Monday, October 24, 2016

A Scottish Halloween spell - by Robert Burns

Robert Burn's poem Halloween had several 'spells' for young folks to do on All Saints eve to foretell their future.  The sketch of a Scottish peasant's cottage interior is from an 1812 book published in Edinburgh. The three dishes on the hearth contain clean, dirty, and no water.

"The poem entitled Halloween is one of the most amusing in the author's whole collection. It contains a full and accurate account of various spells which, on the eve of All Saints, when the devil is thought to be let loose, the youthful peasants in Scotland were wont to employ, in order to discover the form, name, and fortune, of their future husbands and wives. These superstitious follies, of which the origin is not accurately known, are going so fast into desuetude, that they would soon have been entirely forgotten, had not Burns preserved the remembrance of them in this charming poem.
It has been observed, that in Halloween we have the interior of a Scottish peasant's cottage, with all its appropriate manners and customs, at the season of merry-making..."

"Another of these spells is performed in the following manner. Three dishes are ranged on the hearth, of which one has in it clean water, another dirty water, and the third is left empty. The person who is to try his fortune is blindfolded, led to the hearth, and desired to dip his left hand into one of the dishes. If it chance to he put into the clean water, the future husband or wife will come to the bed of matrimony a maid; if into the dirty water, a widow, or something worse; and if into the empty dish, the person making the experiment will not be married at all. This is repeated three times, the arrangement of the dishes being altered each time."

"In order, on the clean hearth-stane,
    The luggies three are rang'd,
  An' every time great care is ta'en  
  To see them duly chang’d.
Auld uncle John, wha wedlock's joys
   Sin' Mar's year did desire,
Because he gat the toom dish thrice,
  He heav'd them on the fire
                       In wrath that night."

A Critique on the Poems of Robert Burns by George Gleig. Edinburgh: 1812

More Halloween posts - Snap apple, Snap-dragon, Turnip jack o'lanterns, Colcannon Night, Ducking for apples and Soul cakes HERE
©2016 Patricia Bixler Reber
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