Witchcraft has a long and complex history in Gaelic tradition, and attitudes towards witchcraft are consistently and emphatically negative: Witches are people who cause harm, and they must be protected against.1
This doesn’t mean that magic is considered in the same way. Much of what we do as Gaelic Polytheists may be considered to be magical in some way or another, and we can see that simple charms have were a part of everyday life for a lot of people – charms of averting, charms of blessing, and so on. A lot of the time, the charms we might make – like the charms of rowan and red thread that are traditionally made at Bealltainn (and other Quarter Days) – are explicitly meant to protect us from witchcraft, amongst other things.
Witches have long had a fearsome reputation, and in many respects they act as a substitute or extension for the more malevolent kinds of daoine sìth we might encounter. The lore and traditions associated with both witches and the daoine sìth heavily overlap in many places; from what we see in the lore, witches are able to raise storms at sea, sink ships and drown fishermen, cause disease to spread, make people lose their way on a journey, prevent women from giving birth, or steal the milk of a neighbour’s cattle (by which the cattle would stop producing, or produce far less while the reputed witch would appear to have an abundance). Just like the daoine sìth can. And like the daoine sìth, these witches are seen to be especially active at each Quarter Day (from the eve onwards, till the end of the following day). In some cases the witch might be accused of being in league with the daoine sìth, if not the Devil himself,2 but either way extra precautions are required to ensure their ill intent cannot affect the household and livestock.3
One of the most important things to be done on a Quarter Day,4 then, is the making of protective charms to be put above the threshold of house and byre, or else tied to the tails of cattle, or carried in the pocket to protect the wearer. These charms invariably take the form of twigs of rowan formed into crosses, tied with red thread, or else they might simply be twigs stripped of bark with notches marked into the wood.5 On the Isle of Man, a cross can be made by splitting one of the pieces of rowan and then slotting the other piece through it.6 Their primary aim was to avert the malicious influence of witches, fairies, elves, or ghosts, but equally, they were used to avert the Evil Eye from sources other than witches or Otherworldly beings.7
Rowan isn’t just used at the festivals, however; given its potency, it can be used at other times, too – not just for averting the Evil Eye, but in curing it as well, for example. Here we’ll be taking a look at the surrounding the use of rowan in Gaelic tradition, and how it can be used in a variety of circumstances. In considering the evidence, it is important to note that the rowan is not just considered to be a potent protection in just Scotland, Ireland, and Man, but also in Wales, England, Cornwall, and the old Norse and Germanic countries.8
The use of threads, which also feature prominently in charms to protect against or cure the Evil Eye, is not exclusive to the Gaels either, since we have mention of their use as far back as the seventh century, when St Eloi of Luxeuil (Burgundy, France) condemned their use by Christians.9 In this respect, we may regard the associations of both the rowan and the threads (as well as the belief in the Evil Eye, of course) as being likely to have been pre-Christian in origin, with the examples given below being peculiar to how the customs and associations evolved in the Gaelic homelands specifically.
Averting the Evil Eye
The Evil Eye, or otherwise the ill or uncannie ee, is a curse placed on a person or animal that can cause illness, infertility, death, delayed and dangerous births. It can cause the milk of an animal or nursing mother to dry up, and the churning of butter to fail. It may be be cast either by a witch or an unfortunate soul who is afflicted with the “Eye” through no fault of their own.
In the case of witchcraft, the casting of the eye is an explicitly deliberate and malicious act. In the case of someone who may be afflicted by the ‘unsonsie glance’ it can happen accidentally, and the poor soul has to go through life very carefully, lest they accidentally cast the eye on someone.10 In some cases, those poor unfortunate people are cursed with being unable to control their power and can even bring terrible misfortune on themselves.11 More than that, the Eye may be cast upon someone by a person who is simply possessed by “…a discontented and unhappy mind full of envy (farmad), covetousness (sanntachadh) and suchlike mean feelings, and looking repiningly on the good of others, and it may too earnestly be and anxiously on what belongs to oneself.”12 Strong feelings of jealousy and envy (or other negative emotions), then, can be enough for even the most magically untalented person to inadvertantly cast the eye on someone else, so in this respect we must all be careful. The Eye can come from unexpected quarters, even ourselves.
