Random Notes Anent the Antiquities, traditions, Superstitions, and Old Manners and Customs of the Borders. – VIII. Omens, or Freits (continued.)

[Kelso Chronicle Articles Contents]

   8. Crows, Rooks, and Ravens are pre-eminently birds of evil omen. If a crow cry it portends some evil. (Bourne.) By ravens both public and private calamities and death have been portended. (Ross.) If he hear but a raven croak from the next roof he makes his will. (Hall.) If a crow fly but over the house and croak thrice, how do they fear they or some one else in the family shall die? (Ramesey.) Crows or rooks sitting down in the streets of a town or village, betokeneth that there will be much death shortly after among the inhabitants; or a very severe storm if they feed in the streets. (Wilkie MS.) 

“The boding raven on her cottage sat, 

And, with hoarse croaking, warn’d us of our fate.” 

   9. The Owl, the bird of night, death’s dreadful messenger, was reckoned a most unlucky bird. Its screeching in the night was a presage of the approach of some terrible calamity, most commonly of the death of some person. 

“When screech-owls croak upon the chimney tops 

It’s certain that you of a corse shall hear.” 

   10. The Bat or Bankie-bird, when seen fluttering about in the summer evenings, is the messenger of fine weather. When it is observed to rise and occasionally to descend to the ground in the act of flying it is imagined that the witches’ hour is come when they have power over every human being under the moon, unless they are protected by a good genie. (Wilkie MS.) 

   11. Magpie, or, as it is called in Scotland, the Pyot, is, according to popular superstition, a bird of unlucky omen. It is unlucky to see first one magpie and then more; but to see two denotes marriage or merriment; three, a successful journey; four, and unexpected piece of good news; five, you will shortly be in a great company. (Grose.) One’s joy; two’s grief; three’s a wedding; four’s death, is a rhyme prevalent in Lanarkshire, and with some variations in other parts of the country. 

   12. The Snail. – If on the outset of a journey, you should meet with a black snail, endeavour to take hold of one of its horns and fling it over your left shoulder, and you will prosper on your way and secure the object of your journey. (Wilkie MS.) 

   13. Crickets. – While it is considered lucky to have crickets in the house, it is at the same time extremely unlucky to kill one. It is a sign of death to some in that house where crickets have been for many years, if on a sudden they forsake the chimney. (Melton.) 

   14. Spiders. – A spider descending from any place upon you where you may be sitting is a sign that you will soon hear of a legacy being left you or some of your family. 

   15. Fish. – To hear fish cheeping some time after they have been taken out of the water, or when they are laid upon the table to be dressed, is very unlucky, as some one of the family will die soon after. 

2d. Omens from Vegetables

   In autumn, in the gall or oak-apple, one of these three things will be found, if cut in pieces – a fly, denoting want; a worm, plenty; but, if a spider, mortality. The broom having plenty of blossoms is a sign of a fruitful year of corn. (Wellsford.) When there is much flower on the thorn, and followed by many haws, it is a sign of a severe winter; and a severe winter often makes a green yule, and a green yule a fat church-yard. Cabbages growing double, or having two stocks from one stem, or having a great many leaves growing open, instead of closing or growing into what is called a stock, was a presage of great good luck. Potatoes, gooseberries, &c., of a deformed shape, were reckoned extremely fortunate to those who found them. If colwort that has been boiled have the appearance of eyes or globules of fat or water glancing upon them, it is thought lucky; but if the same appearance is observed in milk it is reckoned unlucky and under the influence of the witches. If your peas or beans are more in number in the pod than usual or have their attachment to the opposite side of the hool or covering, it is a very for the owner. (Wilkie MS.) 

3d, Omens – Miscellaneous

   1. Births. – At the birth of a child, the gossips, after partaking freely of the refreshments usual on such occasions – the merry meat as it is called – order the father of the new-born child to present the cheese and cut the “whang of luck” for the young unmarried women in the company. This lucky whang is always cut from the edge of the cheese and divided into as many portions as there are unmarried persons in the house, and what is left is sent to all the young women of their acquaintance to dream upon. If the father has not cut as much at the first as will supply a piece to each present; what is cut after is of no value to those who receive it. If he should cut his fingers in dividing the lucky whang it is unlucky for him, as the new-born child will never arrive at the age of manhood. It is unlucky to allow any of the gossips to go home without eating and drinking after the birth of a child, and therefore they keep a sharp look-out for the merry meat and its ardent successor. 

