Is it 2018 already? I am behind on my writing…
To ready myself for the New Year’s Eve festivities and to prepare for writing the Scotland portion of the story in the upcoming Zackie Story, SOUL SIGN, I’ve been studying RBN Bookmark’s guest post. To quote RBN: “… the further north you travel it seems the wiser people become, so it`ll come as no surprise when I say the Scots are undoubtedly amongst the wisest in the British Isles.” And despite cultivating a reputation for being aloof and dour, a recent culture map created by Cambridge University describe Scots as being extraverted. But heck, no one is perfect.
Hogmanay is the Scots word for the last day of the year. In the not too distant past, rituals were carried out to ensure fertility and also to divine the success of the coming year. If the first visitor to the house on New Year’s Day was a tall, dark and handsome man, the coming year would have a good outcome. If, on the other hand, the visitor was a short, red-haired woman, this would predict a poor outcome. In my opinion, if anyone saw her coming, it’s unlikely she would make it through the door. The symbolism of the gifts brought for the visit also had predictive power. Corn, oats, grass and water (and later, coal and shortbread) would guarantee a steady supply of food and fuel to the household in the coming year.
And what would the New Year be without a bit of pyromania? The burning of the clavie at Burghead now takes place on January 11th instead of the last day of December thanks to the change in calendar in the eighteenth century. It is a great way to set fire to the town. The clavie is a half tar barrel mounted on a six-foot long fisherman’s pole. Fuel for the impending conflagration is provided courtesy of broken cask staves and chunks of tarred wood. Once lit, against all OSHA regulations, the clavie is paraded through the town to the nearby hill — the Doorie — where it is incorporated into a larger bonfire. If you would like a talisman of good luck for the coming year, you can pick up pieces of burnt wood once the flames die down. But what if Burghead’s brand of community hell fire is too civilized for your tastes? There’s always Shetland, with its distinctive Norse heritage, and a celebration called Up-Helly-Aa. These folks start their festivities with a torch-lit procession through the town led by Vikings and ends with igniting a replica longship. Tamely dropping a ball in Times Square just can’t compete with an event reminiscent of a Viking funeral.
Are standing stones your thing? On New Year’s Day in Orkney, young couples who wanted to live together outside of religiously sanctioned wedded bliss visited the Stone of Odin, part of a larger assembly called the Stones of Stenness. Handfasting was accomplished through a non-religious but ritualized ceremony, involving kneeling, walking and praying and culminating in the couple clasping their hands through a hole in the stone. Offerings of bread, cheese and rags were left at the stone and the couple was then committed to live together for a year and a day. The arrangement was recognized by the community, but if the couple decided to separate, they did this by leaving Stenness Church by different doors. No muss, no fuss, no lawyers. All was well with this ceremony until 1814 when a tenant farmer, one Captain MacKay (the original “Hey you kids! Get off my lawn!” curmudgeon), decided he’d had enough of people trespassing. He broke the Stone of Odin and destroyed the circle. Only four of the original twelve Stones of Stenness survive. Jerk.
And last but not least, peripheral tuberculosis lymphadenitis, a.k.a. scrofula. (Surprise! Bet you weren’t expecting that.) This is a nasty-looking, bluish-purple swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck caused by a Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection (in 95% of adult cases; other Mycobacterium species can also more rarely cause it). Historically, people contracted scrofula from unpasteurized milk, but modern milk preparation has virtually eliminated this disease. Prior to the availability of antibiotics, cures were sought by visiting the Rose Well near Livingston at sunrise on New Year’s Day. A cure was effected by drinking some of the water, walking around the well three times in a sunwise direction, and leaving a small votive offering. As much as I like Scotland, I’ll stick with pasteurized milk and, if necessary, antibiotics.
Wishing everyone a happy and healthy 2018!
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