' Among the games then played were "Cutting off the Fiddler's Head," "The Lackets," and "The Goggans."
The Cutting of the Fiddler's Head is described by Waldron as follows:--"On Twelfth-day the Fiddler lays his head in some one of the wenches' laps, and a third person asks who such a maid or such a maid shall marry, naming the girls then present one after another, to which he answers according to his own whim, or agreeable to the intimacies he has taken notice of during this time of merriment. But whatever he says is as absolutely depended on as an oracle; and if he happens to couple two people who have an aversion to each other, tears and vexation succeed the mirth. This they call Cutting of the Fiddler's Head, for after this, he is dead for the whole year." The Lackets, Legads, or 'valentines,' was the name of a game which was played as follows:--A mainster, or master of ceremonies, was elected, who then proceeded to appoint a legad to every man of the party from among the girls present in the following words: Eaisht-jee, as clasht-jee, as cur jee myner; ta N. as M. legadyn son y vlein shoh, as ny sodjey, my oddys ad cordail. Moylley as soylley, jingey as pronney daue, &c. "Listen, and hear, and give heed; N. and M. are valentines for this year, and longer, if they be agreeable. Praise and joy, peace and plenty to them, &c." (The remaining words are lost.) Doubtless, the appointments of the mainshter, who probably had a shrewd idea which of the young people were attached to each other, were the cause of much merriment. It would seem that these entertainments were usually held at a public-house, whose landlord would be elected as the mainshter. After the legads had all been appointed, the whole party sat down to supper, each man paying for his own legad, or valentine. During the supper the laare vane, or white mare, 2 was brought in. This
was a horse's head made of wood, and so contrived that the person who had charge of it, being concealed under a white sheet, was able to snap the mouth. He went round the table snapping the horse's mouth at the guests who finally chased him from the room, after much rough play. A similar custom is mentioned by Dr. Johnson as taking place on New Year's Eve, in Scotland: One of the company dressed himself in a cow's hide, upon which the rest of the party belaboured him with sticks. They all then left the house and ran round it, only being re-admitted on repeating the following words; which are still preserved in St. Kilda: "May God bless this house and all that belongs to it, cattle, stones and timber. In plenty of meat, of bed and body clothes, and health of men, may it ever abound." Each then pulled off a piece of the hide, and burnt it for the purpose of driving away disease. The Manx custom was probably formerly the same as this.
The Goggans, or Noggins, were small mugs filled with symbols of various trades, thus--water, for a sailor; meal, for a farmer, &c. These were laid in front of the hearth, and then, when the girls had gone outside, they were changed. The girls were then brought back, and, according to the goggan they laid their hands upon, so was the trade of their future husband.
It was supposed that the weather on the twelve days after "Old Christmas Day," indicated the weather of each month in the following year.
January 25, Laa’l Noo Phaul, 1 "St. Paul's Feast-day," is a church festival in commemoration of the conversion of St. Paul. There seems to have been a very general superstition throughout Western Europe that, from the state of the weather on this day, the whole character of the year following might be predicted. We have, for instance, the old Latin distich:--
An English version of which is:--
The Manx version is as follows:
Paul's day stormy and windy,
Famine on the earth and much death on people;
Paul's day beautiful and fair,
Abundance on the earth of corn and meal.
February 1, Laa’l Breeshey "Bridget's Feast-day," when the festival of this famous Irish saint was celebrated. A parish church, a nunnery, and no less than seven of the ancient keeills or cells are named after her in the Isle of Man, where she seems to have been a great favourite. An old custom on this day was to gather rushes, and standing with them on the threshold, to invite St. Bridget to come and lodge there that night, saying "Brede, Brede, tar gys my thie, tar dys thie ayms noght. Foshil jee yn dorrys da Brede, as lhig da Brede cheet stiagh." "Bridget, Bridget, come to my house, come to my house to-night, open the door to Bridget, and let Bridget come in." After these words were repeated, the rushes were strewn on the floor by way of a carpet or bed for her. It is said also that straw was sometimes used, instead of rushes.
A similar custom is described by Martin, 1 as practised in some of the other Sodor Isles:--"The mistress and servants of each family take a sheaf of oats and dress it up in woman's apparel, put it in a large basket and lay a wooden club by it, and this they call Briid's bed, and then the mistress and servants cry three times, 'Briid is come, Briid is welcome.' This they do just before going to bed, and when they rise in the morning, they look among the ashes expecting to see the impression of Briid's club there, which, if they do, they reckon it a true presage of a good crop and a prosperous year, and the contrary they take as an ill omen." 2
There were various weather sayings with regard to this day, thus:--
Bridget's Feast-day white, every ditch full.
i.e.. If snowy on St. Bridget's day, there will be a wet mild spring.
Choud as hig y skell ny-gall-ghreinney stiagh Laa’l Breeshey, hig y sniaghtey roish Laa Boayldyn. "As long as the sunbeam comes in on Bridget's Feast-day, the snow comes before May
[paragraph continues] Day." i.e., If mild on St. Bridget's day, there will be a cold spring.
February 2.--The festival of the Purification of the Virgin Mary, or Candlemas-day, called in Manx Laa’l Moirrey ny gianle, "Mary's Feast-day of the Candle," seems, since St. Bridget has been forgotten, to have taken the place of the festival of the Irish saint, as the prognostics founded on the state of the weather on this day are practically identical with those derived from St. Bridget's festival. There is a universal superstition throughout Christendom that good weather on this day indicates a long continuance of winter and a bad crop, and that its being foul is, on the contrary, a good omen. Sir Thomas Browne, in his Vulgar Errors, quotes a Latin distich expressive of this idea:--
[paragraph continues] Of which the Scotch version is:
[paragraph continues] The Manx proverb corresponding with this conveys a caution to the farmers:
"Candlemas-day (or Mary's Feast-day of the Candle), half straw and half hay."
i.e.--In the probable event of a mild Candlemas, half the stock of fodder should still be unconsumed, as much wintry weather will probably follow.
Shrove Tuesday, in Manx Oie Ynnyd, "Eve of the Fast," seems to have been observed in the Isle of Man in much the same way as in England. It was formerly the custom to have sollaghan, which is made of oatmeal and gravy, for dinner on this day, instead of at breakfast as usual, while the supper consisted of meat and pancakes. The following Manx saying is, we suppose, a warning against relying on the continuance of such sumptuous fare:--
"At Shrove-Tuesday supper if thy belly be full;
Before Easter-day thou mayest fast (hunger) for that."
February 6--A fair, called Periwinkle Fair, was held on this day till 50 years ago. It took place on the shore at Pooyl-Vaaish, where cattle, horses, and sheep were bought and sold as usual, and fairings sold, among them periwinkles. Hence the
name. The 6th was St Dorothy's day, but there seems to be no trace of any special celebration on this day elsewhere.
March--There are various weather sayings about this month:
Share craagh ve ’sy cheer, na mee ny Vayrnt cheet stiagh meein. "Better a slaughter in the country than the month of March should come in mild."
Sheen hishan dy yoan Mayrnt maaill bleeney Vannin. "A peck of March dust is worth a year's rent in the Isle of Man."
Ta’n Vayrnt chionney as yn nah bee fanney. "March tightens and the next month skins." This refers to the characteristics of these two months--dry, with cold winds.
There is an old superstition that a Saturday's new moon was unlucky, and, if it occurred in March, it was still more so,. Hence the saying:--Ta eayst jesarn ’sy Vayrnt dy-liooar ayns shiaght bleeantyn. "A Saturday's noon in March is enough in seven years."
March 17 is L’aal Pharick, "Patrick's Feast-day," when a fair was held. This famous Irish saint and missionary has three churches and seven keeills dedicated to Lim in the Isle of Man. This day was also called Patermas, "Patrick's Mass," and on it the saint's staff was carried in procession by some one who was paid by the owner of the saint's staffland, who also had to keep in order and renew the staff itself; for there are two small properties, one in the parish of Patrick and the other in the parish of Maughold, which seem to have been held on this tenure. The former of them, first mentioned in a Papal Bull of 1231 as terram de baculo Sti. Patricii, "The land of the Staff of St Patrick," has long since disappeared as a separate property; the latter, which is part of the Barony of St. Bees, still survives under the name of The Staffland. This place is considered to be freehold, inasmuch as no rent or service is rendered in respect of it to the lord. 1 The service
of the Staff of St. Patrick seems to have been commuted for a money-rent at the time of the Reformation, while the Staffland in Maughold fell into the hands of the Christians of Milntown.
There is an old saying: Laa’l Pharick arree, yn dow gys e staik as y dooiney ass e liabbee. "Patrick's spring Feast-day, the ox to his stake, and the man from his bed." It thus seems to indicate the time when active farming operations (March 17) should begin. Seed-sowing is usually begun in the Isle of Man about this time.
April--There is the following weather saying about the month of April:
When April shall shrilly sound his horn,
On earth there will be plenty of hay and corn (barley).
i.e., A dry April is good for the crops.