In simple terms, we might say that anyone who has a reputation for bad luck, or who rubs other people the wrong way – with a bad attitude, for example – may be accused of casting the Eye on someone who suffers some sort of illness or disaster that can’t be explained by normal means. People who have a distinctive and unusual physical appearance, such as eyes that are different colours to each other (heterochromia), may also be thought to possess the Eye.
Traditionally it was women who were considered to be the main source of the Evil Eye (because misogyny, basically), but really it can be cast by anyone. Historically, those who had a reputation for an unsonsie glance were avoided where possible, and everyday life was punctuated by small rituals designed to safeguard against it – salt or silver thrown into the churn before butter was made; small children sained with silvered water, or holy water, if something malicious was suspected; an ember from the fire thrown after an unwanted visitor, and so on.13 Since you could never know when it might come, or where it might come from, it was best to play it safe.
People were careful not to give too much praise over a newborn baby, or a new horse or calf, since too much admiration could conceal jealousy – a prime cause for the Evil Eye to be cast inadvertently – but if the parents suspected ill intent from someone they could quickly perform an averting rite by spitting on the child (or animal), turning one of the baby’s socks inside out and putting it back on (the idea being that this would act as a “disguise” and so the Eye wouldn’t be able to find its intended target), or else an item of the child’s clothing could be thrown in the fire.14 Red threads were also sometimes tied around children’s necks to give them protection against witchcraft and evil spirits.15
It’s the rowan that’s come to be one of the most potent protections for all of this, however, for children, livestock, and adults alike. Around Lùnastal, the berries of the rowan tree were often collected and then dried so that they could be strung together on a red thread and worn as a necklace for protection. Red coral or amber, strung on red silk, were often used as a substitue for rowan by those of greater financial means. According to Maclagan, ripe rowan berries (caorain dearg) were often kept close to hand “as sufficient to prevent any injury coming to him from the Evil Eye or Witchcraft.”16
The red of the coral makes it an obvious choice as a substitute, the colour being sympathetic to the red of the rowan berries. Amber, however, was also used because it has sympathetic associations with (stale) urine – something that was also commonly used in protective rites, probably because the rank smell was off-putting that it was considered to help put off anything malevolent. Whatever the case, urine was often sprinkled on the thresholds of house and byre, and over livestock such as cattle and horses at the festivals, and also on women during labour to ensure a safe delivery. As a key ingredient in the dyeing process, often used as a mordant (fixative), stale urine was easy to come by.17
The emphasis on the colour red and the wood of the rowan itself perhaps comes from the fact that these trees, with their distinctive red berries, had long been associated with agriculture. In archaeological (paleobotanical, specifically) terms, trees like the rowan – along with holly, elder and hawthorn – all came to be a common feature in the landscape due to the process of clearing the land for cultivation, and so:
“Thus they would have become symbols of the farming year, their white blossoms a sign of spring and the end of the killing frosts, their red berries a token of the fulfilment of harvest and the promise of renewed life.”18
It seems natural enough then, that trees such as the rowan would have gained such a powerful reputation, especially given the fact that they bore the distinctive red berries which effectively made them doubly protective. It’s notable that all of these trees (rowan, holly, hawthorn and elder) have supernatural associations in Gaelic tradition – as popular haunts of fairies, and/or as protection against them.19 In Kirkcudbrightshire, McNeill notes that crosses of elder (which she says were ranked second only to the rowan for its protective properties) were fixed to the stable and byre, although she does not specify whether this was in addition to, or instead of, crosses of rowan (I presume they were used as an alternative).20
Several rhymes have been recorded that show just how widespread the belief in the powers of these charms and amulets is:
Rowan-tree and red thread
Make the witches tyne their speed.21
From the Borders of Scotland:
Black luggie, lammer bead,
Rowan-tree and red thread,
Put the witches to their speed!22
Or, from the north-east of Scotland:
The rawn-tree in the widd-bin
Hand the witches on cum in.23
The latter rhyme specifically refers to the practice of placing both woodbine and twigs of rowan above the byre door at Bealltainn in that area.
