CHARMS AND COUNTER CHARMS.
DURING these times when such superstitious beliefs were almost universally accepted—when the sources from which evils might be expected to spring were about as numerous as the unchecked fancies of men could make them —we must naturally conceive that the people who believed such things must have lived in a continual state of fear. And in many instances this was really the case ; but the common result was not so, for fortunately the bane and antidote were generally found together, and the means for preventing or exorcising these devil imposed evils were about as numerous as the evils themselves. I have already in a former chapter mentioned incidentally some of these charms and preventives, but as this incidental treatment cannot possibly cover the field, I shall here speak of them separately.
Tennant, in his Tour through Scotland, states that farmers placed boughs of the mountain ash in their cowhouses on the second day of May to protect their cows from evil influences. The rowan tree possessed a wonderful influence against all evil machinations of witchcraft. A staff made of this tree laid above the boothy or milk-house preserved the milk from witch influence. A churn-staff made of this wood secured the butter during
the process of churning. So late as 1860 I have seen the rowan tree trained in the form of an arch over the byre door, and in another case over the gate of the farmyard, as a protection to the cows. It was also believed that a rowan tree growing in a field protected the cattle against being struck by lightning.
Mr. Train describes the action of a careful farmer's wife or dairymaid thus:—
"Lest witches should obtain the power
Of Hawkie's milk in evil hour.
She winds a red thread round her horn,
And milks thro' row'n tree night and morn;
Against the blink of evil eye
She knows each andidote to ply."
The same author, writing in 1814, says:—"I am acquainted myself with an Anti-Burgher clergyman who actually procured from a person who pretended to such skill in these charms two small pieces of carved wood, to be kept in his father's cow-house as a security for the health of his cows." The belief in the potency of the rowan tree to ward off evil is no doubt a survival of ancient tree worship. Of this worship, the Rev. F. W. Farrar says:—" It may be traced from the interior of Africa, not only in Egypt and Arabia, but also onwards uninterruptedly into Palestine and Syria, Assyria, Persia, India, Tibet, Siam, the Philippine Islands, China, Japan, and Siberia; also westward into Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, and other countries ; and in most of the countries here named it obtains at the present
day, combined, as it has been, in other parts with various forms of idolatry." Were it our object, it could also be shown that tree worship has been combined with
Christianity. The rowan tree was held sacred by the Druids, and is often found among their stone monuments. There is a northern legend that the god of thunder (Thor), when wading the river Vimar, was in danger of being swept away by its current, but that, grasping a tree which grew on the bank, he got safely across. This tree was the mountain ash, which was ever after held sacred; and when these nations were converted to Christianity, they did not fall away from their belief in the sanctity of the rowan tree.
Not many years ago, I was told of a miraculous make of butter which was reported to have occurred in the west of Lanarkshire a short time before. One morning, a farmer's wife in that district and her maid-servant wrought at the kirn, but, do as they would, no butter would appear. In this dilemma, they sat down to consider about the cause, and then they recollected that a neighbouring woman had come into the kitchen, where the kirn was standing the previous evening, to borrow something, but was refused. The servant was at once despatched with the article in question, and half-a-dozen eggs as a gift, to the old woman, and instructed to make an apology for not having given the loan the evening before. The woman received the gift, and gratefully expressed her wish that the farmer and his wife would be blest both in their basket and their store. The effect, said my informant, was miraculous. Before the servant returned, the butter began to flow, and in such quantity as had never before been experienced.
Apropos of this superstition with reference to milk, the following incident occurred not many years back in the West Highlands. An old woman, who kept a few cows,
was in sore distress of mind because some of her ill-disposed neighbours had cast an evil eye upon them, in
consequence of which their milk in a very short time blinked (turned sour), and chum as she might, she could never obtain any butter. She had tried every remedy she knew of, or that had been recommended to her, but without any good effect. At length, in her extremity, she applied to the parish minister, and laid her case before him. He patiently listened to her complaint, and expressed great sympathy for her, and then very wisely said, "I'll tell you how I think you will succeed in driving away the evil eye. It seems to me that it has not been cast on your cows, but on your dishes. Gang hame and tak' a' your dishes down to the burn, and let them lie awhile in the running stream; then rub them well and dry with a clean clout. Tak' them hame and fill each with boiling water. Pour it out and lay them aside to dry. The evil eye cannot withstand boiling water. Sca'd it out and ye'll get butter." The prescription was followed, and a few weeks after the woman called upon the minister and thanked him for the cure, remarking that she had never seen anything so wonderful.
