There were two modes of working ill on an enemy. In the one mode, a small figure in human shape was made of wax and placed near the fire in such a position as to melt very slowly. As the figure melted, the man or the woman or the child that was represented by it wasted away by lingering disease. In the other mode, the figure was made of clay, stuck full of pins, and placed on the hearth among the hot ashes. As the figure dried up and crumbled into dust, slow disease burned up the life of the hapless victim represented by the clay figure. 1
The power of the "evil eye" was possessed by some. It was supposed to be inherent in some families, and was handed down from generation to generation to one or more members of the families. The power was called into use at the will of the possessors,
and was exercised against those who had incurred their displeasure, or on behalf of those who wished to be avenged on their enemies, and paid for its exercise. 1
There was a class of people whose curses, or, as they were commonly called, "prayers," were much dreaded, and everyone used the greatest caution lest they might call forth their displeasure. To do so was to bring down their prayers; and disaster of some kind or other soon fell on those who had been so unfortunate as to fall under their anger, according to the nature of the prayer.
Praise beyond measure--praise accompanied with a kind of amazement or envy--was followed by disease or accident.
Passing over a "hidden grave" produced a rash.
Sudden startling news, or a sudden fright, was supposed to dislodge the heart; lingering disease followed.
Here and there over the country there were men and women famed for their secret wisdom, by which they were able to cure almost every disease, both in man and in beast. Generally, when such a man or woman had to be consulted, one at a distance was chosen.
In certain families was supposed to reside the power of curing
only particular diseases, and this power went down from one generation to another to one or more of the family.
For example: one family had the power of extracting motes from the eye. When the operator was applying his skill, he wrought himself up into such a high state of muscular exertion and excitement, that the perspiration fell in drops from his face and hair, while he kept his hand passing over the affected eye, and repeating in Gaelic the following formula, which is given in English:--"The charm that the Great Origin made to the right eye of her good son; take the mote out of his eye, and put it on my hand."
In other families there was the gift of setting broken limbs, and in others of adjusting dislocated limbs, and of rubbing sprains. The thumbs and fingers of such were looked upon as especially made and fitted for their purpose. Wonderful were the stories current about this one's sprained ankle, and the next one's dislocated wrist, being made sound and strong in a short time, after being for months under this and the next doctor's hand, by the treatment of this "canny" man or that "skeely" woman who had "the gift."
Some pretended to have the power of "charming" diseases. On such the Church laid the bann, when their deeds were brought to light.
"Apryl 12, 1637, Issobell Malcolme, parishoner of Botarye, sumonded to this daye for charming, compeared, and confessed that she had beene in vse of charmeing this twenty yeeres, and being requyred to name some of these whome she had charmed, she named Jeane Rudderfuird, spouse to James Gordoune, in Torrisoyle, and [ ] Innes, spouse to Johne Ogilvye, of Miltoune; she confessed that she had charmed both these gentlewemen for the bairne bed; and sicklyke, she confessed that she had charmed ane chyldes sore eye in Bade, within the parish of Ruven. The censure of the said Issobell was continued in hope that she should be found yet more guiltye. The moderator, Mr. Robert Jameson, reported that, he hearing that she vsed charmeing, he raised her from the table, she having a purpose to communicat." 1
Some women were supposed to have a lucky hand in dressing boils, and if a boil was long in coming to maturity such a
woman was called in to dress it, in the full hope that, if it did not burst under her hands, it would do so in a very short time.
A posthumous child was said to possess the gift of curing almost any disease simply by looking on the patient.
It was a common belief that certain folks, commonly women, had the power of showing in a looking-glass the face of any one who had been wicked enough to "cast ill" upon an enemy, or upon an enemy's child. When such a one offered to do this, the offer was declined, and the cure only was sought.
