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Scottish Customs


 Hand-fasting, or trial marriages, were very common in Scotland up until the 16th Century.  At annual fairs the unmarried of both sexes would choose a companion with whom to live for a “year and a day.”  If the parties remained pleased at the expiry of this probation period, they remained together for life; if not, they separated and were free to find another partner.

If either party insisted on a separation, and a child was born during the year of trial, it was to taken care of by the father only and ranked among his lawful children next after his other heirs.  This child was not treated as illegitimate.

Hand-fasting was considered socially unacceptable by the Scottish Protestant reformers and they went to great lengths to repress it.  In 1562, the Kirk-Session of Aberdeen decreed that all hand-fasted persons must be married by Clergy.


Arranging a Wedding

When a young man set his heart on matrimony, he didn’t go the parents but rather, adjourned to the local pub or tavern.  There he told the owner of his intentions and a messenger would be dispatched to bring the “intended” to the tavern.  If she appeared, the wedding arrangements were confirmed, while ale, whiskey and brandy were consumed. To seal the arrangement agreements, the two to be married linked their right thumbs, pressed them together and made a vow of fidelity.

 After the Wedding

On the second day after the wedding the “Creeling” took place.  The newly married couple and their friends would assemble in a field and a basket would be filled with stones.  The basket would be picked up by a man and he had to carry it, without putting it down, until a woman (not the bride) kissed him.  He could then pass the basket to another man. This was repeated until all the men but the groom had carried the basket of stones.  When the grooms turn arrived, he had to carry the basket of stones farther than any of the men before him.  None of the young women could take pity on him.  However, once he had carried it farther or longer than anyone else, his new bride would kiss him and he was relieved of the burden.  This custom was intended to mirror the burdens a man takes on with marriage but of which it was within the power of a good wife to relieve him.

The Fiery Cross

When an emergency required that a Chief summon his clan, he would kill a goat. Next, he would make a cross of light wood and set the four points of the cross on fire.  Once the ends were charred, he dipped the cross in the goats blood to extinguish the flames.  The cross was then given to a fleet footed messenger to travel through the lands of the Clan.  Every Clansman, from age 16 to 60 was obliged to rally to the Chief.  If this summons was ignored, the Clansman was subjected to the penalties of “fire and sword”—bloody cuts and burns, intended to scar for life.

 Touch the Steeple to Go Free

If a man was found guilty of a serious crime, and sentenced to death, he had an out. If he could escape the crowd assembled to watch his execution and then climb a Church Steeple without being subdued or caught, he was free man. 

Scottish Superstitions

Bad luck 

According to Scotssuperstitions, it is unlucky to:

  • Have a black cat in any room where a wake is taking place.
  • Lay a baby down for its first sleep in a new cot.
  • See a funeral procession on the way to your wedding.
  • See a pig on the way to your wedding.
  • Take pigs on fishing boats.
  • Cut a young babies’ nails with scissors as it will make them dishonest in later life.
  • Cross two knifes on a table.
  • Be “first-footed” by a flat-footed or a fair-headed person.

Note: To be ‘first-footed’ is a New Year (Hogmanay) tradition in Scotland. It is customary, after the New Year has been brought in, to pay the first visit of the year to friends and neighbours and to also welcome people into your own house (for a drink no less). It is traditional for the first caller to be tall and dark-haired as it is thought that brings good luck. The ‘first-footer’ traditionally should bring with them a lump of coal (to bring heat to the house), a bottle of whisky and something to eat (to signify plenty of food and drink in the coming year).

Good luck

According to Scots superstitions, it is lucky to:

 * Have a rowan tree outside your house as it helps keep witches away.

* Place silver in a new born baby’s hand as it will bring great wealth to them in later life.

* Touch iron if you see or even hear evil.

* If you are a bride, to put a silver coin in your shoe.

* Wear a sprig of white heather.


Superstitions Associated with Birth and Babies

The Howdie


The Howdie is the mother-to-be’s main attendant and it stems from an old Scottish term for “handy woman”.  In addition to being a midwife, the Howdie insures the parents are knowledgable of the rituals that will keep both Mother and baby safe.  These include:

Prior to birth:

  • Untie any knots in the Mothers clothing
  • Unlock all the doors and windows in the house, as this makes the baby’s passage into the world easier.
  • Turn over all mirrors, so the babies soul won’t be captured.
  • Give the mother an herbal mixture containing Rowan berries from a Rowan tree.  Rowan trees are sacred and provide protection against the Evil Eye and fairies (mischievious imps).

After the Birth:midwives-3

  • The howdie puts a protective substance into the baby’s mouth to ward off the Evil Eye.  This is whisky, although butter or salt can be used.
  • Every woman present at the birth has to take three spoonfuls of a mixture of oatmeal and water.  This brings the baby strength and luck.
  • The Howdie must bury the afterbirth.  A tree should be planted at the spot.  The tree will reflect the childs life as they grow together.  A leafy tree that grows straight and tall means the child will always be healthy and strong.  If the tree is leafless, then the child will be infertile.  If the tree is sickly, so the child will be, as well.

Omens and Signs

  • In Scotland, a baby born on the first day of the month is considered to be lucky.  Also, what day a baby is born on has an impact on its future.  Here is a famous Scottish Rhyme:

Monday’s child is fair of face,
Tuesday’s child is full of grace,
Wednesday’s child is full of woe,
Thursday’s child has far to go.
Friday’s child is loving and giving,
Saturday’s child works hard for a living
But the child that is born on the Sabbath Day
is blithe and bonnie and good and gay

  • Giving a baby a silver coin is lucky and is still widely practiced.  It is called “Hanselling” and how the baby accepts the coin is important.  If the baby grabs the coin tightly, it will be miserly and penny-pinching.  If the baby drops the coin quickly, it will be a spendthrift.
  •  The seventh son of a seventh son will have great foresight.




A child must be protected from a Changeling, as soon as it is born.  Changlings are fairy babies that are exchanged for the new born.  The child remains in danger from Changelings until it can be baptized.

Protective Measures against ChangelingsFairies and pixies

  • The new born baby must not be taken from the house unless absolutely necessary.  This helps hide the baby from the fairies.
  • The baby must not be praised, for word of this will reach the fairies and they will come to see the baby.
  • The cradle should be made of rowan or oak and have iron nails.  These provide protective properties against fairies.

The Christening

  • The Howdie can perform a “temporary” baptism until the priest can come.
  • Christening must be done in a church and on a Sunday.  It should be done as soon as possible after birth.
  • A young woman, not the mother, should carry the baby into the church.  The young woman should have some food, ideally cheese, meat, or bread.  The first stranger (man) that the young woman meets is offered the food.  If he accepts it, the child will have some good luck.  If he rejects it, the baby will suffer a misfortune.multiple babies
  • If more than one child is being christened, it is important for all the girls to be christened first.  This is because when boys are christened they leave evidence of their beards in the water.  If a girl is christened after a boy, she will grow to have facial hair and not be pretty.
  • If the baby cries when water is poured over its head, it is a good sign (sometimes priests would use VERY cold water to help ensure the baby cried.)
  • Once the child is christened, it is a member of the church and therefore it is safe from fairies.