CLAMOUR was a kind of witch power which certain people were supposed to be gifted with; by the exercise of such influence they took command over their subjects' sense of sight, and caused them to see whatever they desired that
they should see. Sir Walter Scott describes the recognised capability of glamour power in the following lines:—
"It had much of glamour might.
Could make a lady seem a knight,
The cobwebs on a dungeon wall,
Seem tapestry in lordly hall.
A nutshell seem a gilded barge,
A sheeling seem a palace large.
And youth seem age, and age seem youth.
All was delusion, nought was truth."
Gipsies were believed to possess this power, and for their own ends to exercise it over people. In the ballad of "Johnny Faa," Johnny is represented as exercising this power over the Countess of Cassillis—
"And she came tripping down the stairs.
With a' her maids before her.
And soon as he saw her weel faured face,
He coost the glamour o'er her."
To possess a four-leaved clover completely protected any one from this power. I remember a story which I
heard when a boy, and the narrator of it I recollect spoke as if he were quite familiar with the fact. A certain man came to the village to exhibit the strength of a wonderful cock, which could draw, when attached to its leg by a rope, a large log of wood. Many people went and paid to see this wonderful performance, which was exhibited in the back yard of a public house. One of the spectators present on one occasion had in his possession a four-leaved clover, and while others saw, as they supposed, a log of wood drawn through the yard, this person saw only a straw attached to the cock's leg by a small thread. I may mention here that the four leaved clover was reputed to be a preventative against madness, and against being drafted for military service.
One very ancient and persistent superstition had regard to the direction of movement either of persons or things. This direction should always be with the course of the sun. To move against the sun was improper and productive of evil consequences, and the name given to this direction of movement was withershins. Witches in their dances and other pranks, always, it was said, went withershins. Mr. Simpson in his work, Meeting the Sun, says, "The Llama monk whirls his praying cylinder in the way of the sun, and fears lest a stranger should get at it and turn it contrary, which would take from it all the virtue it had acquired. They also build piles of stone, and always pass them on one side, and return on the other, so as to make a circuit with the sun. Mahommedans make the circuit of the Caaba in the same way. The ancient dagobas of India and Ceylon were also traversed round in the same way, and the old Irish and Scotch custom is to make all move
ments Deisiuil, or sunwise, round houses and graves, and to turn their bodies in this way at the beginning
and end of a journey for luck, as well as at weddings
and other ceremonies."
To go withershins and to read prayers or the creed backwards were great evils, and pointed to connection with the devil. The author of Olrig Grange, in an early poem, sketches this superstition very graphically:—
"Hech! sirs, but we had grand fun
Wi the meikle black deil in the chair.
And the muckle Bible upside doon
A' ganging withershins roun and roun,
And backwards saying the prayer
About the warlock's grave,
Withershins ganging roun;
And kimmer and carline had for licht T
he fat o' a bairn they buried that nicht,
Unchristen'd, beneath the moon."
If a tree or plant grew with a twist contrary to the direction of the sun's movement, that portion was considered to possess certain powers, which are referred to in the following verse of an old song:
"I'll gar my ain Tammy gae doun to the Howe
And cut me a rock of the widdershins grow.
Of good rantree for to carry my tow.
And a spindle of the same for the twining o't."
Pennant refers to some other practices in Scotland in his day, that were no doubt survivals of ancient heathen
worship. Such as on certain occasions kindling a fire, and the people joining hands and dancing three times round it south-ways, or according to the course of the
sun. At baptisms and marriages they walked three times round the church sun-ways. The Highlanders, in going to bathe or drink in a consecrated fountain, approach it by going round the place from east to west on the south side. When the dead are laid in their grave, the grave is approached by going round in the same manner. The bride is conducted to the spouse in presence of the minister round the company in the same direction; indeed, all public matters were done according to certain fixed ideas in relation to the sim, all pointing to a lingering ray of sun worship.