About thirty-eight years ago there lived near Broadford, in Skye, a wise woman famed for the cures she wrought. Here is one. A Highlander on the mainland fell ill, and wasted away very rapidly, so that he was at last scarcely able to move. No medicine was of any avail, and death looked not far off. At last it was resolved to take him to the wise woman. The patient was carried by his two brothers to the boat at Strome Ferry. When the boat reached Broadford, he was lifted from it, and laid in a cart, and driven to the woman's house. When about a hundred yards from the house the company was met by the woman. She addressed the patient by name, although he and all his family were total strangers to her. At the same time she told him that he had been too long in coming, still that it would be all right with him, though three days more would have put an end to his earthly career. She conducted him and his two brothers to her house, and spread before them the best she had--new milk, bread, and butter. The patient, strange to say, ate heartily. Nothing was done, so far as the three men could see; and all the woman said about a cure was that the sufferer would be able to walk home from the boat. On leaving, he asked the woman if she could tell who had wrought the evil on him. She replied that she could easily do so, and that it was a neighbour. She told him to ask his sister--calling her by her name, although she had never seen her, neither had any of the brothers mentioned her name in the woman's hearing--to put all the milk they had into a pot, and to place the pot over the fire. "In a short time a woman will come and ask to be allowed to put her hand among
the milk. That's the woman who has wrought you the ill." The three brothers returned to Broadford, took boat, and sailed across the ferry. The patient walked home. The wise woman's order about the boiling of the milk was obeyed, and in a short time after the pot with the milk was hung over the fire a neighbouring woman came in with great haste, and asked to be allowed to put her hand among the milk. The patient soon regained his usual health, and lived to a good old age.
The wise woman had a daughter. When on her death-bed, she one day called her, told her that her end was not far off, and said to her that she wished to leave her the secret power she had. The daughter refused to take it, saying that she intended to live a single life, and that she would thus have no one to whom she could commit the gift, for she said she could entrust it to none but to one of our own body. So the power died.
Some articles, that have been acquired by certain families, have the virtue of healing all manner of diseases in man and beast, and others, that of keeping prosperity in the families. The best known of the articles possessing curative powers are "Willox Ball and Bridle."
The "Ball" is the half of a glass ball, whose original purpose it is not easy to divine. It was concealed for untold ages in the heart of a brick, and was cut from its place of concealment by a fairy, and given generations ago to an ancestor of the present owner as payment for a kind service.
The "Bridle" is a small brass hook, said to have been cut from a kelpie's bridle. This kelpie had been in the habit of appearing as a beautiful black horse, finely caparisoned, on a well-frequented road in the Highlands. By his winning ways he allured unwary travellers to mount him. No sooner had the weary, unsuspecting victim seated himself in the saddle than away darted the horse with more than the speed of the hurricane, and plunged into the deepest part of Loch Ness, and the rider was never more seen. For long had kelpie carried on this cruel game, bringing sorrow to many a household. His day however came to an end. A hardy Highlander was one night returning home,
when he heard the footsteps of a horse. Shortly he found himself beside a beautiful horse. He knew what this horse was, and what he had done. The horse used all his wonted wiles to make the man mount him; he failed. Then he became enraged, and tried to bite the man and to trample him under his feet. The brave Highlander sprang from his enemy, drew his sword in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, and struck with strong arm at the creature's head. The stroke took effect, and the small hook fell. It was observed, dark though it was, and picked up quick as lightning. Off rushed the man with his prize, for he knew that it was a prize, and fled for life. The kelpie followed, but somehow with greatly diminished speed. Diminished though kelpie's speed was, it was a terrible race. The man reached his house, opened the door, threw the "bridle" into the house, cried out to preserve it, and then fell exhausted on the threshold. It was too late for kelpie, and he disappeared for ever, leaving behind him what would be of so much use to man. The possessor of this "Ball and Bridle" has but to take water, put first the ball into it, turn it through it three times, repeating the words, "In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost," and then the bridle, doing the same thing, and repeating the same words, and a healing virtue is given to the water. The sword that did the good deed was sometimes waved over the water with the utterance of the same formula.