Good Friday.--Jy-heiney chaist, or, as Bishop Phillips has it, Jy-heny-ghayst, "Easter Friday," was a day on which several superstitious customs were observed. No iron of any kind was to be put into the fire, and even the tongs were laid aside, lest any person should unfortunately stir the fire with them, a stick of the mountain-ash (cuirn) being used as a substitute. To avoid placing the iron griddle on the fire, a large thick cake, called a soddag, 1 which is triangular in shape, was baked on the hearth. It was also a custom for people to go to the shore on this day to gather shell-fish.
Easter Sunday.--It was believed that anyone who went up to the top of a high hill on this morning to watch the sunrise would see the sun bow two or three times, as if in adoration to the risen Saviour. The superstition that the sun bowed or danced on this day was once very prevalent in England, and was embodied by Sir John Suckling in the following verses on a belle of the day:--
April 25 is now best known as Laa’l Noo Markys-yn-sushtallagh, "St. Mark the Evangelist's Feast-day"; but it was formerly connected with the famous Manx saint, Maughold, to whom a parish church is dedicated. He had two days in the year, this,
the first and more important, being called Laa’l Maghal toshee--Maghold's chief Feast-day. The superstitions formerly practised on the eve of this day were the same as those belonging to the eve of St. Mark in England. If a person on the eve of this day were to watch in the churchyard from eleven in the evening till one in the morning he would see the wraiths of those who are to be buried there during the year.
May 11--Oie Voaldyn, or May-day Eve--was the occasion of many superstitious observances. On this evening the Fairies were supposed to be peculiarly active. To propitiate them, and to ward off the influence of evil Spirits and Witches, who were also active at this time, green leaves or boughs and sumark, or primrose flowers, were strewn on the threshold, and branches of the cuirn, or mountain-ash, were made into small crosses without the aid of a knife, which was on no account to be used, and stuck over the doors of the dwelling-houses and cow-houses. Cows were further protected from the same influences by having the bollan-feaill-Eoin 1 (John's-feast wort) placed in their houses. This was also one of the occasions on which no one would give fire, and on which fires were and are lit on the hills to drive away the Fairies, Witches, &c., and also to purify the fields, cattle, and horses by the smoke passing over them. It is said that a handful of gorse was formerly lit in each field to purify it.
With reference to the practice of not giving fire, Waldron remarks that there was not one of the native families "but keeps a small quantity of fire continually burning, no one daring to depend on his neighbour's vigilance in a thing which he imagines is of such consequence: everyone consequently believing that if it should ever happen that no fire were to be found throughout, most terrible revolutions and mischiefs would immediately ensue;"--and, as to the lighting of fires, Kelly says that "the inhabitants kindle fires on the summits of the highest hills, in continuation of the practice of the Druids, who made the cattle, and probably the children, 'to pass through the fire,' using certain ceremonies to expiate the sins of the people; but the northern practice is for each balla or town to kindle a fire, so that the wind may drive the smoke over their cornfields, cattle, and habitations. . . . The inhabitants dress their houses with flowers, and before every door a considerable space is strewed with primroses. . . . On this eve also the damsel places a snail between two pewter dishes, and expects to find next morning the name of her future husband in visible characters on the dish; but the success of this depends on her watching till midnight, and having first purified her hands and face by washing them in the dew of the wheat." 2
Fifty years ago the celebration of May-day Eve was still very general, as will be seen from the following account extracted from the Mona's Herald newspaper of the 5th of May, 1837; but now it has almost died out:--"On May Day eve the people of the Isle of Man have, from time immemorial, burned all the whin (gorse) bushes in the Island, conceiving that they thereby burned all the witches and fairies which they believe take refuge there after sunset. The Island presented the scene of a universal conflagration, and to a stranger, unacquainted with our customs, it must appear very strange to see both old and young persons gathering particular herbs, and planting them at their doors and in their dwellings for the purpose of preventing the entrance of the witches."
It is thus clear that the Manx people placed very great reliance on the influence of fire in protecting them from the powers of evil. This influence was also made use of--or would seem to have been made use of--by sacrificing animals as propitiatory offerings to the powers above mentioned. Such a method would naturally be supposed to have belonged to past ages only if there was not evidence that lambs have been burnt on May-day Eve or May-day--son oural--for a sacrifice within living memory. Such sacrifices seem to have been distinct in their purpose from the burning of animals already mentioned (in Chapter V.) for discovering Witches or driving away disease. 1
May 12--May-Day, or Laa-Boaldyn, the Beltaine, as it was called in Irish, was the fire of the great Celtic feasts, and was held at the opening of the summer half of the year. Cormac, in his Glossary, says that this name, Beltaine, arose "from two fires which the Druids of Erinn used to make with great incantations"; and he adds that cattle used to be brought to these fires and driven between them, as a safeguard against diseases. According to Jameson, "the Gaelic and Irish word, Beal-tine or Beil-tine, signifies Bel's fire; as composed of Baal or Belis, one of the names of the sun in Gaelic, and tein, signifying fire;" but, as a matter of fact, this is all pure guess-work, no one having given a satisfactory derivation of the name. 2
At an early hour on this morning the maidens went forth to gather the dew, and wash their faces in it, as it was supposed to ensure a good complexion, as well as to render the hostility of the Witches innocuous. At an equally early hour, horns were blown to prevent the Fairies from enticing children away. Later on in the day a Queen of the May was chosen, according to Waldron, in the following fashion: "In almost all
the great parishes they choose from among the daughters of the most wealthy farmers a young maid for the Queen of May. She is dressed in the gayest and best manner they can, and is attended by about twenty others, who are called maids of honour, she has also a young man, who is her captain, and has under his command a great number of inferior officers. In opposition to her is the Queen of Winter, who is a man dressed in women's clothes, with woollen hoods, fur tippets, and loaded with the warmest and heaviest habits one upon another; in the same manner are those who represent her attendants dressed; nor is she without a captain and troop for her defence. Both being equipped as proper emblems of the beauty of the spring and the deformity of the winter, they set forth front their respective quarters; the one preceded by violins and flutes, the other with the rough music of tongs and cleavers. Both companies march till they meet on a common, and then their trains engage in a mock-battle. If the Queen of Winter's forces get the better, so far as to take the Queen of May prisoner, she is ransomed for as much as pays the expenses of the day. After this ceremony, Winter and her company retire and divert themselves in a barn, and the others remain on the green, where, having danced a considerable time, they conclude the evening with a feast, the queen at one table with her maids, the captain with his troop at another. There are seldom less than fifty or sixty persons at each board." For the seizure of her majesty's person, that of one of her slippers was substituted more recently, which was in like manner ransomed to defray the expenses of the pageant. The procession of the summer, which was subsequently composed of little girls, and called the Maceboard, outlived that of its rival, the winter, some years. The Maceboard went from door to door, inquiring if the inmates would buy the queen's favour, which was composed of a small piece of ribbon; this has also fallen into disuse.
This custom was evidently derived from the Northmen, whose proceedings on this day are thus described by Olaus Magnus, who wrote in the sixteenth century:--"The Southern Swedes and Goths that are very far from the Pole, have a custom, that on the first day of May, when the sun is in Taurus, there should be two horse troops appointed of young and lusty men, as if they were to fight some hard conflict. One of these is led on by a captain, chosen by lot, who has the name and habit of Winter. He is clothed with divers skins, and adorned with fire forks, and casting about snow balls and pieces of ice, that he may prolong the cold, he rides up and down in triumph, and he shows and makes himself the harder, the more the icicles seem to hang from their stoves (?) The chieftain of the other is for summer, and is called Captain Floria, and is clothed with green boughs and leaves and summer garments that are not very strong.
[paragraph continues] Both these ride from the fields into the city, from divers places, one after another, and with their fire spears they fight, and make a public show, that Summer bath conquered Winter. Both sides striving to get the victory, that side more forcibly assaults the other which on that day seems to borrow more force from the air, whether temperate or sharp. If the winter yet breathes frost, they lay aside their spears, and riding up and down, cast about upon the spectators ashes mingled with live sparks of fire taken from the graves or from the altar; and they, who in the same dress and habit are auxiliary troops, cast fire-balls from their horses. Summer, with his band of horse, shows openly his boughs of birch, or tiel-tree, which are made green long before by art, as by the heat of their stoves and watering them, and privately brought in as if they newly came from the wood. But because nature is thus defrauded, those that fight for winter press on the more, that the victory may not be got by fraud; yet the sentence is given for summer by the favourable judgement of the people, who are unwilling to endure the sharp rigor of winter any longer; and so summer gets the victory with the general applause of them all, and he makes a gallant feast for his company, and confirms it by drinking cups, which he could scarcely win with spears. This is the custom of driving away the winter, and receiving of summer."
The Welsh story of the contest of Gwyn, as representing the powers of darkness, and Gwythur, as representing the summer sun, makes them fight for the possession of a beauteous damsel on the first of May. Gwythur gains the victory, which symbolises the recovery by the Sun-God of his bride at the beginning of summer, after his antagonist had gained possession of her at the beginning of winter.
The 12th of May is still the general day for letting houses, paying house rents, and taking grazing cattle, and also for farm girls going to their places; but the distinctive observances connected with it have died out.