Mr. Joseph Train, from whose notes we have already quoted, mentions a ceremony, not of a private but of a
public nature, and embracing a large district of country, at the performance of which he was present. The object to be obtained was the prevention of a threatened outbreak of disease among the cattle. "In the summer of 1810," says Mr. Train,"while remaining at Balnaguard, a village of Perthshire, as I was walking along the banks of the Tay, I observed a crowd of people
convened on the hill above Pitna Cree; and as I re collected having seen a multitude in the same place the preceding day, my curiosity was roused, so that I resolved to learn the reason of this meeting in such an unfrequented place. I was close beside them before any of the company had observed me ascending the hill, their attention being fixed upon two men in the centre. One was turning a small stock, which was supported by two stakes standing perpendicularly, with a cleft at the top, in which the crown piece went round in the form a carpenter holds a chisel on a grinding stone; the other was holding a small branch of fir on that which was turning. Directly below it was a quantity of tow spread on the ground. I observed that this work was taken alternately by men and women. As I was turning about in order to leave them, a man whom I had seen before, laid his hand on my shoulder, and solicited me to put my finger to the stick; but I refused, merely to see if my obstinacy would be resented; and suddenly a sigh arose from every breast, and anger kindled in every eye. I saw, therefore, that immediate compliance with the request was necessary to my safety.
"I was soon convinced that this was some mysterious rite performed either to break or ward off the power of
witchcraft; but, so intent were they on the prosecution of their design, that I could obtain no satisfactory information, until I met an old schoolmaster in the neighbourhood, from whom I had obtained much insight into the manners and customs of that district. He informed me that there is a distemper occasioned by want of water, which cattle are subject to, called in the Gaelic language shag dubh, which in English signifies
'black haunch.' It is a very infectious disease, and, if not taken in time, would carry off most of the cattle in the country." The method taken by the Highlanders to prevent its destructive ravages is thus: "All fires are extinguished between the two nearest rivers, and all the people within that boundary convene in a convenient place, where they erect a machine, as above described; and, after they have commenced, they continue night and day until they have forced fire by the friction of the two sticks. Every person must perform a portion of this labour, or touch the machine in order not to break the charm.
"During the continuance of the ceremony they appear melancholy and dejected, but when the fire, which they say is brought from heaven by an angel, blazes in the tow, they resume their wonted gaiety; and while one part of the company is employed feeding the flame, the others drive all the cattle in the neighbourhood over it. When this ceremony is ended, they consider the cure complete; after which they drink whiskey, and dance to the bagpipe or fiddle round the celestial fire till the last spark is extinguished."
Here, within our own day, is evidently an act of fire worship: a direct worship of Baal by a Christian community in the nineteenth century. There were other means of preventing disease spreading among cattle practised within this century. When murrain broke out in a herd, it was believed that, if the first one taken ill were buried alive, it would stop the spread of the disease, and that the other animals affected would then soon recover. Were a cow to cast her calf: if the calf were to be buried at the byre door, and a short prayer or a verse of
Scripture said over it, it would prevent the same misfortune from happening with the rest of the herd. If a sheep
dropped a dead lamb, the proper precaution to take was to place the lamb upon a rowan tree, and this would prevent the whole flock from a repetition of the mishap.
It was an old superstition that the body of a murdered person would bleed on the presence or touch of the murderer. We find this belief mentioned as far back as the eleventh century. In an old ballad of that period occurs the following passage:—
'A marvel high and strange is seen full many a time
When to the murdered body nigh the man that did the crime.
