Friday, May 14, 2010

Scottish Birthing Custom or Superstition?

If you ever heard someone say writing a book is easy, they're lying.

If you are my friend, family member or even a frequent reviewer of this blog, you know this writer loves everything Scotland. I can't seem to get enough of their rich history. I love reading about their customs and traditions. It was tremendously helpful while I was writing Highland Savior. Sometimes the best ideas come from these books.

Whether researching the Campbells or MacGregor's, I came upon some pretty interesting customs along the way. One of them that stood out to me was a birthing custom or some would call it a superstition. I'll let you to decide.

There was an ancient custom in the Western Isles around the 1600's. A man would carry fire in his right hand and form a fiery circle around the belongings of a particular family i.e. houses, corn, cattle. The same concept was used around children until they were christened. This ritual would repeat both morning and at night.

It was spoken that this ritual was an effective means to preserve both the mother and the child from the power of evil spirits. Some people thought that evil spirits were always around during that time to cause mischief and sometimes carry away the infant. Once the spirits carry away the child, they replace them with a changeling. Changelings are an idea that fairies stole children and left changelings in their place. These "replacements" were only supposed to live 18-20 years.

In order to keep the evil spirits at bay, some believe the bairn was never to be alone. Someone would always sit by the cradle because once you left the bairn unattended, the evil spirits may pull an old switch-a-roo. Silver was also used as a deterrent in the cradle to keep these evil spirits at bay. Mmmm...I thought that was just for werewolves.


  1. Okay, I can't believe I haven't found your blog before! I also love EVERYTHING Scottish and would move there in a heartbeat. I'll definitely be back!

  2. It makes you wonder how many farms burnt to the ground when the fires got out of hand due to high winds? Thanks for the informative post!

  3. A fun post! I love the protectiveness toward the new babe, represented by the fire circle and never leaving the new babe alone. Certainly the latter is a good idea, fairies or no. :)


  4. Lexi, mòran taing! Please come back often!

    Maeve, you know it. You have to wonder...

    Margaret, I've read a couple of your books. Thanks for the comment!

  5. What is it about Scotland that gets so many of us loving all things Scottish? I mean besides certain men named Gerard Butler? ;) You can add my name to the list. The place just takes my breath away and Eileen Donan especially. Loved visiting that castle so much we went back the next day and visited it again. My Mom's side of the family came from Scotland and I know every Scottish gene I have surfaced while we spent the days exploring the Highlands.

    I love the traditions and thought this one quite interesting. I really would like to come back again and visit.

  6. Interesting folklore, but understandable. In fact, once each of my boys of Scottish descent reached puberty, I feared I was raising changelings. Luckily, they matured quite nicely. Thanks for the reminder!

  7. I had heard about the changlings but not about circling the farm with fire to protect the mother and child. Interesting.
    Write on,
    Teresa Reasor

  8. I would imagine if you research birthing customs in Ireland specifically northern Ireland where most of the early Gaels (Scoti) who came to the northwest of Scotland you would find that this type of custom had strong roots in the Celtic tradition. Though it was adapted by the Christians just shows that these traditions were ever evolving. I think maybe it became a tradition in Scotland because like other places in the Christian world the mother was kept from the Church for a certain period and thought to be unclean. So the Gael tradition kicked in so that child was protected from the likes of the faires (of which these arenot the cute faries with gossomar wings) as well as the many other creatures of the other world.

    BTW you have a very nice blog, we can always use more of those who love Scotia on the Net.