Others of these articles had the power of curing only one disease. A small perforated ball, made of Scotch pebble, which has been in the possession of the present family for at least six generations, has the virtue of curing diseases of the eye. It goes by the name of the "ee-stehn," and is thought to contain all the colours of the eye. It must on no account be allowed to fall to the ground. When put into a mixture of milk and water, a lotion is formed capable of curing every kind of disease of the
An amber bead, vernacularly called "laamer," was commonly used to remove a chaff from the eye, both of man and beast. A. necklace of amber beads was worn as a cure for disease of the eyes. 1
There were certain wells whose waters were reputed as possessing the virtue of curing all kinds of diseases. To some of them pilgrimages were made at any time, and to others they were made for the most part at certain seasons. Round some of these wells lay stones, resembling as nearly as possible the different members of the human body, and these stones were called by the names of the members they represented, as "the ee-stehn," "the hehd-stehn." The patient took a draught of the water of the well, washed the affected part of the body, and rubbed it well with the stone corresponding to it, when the disease was local. Something,--such as a pin, a button, or a piece of money, the property of the health-seeking pilgrim,--was left in the well, or a rag torn from the patient's clothing was hung on one of the neighbouring trees or bushes. No one would have been foolhardy enough to have even touched what had been left, far less to have carried it off. A child, or one who did not know, was most carefully instructed why such things were left in and around the well, and strict charge was laid not to touch or carry any of them off. Whoever carried off one of such relies contracted the disease of the one who left it.
On the farm of Altthash is situated such a well. It is situated at the bottom of a rugged brae in a deep ravine to the south of Fochabers. It was originally situated on the hill above the present farm-steading. An unscrupulous man one day committed on the well a gross indignity. Before next morning it had changed its position, and was welling forth in full strength near the spot where it now is.
It may be here remarked that the belief was that wells changed their position when an indignity was committed on them, and that it was a very rash act to change in any way whatever a well by deepening it, or by building it, or by leading its waters to a different site. The well sooner or later returned to its original condition.
The first three Sundays of May were the great days of pilgrimage to this well, and of these three Sundays the first was the greatest. On these days might be seen going from all corners of the surrounding country those who were afflicted with any ailment, or fancied so, to drink of the health-giving waters of the well, and to wash in them. Many, however, made the pilgrimage out of pleasure, particularly the young unmarried.
Fergan Well, said to be so named because dedicated to St. Fergus, is situated on the south-east side of Knock Fergan, a hill of considerable height on the west side of the river Avon, opposite the manse of Kirkmichael. The first Sunday of May and Easter Sunday were the principal Sundays for visiting it, and many from the surrounding parishes, who were affected with skin diseases or running sores, came to drink of its water, and to wash in it. The hour of arrival was twelve o'clock at night, and the drinking of the water, and the washing of the diseased part, took place before or at sunrise. A quantity of the water was carried home for future use. Pilgrimages were made up to the end of September, by which time the healing virtues of the water had become less. Such after-visits seem to have begun in later times. 1
"Wallak kirk" was a place of resort for the cure of disease. It was the church of the ancient parish of Dumeth, which now forms part of the parish of Glass. It was dedicated to St. Wolok. The church and churchyard lie on a haugh on the banks of the Deveron, just below the castle of Beldornie. The Saint's Well is near the church. Near the place are two pools, called baths, formed by the river flowing between two rocks. In them many bathed for the cure of their diseases, and mothers bathed their sickly children in them in the full faith that a cure would be brought about. May was the time when the water had efficacy. The Church interposed and forbade all superstitious worship at this church.
"Att Glas, 7th Junij, 1618. Ordained to restraine buriallis in the kirk, and to censure all superstition at Wallak Kirk." 2
Rosemarkie, a well a little to the south of Buckie, is famed for the healing powers of its water. The present tenant of the farm on which it is situated closed it up. Not long ago a few mothers from Buckie, whose bairns were dwinin, went to the former site of the well and scooped out a hole. It was soon filled with water. The children were well washed in it. No sooner were they placed on their mothers' backs to be carried home than they fell fast asleep, and "they battent like bauds aye sin syne."