On the 10th of this month was the Church festival called Laa’l Spitlin souree, "Spitlin's summer Feast-day," after a Saint now unknown.
Perambulations of Parish Boundaries.--On the Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, before Ascension Day it was an ancient custom in the Isle of Man, as in England, to perambulate the boundaries of the parishes. In Roman Catholic times, this perambulation was a matter of great ceremony, and banners, handbells, and lights enlivened the procession. In Queen Elizabeth's reign it was ordained that the people should, once in a year, make a circuit of the parish with the curate, who was to admonish the people to give thanks to God, as they beheld his
benefits, and for the increase and abundance of the fruits upon the face of the earth. This custom seems to have been derived from the Roman Terminalia and Ambervalia, which were festivals in honour of the god Terminus, and the goddess Ceres. In England, and, as we shall see, in the Isle of Man also, it has likewise a twofold object, firstly to preserve a correct knowledge of the bounds of the parishes, and secondly to supplicate the divine blessing on the fruits of the earth. How this custom was performed in the Isle of Man will be seen from the following injunction by the Bishop, Henry Bridgeman, in 1677:--"Upon a solemn and tedious audience of the tennants of my Ld Bp's demesne together with most or many of the most aged and most substantiall parishioners of the parish and parish Church of St Mary of Ballaugh, in the Isle of Mann, concerning the performance of parochiall rights and the payment of Parochiall duties betwixt the sd tennants and the rest of the parishioners aforesaid, which difference hath now continued to be agitated betwixt them for many years. It was finally sentenced and determined upon the second day of February, 1677, by the Right Revd Father in God, Henry, Ld Bp of this Isle, before whom it was clearly proved by the oaths of Thomas Craine, of the Glaick, in Ballaugh, aged 71 years or thereabouts, and of Thomas Kinred, of Ballaterson, in the same parish of Ballaugh, aged about 60 years, and of Thomas Cowley, of Knockan, in the psh aforesaid, aged about 55 years. Many other aged persons of the said parish being ready to confirme the same by their respective oaths had they been thereunto admitted or required, which was forborne for the said Ld. Bp's tenants did before his L’sp then and there confesse and acknowledge the verity of their assertions vidt. That they had for severall years known the respective parsons of Ballaugh and vicars of Kirk Michaell meet upon severall ascension dayes together with their respective parishes at the gate of B’sp's Court, and in their perambulation goe into the Chappell of the said Ld. Bp., and there unanimously agree that the upper or East end thereof did stand, and was of antient time held to be within the præcints of the Parish of St. Mary, of Ballaugh, and the tower or West end of the said Chappell was of ould time accounted and esteemed to be within the site and præcints of the parish of Kirk Michaell and that the said respective Parsons and Vicars did severally officiate divine service, the one at the one side or end of the said Chappell, and the other at the other side or end of the same Chappell alternately upon the said same dayes of perambulation. The Parsons of Ballaugh coming down by a well called Aulcaugh als Phinlowes' well and so along by the river or
milne-dam of the said Ld. Bp's demesne up to the said Chappell: and from thence with a considerable part of his meadow called Ballaugh-third, conterminating upon the middle-third of the said meadow, and thence to a parcell of land called John Gawn's Croft, and so to Brough-garge's lands, which goes along the Strand or seaside whereby it did evidently appear unto the said Ld Bp that all his tenants upon the Demesne aforesaid which were inhabitants within the said perambulation of the Parson of Ballaugh were and ought to be esteemed, and are now by his Lp accordingly adjudged to be parishioners of the parish and Church of St. Mary, of Ballaugh, and so subject and liable to all parochial duties and performances unto ye said church as the rest of the parishioners of the said parish are (excepting onely the payment of such tythes as now are and of ould usually have been due and payable unto the Ld Bp. And more particelarly yt it is incumbent upon them (as such) to make their proportionable part of the Churchyard hedge or ditch of the said parish of St. Mary's of Ballaugh, according as it is apportioned them in ye Register Book of the sd church in the year 1660, and it is now ordered and decreed by the said Ld Bp that henceforth all the said tenants shall repaire unto divine service and all the offices of the Holy Church upon every Lds Day, every holy day, and other extraordinary dayes of public fasts and thanksgivings unto the said church of St. Marie's, as to their sole proper parish church; and yt if they shall absent themselves frequently from the same upon such dayes (without a lawfull and sufficient cause and reason to be allowed by the sd Ld Bp and his successors or his Vicr Genle) that they shall be presented by the churchwardens of the said parish for the time being (whose consciences are hereby onerated to deall faithfully therein) unto the Bp or his Vicr Genle that they may be punished or fined 12d apiece for every such dayes absence whereof they cannot give a reasonable and satisfactory account. Provided always that ye decree be no longer of force after they shall produce an antient, sufficient and legall execution, which some of them seem to pretend unto, but are not or have not yet been able to produce or make good, and in the intervine (sic) they are hereby required to yield punctual submission and obedience hereunto upon pain of excommunication. Given under the Episcopal Seal of the said Ld Bp this second day of February, in the seventh year of his consecration and in the year of Our Lord, 1677.
JOHAN ALLEN, Actuar
a Secretis Dmi Epi.
A copy whereof is hereby enjoyned to be entered in the several registers of both parishes, and the original to be kept in the Ld Bp's records.
The following is taken from the Parochial Register of Lezayre, Anno. 1715:--"The Revd. Mr. Wm. Walker, Vicar Genl. and Rector of Ballaugh, and the Revd. Mr. Henry Allen, Vicar of Kirk Christ, Lezayre, together with several of the ancients of both parishes, having met this day at a place called Cottier's platt in order to determine Boundaries of the two Parishes from the place aforesaid unto the High-road leading from Bishop's Court to Ramsey: and both Parties having agreed to leave it to me to hear what can be sayd on both sides, and to put a final end to all controversies for the future concerning the said Boundary, I, therefore, having heard all that hath been sayd by both Parties, and having carefully viewed and walked the ground, do adjudge and declare that a straight line drawn from the East side of the platt aforesaid, betwixt two remarkable trees g rowing in the Highway aforesaid, and betwixt two large white stones on the other side of the said Highway to the end of an Hedge leading from thence to the mountains, shall ever hereafter be looked upon and be the true Boundary of the two Parishes, with which both sides being entirely satisfied, I do hereby require that nobody do presume presumptuously to cut down the trees or to remove the stones aforesaid; and that a true copy of this determination be preserved in the Registers of both Parishes, as an end of all strife on this account. Given under my hand and seal at Bishop's Court the day and year above written. (Signed) THO: SODOR AND MAN."
A letter of Bishop Wilson's, on the subject of perambulations follows:--"To the Reverend the Archdeacon and the rest of the Clergy of the diocese of Sodor and Man: My brethren,--The last Convocation but one, you were put in mind of a very considerable ommission, in not going every Holy Thursday the boundary of your severall Parishes or some part of such as are large which bath been practised till of late, time out of mind. In order, therefore, to the keeping of this laudable custom, you are hereby required to give notice to your Parishioners on Rogation Sunday, May 3rd, that you purpose (God willing) to walk the boundarys of your Parish, or some considerable part of them, on Holy Thursday following, and desire the people to meet you at prayers and to accompany you. And that they may be better dispos’d to do so, you shall inform them that besides the great advantage of settling and securing the boundarys of Parishes, the great design is to give publick and national acknowledgement and thanks to God for all his blessings both by sea and land, and especially for the fruits of the earth which at this time begin to appear, as also to beg of God to send us such seasonable weather, as that we may receive the fruits thereof, to our own comfort, and for the relief of those that are in want, and lastly to beseech God of his mercy to preserve us from all infectious
diseases and unusual mortality amongst men and beasts and from the rage of enemies. You shall further inform them, how necessary this is to keep up a constant sense of our dependence upon Almighty God, for every blessing we enjoy or hope for, whether peace or plenty, or security from our enemies, or health to enjoy these blessings. Now, the manner of observing this laudable custom has been at certain places to read distinctly the 103rd Psalm, by the Minister only, and in other places to pronounce openly the curse set down in Deut. 27, 17--'Cursed is he that removeth his neighbour's landmark,' that is, who defrauds his neighbour of any of his rights, either by fraud or force, or going to law without just cause. At the same time people should be exhorted to beware of the great sin of covetousness, and to be content with the blessing God has given to their own honest labours. That 'better is the little that the righteous have,' such as they have gotten by righteous ways, than 'great riches of the ungodly,' which they have gotten wrongfully, and that God will never bless such possessions as are gotten, or defended, or kept by unjust means. Here also it. will be very becoming a clergymen against the great sin of Litigiousness by which Christian love and charity are broken, and men hazard the loss of a heavenly inheritance to gain some trifle often in this world.--Dated at Bishop's Court, the 24th April. 1741. (Signed) THO . SODOR AND MANN." Below this he appends the proper "Collects to be used on the perambulation: Quinquagesima Sunday; Third Sunday in Lent; Septuagesima Sunday; The Prayer for Rain, if then needful; In time of Death and Famine; In time of Warr; In the Litany, the last two petitions, viz., That it may please Thee to give and preserve to our use, &c.,' 'That it may please Thee to forgive us all our sins,' and the Prayer in Mr Nelson's book for Rogation Week." 1 These Perambulations have not yet fallen entirely into disuse.