   For a child to be born with teeth is unlucky; with long hair, lucky; but if wanting any of its members such as hands, arms, legs, &c., or greatly deformed, is very lucky, as it will no doubt inherit great riches, or be endowed with excellent abilities. (Wilkie MS.) 

   2. Baptisms. – The first child which a minister baptizes on his first appointment to a church should be and is usually called by his Christian name. When children are offered up to be baptised, if there is a male child among the number, he must always be presented and named first, else, if a female is offered up and named before him, he will be weakly and girlish, she, strong like a boy, and hen grown up to womanhood, will have a beard, and will resemble in all her actions the male more than the female sex. (Wilkie MS.) 

   3. Marriages. – The bride who is married after sunset has never any pleasure in her married life, as either she or her husband will soon die, or their progeny will give them much vexation. The freit was much observed, as we find allusions made to it in some of our old Scots songs – such as “The bridegroom grat when the sun gaed down.” If a bride went home in a rainy or dark day to her husband she would be unlucky in her choice; but if the day was windy it was very fortunate. It was deemed very unlucky for a bride to go home to her husband without giving a small sum to the boys to purchase a foot-ball. 

   For a newly-married pair to sleep on beds or pillows filled with the feathers of wild fowl was always reckoned unlucky, as all those who slept on them would soon die. Soup of any sort presented at the wedding table should never contain any greens in it, and none of the wedding party should wear green clothes. This colour was thought to be very unlucky. “Green’s grief” is still a common saying in the lowlands of Scotland. It was believed that this being the colour in which the Fairies were always dressed, they, out of spite, destroyed all those who ventured to array themselves in it. 

   To rub shoulders with a bride or bridegroom was reckoned very lucky, as you would soon after be married to the person wished in preference to all others. 

   It was accounted fortunate to be hit by the stocking of a bride, if she threw it over her left shoulder, while sitting in bed, with her face turned from you. The party hit was certain to get married soon after much to their satisfaction. 

   To throw old shoes after a marriage party was believed to confer great good luck on the newly-married couple. 

   For a wedding party to pass any house where drink is sold without calling and partaking of it was very unfortunate. 

   To receive from a bride on the day of her wedding dinner a piece of cheese which she first cuts off before retiring from the table was very fortunate to her who received it, as she would be next bride among the party. 

   When a bride entered the door of her husband’s house on the evening of her marriage. or for the first time, the person appointed to receive her stood with a plate full of shortbread which she threw over the bride’s head so as to make it fall on the outside of the threshold. All those who obtained a piece of it were lucky. They used to wrapt it in paper and place it below their pillow at night, when they were sure to have pleasant dreams about their sweethearts. If any of the cake remained, it was sent to all her acquaintance next day for the purpose of divining of their lovers. (Altered from Wilkie MS.) 

   4.  Funerals. – To meet with a funeral on the road or street coming towards you was an unlucky omen, as the person so situated would surely die very soon after, if he did not take off his hat, and accompany the procession a considerable way. If the coffin was carried by bearers, he must take a lift, or assist in carrying it so far, and then he might stop, and after taking off his hat and bowing to the company he might retire prosperously. 

   If the sun shone very clear and bright on the face of any attendant at a funeral, while he stood by the grave, after the corpse had been consigned to the dust, he would die very soon after, and be the next who would be buried in that churchyard. 

   If, on attending the funeral of a friend or relation, when the coffin was laid on the grave, any person heard the noise occasioned by the mools (earth falling on the coffin at a considerable distance from the churchyard and informed you of the circumstance, one of your family or relatives would die very soon. This was always accounted one of the surest signs of a death taking place, and was dreaded very much by all who heard it. (Altered from Wilkie MS.) 

J. G. S.      

– Kelso Chronicle, 11th September, 1863, p.3.

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