Chapels were also resorted to for the cure of disease.
"Peter Wat sumonded to this daye for goeing in pilgrimage to the chappell beyond the water of Spey, compeared and confessed his fault. Ordained to make his repentance, and to paye four markes penaltye."
"Agnes Jack sumonded to this daye for goeing in pilgrimage to the same chappell, compeared, and confessed that she went to the said chappell with ane diseased woman, but gave her great oath that she vsed no kynd of superstitious worship. She is ordained to mak her publike repentance, and to abstaine from the lyke in tyme comeing." 1 (1636.)
Not merely wells and chapels were resorted to but rocks.
Clach-na-bhan (stone of the women) is a huge granite rock on the top of Meall-ghaineaih (sandhill), a hill on the east side of Glenavon. Near the top of this rock a hollow has been scooped out by the influence of the weather, somewhat in the shape of an arm chair. Women about the time of their accouchement ascended the hill, scaled the rock, and seated themselves in the hollow, under the belief that such ail act secured a speedy and successful birth. Unmarried women also made pilgrimages to it, in hopes that such an act would have the effect of bringing husbands to them.
"The ill ee." Go to a ford, where the dead and the living cross, draw water from it, pour it into a "cog" with three "girds" over a "crosst shilling," and then sprinkle the water over the victim of the "ill ee" in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. 2
Pour water over a "crosst shilling," let three draughts of it be taken, and the remainder of it buried, whilst the shilling is preserved. A cure follows.
The patient was seated. A sieve for sifting meal was put on the sufferer's head, and in it were laid, in the form of a cross, a comb and a pair of scissors, and over them a "three-girded cog," with the girds of wood. Into this cog water was poured. Melted lead was slowly dropped from a height into the water. Search was then made among the pieces for one resembling as nearly as possible a heart. If a piece of such a shape was found, it was carefully sewed into a bit of cloth and given to the sufferer, who had to carry it constantly. If a piece of the form of a heart was not found on the first trial, the pieces of lead were taken from the water and again melted. The melted lead was again dropped into the water, and search made for the heart-shaped piece. The process was repeated till the desired piece was cast.
Another mode was somewhat more elaborate. The operator, who was generally an old woman renowned for her medical skill, set the sieve on the patient's head, and on the sieve she placed the "three-girded cog," for no other dish was of any virtue. The comb was placed on the bottom of the cog, and the water was poured through one of the loops of the scissors into the cog. Lead was melted and dropped through the same loop. After the heart-shaped piece was found, the patient took three draughts of the water in the cog, and washed the hands and face with the remainder, which was then thrown over a place where the dead and the living cross, that is, a public road. The patient might either bury the piece of lead on the boundary between two lairds' lands, or keep it most scrupulously under lock and key. During the process the operator kept repeating the words, "Ghen onything be oot ots place, may the Almichty in's mercies fesst back."
There was a disease that bore the name of the "sleepy fivvers." In this disease the patient was affected with a strong tendency to sleep, and had no inclination to engage in anything. Hence it was said of any one lazy at work that he had the "sleepy fivvers." The disease was supposed to be seated in some one of the members. Its detection and cure were as follows:--The patient's stocking was taken and laid flat; a worsted thread was placed along both sides of it over the toe. The stocking was then carefully rolled up from the toe to the top, so that the two ends were left hanging loose on different sides of it. This stocking was put three times round each member of the body contrary to the course of the sun, beginning with the head. The left of two members was taken first. When the stocking was passed round an affected member the thread changed its position from outside, to inside; but when the member was sound the thread kept its position. The process was gone through three times, and in perfect silence. The thread was afterwards burned.
