Monday, 31 October 2011


With carved pumpkins and "trick or treat" ing replacing the more traditional neepie lanterns and guizing, it is interesting to look back at some of the older beliefs and traditions surrounding the ancient festival of Hallowe'en.

Both Ernest Marwick (in The Folklore of Orkney and Shetland) and John Firth (in Reminiscences of an Orkney Parish), tell how Hallowe'en was the time when it was believe one could "pierce the shades of dim futurity", with most efforts in this direction apparently made by young women wishing to catch a glimpse of the identity of their future husband.

According to both Marwick and Firth, one particularly popular practice was the process Robert Burns called "winnan three wechts o' naething". The young woman would go out to the dark barn, leaving both doors open, and go through the motions of winnowing, with nothing in the sieve but scissors and a knife.  What she expected to see was an apparition of her future partner passing the open door.

Another equally unnerving practice described by both authors was the practice of throwing a ball of worsted yarn into the kiln used for drying grain while keeping hold of the end of the yarn. The woman would then unwind the ball whilst repeating "Wha hauds i' me clew's* end?", waiting and listening for the voice of her future husband to reply.

Both titles mentioned above are available to borrow from the library's collection of Orkney books, and make fascinating reading.

If any of our readers are brave enough to try either of these two experiments we would be very interested to hear the results - confidentiality assured of course regarding the identity of your phantom partner!

(* Clew = ball)

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