New charms for the thresholds are traditionally made every Quarter Day, according to McNeill,24 but she seems to be the only one who makes this claim. The balance of evidence for all of the festivals does show that protective woods such as rowan (or else birch, or elder, or evergreens like holly) were often brought in and hung up, but the charms of rowan and red thread are most consistently associated with Bealltainn alone. On this, George Black records that “in the last century it was customary among the Highlanders to carry branches of mountain-ash decked with wreaths of flowers, with ‘shouts and gestures of joy, in procession three times around the fire’ of Beltane. ‘These branches they afterwards deposite above the doors of their respective dwellings, where they remain till they give place to others in the succeeding year.’”25
However, as Sinclair records, the rowan seems to have been considered to be most potent at Bealltainn, since this is when, and only when, the wood should be collected:
“It is likewise a sort of charm…which many witches have prescribed, namely to cut the Rowan-Tree between the two Beltan days. If any Man or Woman, House, or Cow shall have a piece thereof upon them, no Devils or Fairy shall have power to meddle with them.”26
Presumably ‘the two Beltan days’ refers to the Old Style and New Style dates, and this timeframe appears to have been a period where the traditional prohibition against cutting the branches of the rowan tree was lifted.27 There was a similar prohibition against the cutting of hawthorn in some parts of Ireland and Scotland, but nonetheless it was brought into the house at this, and only this, time of year.28
From a practical perspective, cutting the rowan at Bealltainn makes sense if we consider that cutting the branches at this time would allow fresh and young wood to be gathered, which would be at its most supple and versatile. The symbolism of the trees being in their first flourish of growth at this time of year can’t be ignored either, however, and presumably this fact – full of life and the potential for the future – adds to their potency.
Much of this symbolism appears to be enshrined in the Táin Bó Fráich, the earliest form of which appears to date to the eighth century.29 In the tale, the hero Fraoch falls in love with the daughter of Medb and Ailill, but Ailill plots for Fraoch’s death and sends him across a lake to an island to fetch some rowan berries, which – unbeknownst to Fraoch – is guarded by a monster. Fraoch manages to overcome the monster – no thanks to Ailill – but is wounded and is eventually taken off by fairy women (his aunt is Bóand) who help him make a miraculous and complete recovery.30
In later versions, it is Medb who tries to kill Fraoch after he rejects her in favour of her younger daughter.31 In the Scottish version of the tale, in the sixteenth century Book of the Dean of Lismore, the legendary tree is guarded by a dragon and, feigning illness, Medb (or Maeve, in this case) sends Fraoch off to recover some rowan berries from the to help her recover:
“Its berries’ juice and fruit when red
For a year would life belong.
From dread disease it gave relief
If what is told be our belief.
Yet though it proved a means of life
Peril lay closely nigh;
Coiled by its root a dragon lay
Forbidding passage by.”32
In the tale, Fraoch’s cutting the branches of the legendary tree seals his deadly fate and reinforces the prohibition against cutting the wood.33 The tree itself becomes a sort of Tree of Life, not something to be trifled with.34
In the tale of Diarmaid and Grainne, which dates to at least the ninth century in its earliest form, the couple go on the run from the wrath of Fionn (from whom Diarmaid has effectively stolen Grainne, at her insistence). In their efforts to evade capture they meet a man named Muadhan, who uses a branch of rowan, with three berries dangling off it, to capture three fish to feed them all. After leaving them, Diarmaid and Grainne go on the Slieve Echtge where the ogre Searbhan has been charged with guarding the tree of Dubhros, which belonged to the Tuatha Dé Danann. The berries were potent, “and whoever eat these berries was free from all sickness after, and felt like as if he had been drinking wine.”35 Searbhan allowed them to stay in the woods, and hunt deer, provided they left the tree alone. Grainne, however, was pregnant and began craving the berries. After trying and failing to get the berries from Searbhan, Diarmaid ultimately killed the ogre and fed the berries to Grainne himself. Diarmaid then used the berries on the tree to sling at Fionn and his warriors, but ultimately Diarmaid met a grim end.