Another mode was as follows:--The one, commonly a woman, who was "to look for the fever," went to a ford or bridge, over which "the dead and the living" cross, "atween the sin an the sky," commonly in the gloamin, and took up three stones. These stones were to represent the head, the heart, and the body, and were so named. They were placed overnight among the hot ashes on the hearth. In the morning they were taken from among the ashes, and dropped one by one into a basin of water. The stone, which it was fancied gave forth the loudest sound on falling into the water, indicated the part of the body in which the disease lay. The process was repeated for three nights in succession. The discovery of the disease proved also its cure.
The cures of this disease were various.
The first time the fit came, the clothes had to be stripped off, and burned on the spot on which the patient fell.
Let the sufferer get a shirt in which one had. died, put it on, and wear it without its being first washed.
To let blood from the left arm on the first attack brought a cure.
For a doctor to draw blood from the arm on the first attack, as his first patient, effected a cure.
If any one, on seeing the disease for the first time, drew blood from the sufferer's little finger, the malady was cured.
This disease was cured by "layan." There were two modes of operating on the child. The one was much more elaborate than the other.
In the more simple of the two modes one blacksmith was the operator, and in the more complicated mode the services of three of the same name were required.
In the more simple mode the rickety child was taken to a smithy. A tub was filled with water. This water, by plunging pieces of hot iron amongst it, was raised to as high a temperature as was comfortable for a bath. The blacksmith then received the child from the mother, and bathed it in this water. He also gave the child a little of the water to drink.
The more elaborate process was in this manner:--
The child was taken before sunrise to a smithy in which three blacksmiths of the same name wrought. One of the smiths bathed the child in the water-trough of the smithy. After being bathed the young patient was laid on the anvil, and all the tools of the shop were passed one by one over the child, and the use of each was asked. A second bath followed. If a fee was exacted, the virtue of the "lay" was lost. The three blacksmiths must all take part in the work.
Those who were born with their feet first possessed great power to heal all kinds of sprains, lumbago, and rheumatism, either by
rubbing the affected part, or by trampling on it. The chief virtue lay in the feet. Those who came into the world in this fashion often exercised their power to their own profit.
The water in which skate was boiled, "skate bree," was accounted an efficacious lotion for sprains and rheumatism in man, gout in pigs, and "crochles" in cattle.
A decoction of sheep's "pushlocks," that is, the excrements of the sheep, was a cure for this disease. The same decoction was a cure for jaundice.
Eating the food with a "quick-horn" spoon, that is, with a spoon made from the horn taken from a living animal, was considered a very efficacious remedy.
A draught of water from the hollow of a detached boulder effected a cure.
Let the patient be taken to the house of a married woman whose maiden name is the same as that of her husband, and let her give the invalid something to eat--"a piece,"--and a cure will speedily follow. If the patient be taken to and from home through a wood, so much more efficacious will the cure be.
If the patient was taken to another laird's land the disease was left there.
Let the first man seen riding on a white horse be asked what the cure is. What he names, is the cure. 1
Passing the patient three times under the belly of a piebald horse put the malady to flight. 2
The milk of an ass was a sovereign specific.
The disease was cured by riding on an ass.
Catch a frog and lick its eye with the tongue. The one who does so has only to lick with the tongue any diseased eye, and a cure is brought about.
One cure for erysipelas was to cover it with a piece of cloth of scarlet colour. Another cure for this disease was to apply to it the "Herb Robert" (Geranium Robertianum), whose stalks, leaves, and flower are of a purplish colour. This, no doubt, was on the principle of like colour to like colour.
A sovereign remedy for the sting of the nettle was the mucus that imbedded the petioles of the young leaves of the common dock. 1
The common cure for this disease was rubbing the diseased spot with silver. The modes of rubbing were various.
Put a new shilling three times round "the crook," spit a "fastin spittle" on it, and with it rub the affected parts. Some, in addition, dropped the shilling through the patient's shirt before rubbing with it.
Another method of cure was first to measure the diseased spot, and then rub it with a shilling.
Another cure was to rub the part with a silver watch.
A supposed cure for ringworm was a decoction of San Spurge, "little gueedie," or "mair's milk" (Euphorbia helioscopia).