The festival on June 24th, Midsummer-day, and on its eve, Midsummer-eve, kept since the change in the Calendar on July 5th and July 4th, seems to have been of Scandinavian origin, for, among the ancient Celts, the longest day, as far as is known, was of no especial account. But to people living within the Arctic circle, who for months in the winter were altogether deprived of the sun, his ascent and descent were naturally of greater importance than to people living further south. This festival was probably originally in honour of Balder, the northern Sun-God, who at Midsummer attained his greatest splendour and duration, and from thence began to decline. 2 The beginning
of his declination was commemorated by the lighting of his funeral pyre, which the modern bonfires have perpetuated. Of the later celebration of this eve and day in Scandinavia, Vigfusson writes:--"St. John Baptist's Day is in the northern countries a kind of Midsummer Yule, and was in Norway and Sweden celebrated with bonfires, dance, and merriment; and tales of fairies and goblins of every kind are connected with St. John's Eve in the summer as well as Yule-eve in winter." And with regard to its origin, he says:--"The origin of this feast is no doubt heathen, being a worship of light and the sun, which has since been adapted to a Christian name and a Christian Calendar." 1 Very similar are the observances of this eve in Man. Bonfires were lit on the hills, and blazing wheels were formerly rolled from their tops, probably originally with the intention of typifying the beginning of the sun's declination. 2 Cattle were also driven between or over fires to keep them from disease, and men and boys leaped over the flames. Train says that "on the eve of St. John the Baptist, the natives lighted fires to the windward side of every field, so hat the smoke might pass over the corn; they folded their cattle and carried blazing furze or gorse round them several times."
These fire observances were in fact the same as on May-day Eve, and they seem to have been designed as Charms to secure as much sunshine as possible, which, considering our dull and cloudy climate, is not to be wondered at; and they were at one time connected with human sacrifices. 3 There was also a notion that the corn would grow well as far as the bonfires were seen, and, therefore, numerous bonfires were lit on these occasions, and it was supposed that the height of the straw depended on the height that the men jumped over the flames.
Fairies are supposed to be especially powerful on this eve, and Witches are said to hold a saturnalia.
A curious belief that the souls of all people left their bodies when asleep on this night, and wandered to the place where they would die was formerly prevalent, and from this probably arose the custom of sitting up to watch, and so avoiding such an occurrence. Those who watched in the church porches were rewarded with the sight of those who would die in the year, as on St. Mark's eve and Hollantide eve. On this eve, too, was gathered the Bollan-Feaill-Eoin, "John's Feast-day
wort" (mugwort), which was made into wreaths to be worn on the heads of man and beast to protect them from witchcraft.
The next morning the great Tinwald Court, 1 corresponding to the Icelandic Althing, was held, when the laws were promulgated, and the festival proper, all Witches and evil Spirits having been disposed of on the previous evening, began. At this festival, which probably lasted a fortnight in old times, there took place not only the Court, but probably a religious feast and merry-makings of all kinds, such as hurling and football, match-making, feasting, and, above all, recitals of legends and traditions. As regards Man, however, we have no definite information about the observance of this day from tradition, except that there was a fair, which still continues; and from written sources there is only preserved a letter written, in 1636, by Bishop Parr to Archbishop Neile, in which he states that on St. John Baptist's day he found the people in a chapel dedicated to that Saint "in the practice of gross superstitions," which he caused "to be cried down," and, in the place of them, "appointed Divine services and sermons." We can only wish that the good Bishop had informed us what these "gross superstitions" were. We have already seen (Chapter I.) that Manannan received his tribute of rushes on this day, and it is curious that the pathway leading up to the chapel is still covered with rushes supplied by a small farm close by, which is held on the tenure of doing this service.
As we have already seen from the name, St, John, the Church adopted this heathen festival as that Saint's feast, Feaill Eoin, "John's-Feast," as it is called in Manx. It has been ingeniously suggested by Mr. Tylor that this adoption, or rather adaptation, may have arisen from the same train of symbolism which adapted the heathen Midwinter solar festival to the Nativity of our Lord, i.e., from our Lord's own words "He must increase, but I must decrease." It seems, however, much more probable that St. John was merely substituted for Balder, as our Saviour was substituted for him in other portions of the northern faith.
The following proverb attached to St. John's Day probably refers to the desirability of having rain to bring on the straw of the corn crops at this time rather than later, when it would interfere with the maturing of the grain: Lane croie cabbyl dy ushtey L’aal Eoin feeu mayl Vannin, "A full horse-shoe of water (on) John's Feast-day is worth the rent of Man."
July 13 was dedicated to the Saint called German, after whom the Cathedral on Peel Island is supposed to be named. 2
August 1st, kept since the change in the calendar, on August 12th, is called Laa Luanys, or Laa Lunys, "Luanys's Day." This name was probably originally associated with the Celtic god Lug, or Lieu, as he is called in Wales, who, as he was said to have been brought up at the court of Manannan, was closely connected with Man. 1 In Ireland, his festival, called the Lug-nassad, or the wedding of Lug, was celebrated on this day by a fair, at which games and sports took place. In Man, too, there was, within living memory, a great fair in the parish of Santon, on the same day. This festival was, according to Professor Rhys, "the great event of the summer half of the year, which extended from the calends of May to the calends of winter. The Celtic year was more thermometric than astronomical; and the Lugnassad was, so to say, its summer solstice," 2 The fair has disappeared; but the ancient custom of visiting the highest hills and the sacred wells on this day, cannot be said to be altogether extinct. These wells are usually found near old ecclesiastical sites, as the holy recluses would naturally build their keeills near springs, where they would construct wells both for their own personal convenience as well as for baptizing their disciples. Some of these wells were formerly much venerated, as their waters were supposed to possess sanative qualities, and to be of special virtue as charms against witchcraft and Fairies. The devotees would drop a small coin into the well, drink of the water, repeat a prayer, in which they mentioned their ailments, and then decorate the well, or the tree overhanging it, with flowers and other votive offerings, usually rags. They believed that when the flowers withered, or the tags rotted, their ailments would be cured. These rites have been observed in the Isle of Man within the memory of those now living. There is a well on Gob-y-Vollee, called Chibber Lansh (where the meaning of lansh is uncertain), consisting of three pools, which was formerly much resorted to for the cure of sore eyes. The cure could only be effective if the patient came on Sunday, and walked three times round each pool, saying in Manx, Ayns enym yn Ayr, as y Vac, as y Spyrryd Noo, "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost," and then applied the water to his or her eye. Many of these wells, however, together with the sacred tree which overshadowed them, were certainly objects of veneration long before the days of the recluses and their religion. 3
The Church attempted to put an end to this custom, and failed, but contrived to give it a religious character by changing
the date of its observance from the first day of August to the first Sunday in that month. 1 The following representation made to the Ecclesiastical Court by the curate and wardens of the parish of Lonan, in 1732, will show that this custom was prevalent at that time:--
"The curate and wardens represent to the Court that there is a superstitious and wicked custom, which is yearly continued and practised in this and the neighbouring parishes by many young people (and some of riper years) going to the top of Snaefell Mountain upon the first Sunday in August, where (as they are informed) they behave themselves very rudely and indecently for the greater part of that day. Therefore, they crave that the Rev. Court may be pleased to order what method must be taken to put a stop to this profane custom for the future." The Court (consistorial), in consequence of this order, ordained "that publication be made yearly on the two last Sundays in July, by the minister for the time being, after the Nicene Creed, that whoever shall be found to profane the Lord's Day after this wicked and superstitious manner shall be proceeded against with severe ecclesiastical censures; and the minister and wardens are hereby required to do their utmost in discovering the persons guilty in this particular, and to make presentment thereof."
But such methods did not avail against this "superstitious and wicked custom" and in vain, too, did Bishop Wilson fulminate against it, as it was quite common 70 years ago, and is not quite extinct yet. It is said that, about 1820, a preacher, named Gick, went up South Barrule and denounced it, and that consequently it has since then almost ceased, though a few people still ascend the mountains on the first Sunday after the 12th of August, pretending that they do so to search for blaberries; and a few may be seen lurking in the vicinity of the wells. There is now an idea prevalent that this custom of ascending the hills is in commemoration of Jepthah's daughter going forth on the hills, with the daughters of Israel following her, an idea which has probably been promulgated by the preachers with a view of causing a heathen superstition to be superseded by a Christian ceremony.
Harvest.--When the landlord, or farmer, entered for the first time the field where harvesting operations went on, it was customary to bind him with sugganes, or straw ropes, and not to release him till he paid a forfeit.