This is not the only time Diarmaid is associated with the rowan in some way or another, for the tale of The House of the Quicken Trees tells of how Diarmaid rescues Fionn and his band of warriors from an enchanted house made of rowan after being lured there by Midoac, son of the King of Lochlann.36 Significantly, in the tale of Diarmaid and Grainne, the ogre Searbhan is introduced as ‘Searbhan Lochlannach.’
Like Fraoch’s fate in later versions, the abuse of the rowan could perhaps be seen as a foreshadowing of their death. Both trees have clear Otherworldly connections, and while in earlier versions of Fraoch’s tale he has Otherworldly connections himself and so survives (and marries Fionnabhair), devoid of these connections in the later version, he suffers for his assault of the tree.37
Given the strong associations with the festival of Bealltainn, it is no surprise that there seems to be a concentration of festival customs associated with the rowan at this time of year. Aside from the threshold charms and the procession of the wood, decorated with flowers, a twig of rowan may be placed in the midden, “…which has at all times been a favourite site of rendezvous with the black sisterhood.”38
In Strathspey, a hoop of rowan was made, through which the sheep and lambs were made to pass through at this time of year,39 and this was presumably in addition to the use of rowan in the festival bonfires (see below). It may be significant, however, that the earliest mention of the form of the cross specifically being used in the threshold charms appears to be no earlier than Stewart’s mention of them in his work, published in 1823. Pennant details how:
“In some parts of the country…A cross is cut on some sticks, which is dipped in pottage, and the Thursday before Easter on of each placed over the sheep-cot, the stable, or the cow-house. On the first of May they are carried to the hill, where the rites are celebrated, all decked with wild flowers, and after the feast is over, replaced over the spots they were taken from.”40
It seems reasonable to assume, as MacInlay does, that these sticks were of the rowan tree.41
In this respect we might speculate that the custom only goes back two or three hundred years at the most, and that it perhaps demonstrates one of the most recent evolutions of the rowan’s use in protective rites, combining Christian symbolism (although the cross was equal-armed, which may not necessarily be specifically Christian) with possibly pre-Christian traditions.
In Ireland the threshold charms were accompanied by withes of rowan which were then tied round the horns of the cattle. Hoops of rowan were placed around the butter churns,42 stuck in the midden,43 and a green branch was tied to the mast of boats to ensure safety at sea.44 The practice of placing a piece of rowan in the midden may reflect a pre-Christian origin, since Keating Kelly describes a similar practice being carried out in Sweden, whereby a rowan sapling was placed in the haystack on (or near) Ascension Day and kept there for the season.45 Both the midden and the haystack could be considered to have similar symbolism, since both would provide sustenance in some way – the hay to keep the cattle in milk, and the midden for use as rich compost.
Perhaps most significantly, since rowan has such strong and protective associations, the festival bannocks for the Quarter Days were often baked on a fire of rowan faggots (or other protective wood, if rowan wasn’t available).46 According to Barbara Fairweather, these blesséd bannocks were sometimes toasted until they burned and smoked, which was supposed to clear the house of evil spirits – in much the same way that juniper was used at New Year’s.47
For longer-lasting protection, however, a rowan tree was often planted at the front door to keep the witches away, and in many parts of Scotland the tradition still persists today – though most people keep the tradition for tradition’s sake (or at least won’t admit to any belief in its meaning if they are aware of it at all).48 Napier noted that some farmers would purposely train rowan trees to grow in the form of an arch above the byre door or farmyard gate, as a means of protecting the cattle.49 But otherwise, as Lightfoot describes:
“Their cattle also, as well as themselves, are supposed to be preserved by it from evil; for the dairy-maid will not forget to drive them to the shealings or summer pastures with a rod of the Roan-tree, which she carefully lays up over the door of the sheal boothy, or summer-house, and drives them home again with the same.”50