If a fire were slow or dour to kindle, the poker was taken and placed in front of the grate, one end resting on the fender, the other on the front bar of the grate, and this, it was believed, would cause the fire to kindle quickly. This practice is still followed by many, but being compelled now to give an apparently scientific reason for their conduct, they say that it is so placed to produce a draught. But this it does not do. The practice originated in the belief that the slow or dour fire was spell-bound by witchcraft, and the poker was so placed that it would form the shape of a cross with the front bar of the grate, and thus the witch power be destroyed. In early times when the poker was placed in this position, the person who placed it repeated an Ave Marie or Paternoster, but this feature of the ceremony died out, and with it the reason for the practice was forgotten. I have seen it done in private houses, and very frequently in the public rooms of country inns. Indeed, in such public rooms it was the common practice when the servant put on a fire, that after sweeping up the dust she placed the poker in this position, and left the room.
Probably she had no idea why she did it, but merely followed the custom.
In a general chapter, such as this, I can find room for some things which could not properly find a place in other chapters. The subject of omens has by no means been exhausted. The late George Smith, in his work upon the Chaldean Account of Genesis, says that in ancient Babylonia, 1600 B.C., everything in nature was supposed to portend some coming event. Without much exaggeration, the same might be said of the people of this country during the earlier part of this century.
On seeing the first plough in the season, it was lucky if it were seen coming towards the observer, and he or she, in whatever undertaking then engaged, might be certain of success in it; but, if seen going from the observer, the omen was reversed.
If a farmer's cows became restive without any apparent cause, it foreboded trouble to either master or mistress.
On going on any business, if the first person met with was plain-soled, the journey might be given up, for, if proceeded with, the business to be transacted would prove a failure; but, by turning and entering the house again, with the right foot first, and then partaking of food before resuming the journey, it might be undertaken without misgiving.
It was unlucky to walk under a ladder set up against a wall, but if passing under it could not be avoided, then, if before doing so, you wished for anything, your wish would be fulfilled.
It was unlucky to eat twin nuts found in one shell.
If the eye or nose itched, it was a sign that the person so affected would be vexed in some way that day. If
the foot itched, it was a sign that the owner of the foot was about to undertake a strange journey. If the elbow
itched, it betokened the coming of a strange bedfellow. If the right hand itched, it signified that money would
shortly be received by it ; and, if the left hand itched, that money would shortly have to be paid away.
If the ear tingled, it was a sign that some one was speaking of the person so affected. If it were the right ear which did so, then the speech was favourable; if the left ear, the reverse. In this latter case, if the persons whose ears tingled were to bite their little fingers, this would cause the persons speaking evil of them to bite their tongues.
To break a looking-glass, hanging against a wall, was a sign that death would shortly occur in the family.
If a daughter's petticoat was longer than her frock, it shewed that her father loved her better than her mother did.
If you desired luck with any article of dress, it should be worn first at church.
If a person unwittingly put on an article of dress outside in, it was an omen that he or she would succeed in what they undertook that day; but it was requisite that this portion of dress should remain with the wrong side out until night, for, if reversed earlier, the luck was reversed also.
To weigh children was considered an objectionable practice, as it was believed to injure their health, and cause them to grow up weakly.
If a child cut the upper teeth before the lower, it was very unlucky for the child. If a cradle were rocked when the child was not in it,
it was said to give the child a headache; but if it so happened that the child was too old to be rocked in a cradle, but its baby clothes were still in the house, then this incident portended that its mother would have another baby.
To make a present of a knife or a pair of scissors, and refuse to accept anything in return, was said to cut or sever friendship between giver and receiver.
If, at a social gathering, a bachelor or maid were placed inadvertently betwixt a man and his wife, the person so seated would be married within a year.
If a person in rising from table overturned his chair, this shewed that he had been speaking untruths.
To feel a cold tremor along the spine was a sign that some one was treading on the spot of earth in which the person so affected would be buried.
If a person spoke aloud to himself, it was a sign that he would meet with a violent death.
If a girl married a man the initial letter of whose name was the same as her own, it was held that the union would not be a happy one. This notion was formulated into this proverb—
'To change the name and not the letter.
Is a change for the worse, and not for the better.'
If thirteen people sat down to dinner, the first who rose from table would, it was said, either die or meet
with some terrible calamity within a year's time.
When burning caking coal it often happens that a small piece of fused matter is projected from the fire. When this took place the piece was searched for and
examined, and from its shape certain events were prognosticated concerning the person in whose direction it had fallen. If shaped like a coffin it presaged death, if
like a cradle it foretold a birth. I have seen such an incident produce a considerable sensation among a group
sitting round a fire.
To find the shoe of a horse and hang it behind the house door was considered to bring good luck to the household, and protection from witchcraft or evil eye.