Afresh the wound will bleed. The marvel now was found—
That Hagan felled the champion with treason to the ground."
Several centuries after this, we find it mentioned in another ballad, entitled "Young Huntin":—
"O white were his wounds washen,
As white as a linen clout.
But when Lady Maisry she cam' near,
His wounds they gushed out."
The reason for this marvel was ascribed by the Rev. Mr. Wodrow, to the wonderful providence of God, who had said, " thou shalt not suffer a murderer to live," and had, in order that the command might be justly carried out,
provided the means whereby murderers might be readily detected. This superstition certainly survived within this century, and I have heard many instances adduced to prove the truth of bleeding taking place on the introduction of the murderer.
Another curious form of belief was prevalent among
some persons, that the body of a suicide would not decay until the time arrived when, in the ordinary course of
nature, he would have died. This was founded upon another belief, that there is a day of death appointed for every man, which no one can pass; but as man is possessed of a free will, he may, by his own wicked determination, shorten the union of his soul and body, but that there his power ends: he cannot in reality kill either soul or body, for were he to possess this power, he would possess the power to alter the decrees of God, which is a power impossible for man to possess. This was a mad, not deep, sort of metaphysics; but there was sufficient method in its madness to cause it to gain the suffrages of a large number of people. It was affirmed that those who had examined into the matter had found that the bodies of suicides were mysteriously preserved from decomposition until the day arrived on which they would naturally—that is, according to God's decree—have died. About the year 1834, I was taking a walk along the banks of the canal north of Glasgow, and sat down beside a group of well-dressed men, who were conversing on general topics, and amongst other things touched on the matter of suicides—proximity to the canal probably suggested the subject. One of the group pointed out a quiet spot where he affirmed that Bob Dragon, an old Glasgow celebrity, had been buried. Bob, he said, had committed suicide; but his relations being aware that,
in consequence of this act, his property, according to law, became forfeited to the Crown, had him buried secretly in this out-of-the-way spot, and obtained another corpse, which they put into the coffin in his house. But, several years after, some persons who were digging at
this quiet spot on the canal bank discovered the real body of Bob—the throat being cut—and the corpse as fresh as the day on which the act was committed. Bob's relations, on hearing of this discovery, gave the finders a handsome gift to rebury the body and keep the matter secret. Within the last ten years I have heard the same affirmation made respecting persons who have drowned themselves.
Persons whose yea is unvaryingly yea, and whose nay is unvaryingly nay, generally resort to no form of oath or
imprecation to gain credence to their statements, for their truthfulness is seldom called in question—at least, where they are well known. But with those who are lax in their statements—who tell the truth or tell lies just as for the moment the one or the other appears to suit them best—the case is different. When they speak something strange or important, they find their veracity questioned, and require to place themselves in circumstances where it may be thought they are under compulsion, for their own welfare, to speak the truth. Commonly, they ask Providence to injure them in some way if in the present instance they have said the thing which is not true. Well, it was believed in the days of which I write, and within my own day, that Providence did interfere in this way, and many stories were current in confirmation of this belief One such will suffice as an illustration. A married woman, enciente for the first time, having had words with her husband about something she denied having either said or done, wished that, if her statement were untrue, she might never give birth to the child. She was taken at her word, for she lived many years in delicate health, but the child was
88 FOLK LORE.
never born. The villagers who remembered her said that at times she swelled as if she was about to be confined, and at other times was jimp as a young girl.
Akin to belief in the potency of such wishes as were uttered as tests of truthfulness was doubtless the generally
accredited, though of course seldom witnessed, form of compact with the devil. When a person agreed to serve the devil, his Satanic Majesty caused the mortals who sought his service and favour to place one hand under their thigh and the other over their head, and wish that the devil would take all that lay between their hands if they were unfaithful to their vow. The form of oath by expression of a wish was common to both Jews and Gentiles.