The harvest festival is called in Manx yn mheillea, or yn meailley, 'the harvest home,' "though," says Gill, 2 "more
strictly it is the name of the garland made of the last handful of corn which is shorn and formed into the shape of that which is borne by Ceres. This figure, dressed with ribbons, is carried before the reapers, and is called, together with the procession, yn meailley, or meilley, 'the reapers feast,' from meail." "Meail," he adds, "is the whole gang of reapers." This figure, somewhat obscurely described by Gill, was called yn moidyn, 'the maiden,' and was made of straw, decorated with ribbons and wild flowers. It was carried by the Queen of the Meailley, a girl elected from among the female workers, though usually the youngest of them, to the highest part of the field where it was placed and saluted with hearty cheers. It was also a custom to cut off a bunch of ears from this last sheaf of corn, with about 12 inches of straw attached. This bunch of corn, called baban ny mheillea, 'the doll of the harvest,' or simply, yn mheillea, 'the harvest,' which was usually about 4 inches in diameter, was dressed up to represent a woman, from the neck downwards, the ears doing duty for the head and face. It was then placed on the chimney piece in the kitchen of the farm house, and was not removed till the following harvest, when its place was taken by a similar successor. This custom has not long died out, and indeed the small sheaf, though not dressed, may still be seen in many a farm house. The large sheaf previously referred to was taken from the field, when the last load of corn was carried and placed on top of it, together with the moidyn. 1 It was then deposited in the barn with much clamour and rejoicing, and was kept there till the following harvest. After this they all adjourned to the supper, which it was usual for the farmer to provide on these occasions, and which was a scene of great joy and merriment, the Laare-vane, as on twelfth-day, being a conspicuous feature (see p. 104). The carrying of the 'maiden' has now fallen into desuetude, so that the name is now associated with the harvest supper only.
October 25th.--Laa’l Maghal, 'Maughold's Feast-day,' the second of the two days dedicated to this Saint.
October 31st and November 11th are the present and past dates, in accordance with the change in the Calendar, of the eve of the Church festival called "All Hallow Mass," or "All Saints' Mass" (Middle English halowe 'a saint'). The eve of this day, Hallowe’en in English, is called Oie houiney in Manx, and is still kept in the Isle of Man on the 11th of November. The day itself is called Sauin, Souin or yn Tauin, corresponding with the Irish and Scotch Samhain, though the English "Holland-tide" is the name now usually given to the season and to the fair held on the 12th of November.
This day was formerly the first day of the first month of winter, and also the first day of the Celtic year. A tradition to the effect that it was the first day of the year still obtains among the Manx, who are accustomed to predict the weather for the ensuing year from that on the 12th of November, and this is emphasised by the fact that, as we shall see later, the ceremonies now practised on New Year's Eve, were, within living memory, practised on the 11th of November. Among the Norsemen, the first night of winter, which they celebrated by a feast, was the 14th of October, but winter would come earlier in their more Northern clime. According to the ancient Irish, Samhain Eve was the proper occasion for prophecies and unveiling mysteries. In Wales, within almost recent times, women congregated in the parish churches on this eve to learn their fortune from the flame of the candle each one held in her hand, and to hear the names or see the coffins of the parishioners destined to die in the course of the year. The Scotch believed that all the Warlocks and Witches assembled in force at this season, and perpetrated all sorts of atrocities. Similar beliefs to the above prevailed in the Isle of Man. It was, therefore, very necessary to propitiate the Fairies, who alone were amenable to such attentions, on this night in particular. The leavings of the supper of the family were consequently not removed, and crocks of fresh water were placed on the table, so that 'the little People' might refresh themselves. Professor Rhys says that the reason why this night was regarded as "the Saturnalia of all that was hideous and uncanny in the world of spirits" was because "it had been fixed upon as the time of all others when the Sun-God, whose power had been gradually falling off since the great feast associated with him on the first of August, succumbed to his enemies, the powers of darkness and winter. It was their first hour of triumph after an interval of subjection, and the popular imagination pictured them stalking abroad with more than ordinary insolence and aggressiveness." 1 It was, in fact, the time when the result of the combat which took place in May was reversed; then the powers of light gained the ascendency, now the powers of darkness. Bonfires were lit on Oie Houiney, as on Oie Voaldyn, and for the same reason.
The following custom, which survived till recently, has now died out. Mummers went from house to house shouting the following curious refrain, the meaning of which can only be conjectured. The portion now in English was, of course, formerly in Manx:--
Professor Rhys came across a different and seemingly more rational version of this Hollantide rhyme in the South of the Island last year:--Oie Houna--"Hollantide Eve." Shibber ny gauin(a) 1--" Supper of the heifer." Cre gauin marr mayd?--"Which heifer shall we kill?" yn gauin veg vreac--"The little spotted heifer." There were more lines, but his informant had forgotten them.
The first line of this song was formerly "Hog-annaa--Tonight is New Year's Night," 2 which is another proof that this was the last night of the year; and it is significant, also, that the customs of raking out the ashes from the fire and placing ivy in water, now practised on the 31st of December, were practised on this night within living memory. These facts, combined with the recollection of the 12th being considered New Year's Day by old persons (as previously mentioned), may be considered to settle the question. But, in addition to this, the words of the chorus, Hog-annaa, trollalay, are probably identical with Hogmanaye, trollalay, the words of a Scotch song which is sung on New Year's Eve--Hogmanaye, according to Jamieson, being either the last day of the year or the entertainment given to a visitor on this day. In France, too, there is a similar custom and word, as En Basse Normandie les bauvres le dernier jour en demandant l’aumosne, disent Hoguinanno. "In Low Normandie, the poor, the last day (of the year), in demanding alms, say Hoguinanno." We may, therefore, conclude that this was undoubtedly the last night of the year. As to the meaning of this word, Hog-annaa, Hogmanaye, or Hoguinanno, we may venture to suggest that,. supposing the Scotch form to be the most accurate, both it and trollalay are of Scandinavian origin, and refer to the Fairies and the Trolls. We know that on this night it was considered necessary
to propitiate the dwellers in fairy-land, who, with the Phynnodderees, Witches, and Spirits of all kinds, were abroad and especially powerful. We may, therefore, perhaps translate Hog-man-aye into Hanga-man-ey--"mound-men (for) ever," the Fairies being considered as dwellers in the hows (or tumuli, or green mounds)--and trollalay into trolla-á-lá, "trolls into the surf." The Fairies, who were considered the most powerful of these creatures, being thus propitiated, would then protect their suppliants against the rest. The boys, who went round singing this song, carried big sticks with cabbages or turnips stuck in the top, and with these they knocked at people's doors till they received herrings and potatoes and such-like gifts. The usual supper on this night consists of potatoes, parsnips and fish, pounded together and mixed with butter; and a cake is made, called Soddag valloo, or dumb cake. "Every woman is obliged to assist in mixing the ingredients (flour, eggs and eggshells, soot, &c.), kneading the dough and baking the cake on the glowing embers; and when it is sufficiently baked, they divide it, eat it up, and retire to their beds back-wards without speaking a word, from which silence the cake derives its name, and in the course of the night they expect to see the images of the men who are destined to be their husbands." 1 The following is another Hollantide recipe for dreaming of a future husband:--Take a salt herring from a neighbour's house without the consent or knowledge of the owner. Be sure to capture it in the dark, and take the first that comes to hand. Then take it home, and roast it in its brine upon the cinders. Maintain strict silence, both while eating it and afterwards, and carefully consume every scrap--bones and all. On the stroke of midnight retire to bed backwards, undress in the dark, and avoid touching water. If these instructions are properly carried out, the future husband will appear in a dream, and will present a drink of water. Yet another recipe was, for the girls to fill their mouths with water, and hold a pinch of salt in each hand. Thus equipped they went to a neighbour's door, and listened to the conversation within, when the first name mentioned would be that of their future husband. There are various customs practised on this evening in Man, which are almost identical with those in all other parts of the United Kingdom. Of these, the burning of nuts for purposes of divination, is one of the most popular. It is described by Burns for Scotland; and by Brand, in his "Popular Antiquities," for Ireland, in words which we quote, as they are precisely applicable to what takes place in Man:--
Jean slips in twa wi’ tentie e’e; 3
Wha ’twas she wadna tell;
But this is Jock, and this is me,
She says in to hersel;
He bleez’d owre her, an’ she owre him,
As they wad ne’er main part!
Till fuff! he started up the lum, 4
An Jean had e’en a sair heart
To see’t that night.
"It is a custom in Ireland, when the young women would know if their lovers are faithful, to put three nuts upon the bars of the grate, naming the nuts after the lovers. If a nut cracks or jumps, the lover will prove unfaithful, if it begins to blaze or burn, he has a regard for the person making the trial. If the nuts named after the girl and her lover burn together, they will be married."
Much amusement is also derived from the custom of setting apples afloat in a tub of water from which they have to be extracted by the teeth. The pouring of molten lead into water, where it takes various fantastic shapes from which the future vocation of the person who pours is divined, is still a favourite pastime. The popular belief ascribes to children born on Hallowe’en the possession of the mysterious faculty of perceiving and holding converse with supernatural beings.
The following day, the first of November, according to the present reckoning, is the church Festival of All Saints, Laa’l Mooar ny Saintsh "Great Festival of the Saints," as it is called in Manx.
The twelfth of November is the general day for letting lands, payment of rent, and for men-servants taking their places for the year. The largest fair of the year is still held on this day. It is considered as the beginning of the winter half of the year.
November 18.--Laa’l Spitlin Geurey, "Spitlin's Winter Feast-day," the second feast of this unknown Saint.
