Some merry friendly country-folks
Together did convene
To burn their nits, and pou’ their stocks
And haud their Halloween
Fu’ blythe that night.
“Halloween”, Robert Burns
This poem by Burns describes a Halloween party, Scottish country style, and the traditional spells which the young people use on that night.
And guess what- all the spells described are about looking into the future and trying to discern what’s going to happen in their love lives.
For the first collection of his poems, Burns himself supplied notes to explain what was going on.
The auld guidwife’s well-hoordit nits
Are round and round divided,
And mony lads’ and lasses’ fates
Are there that night decided;
Some kindle, couthie, side by side,
An burn thegither trimly;
Some start awa, wi’ saucy pride,
And jump out-owre the chimlie,
Fu’ high that night
This one is about existing courting couples, to discover if they’re going to stay together.
“Burning the nuts is a famous charm. They name the lad and lass to each particular nut, as they lay them in the fire; and accordingly as they burn
quietly together, or start from beside one another, the course and issue of the courtship will be.”
Many more spells are on offer to enable girls (or even boys) who are not yet courting to discover the identity of their future partners.
I’ll eat the apple at the glass
I gat frae uncle Johnie.
“Take a candle and go alone to a looking-glass; eat an apple before it, and some traditions say you should comb your hair all the time; the face of
your conjugal companion to be
will be seen in the glass, as if peeping over your shoulder.”
He gat hemp-seed, I mind it weel…
He was sae sairly frighted
That vera night.
“Steal out unperceived and sow a handful of hemp-seed and harrow it. Repeat now and then ‘Hemp-seed I saw thee; and him (or her) that is to be my
true-love, come after me and pou’ thee’. Look over your left shoulder, and you will see the appearance of the person invoked, in the attitude of
She thro’ the whins, an’ by the cairn,
An owre the hill gaed scrievin’;
Where three lairds’ lands met at a burn
To sip the left sark sleeve in.
“You go out to a south-running spring or rivulet [at the boundary point mentioned above] and dip your left shirt sleeve. Go to bed in sight of a
fire and hang your wet sleeve before it to dry. Lie awake, and some time near midnight an apparition, having the exact figure of the grand object in
question, will come and turn the sleeve, as if to dry the other side of it.”
Mag fain wad to the barn gane
To winn three wechts of naething…
In hopes to see Tam Kipples
That very night.
“You go to the barn and open both doors, taking them off the hinges, if possible; for there is danger that the being
, about to appear, may
shut the doors and do you some mischief. Then take that instrument used for winnowing the corn, which we call a wecht
; and go through all the
attitudes of letting down corn against the wind. Repeat it three times, and the third time an apparition will pass through the barn, in at the windy
door and out the other, having both the figure in question and [signs] marking the employment or station in life.”
In Mag’s case, she opened the door, saw a “ratton” climbing the wall, screamed “Lord preserve her!” and ran out again.
So, not content with seeing what he looks like and what his job is, you want to hear his name
? That can be done. Hold your nerve.
She through the yard the nearest taks
And to the kiln she goes then…
Till something held within the pot…
But whether ‘twas the Deil himself,
Or whether it was Andrew Bell,
She didna wait on talking
To spier that night.
“Steal out all alone to the kiln and throw into the pot a clue of blue yarn. Wind it into a new clew, and toward the latter end something will hold
the thread; demand “Wha hauds?”[Who holds?] An answer will be returned from the kiln-pot by naming the Christian name and surname of your future
Or perhaps you think you have enough courage to embrace
the spirit form of your destined husband.
“Take an opportunity of going out unnoticed to a [barley]-stack, and fathom it three times round. The last fathom of the last time, you will catch
in your arms the appearance of your future conjugal yoke-fellow.”
This one, perhaps, could be open to manipulation. A canny young man, noticing his favourite girl sloping off to the barley stacks, might discreetly
follow her out and contrive to be in the right place at the right time. I think I might, anyway.
But these spells are not compulsory. There are simpler ways to enjoy a Halloween party.
”Wi’ merry sangs an’ friendly cracks,
I wat they didna weary;
And unco tales and funny jokes-
Their sports were cheap and cheery;
Till… wi’ a social glass o’ strunt,
They parted aff careerin’
Fu’ blythe that night.
edit on 29-10-2017 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)