British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

A calendar of the traditional customs, practices & rituals of the British Isles.

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May i.]                             may day,                                      269
The Highlands.
On the first of May the herdsmen of every village hold their Beltein, a rural sacrifice. They cut a square trench on the ground, leaving the turf in the middle; on that they make a fire of wood, on which they dress a large caudle of eggs, butter, oatmeal, and milk; and bring, besides the ingredients of the caudle, plenty of beer and whisky, for each of the company must contribute something. The rites begin with spilling some of the caudle on the ground, by way of libation; on that every one takes a cake of oatmeal, upon which are raised nine square knobs, each dedicated to some particular being, the supposed preserver of their flocks and herds, or to some particular animal, the real destroyer of them : each person then turns his face to the fire, breaks off a knob, and flinging it over his shoulder, says, This I give to thee, preserve thou my horses; this to thee, preserve thou my sheep ; and so on. After that they use the same cere­mony to the noxious animals. This I give to thee, 0 fox! spare thou my lambs; this to thee, 0 hooded-crow ! and this to thee, O eagle !
When the ceremony is over they dine on the caudle, and, after the feast is finished, what is left is hid by two persons deputed for that purpose ; but on the next Sunday they re-assemble, and finish the reliques of the first entertainment. —Pennant's Tour in Scotland, 1790, vol. i. p. 112,
In Sinclair's Stat Ace. of Scotland (1794, vol. xi. p. 620) the Minister of Callander says :—Upon the first day of May all the boys in a township or hamlet meet on the moors. They cut a table in the green sod of a round figure, by casting a trench in the ground of such circumference as to hold the whole company. They kindle a fire, and dress a repast of eggs and milk of the consistence of a custard. They knead a cake of oatmeal, which is toasted at the embers against a stone. After the custard is eaten up, they divide the cake into so many portions, as similar as possible to one another in size and shape, as there are
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