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Superstitious Beliefs in the West of Scotland Within This Century

Superstitious Beliefs in the West of Scotland Within This Century

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Published by jock
scotland,scotfamtree,genelogy,superstitious west of scotland
scotland,scotfamtree,genelogy,superstitious west of scotland

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Published by: jock on May 01, 2010
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Superstitious Beliefs in the West of Scotland within This Century1879CONTENTS.PREFACE, v.Introduction, 1Birth and Childhood, 29Marriage, 43Death, 56Witchcraft, Second Sight, and the Black Art, 67Charms and Counter Charms, 79Divining, 105Superstitions Relating to Animals, 111Superstitions Concerning Plants, 122Miscellaneous Superstitions, 132APPENDIX.Yule, Beltane, and Hallowe'en Festivals, 145Yule, 149Beltane, 161Midsummer, 170Hallowe'en, 175Forty-six years ago, when cholera first broke out in this country, itwas immediately proclaimed to be a judgment for a national sin; and soit was, but for a sin against physical laws. I well remember theindignation which arose and found expression in almost every pulpit inthe country, when the Prime Minister of that day, in reply to a petitionfrom the Church asking him to proclaim a national fast for the removalof the plague, told his petitioners to first remove every source ofnuisance by cleansing drains and ditches, and removing stagnant pools,and otherwise observe the general laws of health, then having done allthat lay in our power, we could ask God to bless our efforts, and Hewould hear us. All sorts of absurd causes were seriously advanced toaccount for the presence of this alarming malady. One party discoveredthe cause in a movement for the disestablishment of religion. Anotherconsidered it was a judgment from God for asking the Reform Bill. TheRadicals proclaimed it to be a trick of the Tories to prevent agitationfor reform, and added that medical men were bribed to poison wells andstreams. The non-religious displayed as great superstition in thismatter as did the religious. Large bills, headed in large type "CholeraHumbug," were at that time posted on the blank walls of the streets ofGlasgow. The feeling against medical men was then so intense, that someof them were mobbed, and narrowly escaped with their lives. In Paisley,considered to be the most intelligent town in Scotland, a doctor, who
was working night and day for the relief of the sufferers, had his houseand shop sacked, and was obliged to fly for shelter, or his life wouldhave been sacrificed to the fury of the mob.When we read that epidemics which broke out in the times of ourforefathers, were ascribed to such absurd causes as the introduction offorks, or because the nation neglected to prosecute with sufficientvigour alleged cases of compact with the devil, we wonder at and pitytheir ignorance, and rejoice that we live in a more enlightened age. Butthe fact is, that among the mass of the people there is really no greatdifference between the present and the past. There is a close familylikeness in this matter of superstition between now and long ago, andthis state of matters will continue so long as a knowledge of physicalscience--that science which treats of the laws by which God is pleasedto overrule and direct material things--is not made a religious duty.There are physical sins and there are moral sins, and the punishment forthe first is apparently even more direct than for the second, for inthe case of physical sins we are punished without mercy. Through neglectof these laws, we are continually suffering punishment, shortening andmaking miserable our own lives and the lives of those dependent upon us;and periodically judgments descend on the careless community, in theform of severe epidemics. Any religion which advocates practices, orteaches doctrines inconsistent with our physical, intellectual, or moralwell-being, cannot be from God, and _vice versa_; and this is a strongargument in favour of Christianity _as taught by its Founder_. I wish Icould say the same of the Christianity taught by our ecclesiastics,either Protestant or Catholic.The introduction into the heathen world of the fundamental truths thatthere is but one God, omnipotent and omniscient, who overrules everyevent, that He has revealed Himself through His Son as a God of love andmercy, and that man's duty to Him is obedience to His laws, was a mightystep in advance of the gross conceptions of idolatry formerly prevalentamong these nations. But neither heathens nor Christians had for a longtime any clear idea that the overruling of God in Providence wasaccording to fixed laws. Being ignorant on this point, they ascribed tounseen supernatural agency, working in a capricious fashion, allphenomena