December 6th.--Laa’l Catreeny, "Catherine's Feast-day" (old style). On, or about, this day possession must be taken on the South side of the Island of lands, when there is a change of
occupier. A fair was held on this day in the Parish of Arbory, when the following curious distich was repeated:--
Catherine's hen is dead,
Take thou the head,
And I will take the feet,
And we will put her under ground.
[paragraph continues] If any one got drunk at the fair he was said to have "plucked a feather of the hen."
December 11th.--Laa’l Andreays, "Andrew's Feast-day." On, or before, this day possession must be taken on the North side of the Island, under similar circumstances.
December 21.--Laa’l Thomase, "Thomas's Feast-day, formerly Laa’l Fingan, "Fingan's feast-day," St. Fingan, or Finnian, was the first of the great Irish scholars, being especially devoted to the study and exposition of Scripture. The following saying has reference to the eve of this day: Faaid mooar son Oiel Fingan, "A large turf for Eve of Fingan's Feast." It probably means that, as the Christmas festivities were drawing near, it was necessary to have an extra large turf to cook the fare for that feast. There is a weather saying with reference to this time of the year, that "if the frost will bear a goose before Christmas, it will not bear a duck after Christmas." Ny nee yn rio gymmyrkey guiy roish yn Ollick cha nymmyrkey e thunnag lurg yn Ollick. 1
December 24.--Christmas-eve, in Manx Oie’l Verrey, a corruption of Oie feaill Voirrey, "Eve of Mary's Feast." it was the custom for the people to go in crowds to the Parish Churches on this evening to attend a service, the main feature of which was the singing of Carols, called in Manx Carvals, many of which were of portentous length. Each one brought his or her own candle, so that the Church was brilliantly illuminated. The decorations were of a very primitive kind, mainly consisting of huge branches of hullin (holly), and festoons of hibbin (ivy). After the prayers were read, and a hymn was sung, the parson usually went home, leaving the Clerk in charge. Then each one who had a carol to sing would do so in turn, so that the proceedings were continued till a very late hour, and sometimes, also, unfortunately became of a rather riotous character, as it was a custom for the female part of the congregation to provide themselves with peas, which they flung at their bachelor friends. On the way home,
a considerable proportion of the congregation would probably visit the nearest inn, where they would partake of the traditional drink on such occasions, viz., Hot ale, flavoured with spice, ginger, and pepper. After this, the parting song commencing with--
It is time to go home to go to lie down,
It draws towards bed-time, &c.
would be trolled out, and the last of the revellers would depart. The Oie’l Verree services are still continued, but are entirely shorn of all their riotous accompaniments, while ordinary hymns, or short carols sung by the choirs, have taken the place of the lengthy solos of the past. Carols are also sung by bands, who go from house to house during the week before Christmas, and receive a small Christmas-box, or some refreshment, in return for their entertainment.
It was formerly the custom for fiddlers to go round in this way before Christmas. They stopped and played at the houses where they thought they were likely to receive a fee, wished the inmates individually "good morning," called the hour, and reported the state of the weather. The custom of mumming at this season, formerly common, is now almost moribund. The mummers, or as they are called in Man, "The White Boys," perform the time-honoured legend of "St. George and the Dragon," which has, however, became considerably modified. Both in England, Scotland, and Ireland, it has been from an early day amongst the most popular amusements of Christmas, and, till recently, continued to be so in Man. The plot everywhere seems to be pretty nearly the same, though scarcely any two sets of performers render it alike, as they constantly mix up extraneous matter, often of a local nature, and frequently allude to the passing events of the day, making the confusion of character in all the versions very great. 1
In this Isle the dramatis personæ--St. George, Prince Valentine, King of Egypt, Sambo, and the Doctor--are attired in white dresses, showing their shirt sleeves, fantastically decorated with ribbons, fancy-coloured paper, beads, and tinsel. They wear high caps or turbans of white pasteboard similarly decked out, with a sprig of evergreen or "Christmas" stuck in them, and each carrying a drawn sword in his hand. The "Doctor" is in full black, with face and cap of the same, armed with a stick, and a bladder tied to the end, with which he belabours those who press too close upon the performers. He generally carries a small box for the contributions,
and is a kind of Merry-Andrew to the play, which, if it happens to fall in the hands of a sprightly wag, causes some amusement to the audience, who, somehow or other, generally appear more frightened than pleased with the rest of the characters. The performance is often wound up by a song. The following was taken down by W. Harrison as it was recited in his house at Christmas, 1845. 1
KING OF EGYPT,
IT is here by your leave, Ladies and Gentlemen,
We will act a sporting play;
We will show you fine diversion,
Before we go away.
It is room, room, brave gallant boys!
Give us room to rhyme,
We will show you fine diversion
In this Christmas time.
It is room, room, give us room to sport,
This is the place we wish to resort--
To resort and to repeat our pretty rhymes,
Remember, good folks, it is the Christmas times.
This Christmas time as we now appear,
We wish to act our merry Christmas here;
We are the merry actors that travel the street,
We are the merry actors who fight for our meat,
We are the merry actors who show pleasant play;
Enter in the King of Egypt--clear the way!
Enter THE KING OF EGYPT.
I am the King of Egypt, and so boldly do appear,
And St. George, he is my son, my only son and heir!
Step forth, my son, St. George! and act thy part with ease,
Show forth to all the living company thy praise.
Enter ST. GEORGE.
I am thy son St. George, and from England have I sprung,
Many are the noble deeds and wonders I have done.
Full fourteen years in prison I was kept,
And out of that into a cave I leap’t,
From thence I went into a rock of stone;
’Twas there I made my sad and grievious (sic) moan.
Many were the lions that I did subdue,
I ran the fiery dragon through and through;
With a golden trumpet in my mouth
I sounded at the gates divine, the truth.
It's here to England, right from Egypt's station, p. 130
It is here I draw my bloody weapon.
Show me the man that dare before me stand;
I'll cut him down with my courageous hand!
Or, who dare challenge me to fight, and I so great?
I who have fought Lords, Dukes, and made the earth to quake!
Enter PRINCE VALENTINE.
ST. GEORGE--Who art thou? poor silly fellow?
VALENTINE--I am a Turkish champion, from Turkish land I came,
I came to fight that valiant knight, St. George they call his name;
For it is hereby my name is written, Prince Valentine,
Descended from a hardy race and of a noble line.
And soon St. George I'll make thy lofty laurels flee,
It shall not be said by all that I did yield to thee!
Well fight it out most manfully. Draw!
ST. GEORGE--The point of my sword is broke.
VALENTINE--It happens so indeed! this night
St. George is beat, he dare not fight!
ST. GEORGE--Beat by thee! thou poor silly rook!
VALENTINE--Fall in, Prince Actor.
[They fight; St. George falls on. one knee.
KING OF EGYPT--O mortal stars! and skies of heaven above!
What a thing it is for a man to lose his love!
To strike that val’rous champion from the helm,
And cursed be he, that did him overwhelm.
O Sambo! Sambo! help me now in speed,
For never was I in a greater need.
SAMBO--O yea, my master! I soon will thee obey,
With sword in hand I hope to gain the day.
Art thou the knave that singly standest there?
That slew my master's only son and heir?
VALENTINE--He challenged me to fight, and why should I deny!
He cut my coat so full of rents and made my buttons fly,
And if the rascal had had the honour to obtain,
Why, sir! he would have served you the same.
SAMBO--I'll try if thou art born of noble race;
I'll make thy blood come trickling down thy face;
And if thou dost another word against my master say,
Right through thy yellow body I'll make an open way.
[They fight; and Valentine falls.
KING OF EGYPT--O guards! come, take this dismal corpse away,
For in my sight it shall no longer stay,
O Doctor! Doctor! is there a doctor to be found,
Can cure St. George of his deep and deadly wound?
Oh yes! master, yes, there is a doctor to be found,
Can cure St. George, thy son, of a deep and deadly wound.
KING OF EGYPT--From whence come ye?
DOCTOR--From France, from Spain, from Rome I came,
I've travelled all parts of Christendom.
SAMBO--Well spoken, Doctor!
KING OF EGYPT--What can you cure?
DOCTOR--All sorts of diseases,
Whatever you pleases.
All pains within, all pains without,
The plague, the palsy, and the gout.
The itch, stich, and molly-grubs.
I can cure all these deeds.
All big-bellied maids,
And such like jades.
Likewise, I will pledge my life,
I can cure a scolding wife;
Let them be curst or ever so stout,
If the devil's in, I'll blow him out.
KING OF EGYPT--What is your fee?
DOCTOR--Twenty pounds down is my fee,
But half of that I'll take from thee,
If it is St. George's life I save,
That sum this night from you I crave.
KING OF Egypt--What medicine do you carry, Doctor?
DOCTOR--I carry a little bottle in my pocket of rixum-raxum, prixum-praxum, with I-cock-o'-lory--a little of this to his nostrils.
[The Doctor performs his cure, and St. George rises.
ST. GEORGE--Oh horrible! terrible! the like was never seen,
A man drove out of seven senses into seventeen,
And out of seventeen into seven-score,
Oh horrible! terrible! the like was ne'er before.