There was another kind of wish which was believed to obtain fulfilment during life, that was the expressed wish of the innocent against those who had wronged them. The belief in the fulfilment of such wishes was grounded on the theological supposition that God in his justice would in time punish the wrong-doer. I remember a
rather pertinent example of this: a proof they would have said in former days—a coincidence we would say in these days. A simple-minded — half-witted—young woman was taken advantage of by a young man resident in the neighbourhood, to the public scandal of the village. He denied the paternity of the baby, and made oath to that effect before the kirk-session. As he did so, the girl, looking at him, wished that the hand he held up might lose its cunning, as evidence of God's judgment upon the false swearer. In less than a year from that time a disease came into his right hand, and he was never afterwards able to use it. Not many years ago, I
saw the same man going through the village selling tea, and, as he passed along the street, many of the older inhabitants remarked how wonderfully Poor Meg's wish had been fulfilled.
Employment of certain charms to influence for good or evil prevailed in this century to a great extent. Some of these it is difficult to trace to their origin. About forty years ago, a certain married couple lived unhappily together. The wife did all she could to make her husband comfortable, but still he abused her without cause. At length, after suffering much, she applied to a woman who professed to have power over the affections, and for this purpose prepared love philters. The woman gave her a charm, which was to be sewn between the lining and cloth of her husband's vest without his knowledge. She carried these instructions out, and with extra ordinarily successful results, for, while the husband wore this vest, he never gave her so much as an angry word.
One Walter Donaldson was in the habit of beating his wife, and making her life bitter. She made application to Isabell Straguhan, who possesses magic influences, who took pieces of paper and sewed them thick with thread of divers colours, and put them in the bam among the corn. From that time forth the said Walter never lifted hand against his wife, nor did once find fault with her whatsoever she did, and was entirely subdued to her love.
receiver to the giver, and in young persons will produce a desire for each other's society, culminating eventually in marriage; also, when a married couple do not agree well together, it will reconcile them, and bring about a mutual affection.
At the commencement of this century, belief in the influence of the mandrake plant over the affections still existed in this country. Belief in this plant is as old as history. Leah, the neglected wife of Jacob, doubtless intended to influence her husband by the use of it, whilst Rachel procured the plant for a different purpose, but for both purposes it was considered efficatious, and in both cases, the narrative shows, successful. By both eastern and western nations this plant was credited with wonderful powers, even to the extent of working miracles. In this country it was believed to be watched by Satan, but if the plant were pulled during certain holy seasons, or by holy persons, Satan would not only be robbed with impunity, but he would become the servant of the person who pulled the plant, and do for him whatever he desired; but woe to the unholy person who attempted to pull the plant, especially at a non-sacred time; he drops down dead, and Satan possesses his soul.
It was a prevalent belief that the seventh son in a family had the gift of curing diseases, and that he was by nature a doctor who could effect cures by the touch of his hand. It was reported that such a man resided in lona, who had effected cures by rubbing the diseased part with his hand on two Thursdays and two Sundays successively, doing so in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. It was requisite to the
cure that no fee should be taken by such endowed persons. In the West of Scotland the formula of cure was different in different localities; in some parts a mere touch was all that was necessary, in others, and this was the more general method, some medicine was given to assist the cure.
Written charms were also believed in as capable of effecting cures, or, at least, of preventing people from taking diseases. I have known people who wore written charms, sewed into the necks of their coats, if men, and into the headbands of petticoats if women. These talismans, in many cases, I have little doubt, did real good in this way, that they supplied their wearers with a courage which sufficed to brace up their nervous system —which drove out fear, in fact,—a very important condition for health, as physicians well know. These talismans were so generally and thoroughly believed in, and so numerous and apparently well-attested were the evidences of their beneficial effects, that in years not long past, medical men believed in their efficacy, and promulgated various theories to account for it.