I have seen this charm in large beer shops in London, and I was present in the parlour of one of these beer shops when an animated discussion arose as to whether it was most effective to have the shoe nailed behind the door, or upon the first step of the door. Each position had its advocates, and instances of extraordinary luck were recounted as having attended each position.
If a youth sat musing and intently looking into the fire, it was a sign that some one was throwing an evil spell over him, or fascinating him for evil. When this was observed, if any one without speaking were to take the tongs and turn the centre coal or piece of wood in the grate right over, and while doing so say, "Gude preserve us frae d skaith," it would break the spell, and cause the intended evil to revert on the evil-disposed person who was working the spelL I have not only seen the operation performed many times, but have had it performed in my own favour by my worthy grandmother, whose belief in such things could never be shaken.
If the nails of a child were cut before it was a year old, the chances were that it would grow up a thief.
To spill salt while handing it to any one was unlucky, a sign of an impending quarrel between the parties; but
if the person who spilled the salt carefully lifted it up with the blade of a knife, and cast it over his or her shoulder, all evil consequences were prevented. In Leonardo de Vinci's celebrated painting of the Last Supper, the painter has indicated the enmity of Judas by representing him in the act of upsetting the salt dish, with the right hand resting on the table, grasping the bag.
If a double ear of corn were put over the looking glass, it prevented the house from being struck by lightning. I
have seen corn stalks hung over a looking glass, and was told that it brought luck.
It was customary for farmers to leave a portion of their fields uncropped, which was a dedication to the evil spirit, and called good man's croft. The Church exerted itself for a long time to abolish this practice, but farmers, who are generally very superstitious, were afraid to discontinue the practice for fear of ill luck. I remember a farmer as late as 1825 always leaving a small piece of a field uncropped, but then did not know why. At length he gave the right of working these bits to a poor labourer, who did well with it, and in a few years the farmer cultivated the whole himself.
Water that had been used in baptism was believed to have virtue to cure many distempers. It was a preventive against witchcraft, and eyes bathed with it would never see a ghost. To see a dot of soot hanging on the bars of the grate indicated a visit from a stranger. By clapping the hands close to it, if the current produced by this, blew it off at the first clap, the stranger would visit that day. Every clap indicated the day before the visit would be made. This is still a common practice, of which the following
lines taken from Glasgow Weekly Herald, 1877, is a graphic illustration:—
Eh! Willie, come your wa's, and peace be wi' ye;
Wi' a' my heart, I'm truly glad to see ye.
Wee Geordie, wha sat gazing in the fire.
In that prophetic mood I oft admire,
Declar'd he saw a stranger on the grate—
And Geordie's auguries are true as fate.
He gied his hands a clap wi' a' his micht.
And said that stranger's coming here the nicht,
Wi' the first clap it's off.
Ye see how true Appears the future on wee Geordie's view.
What's in the wind, or what may be the news.
That brings ye here, in heedless waste o' shoes?"
An eclipse of the sun was looked on as an omen of coming calamity. This is a very ancient superstition, and remained with us to a very late date, if it is even yet extinct In 1597, during an eclipse of the sun, it is stated by Calderwood that men and women thought the day of judgment was come. Many women swooned, the streets of Edinburgh was full of crying, and in fear some ran to the kirk to pray. I remember an eclipse about 1818, when about three parts of the sun was covered. The alarm in the village was very great, indoor work was suspended for the time, and in several families prayers were offered for protection, believing that it portended some awful calamity; but when it passed off there was a general feeling of relief.
Fishers on the West Coast believe that were they to set their nets so that in any way it would encroach upon the Sabbath, the herrings would leave the district. Two years ago I was told that herrings were very plentiful at one time at Lamlash, but some thoughtless person
set his net on a Sabbath evening. He caught none, and the herrings left and never returned.
I know several persons who refuse to have their likeness taken lest it prove unlucky; and give as instances the cases of several of their friends who never had a day's health after being photographed.
In addition to the many forms of superstition which we have been recalling, there were, and still are a great many superstitions connected with the phenomenon of dreaming, but as the notions in this series were very varied, differing very much in different localities, and everywhere subject less or more to the fancy of the interpreter, and as I believe that the notions and practices now in vogue in this connection are of comparatively recent origin, I will not enter upon the subject.