It was neither by a bull, nor yet by a bear,
But by a little devil of a rabbit there.
[The Doctor performs the cure on Valentine, who rises.
VALENTINE--It is a kind of rough tough, coming up like a fly,
Up the seven stairs, and down the lofty sky.
My head is made of iron, my body made of steel,
My legs are made of pipe-shanks, I'll cause you all to yield.
[Valentine and Sambo fight, when the King of Egypt interposes.
KING OF EGYPT--Oh! oh! we are all brothers,
Why should we be all through others?
Put up your swords and fight no more,
No longer in this house adore.
DOCTOR--My box it is dumb and cannot speak,
Please give us something for Christmas sake.
It is said, that on this Eve, at midnight, all the bullocks of seven years old or more fall on their knees and utter a sort of groan, and, that at the same time, the myrrh plant bursts into
flower and so continues for one hour, when it disappears again. My informant is positive that he saw this latter phenomenon last Christmas Eve (1890).
To the superstitious Manx, one pleasant feature of this sacred season generally, and of Christmas-eve and Christmas-day in particular, was that they were able to pass any haunted glen or road in perfect safety, as, owing to the beneficent influence of Christ, no Phynnodderee, Buggane, Witch, or evil creature of any kind could harm them.
Christmas-day, called Laa Nollick or Laa Nullick, in Manx, where Nollick is probably a corruption of the latin Natalicium "birthday," is observed in the Isle of Man in much the same way as in England, Scotland, and Ireland.
It is interesting to note that the church festival of Christmas was placed at the same time as the Pagan feast of the winter solstice, which was called the Saturnalia by the Romans, and Yule by the Scandinavian nations, with whom the Isle of Man was closely connected. The meaning of the word Yule has given rise to considerable controversy, the most probable interpretation being that of Ficke; 1 who explains it to mean "noise," or "cry," especially the loud noise of revelry and rejoicing. The heathen Yule was certainly a great time of merrymaking, and lasted for thirteen days, inclusive of the 6th of January. This merrymaking was to express their joy at the days having reached their shortest limit on the 21st of December, when the sun recommenced his upward course. The Church attempted to change the heathen ceremonies into the solemnities of the Christian festivals, of which it put as many as possible at this season. The result was, the strange medley of Christian and Pagan rites, especially with regard to the mistletoe and the Yule log, which contribute to the festivities of the modern Christmas.
"As soon as the prayers at the Oiel Verrey are over," says Waldron, "Christmas begins, and there is not a barn unoccupied for the whole twelve days--every parish hiring fiddlers at the public charge; and all the youths, nay, some-times people in years, make no scruple to be among these nocturnal dancers."
Every family that could afford it, had a special brewing called Jough-y-Nollick, "drink of Christmas;" and as one brewing kettle generally served a whole neighbourhood, it was in great request at this time, hence the Manx proverb, "To go about like a brewing pan." The weather saying for this season is: Ollick fluigh, Rhullick vea, "Wet Christmas, rich churchyard," i.e., wet weather at this time is considered unhealthy.
December 26.--Laa'l Steaoin, Stephen's Feast-day.' On this day the cruel but curious custom of Hunting the Wren is kept up. The unfortunate bird was stoned to death; and there is, therefore, an appropriateness in the Church festival commemorating the stoning of St. Stephen being on the same day. This stoning of the wren, however, if Waldron is to be believed, seems to have taken place on Christmas morning 160 years ago, as he says, "on the 24th of December, towards evening, all the servants in general have a holiday; they go not to bed all night, but ramble about till the bells ring in all the Churches, which is at twelve o'clock; prayer being over, they go to hunt the wren, and after having found one of these poor birds, they kill her, and lay her on a bier with the utmost solemnity, bringing her to the parish church, and burying her with a whimsical kind of solemnity, singing dirges over her in the Manx language, which they call her knell, after which Christmas begins." A writer of the early part of the present century gives the following account of the origin of the hunting of the wren:
"It has been a pastime in the Isle of Man from time immemorial to hunt the wren. It is founded on a tradition that in former times a fairy of uncommon beauty exerted such undue influence over the male population, that she at various times seduced numbers to follow her footsteps, till, by degrees, she led them into the sea, where they perished. This barbarous exercise of power had continued for a great length of time, till it was apprehended the Island would be exhausted of its defenders, when a knight errant sprung up, who discovered some means of countervailing the charms used by this syren, and even laid a plot for her destruction, which she only escaped at the moment of extreme hazard, by taking the form of a wren. But though she evaded instant annihilation, a spell was cast upon her, by which she was condemned on every succeeding New Year's Day, to reanimate the same form, with the definitive sentence, that she must ultimately perish by a human hand. In consequence of this well authenticated legend, on the specified anniversary, every man and boy in the Island (except those who have thrown off the trammels of superstition), devote the hours between sunrise and sunset, to the hope of extirpating the Fairy, and woe be to the individual birds of this species, who show themselves on this fatal day to the active enemies of the race; they are pursued, pelted, fired at, and destroyed, without mercy, and their feathers preserved with religious care; it being an article of belief that every one of the relics gathered in this laudable pursuit is an effectual preservation from shipwreck for one year; and that fishermen would be considered as extremely foolhardy who would enter upon his occupation without such a safeguard."--(Bullock, History of the Isle of Man, 1816.)
Kelly's description of this custom at about the same period is as follows:--"It is the custom of the inhabitants of the several parishes to catch a wren, on this day, and parade with flags flying and music, with the wren fixen upon the point of a long pole; and they oblige every person they meet to purchase a feather, 1 and to wear it in their hats for the day; in the evening they inter the naked body, with great solemnity; and conclude the evening with wrestling and all manner of sports. This is supposed to be in memory of the first martyr."
The manner of celebrating this custom 50 years ago was, described by William Harrison as follows:--"This custom is still kept upon St. Stephen's Day, chiefly by boys, who at early dawn sally out armed with long sticks, beating the bushes until they find one of these birds, when they commence the chase with great shoutings following it from bush to bush, and when killed it is suspended in a garland of ribbons, flowers, and ever-greens. The procession then commences, carrying that 'King of birds,' as the Druids called it, from house to house, soliciting contributions, and giving a feather for luck; these are considered an effectual preservative from shipwreck, and some fishermen will not yet venture out to sea without having first provided themselves with a few of these feathers to insure their safe return. The "dreain," or wren's feathers, are considered an effectual preservative against witchcraft. It was formerly the custom in the evening to inter the naked body with great solemnity in a secluded corner of the churchyard, and conclude the evening with wrestling and all manner of sports." 2
Barrow gave the music of the song which follows in his Mona Melodies, published in 1820, and the words were taken down by William Harrison from a company of "Wren boys," in 1843:
Click to enlarge
HUNT THE WREN: MANX AIR.
What shall we do there? says Robin to Bobbin.
We will hunt the wren, says Robin to Bobbin.
Where is he? where is he? says Robin to Bobbin.
In yonder green bush, says Robin to Bobbin.
I see him, I see him, says Robin to Bobbin,
How shall we get him down? says Robin to Bobbin.
With sticks and stones, says Robin to Bobbin.
He is dead, he is dead, says Robin to Bobbin.
How shall we get him home? says Robin to Bobbin.
We'll hire a cart, says Robin to Bobbin.
Whose cart shall we hire? says Robin to Bobbin.
Johnny Bill Fell's, says Robin to Bobbin.
Who will stand driver? says Robin to Bobbin.
Filley the Tweet, says Robin to Bobbin.
He's home, he's home, says Robin to Bobbin.
How shall we get him boil’d? says Robin to Bobbin.
In the brewery pan, says Robin to Bobbin.
How shall we get him in? says Robin to. Bobbin.
With iron bars and a rope, says Robin to Bobbin.
He is in, he is in, says Robin to Bobbin.
He is boil’d, he is boil’d, says Robin to Bobbin.
Repeat, etc. p. 137
How shall we get him out? says Robin to Bobbin.
With a long pitchfork, says Robin to Bobbin.
He is out, he is out, says to Bobbin.
Who's to dine at dinner? says Robin to Bobbin.
The King and the Queen, says Robin to Bobbin.
How shall we get him eat? says Robin to Bobbin.
With knives and forks, says to Bobbin.
He is eat, he is eat, says Robin to Bobbin.
The eyes for the blind, says Robin to Bobbin.
The legs for the lame, say Robin to Bobbin.
The pluck for the poor, says Robin to Bobbin.
The bones for the dogs, says Robin to Bobbin;
The bones for the dogs, says Richard to Robin;
The hones for the dogs, says Jack of the land;
The bones for the dogs, says every one.
The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
We have caught, St. Stephen's Day, in the furze;
Although he is little, his family's great,
I pray you, good dame, do give us a treat,
And so on, always chorusing with affected labour and exertion, "Hoist! Hoist!"