It was also an accepted belief that diseases could be transferred to animals, and even to vegetables. Cures held to be so effected were, according to one medical theory, cures by "sympathy." A few instances, culled from a work published during the latter half of the seventeenth century (1663), entitled The Usefulness of Experimental Philosophy, will illustrate this theory:—
A medical man had been very ill of an obstinate marasmar (?) which so consumed him that he became quite a skeleton, notwithstanding every remedy which he had tried. At length he tried a sympathetic remedy: he
took an egg, and having boiled it hard in his own urine, he then with a bodkin perforated the shell in different parts, and then buried it in an ant-hill. As the ants wasted the egg he found his strength increase, and he soon was completely cured. A daughter of a French officer was so tormented by a paronychia (?) for four days together, that the pain kept her from sleeping; by the order of a medical man she put her finger into a cat's ear, and within two hours was delivered from her pain. And a councillor's wife was cured of a panaritium (?) which had vexed her for four days by the same means. In both cases the cat had received the pain in its ear and required to be held. The gout is cured by sympathy: by the patient sleeping with puppies, they take the disease, and the person recovers. A boy ill with the king's evil could not be cured, his father's dog took to licking the sores, the dog took the sores, and the boy was completely cured. A gentleman having a severe pain in the arm was cured by beating red coral with oak leaves, and applying it to the part affected till suppuration: a hole was then made in the root of an oak towards the east, and the mixture put into it and the hole plugged up with a peg of the same tree, and from that time the pain did altogether cease; and when afterwards the mixture was removed from the tree, immediately the torments returned worse than before. Sir Francis Bacon records a cure of warts: he took a piece of lard with the skin on it, and after rubbing the warts with it the the lard was exposed out of a southern window to putrify, and the warts wore away as it putrified. Harvey tried to remove tumours and excrescences by putting the hand of a dead person that had died of a lingering
disease upon them till the part felt cold. In general the application was effective.
This idea of cure by sympathy retained its hold on the people till this century, and is not yet entirely gone.
There was another theory, which we may call the magnetic theory. The philosophy of this theory contended that
"The body when diseased resembled a gun; when loaded, it contains powder and ball, which, by the mere touch of a little spring, sets the whole machinery of the gun in motion, whereby the ball is expelled. So also the mere touch or outward
contact of certain bodies or substances has power, like
a magnet, to set in action the machinery of nature by which the disease is dispelled—sometimes slowly, but often suddenly like the bullet from the gun. Helmont had a little stone, which, by plunging in oil of almonds, imbued the oil with such sanative power that it cured almost any disease. It was sometimes applied inwardly, sometimes outwardly. A gentleman who had an unwieldy groom procured for him a small fragment of this stone, and, by licking it with the tip of his tongue every morning, in three weeks he was reduced in bulk round the waist by a span without affecting his general health. A gentleman in France who procured a small fragment of this stone cured several persons of inveterate diseases by letting them lick it. The stone Lapis Nephriticus bound upon the pulse of the wrist of the left hand prevents stone, hysterics, and stops the flux of blood in any part. A compound metal called electrum which is a mixture of all metals made under certain constellations and shaped into rings and worn, prevents cramps and palsy, apoplexy, epilepsy, and
severe pains; and in the case of a person in a fit of the falling sickness, a ring of this metal put on the ring finger is an immediate cure. A little yarrow and mistletoe put into a bag and worn upon the stomach, prevents ague and chilblains. A powder made of the common mistletoe, given in doses of three grains at the full of the moon to persons troubled with epilepsy, prevents fits ; and if given during a fit it will effect an immediate and permanent cure. A woman with rupture of the bladder was reported to have been cured by wearing a little bag hung about her neck containing the powder made from a toad burnt alive in a new pot. The same prescription was also said to have cured a man of stone in the bladder."
Such theories left ample room for the creation of all sorts of cure charms, and when such ideas prevailed among the educated in the medical profession, we need not be surprised that they still survive among many uneducated persons, although two centuries have gone since. In 1 7 1 4 one of the most eminent physicians in Europe, Boerhaave, wrote of chemistry and medicine :— "Noreven in this affair don't medicine receive some advantage; witness the cups made of regulus of antimony, tempered with other metals which communicate a medicinal quality to wine put in them, and it is ten thousand pities the famous Von Helmont should have been so unkind to his poor fellow creatures in distress as to conceal from us the art of making a particular metal which he tells us, made into rings, and worn only while one might say the Lord's Prayer, would remove the most exquisite haemorrhoidal pains, both internal and external, quiet the most violent hysteric disorders, and give ease in the se
verest spasms of the muscles. 'Tis right, therefore, to prosecute enquiries of this nature, for there is very frequently some hidden virtues in these compositions, and we may make a vast number of experiments of this kind without any danger or inconvenience."
