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Superstition is defined as a belief or practice that’s not necessarily based in science. Instead, it’s a magical belief, a supernatural influence or a practice that’s passed down through generations.
I had fun researching good luck traditions in Italy and Ireland. When it came time to look at Scotland, I quickly realized superstition was a better word. Truthfully, most families hold to generational superstitions. Throwing spilled salt over the shoulder, not walking under ladders, knocking on wood or not opening an umbrella indoors are all superstitions I learned about in my family.
Scottish superstitions are deeply rooted. After all, Scotland is home to the Loch Ness monster and the country’s national animal is the unicorn. Magic abounds in Scotland as do fun superstitions.
Check out these ten Scottish superstitions and see how many you recognize or practice in your family.
May Morning Dew
On the first day of May, each year, Scottish women seek out the early morning dew. Applied to the skin, May morning dew becomes the ultimate moisturizer.
This practice harkens back to the ancient festival of Beltane. May dew is holy water. The druids thought of it as a source of beauty, vitality and good fortune.
In recent years, not as many women collect May dew. However, some Scottish women still rise with the sun to dab this elixir on their faces, hoping for a year of beautiful complexion.
The well known saying, “black sheep of the family”, originates from a traditional superstition among Scottish farmers and shepherds. The color black, long associated with Satan, means the birth of a black lamb foretells disaster for the rest of the flock.
Twin lambs, with black faces, indicates a poor lambing season ahead.
Many Halloween traditions originate from the Celtic festival of Samhain. During Samhain, the Scots believe the veil between this world and the spirit world grows thin, allowing spirits to more easily pass through.
The Celts practice guising, putting on disguises, to pass unrecognized among the spirits. They also offer food as an appeasement, a forerunner of today’s trick or treating.
Purple heather covers the Scottish hills and mountains, blooming in early summer and again in late summer/early fall. The less common white heather, considered a lucky talisman, is worn by grooms on their wedding days.
The traditions comes from the folktale of Malvina, whose lover Oscar dies in battle. Before his death he asks his messenger to deliver a sprig of purple heather to Malvina, as a symbol of his eternal love.
Malvina weeps, her tears falling on the heather, which turns white in response. She proclaims, “May the white heather, symbol of my sorrow, bring good fortune to all who find it.”
Birth of a Baby
Up until the 1950s, Scottish midwives attended the home birth of babies. They performed rituals, to ease the birthing process. The midwife unlocks doors and windows and ensures that no one in the house sits with arms or legs crossed, all to help a new baby into the world.
Another tradition connected to babies is handselling. A piece of silver, placed into the palm of a newborn, determines her future relationship with money.
If the baby grabs the silver item tightly, she will become frugal with her finances. And if she drops the silver quickly, she is destined to spend her money freely.
The Scots plant rowan trees, with their bright red berries, on their properties to ward off evil. This tree is sacred to the Celts. It protects from all mischievous spirits and the “evil eye”. Plus, cooked rowan berries offer special properties for pregnant women. They protect the unborn baby.
The fishing villages in the Outer Hebrides and Fife have strict traditions. If a fisherman passes a minister or a red haired girl, it’s a bad omen. The fisherman might choose to stay ashore that day.
He also won’t say the words “pig” or “rabbit” while onboard his ship. Both bring bad luck. Instead, if mention of these animals enter the conversation, they go by “curly tail” or “bob tail”.
Shoes on the Table
In Scotland, don’t put shoes on a table. This superstition actually comes from England. After a miner’s death, his boots rested on a table, as a show of respect.
Eventually, placing shoes on a table invited death to come, to the individual or his family. This tradition spread to Scotland.
First footing takes place immediately after the clock strikes twelve, on New Year’s Eve…or Hogmanay. According to tradition, the first person through the door, after midnight, should be a dark haired man bearing gifts of salt, whisky, shortbread, coal or a black bun. This dark haired man brings good luck to the household with him too.
It’s bad luck for a blond man to enter the house during first footing, as he is associated with the Vikings from ancient times, who were NOT welcome. After the first footing, anyone is allowed to enter, to exchange gifts and share food and drink.
Do You Practice Any Superstitions?
Do you and your family practice any superstitions? Which ones passed down through the generations in your family?
I didn’t realize, until I did the research for this post, that “black sheep of the family” originated in Scotland. I’ll most definitely keep my shoes on the floor. And with the month of May approaching, I intend to collect morning dew from my garden, for my complexion.
I hope you enjoyed this peek into Scottish culture. It’s fun to learn about other countries and their peoples through their cultures, traditions and superstitions.
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