A seventh son, without a daughter, if worms were put into his hand before baptism, had the power of healing the disease simply by rubbing the affected part with his hand. The common belief about such a son was that he was a doctor by nature.
Certain persons were believed to have the power of curing toothache by a summons to depart which could not be resisted.
It was a common belief that toothache was caused by a worm
at the root of the tooth, and toothache was often simply called "the worm." The following, or very similar, words, written on a slip of paper and carried on the person, were esteemed a cure:--
There were those who made a habit of selling this charm. It was kept ready, rolled up in a neat packet and sealed.
Go to the churchyard when a grave is being dug, take a skull in whose jaw there are teeth, and with the teeth draw a tooth from it. A cure follows. 2
Go between the sun and the sky to a ford, a place where the dead and the living cross, lift a stone from it with the teeth, and the toothache vanishes.
A cure for toothache was to go to a running stream, lift from it with the teeth a stone, put it into "the kist," and keep it. When the stone began to waste, so did the tooth, and continued to waste so long as the stone continued to waste.
If an infant cuts its first tooth in the upper gum it would be short-lived. Hence
Children were warned not to lick with the tongue the sockets of the first teeth when they fell from the gums. If they did so the new teeth would grow in twisted, "gammt."
It was a belief, if a child had toothache with its first set of teeth, toothache would not attack the adult teeth.
Go to a point where four roads meet, lift a stone, rub the warts with dust from below the stone and let the words be repeated:--
The warts vanish in a short time.
Rub the wart with one of the common snails. 1
Lick the wart with the tongue every morning on awakening, and it will gradually vanish.
Wash the wart with water that has collected in the carved parts that are found on some old "layer" stones. 2
Rub the wart with a piece of meat, bury the meat, and as it decays the wart disappears. 3
Let the wart be rubbed on a man who is the father of an adulterous child. The rubbing must take place without the man's knowledge.
Cut as many nodes, or "knots," from straw-stalks as there are warts, roll them up in a packet, and bury them in the ground, "atween the sin an the sky." As the nodes decay, the warts waste, till they disappear.
Wrap up in a parcel as many grains of barley as there are warts, and lay it on the public road. Whoever finds and opens the parcel inherits the warts. 4
Great care was used if a wart bled to keep the blood from spreading over any part of the hand. This was done under the belief that where the blood was left other warts sprang up. 5
The following charm was repeated as a cure:--
34:1 Cf. Henderson, p. 228.
35:1 Cf. Henderson, pp. 187, 188.
36:1 Extracts from the Presbytery Book of Strathbogie, p. 15. Spalding Club. Aberdeen, A.D. 1843.
40:1 Cf. Henderson, p. 145.
41:1 Cf. Henderson, pp. 230, 231.
41:2 Extracts from the Presbytery Book of Strathbogie, p. 89. Spalding Club. Aberdeen, A.D. 1813.
42:1 Extracts from the Presbytery Book of Strathbogie, p. 88. Spalding Club. Aberdeen, A.D. 1843.
42:2 Cf. Henderson, p. 188.
46:1 Cf. Henderson, p. 142, and F. L. Record, vol. i. p. 38 (115).
46:2 Cf. Henderson, p. 112.
47:1 Cf. Henderson, p. 26, and F. L. Record, vol. i. p. 45 (148).
48:1 Cf. Henderson, p. 172, and F. L. Record, vol. i. p. 40 (127).
48:2 Cf. Henderson, p. 145.
48:3 Ibid. p. 20.
49:1 Cf. Henderson, p. 138, and F. L. Record, vol. i. p. 218 (2).
49:2 Cf. F. L. Record, p. 223 (11).
49:3 Cf. Henderson, p. 139, and F. L. Record, vol. i. p. 41 (130): p. 217 (1).
49:4 Ibid. vol. i. p. 220 (7).
49:5 Cf. F. L. Record, vol. i. p. 224 (13).