As it illustrates the theories just mentioned, we notice here the influence attributed to the wonderful Lee Penny. This famous charm is a stone set in gold. It is said to have been brought home by Lochart of Lee, who accompanied the Earl of Douglas in carrying Robert the Bruce's heart to the Holy Land. It is called Lee Penny, and was credited with the virtue of imparting to water into which it was dipped curative properties, specially influential to the curing of cattle when diseased, or preventing them taking disease. Many people from various parts of Scotland whose cattle were affected have made application within these few years for water in which this stone has been dipped. It is believed that this stone cannot be lost. It is still in the possession ofthe family of Lochart.
Ague, it was believed, could be cured by putting a spider into a goose quill, sealing it up, and hanging it about the neck, so that it would be near the stomach. This disease might also be cured by swallowing pills made of a spider's web. One pill a morning for three successive mornings before breakfast.
There were numerous cures for hooping-cough of a superstitious character, practised extensively during the earlier years of this century, and some are still recommended. The following are a few of these. Pass the patient three times under the belly, and three times over the back of a donkey. Split a sapling or a branch of the
ash tree, and hold the split open while the patient is passed three times through the opening. Find a man riding on a piebald horse, and ask him what should be
given as a medicine, and whatever he prescribes will prove a certain cure. " I recollect, says Jamieson, " a
friend of mine that rode a piebald horse, that he used to be pursued by people running after him bawling,—
"Man wi' the piety horse.
What's gude for the kink host"
He said he always told them to give the bairn plenty of sugar candy. Put a piece of red flannel round the neck
of a child, and it will ward off the hooping cough. The virtue lay not in the flannel, but in the red colour. Red was a colour symbolical of triumph and victory over all enemies. Find a hairy caterpillar, put it into a bag, and hang it round the neck of the child. This will prove a cure. Take some of the child's hair and put it between slices of bread and butter, and give it to a dog; if in eating it, the dog cough, the child will be cured, and the hooping cough transferred to the dog. A very common practice at the present day is to take the patient into a place where there is a tainted atmosphere, such as a byre or a stable, a gas work, or chemical work. I have seen the gas blown on the child's face, so that it might breath some of it, and be set a coughing. If during the process the child take a kink, it is a good sign. This idea must, I think, be of modern origin.
It was believed that if a present were given, especially if it were given to a sweetheart, and then asked back again, the giver would have a stye on the eye. Again, a
Stye on the eye was removable by rubbing it with a wedding ring. I suspect these two superstitions are portions of an ancient allegory, which, in time loosing their figurative meanings, came to be treated as literal facts.
Warts, especially when they are upon exposed parts of the body, are sometimes a source of annoyance to their
possessors, and various and curious methods were taken for their removal. From their position on the body they also were regarded as prognostications of good or bad luck. To have warts on the right hand foreboded riches; a wart on the face indicated troubles of various kinds.
We have already noticed the cure recommended by the learned Sir Francis Bacon. The following are a few of the cures which were believed in within this century. Rub the wart with a piece of stolen bacon. Rub the wart with a black snail, and lay the snail upon a hedge or dyke. As the animal decays so will the wart. Wash the wart with sow's blood for three days in succession.
Upon the first sight of the new moon stand still and take a small portion of earth from under the right foot, make it into a paste, put it on the wart and wrap it round with a cloth, and thus let it remain till that moon is out. The moon's influence and the fasting spittle are very old superstitions. The moon or Ashtoreth, the consort of Baal, was the great female deity of the ancients, and so an appeal to the moon for the purpose of removing interferences with
beauty, such as skin excrescences, was quite appropriate. Moon worship was practised in this country in prehistoric times. Bailey, in his Etymological Dictionary under article " Moon," says, " The moon was an ancient
idol of England, and worshipped by the Britons in the form of a beautiful maid, having her head covered, with two ears standing out. The common people in some counties of England are accustomed at the prime of the moon to say 'It is a fine moon. God bless her.'