which appeared to differ from, or disturb the ordinary courseof events. Upon such matters heathen and Christian ideas commingled, andthus heathen ideas and practices were incorporated with Christian ideasand practices. Then, when ecclesiastical councils met to determinetruth, and formulate their creeds, these combined heathen and Christianideas being accepted by them, became dogmas of the Church, andhenceforth those who differed from the dogmatic creed of the Church, oradvocated views in advance of these confessions, were regarded asenemies of truth. Naturally, as the Church became powerful she becamemore repressive, and opposed all enquiry which appeared to lead toconclusions different from those already promulgated by her, andfinally, it became a capital offence to teach any other doctrines thanthose sanctioned by the Church. The beliefs of the members of thesecouncils being, as we have already seen, a mixture of heathen andChristian ideas, the Church thus became a great conservator ofsuperstition; and to show that this was really so, we may adduce oneexample:--Pope Innocent VIII. issued a Bull as follows:--"It has come toour ears that members of both sexes do not avoid to have intercoursewith the infernal fiends, and that, by this service, they afflict bothman and beast, that they blight the marriage bed, destroy the births ofwomen and the increase of cattle, they blast the corn on the ground, thegrapes of the vineyard and the fruits of the trees, and the grass andherbs of the field." The promulgation of this Bull is said to have
produced dreadful consequences, by thousands being burned and otherwiseput to death, for having intercourse with the fiends.We regret to say such beliefs and such means of repressing free enquirywere not confined to one branch of the Christian Church. Protestants aswell as Roman Catholics, when they had the power, suppressed many of thepractices of heathenism after a cruel fashion, but at the same timefostered the superstitions and Pagan beliefs which had originated thesepractices, and punished those who protested against these beliefs. Thesame method of procedure is in operation at the present day.Nevertheless, the introduction of Christianity into the heathen worldmade a wonderful revolution in their religious practices as well as intheir beliefs. Their idols and the symbols of their divinities wereabolished, along with the sacrifices offered to these. Their greatfestivals, at which human sacrifices were offered and abominablepractices committed, were so modified as to be stripped of theirimmorality and cruelty, and while being retained--retained because theycould not be utterly abolished--they were Christianized,--that is, aChristian colouring was given to them,--and they became Church festivalsor holydays,--a subject I will treat more fully of in another chapter.It is not, as I have already said, my intention to trace the gradualdevelopment of our modern idea of Providence, our ascription ofuniversal government, of all direction of the phenomena of nature and oflife to the one only omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God, butrather to place before the reader the practices and beliefs whichprevailed in this country during the early years of the present century.And from this survey we shall discover what a mass of old Pagan ideasstill survived and influenced the minds and practice of the people,--howthey yet clung to the notion that many of the phenomena of nature andlife were under the control of supernatural agents, although they didnot regard these agents, as what in olden times they were considered tobe--divinities, but believed them to be a class of beings living upon orwithin the earth, and endowed by the devil with supernatural powers.In the northern sagas, and in the old ballads and saintly legends ofthe Middle Ages--supernatural agents who played a prominent part--thereare giants of enormous size and little dwarfs who can make themselvesinvisible, and do all sorts of good to their favourites, and harm totheir enemies. We are also introduced there to dragons and othermonsters which have human understandings, and, guided by a wickedspirit, could do great mischief. Such beings took the place of theancient divinities, and in many cases when the hero or saint is in greatstraits, in combat with these evil spirits or fiends, Jesus Christ comesto their assistance. One instance will exemplify this:"O'er him stood the foul fiends,And with their clubs of steel,Struck him o'er the helmitThat in deadly swound he fell.But God his sorrow saw,To the fiends his Son he sent;From the earth they vanishedWith howling and lament.The Christian hero thanked his God,From the ground he rose with speed,Joyfully he sheathed his sword,And mounted on his steed."_Illustrations of "Northern Antiquities."_ 

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