Carmichael also describes this practice, although it seems he is primarily using Lightfoot as a reference (using the term ‘sheal boothy’ also, for example), but adds that the rods are failean caorruinn, a rowan sucker, or fleasg caorruinn, a rowan wand.51
On the farm and in the house, some of the most important equipment was traditionally supposed to be made out of rowan. McNeill tells us:
“A potent charm against witchcraft and evil spells, it was used in many forms about the homestead – in fact, an old Scots word for the cross-beam in the chimney is rantree, a form of rowan tree, or which, a a ‘lucky’ wood, it was commonly made.”52
In Ireland, twigs of rowan were often woven into the thatch of the roof. The churn (or its handle, at least)53 and dash, the distaff (for spinning), pegs and pins for ploughs or cow-shackles, and so on,54 and cows themselves were adorned with sprigs of rowan or red ribbons tied to their tails.55 Where the equipment itself couldn’t be made from the right sort of wood, twigs of rowan were attached to the equipment (or livestock), and Carmichael mentions “twigs being coiled into a circlet and placed beneath the milk boynes to keep the milk from being spirited away.”56 Sometimes, however, a different wood might be used, and Maclagan mentions the use of “a thin slice of juniper wood (iubhar beinne)” sandwiched between the churn and one of the hoops that held it together.57
It was thought that a rowan growing in a field provided the cattle protection against lightning strike.58 On journeys, small pieces of rowan were kept in the pocket for protection against witches and elves,59 or else white quartz pebbles or the Bible served the same purpose.60 Sometimes crosses of rowan, or a twig were sewn into garments to protect the wearer from witchcraft or ghosts as long as the cross (and presumably the garment) lasted.61 The same principle was applied to cattle, and Davidson records that a Mr Mabon, of Selkirk, used to bore an ear of any new cattle that entered his byre, and “decorated it with a rowan tree pin and red thread or ribbon.”62
King James VI, in the earliest mention of rowan being used for protective purposes that I have found so far, recommends:
“…such kinde of Charmes as commonlie dafte wives uses, for healing of forspoken goodes, for preserving them from evill eyes, by knitting roun-trees, or sundriest kinde of herbs, to the haire or tailes of the goodes.”63
Ó Súillebháin records a similar practice in Ireland, where rings of rowan were used, along with ribbons tied to the tail or neck.64 At sea, pins of rowan were used in the sails,65 and a sprig of rowan was often tied to the top of the hearth to protect against witchcraft. Twigs were also tied to the churn or staff.66
In addition to all this, twigs of rowan and their berries, as well as red threads, were also used in charms and healing remedies by cunning folk who suspected the Evil Eye as a cause of a particular illness or infection.67 Prevention is always preferable to a cure, but sometimes, when all else failed and the Evil Eye was suspected as the cause for whatever illness or affliction could not be otherwise dealt with, the help of someone who was seen to possess eolas, or secret knowledge, was sought. Their beannachadh, or blessing, countered the cronachadh, or ill-wishing.68
As with their use in protective customs, their use in curative rites goes back in the written record at least as far as the sixteenth century, with our sources being mainly taken from the records of witchcraft trials as well as legend. Queen Maeve, in the tale The Death of Fraoch, for example, sends her men on a quest to find the berries of the legendary rowan tree, in order to cure her feigned sickness:
“That ne’er would she be whole
Till her soft palm were full
Of berries from the island on the lake…”69
Berries for healing are mentioned in the trial records of an accused witch, Bartie Paterson, who confessed in 1607 to giving a man nine ‘pickles’, or rowan berries to keep on him at all times, after giving him a potion and making him fall to his knees and beg for the return of his health from “all living witches above or under the eard, in the name of Jesus.”70 In this case, the ‘pickles’ seem to have been a preventative easure, given after the cure (by potion) was performed, and is reminiscent of Maclagan’s mention of a man keeping ripened berries as protection against witchcraft and Evil Eye (see above).
In the trial of Issobelle Watsonne at Stirling in 1590, she confessed to using rowan and a piece of a dead man’s finger to “cure the worm.”71 Issobelle’s fate is unknown, but clearly these methods of healing were considered to have been witchcraft – arguably because of the religious climate at the time (fundamentalist Protestantism) rather than in general.