From a custom in Scotland (particularly in the Highlands) where the young women make courtesy to the new moon by getting upon a gate or style and sitting astride, they say—
'All hail to the moon, all hail to thee,
I prithee good moon declare to me
This very night who my husband shall be."
Every one knows the popular adage about having money in the pocket when the new moon is first seen, and that if the coins be turned over at the time, money will not fail you during that moon. To see the new moon through
glass, however, breaks the charm. It was a prevalent belief that if a person on catching the first glimpse of new moon, were to instantly stand still, kiss their hand three times to the moon, and bow to it, that they would find something of value before that moon was out. Such practices are evidently survivals of moon worship. How closely
does this last practice agree with what Job says (chap, xxxi, 26),—" If I beheld the sun when it shined, or the moon walking in brightness, and my heart hath been secretly enticed, or my mouth hath kissed my hand: this also were an iniquity to be punished by the Judge : for I should have denied the God that is above."
The good influence of the fasting spittle in destroying the influence of an evil eye has been already referred
to in the previous pages, but it was also esteemed a potent remedy in curing certain diseases. To moisten a wart for several days in succession with the fasting spittle removes it. I have often seen a nurse bathe the eyes of a baby in the morning Aith her fasting spittle, to cure or prevent sore eyes. I have heard the same cure recommended for roughness of the skin and other skin diseases. Maimonides states that the Jews were expressly forbidden by their traditions to put fasting-spittle upon the eyes on the Sabbath day, because to do so was to perform work, the great Sabbath crime in the eyes of the Pharisees which Christ committed when he moistened the clay with his spittle and anointed the eyes of the blind man therewith on the Sabbath day. To both Greeks and Romans the fasting spittle was a charm against fascination. Persius Flaccus says:—"A grandmother or a superstitious aunt has taken baby from his cradle, and is charming his forehead and his slavering lips against mischief by the joint action of her middle finger and her purifying spittle." Here we find that it is not the spittle alone, but the joint action of the spittle and the middle finger which works the influence. The middle finger was commonly, in the early years of this century, believed to possess a favourable influence on sores; or, rather, it might be more correct to say that it possessed no damaging influence, while all the other fingers, in coming into contact with a sore, were held to have a tendency to defile, to poison, or canker the wound. I have heard it asserted that doctors know this, and never touch a sore but with the mid-finger.
There were other practices and notions appertaining to the spittle and spitting, some of which continue to this day. To spit for luck upon the first coin earned or
gained by trading, before putting it into the pocket or purse, is a common practice. To spit in your hand before grasping the hand of a person with whom you are
dealing, and whose offer you accept, is held to clinch the bargain, and make it binding on both sides. This is a
very old custom. Captain Burt, in his letters, says that when in a bargain between two Highlanders, each of them wets the ball of his thumb with his mouth, and then they press their wet thumb balls together, it is esteemed a very
binding bargain. Children in their games, which are often
imitations of the practices of men, make use of the spittle. V/hen playing at games of chance, such as odds or evens,
something or nothing, etc., before the player ventures his
guess he consults an augury, of a sort, by spitting on the
back of his hand, and striking the spittle with his mid
finger, watching the direction in which the superfluous
spittle flies, from him or to him, to right or left, and
therefrom, by a rule of his own, he determines what
shall be his guess. Again, boys often bind one another
to a bargain or promise by a sort of oath, which is com
pleted by spitting. It runs thus:
"Chaps ye, chaps ye.
Double, double daps ye,
Fire aboon, fire below.
Fire on every side o' ye."
After saying this, the boy spits over his head three times, and without this the oath is not considered binding; but when properly done, and the promise not fulfilled, the
defaulter is regarded as a liar, and is kept for a time at an outside by his companions.