Colonel Valiancy, in his Collectanea de Rebus Hibernicis, says, "The Druids represented this as the king of all birds. The superstitious respect shown to this little bird gave offence to our first Christian missionaries, and by their commands he is still hunted and killed by the peasant on Christmas Day, and on the following (St. Stephen's Day) he is carried about hung by the leg in the centre of two hoops, crossing each other at right angles, and a procession made in every village of men, women, and children, singing an Irish catch, importing him to be the king of all birds. In several European languages his name imports the same--as, Latin, Regulus; French, Reytelet; Welsh, Bren, king; Teutonic, Konig-Vogel, king-bird; Dutch, Konije, little king." 1
This kingly dignity is accounted for in the following curious traditional tale, which is current in the West Highlands and in Skye, and is also related in Grimm's story of "King Wren":--"In a grand assembly of all the birds of the air, it was determined that the sovereignty of the feathered tribe should be conferred upon the one who would fly highest. The favourite was, of course, the eagle, who at once, and in full confidence of victory, commenced his flight towards the sun; when he had vastly distanced all competitors, he proclaimed with a mighty voice his monarchy over all things that had wings. Suddenly, however, the wren, who had secreted himself under the feathers of the eagle's crest, popped from his hiding-place, flew a few inches upwards, and chirped out as loudly as he could, 'Birds, look up and behold your king;' and was elected accordingly." The meaning of the Manx, Dreain, is uncertain, though Kelly 1 boldly derives it from druai-eean, "the druid's bird."
Aubray relates in his Miscellanies that, after a battle in the north of Ireland, "a party of the Protestants had been surprised sleeping by the Popish Irish were it not for several wrens that had just wakened them by dancing and pecking on the drums as the enemy were approaching. For this reason the wild Irish mortally hate these birds to this day, calling them the devil's servants, and killing them wherever they can catch them: they teach their children to trust them full of thorns; you'll see sometimes on holidays a whole parish running like madmen from hedge to hedge a wren-hunting." This is not the case in England, where a kind of reverence is paid to these birds, for it is considered unlucky to kill them or to destroy their nests, and it is supposed that anyone doing so would infallibly, within the course of the year, meet with some dreadful misfortune. This feeling is expressed by the distich:
and an old poet says:
[paragraph continues] W. Harrison, who gives the above quotations, adds:--"In the version as printed of this song, it is given as recited at the time, but evidently there are several expressions not in unison with the Manx idiom, which only shows the difficulty of pre-serving in their original purity these orally delivered songs, for each batch of minstrels are constantly introducing something of
their own. Thus, 'Robin to Bobbin,' and 'Jack of the Land,' should certainly be 'Robin the Bobbin,' and 'Jackey the Land,' being the particular designation by which they were known, similar to what may be met with in many instances at the present day, as 'Billey the Bo,' 'Jackey the Cook,' 'Tom the Rock,' etc. Other minor expressions might be noticed as 'he is' for 'he's,' but the last verse is evidently belonging to an Irish version. The Manx song terminates generally after 'The bones for the dogs' with--
[paragraph continues] I have never met with a copy of dirges in the Manx language, said to have been sung over the body at the interment, as is recorded in Waldron's History. 1
In Essex, the wren was killed and carried about in furze bushes, the boys asking a present in these words:--
The following wren song is also met with at Waterford:--
We were all day hunting the wren,
We were all day hunting the wren;
The wren so cute, and we so cunning,
She stayed in the bush while we were a-running.
When we went to cut the holly,
All our boys were brisk and jolly;
We cut it down all in a trice,
Which made our wren boys to rejoice.
This custom is also found in Pembrokeshire, where it is practised on 12th day, and at several places in the south of France on the first Sunday in December. It is very remarkable that though in many counties it was reckoned unlucky to kill the wren, yet it was killed ceremonially once a year. This, taken into connection with the value set upon the possession of a feather from the slain bird, points to a sacrificial custom. 2
[paragraph continues] In Man at the present day the bush decorated with ribbons and flowers still survives, and the wren is occasionally found ensconced within it, but the song has dwindled to a mere fragment.
December 27th, Laa’l Eoin Nollick, "John's Christmas Feast-day," and December 28th, Laa’l ny Macain, "Feast-day of the Children (or Innocents)," are Church Festivals.
December 31st--On the Eve of New Year's Day it was a custom to fill a thimble with salt and upset it on a plate, one thimble for every one in the house. The plate was then care-fully put by and examined next morning; if any of the little heaps of salt had fallen or looked untidy, then the person whom it represented would die during the year.
"In many of the upland cottages," writes Train, "it is yet customary for the housewife, after raking the fire for the night, and just before stepping into bed, to spread the ashes smooth over the floor with the tongs, in the hope of finding in it, next morning, the track of a foot; should the toes of this ominous print turn towards the door, then, it is believed, a member of the family will die in the course of that year; but, should the heel of the fairy foot point in that direction, then, it is firmly believed, that the family will be augmented within the same period." Another means of prying into futurity made use of on this evening was to put the leaves of hibbin or ivy in water. Each of these leaves were marked by a member of the family, and, if any one of the leaves was withered in the morning, it would mean death to its owner during the year. It would seem probable, however, that the chance of any of the leaves withering under the circumstances was a very remote one. (See November 11th.)
It may be mentioned here that Tuesdays and Thursdays were considered lucky days, and Fridays unlucky. A search through the Parish Registers will show that weddings usually took place on Tuesday or Thursday, and hardly ever on Friday. Nothing would induce the fishermen to go to sea on Friday.
103:1 The meaning of this is, probably: may death, when it comes upon you, find you as happy and comfortable as a mouse in a well-stocked barn.
103:2 Literally "without."
104:1 This, we hope, will shortly be published by the Manx Society.
104:2 This was probably a harvest custom, originally. See p. 122, also Chapter VII., where an attempt is made to explain the origin of all customs connected with the animal or vegetable kingdom.
105:1 The word laa’l appears to be a contraction of Laa-feaill 'feast-day.' F is a weak consonant in Manx, and when aspirated it loses all its force. Phillips, in his Prayer book of the early seventeenth century, spells this word lail, which shows its origin more distinctly.
106:1 Western Isles, p. 119.
106:2 See Chapter VII.
108:1 It will be seen that these tenures are not peculiar to the Isle of Man from the following:
'Grant of lands in Free Alms in the Isle of Lismore, with the custody of the Staff of St Moloc.'
DEED OF CONFIRMATION.
To all and singular, etc. We, Archibald Campbell, feudatory, Lord of the lands of Argyle, Campbell, and Lorn, with the consent and assent of our most dear father and guardian, Archibald, Earl of Argyle have granted, and as well in honour of God omnipotent, of the Blessed Virgin, and of our holy Patron Moloc, and have mortified, and by this present writing have confirmed to our beloved John McMolmore, and the heirs male of his body lawfully begotten or to be begotten, all and singular our lands . . . in the Isle of Lismore . . . with the Custody of the Great Staff (Bacilli) of St Moloc, as freely as the . . . other predecessors of the sd John had from our predecessors . . . in pure and free alms.' (Dated 9th April, 1544).
109:1 See Chapter VII.--Similar cakes were made in the little island of St. Kilda, but on "All Soul's Day," November 2nd not Good Friday.
110:1 See Chapter VII.
110:2 Kelly: Manx Dictionary, p, 15. Manx Society: Vol. XIII.
111:1 See Chapter VII.
111:2 Kelly's (see Manx Dictionary) notion of a connection with the Phoenician God Baal is an evident absurdity.
117:1 These extracts about Perambulations were taken from the Ballaugh Parochialia, by the permission of its compiler, the late Rev. W. Kermode.
117:2 See Chapter VII.
118:1 Cleasby and Vigfusson, Icelandic Dictionary.
118:2 See story of "Origin of Arms of the Island." Chapter III. This custom of rolling down wheels was formerly practised in Bohemia and central France.
118:3 See Chapter VII.
119:1 The date of this Court has only been changed to the 5th of July since the alteration of the Calendar. For a full description of it see "Manx Names," pp. 261-66.
119:2 Manx Names, p. 210.
120:1 See Chapter I.
120:2 The Hibbert Lectures, 1888, p. 149.
120:3 See Chapter VII.
121:1 i.e., after the change of the calendar to the first Sunday after the 12th of August.
121:2 Kelly's Manx Dictionary, p. 129.
122:1 See Chapter VII.
123:1 Rhys' Hibbert Lectures, 1886; p. 516-17.
124:1 This looks like some reminiscence of sacrifice and feasting. See Chapter VII.
124:2 Kelly, Manx Dictionary, p. 24.
125:1 Kelly, Manx Dictionary, p. 14.
126:3 Watchful eye.
127:1 This is identical with an English proverb.
128:1 This play is mentioned by Davies Gilbert, F.R.S., as being popular in the West of England in his Ancient Christmas Carols, London, 1822.
129:1 Manx Society, Vol. XVI., p. 166-171.
132:1 Indogermanischen Sprachen, Vol. III., p. 245.
134:1 See Chapter VII., and Manx Dictionary, p. 116.
134:2 Mona Miscellany Manx Society, vol. XXI.
137:1 Indeed the wren was called "King of birds" by almost every European nation.
138:1 Manx Dictionary, p. 67.
139:1 "Mona Miscellany," Manx Society, Vol. XVI.
139:2 See Chapter VII.