Red threads are also recorded as being used for curative purposes, such as in cases where children were suspected of having been overlooked (cursed by the Evil Eye). McNeill gives an example of a woman who was known to possess eolas, who performed a healing rite for a child thought to be afflicted by the Evil Eye. The woman took a piece of red thread, over which she spoke some words and then tied around the child’s neck.72 According to Gregorson Campbell, charms such as these were supposed to be worked on a Thursday or Sunday – Thursday because it was dedicated to St Columba, and Sunday because it was sacred to the Trinity. These were considered to be the two luckiest days of the week.73
In cases where milk had been stolen by witchcraft, the cure was “to lay a twig of rowan-tree, bound with a scarlet thread, across the threshold of the byre, or fix a stalk of clover, having four leaves, to the stall.”74 Another remedy is recorded in the work of Train:
“Lest witches should obtain the power,
Of hawkie’s milk in evil hour,
She winds a red thread round her horn,
And milks thro’ rowantree night and morn,
Against the blink of evil eye
She knows each antidote to ply.”75
In similar fashion, Fairweather records the practice of milking an overlooked cow through an oatcake bannock with a hole in the middle of it, until she started giving milk again.76
It may be worth noting, as many of the antiquarian authors did, that rowan trees are often found near prehistoric sites across Scotland, something that may have added to the mysterious associations of the wood, if it didn’t directly result in them.77 Rather, we could speculate that their inherent symbolism – the protective and vibrant red colour of the berries, so suggestive of abundance and the harvest; the versatility of the fresh wood (handy for working into various shapes and forms); and the fact that they are fast growing and leafy, an indicator of the new growth of spring; their intimate associations with pastoral and agricultural farming (given the fact that they first began to flourish as our ancestors began to clear the forests to make way for crops and domesticated livestock) – made them the perfect material for use in the charms that were made to protect the things they were so commonly found near.
It seems clear, however, that the associations of the rowan go beyond being simply ‘Celtic’, since they can be found in Scandinavian and Germanic countries, too. Lucas notes that the rowan is absent from any mention in the lists of sacred trees that are found in Ireland, and are only rarely associated with holy wells, and suggests that in spite of its prevalence in folk charms, the significance of the rowan may have come from interaction with the Norse settlers.78 There was no significant contact with the Norse until the ninth century, and since the Táin Bó Fráich dates to the eighth century, for one, Lucas’ suggestion seems shaky. This doesn’t preclude a more roundabout means of transmission, however, via Britain perhaps, but nor does it mean that the beliefs associated with rowan had to have come from somewhere else at all.
Whatever the case, we can safely say that their protective qualities were beyond doubt. As Stewart so eloquently puts it:
“As a sovereign protection for goods and chattels of every description from the machinations of those despicable agents, the rowan cross, of invaluable excellence, has never been known to prove ineffectual. Its salutary influence on every species of supernatural agents is well known, and there are none to whom the sell of the rowan is more obnoxious than the ‘Ban Buchichd’ [that is, a witch].”79
Even so, there do seem to be some curious contradictions in the literature, since (as we’ve seen) there are plenty of Otherworldly examples of rowan being used in a negative, harmful context. In addition to the examples of the The House of the Quicken-Trees, we might look to the The Wooing of Etaín, where Mider’s wife, Fúamnach, transforms Etaín into a puddle of water by tapping her with a wand of rowan.80 Then there is the fact that the dog meat served to Cú Chulainn by three hags, was roasted on spits of rowan. The eating of the meat ultimately led to his death, since Cú Chulainn was forced to break his gessi – prohibitions laid upon him when he took his name. On the one hand he was forbidden to eat dog meat, but on the other he could not refuse the meal from the hags either.81
Here, the Otherworldly element may be the key to explaining the apparent contradiction, since the Otherworld was often portrayed as being the direct opposite of the physical world – peace where there was, plenty where there was want, and so on. Alternatively, its appearance may simply be a means of demonstrating the taboo against harming the trees; or else the colour of the berries – long associated with the Otherworld and Otherworldly knowledge may explain its use, since a frequent theme in these tales seems to be a foreshadowing, the imparting of hidden knowledge.
1 For a more in depth discussion of this subject, see Gaol Naofa’s Rowan and Red Threads: Witchcraft and Magic in Gaelic Polytheism.
2 The association with the Devil is of course a Christian belief. It’s interesting, however, that so much of Gaelic belief regarding witches and witchcraft is so stubbornly framed in Gaelic, rather than explicitly Christian, lore.