When two boys made an arrangement (I am speaking of what was the custom fifty years back), either to meet
together at a stated time or to do some certain thing, the arrangement was confirmed by each spitting on the ground.
When a number of boys or girls were trying to find out a puzzle or guess put to them, and which they failed to unravel or answer, and when they were searching for something which had been hidden from them, and which they could not discover, the usual method of acknowledging that they were outwitted was by spitting on the ground; in the language of the day, they would be requested to "spit and gie't o'er," that is, own that they were beaten. The propounder of the puzzle, or the party who had hidden the object, was then bound to disclose the matter.
When two boys quarrelled, and one wet the other boy's buttons with his spittle, this was a challenge to fight or be dubbed a coward.
Mahomet held that bad dreams were from the devil, and advised the dreamers to seek protection by addressing a short prayer to God, and then spitting three -times over their left shoulder. He further counselled them to tell the dream to no one, and by following these instructions no harm, such as the dreams had foreshadowed, would befall them.
In the case of a person bitten by a dog, a few hairs taken from the dog's tail, and placed upon the wound either upon or under a poultice, was regarded as a protection from evil consequences, such as hydrophobia. I
know of an instance in which this remedy was applied so lately as 1876. This practice is unmistakably the origin of the toper's proverb when suffering from headache in the morning,
"Take a hair of the dog that bit you."
I will not enter into the subject of faith in the influence of relics. Such beliefs existed in Scotland in my young
days, and it is almost unnecessary to say that belief in such things is older than history. In my youth there was also a belief in the virtue of precious stones, which added a value to them beyond their real value as ornaments. An investigation into this matter would tend to throw much light upon many ancient practices and beliefs, as each stone had its own symbolic meaning, and its own peculiar influence for imparting good and protecting from evil and from sickness, its fortunate possessor. Probably John's description of heaven with its windows of agate, its doors of pearls or carbuncles, its foundations of amethyst, with sapphires blue, and sardines clear and red, had relation to the popular beliefs of the time. I have seen at Mill More, Killin, stones which are reported to have been used by St. Fillan for curing all sorts of diseases; and there are not a few persons at the present day who wear certain polished stones about their persons as a protective influence against certain diseases.
The ancient Jews had a superstitious idea respecting precious stones, which gave that strong desire for their possession, which is still characteristic of the race.
The Diamond was an antidote to Satanic temptation. Ruby made the possessor brave.
Topaz preserved the bearer against being poisoned.
Amethyst preserved from drunkenness.
Emerald promoted piety.
Sardonyx dispelled unholy thoughts.
There is a legend that God gave to Abraham a precious stone which had the power of preserving him from
all kinds of sickness.
When any person was troubled with a morbid hunger accompanied with pain in the stomach, it was believed
that that affliction was caused by the sufferer having swallowed some animal, which continued to live in the stomach, and that when this was empty it knawed the stomach and produced the pain felt. Several strange instances illustrative of the truth of this theory were current in my native village. Let one case suffice. An old soldier having on some long march been induced through extreme thirst to drink from a ditch, had swallowed some animal. Years after he was taken ill, and came home.
His hunger for food was so great that he could scarcely be satisfied, and notwithstanding the great quantities of food which he consumed, he became thinner and thinner, and his hunger was accompanied with great pain. Doctors could do him no good. At length he met with a silly old man, who told him that there was an animal in his stomach, and advised him to procure a salt herring and eat it raw, and on no account to take any drink, but go at once to the side of a pool or burn and lie down there with his mouth open, and watch the result. He had not lain long when he felt something moving within him, and by and bye an ugly toad came out of his mouth, and made for the water. Having drank its fill, it was returning to its old quarters, when the old soldier rose
and killed it. Many in the village had seen the dead toad. After this the man recovered rapidly. Many
other stories of people swallowing asks (newts), and other water animals which lived in their stomachs, and produced serious diseases, were current in my young days. This gave boys a great fear of stretching down and
drinking from a pool, or even a running stream.