3 Black, The Gaelic Otherworld, 2005, p174; Ó Súillebháin, Irish Folk Custom and Belief, 1967, p82.
4 Wood-Martin, Traces of the elder faiths in Ireland, 1901, p156; Cheape, ‘The Material Culture of Charms and Amulets’, p81, in Fantastical Imaginations, edited by Lizanne Henderson, 2009.
5 Gregor, Notes on the Folk-Lore of the North East of Scotland, 1881, p188.
6 Paton, ‘Manx Calendar Customs (cont.),’ in Folklore Volume 51 No. 4, 1940, p282.
7 Pennant, A Tour in Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides 1772, 1774, p203; Black, The Gaelic Otherworld, 2005, p431; Maclagan, Evil Eye in the western Highlands, 1902, p119.
8 See for example Keating Kelly, Curiosities of Indo-European Tradition and Folklore, 1863, p161-166. And yes, technically Cornwall is a county in England and shouldn’t need a separate mention but I respect the opinion and strong feeling of the Cornish people who see themselves as sovereign and separate from the rest of England.
9 “No Christian shall attach short strings to the neck of women or of animals, even if you see this practised by churchmen, and they should tell you that this custom is a pious one.” From St Ouen’s Nos Origines, quoted in Maclagan, Evil Eye in the western Highlands, 1902, p141.
10 Davidson, Rowan Tree and Red Thread, 1949, p76-77.
11 Grant, Highland Folk Ways, 1961, p138.
12 Black, The Gaelic Otherworld, 2005, p201.
13 McNeil, The Silver Bough Vol I, 1957, p153.
14 McNeil, The Silver Bough Vol I, 1957, p153.
15 Stewart, The popular superstitions and festive amusements of the Highlanders of Scotland, 1823, p114; Dalyell, Darker Superstitions of Scotland, illustrated from History and Practice, 1834, p681.
16 Maclagan, Evil Eye in the western Highlands, 1902, p114.
17 The urine is left to go stale because the ammonia content is more concentrated. McNeill, The Silver Bough Vol I, 1957, p75; p78-79; Ross, Folklore of the Scottish Highlands, 2000, p77.
18 Evans, Irish Folk Ways, 1957, p297.
19 Henderson and Cowan, Scottish Fairy Belief, p89.
20 McNeill, The Silver Bough Vol I, 1957, p79.
21 Tyne=lose. Chambers, Popular Rhymes of Scotland, 1870, p328. McNeill gives a slightly different version (i.e. in Scots):
Rowan tree and red threid
Gar the witches tyne their speed
(The Silver Bough Vol I, 1957, p78). Gregor has it as “Gars”, Gregor, Notes on the Folk-Lore of the North East of Scotland, 1881, p188.
22 Chambers, Popular Rhymes of Scotland, 1870, p328.
23 Gregor, Notes on the Folk-Lore of the North East of Scotland, 1881, p188.
24 McNeill, The Silver Bough Vol I, 1957, p78.
25 Black, Scottish Charms and Amulets, 1892.
26 Quoted in Davidson, Rowan Tree and Red Thread, 1949, p77.
27 Bennett, ‘From Local Memorate to Scottish Legend’, p179 in Fantastical Imaginations, edited by Lizanne Henderson, 2009.
28 Danaher, The Year in Ireland, 1972, p89; Wilde.
29 Ó hÓgáin, The Lore of Ireland: An encyclopedia of Myth, Legnd and Romance, 2006, p262.
30 See Gantz, Early Irish Myths and Sagas, 1981, p114-126.
31 Ó hÓgáin, The Lore of Ireland: An encyclopedia of Myth, Legnd and Romance, 2006, p262-263.
32 Henderson, Survivals in Belief Among the Celts, 1911, p180-181.
33 Campbell and Henderson, The Celtic Dragon Myth, 1911, p20-22.
34 Henderson, Survivals in Belief Among the Celts, 1911, p180.
35 See Diarmuid and Grania, p17.
36 Gregory, Gods and Fighting Men, 1904, p369.
37 Campbell and Henderson, The Celtic Dragon Myth, 1911, p20-22.
38 Stewart, The popular superstitions and festive amusements of the Highlanders of Scotland, 1823, p260.
39 Lightfoot, Flora Scotica Vol I, 1777, p257-258.
40 Pennant, A Tour in Scotland, 1772, p170.
41 MacInlay, Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs, 1893, p299.
42 Wood-Martin, Traces of the elder faiths in Ireland, 1901, p156.
43 Evans, Irish Folk Ways, 1967, p273.
44 Ó Súillebháin, Irish Folk Custom and Belief, 1967, p29.
45 Keating Kelly, Curiosities of Indo-European Tradition and Folklore, 1863, p162.
46 Carmichael, Carmina Gadelica Vol II, 1900, p246.
47 Fairweather, Highland Heritage, 1984, p40.
48 McNeill, The Silver Bough Vol I, 1957, p78; Bennett, ‘From Local Memorate to Scottish Legend’, p179 in Fantastical Imaginations, edited by Lizanne Henderson, 2009 – “…it is, rather, a confirmation that tradition is important and that a link to our forebears still plays an invaluable part in daily life.”
49 Napier, Folk Lore or Superstitious Beliefs in the West of Scotland Within this Century, 1879, p53.
50 Lightfoot, Flora Scotica Vol I, 1777, p257-258.
51 Carmichael, Carmina Gadelica Volume II, 1900, p246.
52 McNeill, The Silver Bough Vol I, 1957, p78.
53 Ross, Folklore of the Scottish Highlands, 2000, p77.
54 McNeill, The Silver Bough Vol I, 1957, p78.
55 Maclagan, The Evil Eye in the western Highlands, 1902, p119; Black, Scottish Charms and Amulets, 1892.
56 Carmichael, Carmina Gadelica Vol II, 1900, p246.
57 Maclagan, The Evil Eye in the western Highlands, 1902, p119.
58 Napier, Folk Lore, or, Superstitious Beliefs in the West of Scotland Within the Century, 1879, p53; Black, Scottish Charms and Amulets, 1892.
59 Lightfoot, Flora Scotica Vol I, 1777, p257-258; Chambers, Popular Rhymes of Scotland, 1870, p328; Black, Scottish Charms and Amulets, 1892.
60 Ross, Folklore of the Scottish Highlands, 2000, p95.
61 Stewart, The popular superstitions and festive amusements of the Highlanders of Scotland, 1823, p54.
62 Davidson, Rowan Tree and Red Thread, 1949, p77-78.
63 James I, Daemonologies, 1597, p11-12.
64 Ó Súillebháin, Irish Folk Custom and Belief, 1967, p23.
65 Chambers, Popular Rhymes of Scotland, 1870, p328-329; Ó Súillebháin, Irish Folk Custom and Belief, 1967, p29.
66 Evans, Irish Folk Ways, 1957, p64; p305.
67 Cheape, ‘The Material Culture of Charms and Amulets’, p81, in Fantastical Imaginations, edited by Lizanne Henderson, 2009.
68 McNeill, The Silver Bough Vol I, 1957, p154.
69 Henderson, Survivals in Belief Among the Celts, 1911, p180-181.
70 Henderson and Cowan, Scottish Fairy Belief, 2007, p78.
71 See Survey of Scottish Witchcraft.
72 McNeill, The Silver Bough Vol I, 1957, p154-155.
73 Black, The Gaelic Otherworld, 2005, p204/p450.
74 Black, The Gaelic Otherworld, 2005, p431.
75 From 1814, quoted in Davidson, Rowan Tree and Red Thread, 1949, p77.
76 Presumably this remedy was effective in the cases of blocked milk ducts, where milking would help relieve the blockage. Fairweather, Highland Heritage, 1984, p40.
77 Lightfoot, Flora Scotica Vol I, 1777, p257-258.
78 Stewart, The popular superstitions and festive amusements of the Highlanders of Scotland, 1823, p210.
79 Stewart, The popular superstitions and festive amusements of the Highlanders of Scotland, 1823, p210.
80 Gantz, Early Irish Myths and Sagas, 1981, p45.
81 The Death of Cu Chulainn.